Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Serious Issues Call For A Serious Bar Tab

"...Things will never be the same."

Captain America uttered those words on the Kree homeworld of Hala following the events of "Operation: Galactic Storm," an effort by the Avengers to put a halt to the war between the Kree and the Shi'ar, two alien empires whose forces were using the star of Earth's solar system to power their respective stargates but endangering the sun's stability in the process. Failing in their mission, the Avengers were helpless as the Shi'ar detonated a nega-bomb which effectively destroyed the Kree empire and wiped out their civilization and population, with only a fraction of survivors left to witness the conquering Shi'ar take control of their worlds.

Fighting for their lives while battling forces of both empires, some of the Avengers began to question their own code of conduct, under which they had sworn never to kill while battling their foes. During the war, things eventually reached a point where Cap, the team leader at the time, found it necessary to make himself perfectly clear on the subject.

Following the nega-bomb's detonation, the Avengers, as well as the Kree who remained alive, discovered that it was the Kree Supreme Intelligence that had secretly manipulated both sides into declaring war, in an insane plot to rid the Kree of their evolutionary stagnation--a plot that cost the lives of untold billions. That revelation spurred those Avengers who had favored the use of deadly force to break ranks and seek out the Supreme Intelligence in order to end its life, convinced that the Intelligence was an artificial, non-living entity and not truly alive. Yet even when those Avengers discovered evidence that the Intelligence could well be a living organism, they nevertheless were resolved to complete their deadly task--and the Black Knight used his neural sword to make the fatal strike.

And so, with Operation: Galactic Storm concluded, Cap must face the grim task of how to reconcile what the Avengers have done with his own role on the team. Will things ever be the same again for the Avengers? How, exactly, does this team move forward from committing premeditated murder?

If you're one of the Marvel staff of writers and editors who put together this crossover event and would prefer to simply move on and not see the fallout from the Avengers' actions weigh down future sales of the titles involved, the answer to that last question would seem to be: expeditiously. And since Cap's concerns appear to be at the center of it all, his title is chosen to follow up Operation: Galactic Storm with... well, given how quickly the story settles the matter, we could call it Operation: Disperse The Storm, or Operation: Sweep The Storm Under The Rug, or maybe Operation: Let Bygones Be Bygones. We begin to get a sense of how quickly this will all blow over when, incredibly, the story begins at the point where the Avengers have already settled the matter off-panel and are wrapping up their debriefing. Though that doesn't stop Cap from kicking a dead horse.

And poof, meeting adjourned.

If this story had taken place in The Avengers--surely a more appropriate venue to explore the ramifications to the events on Hala--such an opening to the story would have likely make readers' jaws drop. The argument could be made that it's all been said on Hala already, in a heat-of-the-moment discussion that ended in an impasse--the main point, aside from trying to come to agreement on the nature of the Intelligence, being that war changes the rules. Yet as a veteran of World War II, Cap is the perfect one to debate the merits of that assertion vis-à-vis the Avengers--and if the Avengers involved are all in one room together, what better time to do so? Yet if that's already taken place, it's a vital part of this debriefing that we haven't been allowed to see, and the reader can't help but feel its absence.

Further, it seems to be the consensus between writers Bob Harras and Mark Gruenwald that Cap needs to take an unwavering stand and refuse to budge on this issue (at least initially); and so this story spends a fair amount of time having Cap examine his own principles.

Yet Captain America is often at his best not when he lays down the law in an atmosphere of dissent, but when he presents a point of view that offers food for thought--when he takes his cue from others in the room and works others' opinions into his own. In this story's beginning, we see Cap both outvoted and outnumbered, depriving us of this unique character's ability to inspire the Avengers to set a higher standard.

One other important point bears mentioning: neither Earth nor the Avengers were at war with the Kree or the Shi'ar, making Iron Man's argument practically baseless. At the time, Cap's points were frustrating in light of the Intelligence's machinations, but sound: "Let the Kree survivors handle this. The war is over... the stargates won't be used again. Earth is safe. There's nothing more we can do... we can't bring back the dead." If Iron Man and the others were so *ahem* dead set in making sure the Intelligence answered for his actions, why not leave the Intelligence to the Shi'ar's tender mercies and inform them of his duplicity? They were no doubt likely to take action against the Intelligence in any event; but learning that the Intelligence had a direct hand in their own actions in the war, to say nothing of the level of destruction that occurred as a result, would likely have seen the kind of "justice" dispensed that Iron Man was so adamant about carrying out.

