Wondering how long it'd take for the events of September 11th to go from real life tragedy to thoughtless plot McGuffin? Marvel's new mega-event Siege demonstrates that the answer is "eight years, and we can kill even more people."
Marvel Comics' reaction to 9/11 was both heartfelt and far-reaching, understandable for a company not only based in New York but one so tied to the city in its demeanor and subject matter (Marvel's New York state is the setting for the majority of its line, being home for years to Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Avengers, X-Men and Daredevil, amongst many others): Not only did they publish the prerequisite memorial special editions (Heroes and A Moment Of Silence), they also created a short-lived line of emergency services comics (The Call), relaunched Captain America as a hero hunting terrorists (with patriotic covers announcing things like "Fight Terror" and "Never Give Up"), placed a memorial logo of the World Trade Center Towers on all of their comics published for more than a year afterwards, and published a very special issue of Amazing Spider-Man where the company's most well-known character visited Ground Zero to help with rescue efforts, and found that it wasn't only the heroes who realized how terrible the terrorist attacks were:
Yes, Doctor Doom crying may have been a little too much - writer J. Michael Straczynski later denied asking for that in the script to avoid a backlash - but the meaning of all of this was clear: As a company, Marvel Comics had been severely affected by the devastating attacks, and had not only faced up to the reality of such widescale destruction previously fantasized about in their books, but also felt that reality for themselves. This was a sobered company.
Cut to last week's Siege: The Cabal, the prelude to next month's Siege event running across their entire line. Following September 11th, an increasingly political subtext has crept into Marvel's superhero lines, whether it's the "Personal Liberty or Safety" question at the heart of Civil War, terrorist sleeper cell paranoia of the run up to 2008's Secret Invasion or "The People Running Our Country May Not Have Our Best Interests At Heart" theme of this year's Dark Reign, and it's been something that's worked very well for the company: A decade ago, they were coming out of bankruptcy and their future looked uncertain, and now they're being bought by Disney for $400 billion. Siege: The Cabal acts as prologue to the big Final Act of the uber-storyline that's been running throughout their titles since 2004's Avengers: Disassembled, and ends with Norman Osborn - onetime Green Goblin and now head of what is essentially Marvel's Homeland Security department - talking with Norse God Loki about how he can make a pre-emptive strike against the mythical realm of Iraq. Wait, I mean, Asgard:
This explains the opening of next month's Siege, which was released in previews last week:
That's Chicago's Soldier Field getting destroyed, by the way. While there's a game going on, and the stands are full of people. Considering Soldier Field's seating capacity is 61,500, it's probably safe to say that we're talking about upwards of 50,000 fictional deaths in the stadium alone, even going with a "Well, it wasn't sold out" defense, and that's ignoring any damage and deaths in surrounding areas.
I think I'm allowed a W. T. F. around now.
There are so many things that come to mind from seeing this preview, and this amount of devastation for the purposes of getting a plot about good guys teaming up to reform the Avengers going, and to prepare for a new, optimistic status quo called "The Heroic Age". Primarily, it's the thoughtlessness and/or bad taste of the whole thing, especially coming from the publisher who seemed so affected by - or, perhaps, just displayed more of an emotional response to - September 11th (Which resulted in almost 3,000 deaths) and seemed to have come to some level of understanding of what an event of that scale actually means (Hint: It's not four issues of Cap and Iron Man and Thor getting back together to kick some bad guy ass, True Believer!). Don't get me wrong, I understand the difference between fictional death and real death, but that doesn't excuse the strange insensitivity here.
Secondly: Killing tens of thousands of people as an excuse to go to war? This is supervillainy on a ridiculous scale here, way beyond anything we've seen in a long time and not only completely removed from the intentional scale and bombast of old school supervillains, but (a) literally collateral damage given little thought on the road to Osborn's true plan, and (b) unlike other supervillain's genocidal plans, apparently completely successful (I hope that the next scene, not shown in previews, will reveal the Soldier Field destruction to be a fantasy sequence, but somehow I doubt it - And, if it were, it'd seem even more ghoulish to release these pages to get fans excited about reading Siege: "Look, kids! WIDESCALE DEATH TWENTY TIMES LARGER THAN 9/11! THIS IS THE BIG ONE YOU'VE BEEN WAITING FOR! EXCELSIOR!"). I'm all for demonizing bad guys, but this is just insane; even going on the "Well, he's mentally unbalanced" explanation Siege writer Brian Michael Bendis has been giving in interviews about the character and project, it makes mastermind Norman Osborn into a character that is impossible to sympathize with, and reduces him to almost cartoon proportions and ideas about evil. All he needs now is a moustache to twirl when explaining his plan to the heroes.
(Second-and-a-half-ly: Killing tens of thousands of people as an excuse to go to war? Is this some kind of veiled "The American Right Wing Were Behind 9/11 As A Way Of Motivating People To Back An Invasion Of Afghanistan and Iraq" thing? After all, Bendis has said about the plot, "much like we've seen in our own modern history, it's not beyond world leaders to fabricate incidents if it serves a purpose." Hmm.)
Thirdly: We've seen this before, in more than one sense. Not only is this a deliberate and literal call-out to the accidental explosion that launched Marvel's Civil War, but the idea of using the destruction of a sports stadium to launch a war is from Tom Clancy's 1991 novel The Sum Of All Fears (adapted into a movie in 1999, but not released until 2002). Of course, in that case, it's a neo-Nazi trying to convince the US and Russia to go to war by placing blame on the event on the Russians, but still, the tone-deaf quality of the plot device becomes even stranger when you realize that it's not even original.
So what to make of Siege's Destruction McGuffin? A sign that, even if the rest of the world hasn't gotten over 9/11, Marvel has managed to move on and enjoy fictional slaughter as a motivator for superheroes to team-up again? Proof that cynical shock tactics outweigh genuine emotional responses when it comes to upping the ante in the name of sales? A thoughtless plot that leaves a nasty taste in the mouth? Maybe I'm just too sensitive to these kinds of things; it's been eight years, after all. Perhaps I should shut up and hope that they blow up an entire continent next so that Doctor Doom can reveal that he really did only have something in his eye down at Ground Zero. After all, destroying Antarctica would be really bad-ass, wouldn't it?