Thursday, 1 October 2009

A Lack Of Civility

It should surprise no-one to learn that Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 is almost exactly the same as its predecessor, at least in structure. You spend ninety-five percent of your timing beating up an ocean of faceless goons (whilst trying to ignore the fact that a Latverian soldier can get punched in the face by the Thing without it affecting his ability to fire in random directions at all; but that's superhero games for you), wading your way towards a major villain in the Marvel Universe (or even Shocker), who you then beat up. There is then a small injection of plot to make it look as though something more complex is going on, though invariably any new set of problems that emerge are solved by you finding a new ocean of faceless goons, who you beat up.

Still, why change what's apparently a winning formula? Certainly, as a card-carrying comic-book obsessive, I have no business complaining about endless variations on the same theme. I wasn't a big fan of the first UA game, but that's almost entirely down to it not being another X-Men Game. X-Men Legends II: Rise Of Apocalypse was an absolute gift to those who remembered the Age of Apocalypse from the early 90's. UA was far more general, requiring a broader love of Marvel than I could claim. It also didn't have a particularly interesting plot, being instead just the kind of pointless "villains unite" idea that got old twenty years ago.

UA2 has a much better plot, mainly because it's lifted from Civil War (apparently Secret War, too, though I haven't read that). Civil War remains one of my all-time favourite ideas for a Marvel crossover (the degree to which the ball was dropped with respect to execution is entirely debatable, of course), and has the added bonus of making the gatherings of heroes and villains seem somewhat less arbitrary.

It's all I needed. Everything else is the same; though the graphics have unsurprisingly been tarted up, and the combination moves are now a lot more fun (who doesn't want to see Luke Cage inside one of the Invisible Woman's force-fields, laying down the smack to all and sundry?). Seriously, though, the chance to smack Iron Man around, preferably with his own Registration ID card? [1] Sign me up for some of that!

Apparently the game affords me this opportunity (yay!), though we lacked the time to get there tonight (soon, Stark; soon your day will come!), which will hopefully add something new to the experience. I guess we'll see. It did though make me remember that I'd intended to write a post about the Civil War series itself one day. At this point I fully acknowledge that I'm three years late to the party, but it always amused me that so many comic book fans were adamant that Iron Man was a total douche and Captain America obviously in the right. When I read it I thought Millar did a fairly impressive job of ensuring both sides had equally valid points. Then I handed it to Gooder, and his first comment after reading it was "Wow, Captain America's a dick, huh?"

In truth, I think America did act like a dick, but he was also closer to the mark than Stark was. The first consideration when debating what to do about superheroes is what to do about supervillains. There are thousands of supervillains in the Marvel universe, a small subset of which can take down an entire country without breaking a sweat. Magneto alone conquered the nation of San Marco, destroyed a nuclear submarine (having survived its attack) and manipulated the planet's magnetic field to the point where they handed him his own country just to shut him up. That's a whole lot of power, and crucially, it's only the third of those events for which American superheros could claim jurisdiction.

The real-world explanation as to why the US has the vast majority of capes within its borders is obvious, but within the realms of fiction, it's just one more happy coincidence for the States, one more way for America to lord it over everybody else. If the X-Men had been registered, they would almost certainly never have travelled to San Marco to liberate it from an insane tyrant. I'm dissing the States here, but in reality any country would do the same; once they had their own official super-powered armed force, what government would send it to aid a foreign power when they could keep it at home to keep the local supervillains in line. Superheroes would stop being altruistic defenders of humanity, and become something closer to a nuclear deterrent.

If Galactus returned to Earth and attempted to consume it, one would assume that the US would lend its capes to the struggle to fend him off. What if he only wanted Africa, though? Or Australia? How many countries could he eat before the States were prepared to risk their heroes against him? What would stop Congress from actively negotiating the idea with The Destroyer of Worlds? I mean, it might be a really good idea from a game theory perspective. And certainly no-one could do anything about it, any force of superheroes strong enough to try and punish you over it would already have been thrown at Galactus (or whomever) anyway.

No. To register heroes is to give supervillains almost carte blanche to terrorize any nation other than America, and possibly it's closest allies (plus you might not want to mess with Canada if Wolverine decides to head home). Even if you want to argue (as some undoubtedly would) that the Americans would be within their rights to operate a "Me first!" strategy with respect to capes, it would most likely prove self-defeating over the long term. Not that Stark was thinking long-term, of course. His desire to follow the will of the people is laudable, but let's not forget that the situation reached the point it did at least in part because some buffoon outside of a nightclub decided to bottle a man who had saved the entire human race because he happened to share a job with someone who had botched an attempt to apprehend a criminal. I've never bought into this particular idea in fiction, the suggestion that acts of horrible carnage and evil will be blamed on those who devote themselves to stopping them, though it is certainly true that people in groups are astonishing stupid and with each passing year I seem to get closer to entertaining such an unbelievably depressing possibility. The fact remains that without people like Speedball and the other New Warriros, Nitro might not have blown up Stamford, but he would instead have killed who knows how many thousand other people? Also, Apocalypse would have taken over the world and then slaughtered most of the population, and Galactus would have eaten what remained. The Marvel universe is not somewhere you want to give people even stronger disincentives to becoming heroes.

All of which makes Stark dangerously short-sighted, albeit with a lot of good reasons for decisions he made based on the facts his myopia allowed him to see. Captain America was right, he just apparently hadn't the faintest idea how to explain that, and was thus, as Gooder pointed out, reduced to acting like a dick.

Anyway, I've digressed pretty far. I shall seamlessly join the two halves of this post by wondering aloud whether the possible multiple endings to the game will allow for a better ending (or even several better endings) than that we got in the original comic (though Joss Whedon was right, it would have been fatal to sign off on the inconclusive draw that was apparently originally planned), and leave it there. Maybe next week a game of Chucky Egg will inspire a discussion of the salmonella scares of my childhood. Who, at this point, can say?

[1] Did they have those? I bet they did. I bet they have photos. I bet Stark's is a photo, which is of him, on the beach in tight trunks, stroking an enormous pile of cash. It's probably laminated, too, to help shake off the cocaine fragments.


Gooder said...

Ohh, not had a chance to read the whole post yet, but yes I do think Captain American was a total tool in that Civil War series.

I will happily rant on about it in more detail but for now sadly I must venture forth to work

SpaceSquid said...

Well, as I say, I agreed with his position far more than I did his actions, but I'm sure we'll get into it further.