As for the Avengers, they seem to consider the matter settled for the most part. Everyone moves on, as if their murder of the Intelligence merited little more than a shrug. For his part, Cap schedules a seminar on superhero ethics a few hours after the debriefing, for which attendance isn't mandatory but urged; but it becomes apparent that only Cap feels that such veiled admonishment is needed.

To lift Cap's spirits, Hawkeye takes him out for a night at a bar, a rather low-life establishment (in Hawkeye's words, "They're the most fun!") that completely takes Cap out of his comfort zone. But that's the point--to make Cap's night off sufficiently distracting to allow him to let down his guard and take his focus off of the Avengers. There's only one of them who's right at home, of course; but Cap nevertheless unwinds a little and is even coaxed to speak of his personal life to an extent. But after a few minutes, another patron arrives--someone who may or may not be the right person to help Cap come to terms with recent events.

And clear the air they do, once again going down a road that recaps the many differences that have plagued their relationship lately--such as Stark's "armor wars" where Cap interfered with Stark's raid on the government penitentiary known as the Vault and later came after Stark with the intent of taking him into custody. They also speak of Iron Man's unilateral actions during Operation: Galactic Storm, and, of course, his leading an execution squad of Avengers to terminate the Supreme Intelligence.

That exchange is a fair indication of how this matter will be settled for Cap--a smoothing over of differences that eases Cap and Iron Man (and by extension the Avengers) back to the status quo and normal operations, yet does little to nothing to settle the issue at hand. Will the Avengers again feel justified in resorting to murder at some point in the future, now that the way has been paved? Will Cap once again give a pass to those who participate in it? And how about amending the Avengers charter to include language that takes murder into account? They're important questions that are totally brushed aside here for the sake of comics expediency.

And speaking of "bygones" (good grief, I was only joking!) ...

When he returns to Avengers H.Q., Cap later follows Hawkeye's advice and takes a leave of absence--though his real reason is to search for the missing Diamondback, who's been taken captive by Crossbones.

Over in The Avengers, it looks like others on the team are discovering that unwinding at a local bar works wonders in making moral quandaries a thing of the past.

Neither the Knight nor Hercules seem to be privy to Cap's state of mind in his own book, where we've all been assured that all is well with Cap and the situation with the Avengers is in his rear-view mirror.

In the same Avengers issue, readers have begun writing in to voice their thoughts on Operation: Galactic Storm, and specifically asking questions about what sort of ramifications might be in store for the Avengers due to their actions. The responses are typically vague, most likely in order to whet the appetite of the reader--the alternative is that there is no plan to saddle the Avengers with ramifications that would weigh down their book's momentum.  But from what we've seen in the unofficial epilogue in Cap's title, we can probably safely assume from the tone here than any "ramifications" as far as soul-searching on the Avengers' part will be fleeting.

Instead, those ramifications take the form of a Kree military admiral putting in motion a plan of retribution against the Black Knight for the murder of the Intelligence--preceded by a scene which comes as something of a surprise in light of recent events.

No, Cap didn't leave the team because of what happened on Hala, as Gruenwald had made clear in Cap's story--but that fact would dilute the Knight's sudden regrets here.  Given how a concerted effort was made to prep the Knight for his role in slaying the Intelligence--including examples of how he had no problem whatsoever in using his sword lethally against the Kree--this scene seems to come out of nowhere.  It's more reasonable to assume the scene was mainly used as a lead-in to the imminent attack against the Knight by the Kree admiral's proxy. For what it's worth to the Knight, if Cap had been witness to the man's pangs of conscience, his response would be easy to predict: "Better late than never, Avenger."


George Chambers said...

In the bar scene with Dane and Herc... is that Plastic Man??

Anonymous said...

Plastic Man would be sitting in the corner with a bunch of babes. That's how Grant Morrison depicted him!

Poignant story. I like the way Cap is handled here. This is the Captain America I grew up with, a man who often feels lost in the present. And I think it explains his rationale for opposing the use of lethal force, when he refers to the Nazi war criminals (except the ones who unfortunately got away) being tried before punishment. Cap believes in civilization, despite it's failings.