Monday, June 19, 2017

Things Will Never Be The Same

"Operation: Galactic Storm" was an ambitious crossover story from 1992 that spanned seven titles and nineteen issues during a three-month period--an event overshadowed somewhat by its title, which borrowed freely from the code name given the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq. There are few if any direct parallels between that conflict and the circumstances of the comics story, since "Operation Desert Shield/Operation Desert Storm" involved mostly a show of force that led to combat operations that liberated Kuwait from Iraqi troops; while Operation: Galactic Storm, obviously taking place on a larger scale, has the Shi'ar and Kree empires at war and, incredibly, eventually leads to the near-genocide of the Kree. In the middle of the conflict are the Skrulls (no friends of the Kree, having in the past engaged in their own war with them), who work their wiles within the Shi'ar court to escalate the conflict--and the Avengers, who split into delegations and head to each race's homeworld in an effort to broker peace negotiations.

Needless to say, if a number of Marvel editors and writers take the time to conference and plan a three-month crossover event with the goal of escalating a war between two star-spanning empires, peace negotiations are going to fail--and fail they do.  Yet O:GS perhaps is best remembered for the Avengers turning the corner in their code of conduct, when a faction of the team decides to commit premeditated murder against the living entity known as the Kree Supreme Intelligence.

The Avengers move to intervene in the war when the conflict is brought to their doorstep, as both the Kree and the Shi'ar begin using stargates positioned in Earth's solar system to commit incursions against each other--gates that make use of the sun's energy for power and thereby endangering the star's stability. In the first Avengers issue which carries the O:GS banner, we get a sense of what's to come for the Avengers when they assemble following an incident in space, where a contingent of Avengers rescuing a Starcore crew were fired on by the Shi'ar; and when the Avengers penetrated the command ship and ordered the Shi'ar to stand down, Sersi threatened to destroy them all if they failed to comply.

You might think Cap is a fine one to talk about muck, given his own activities during World War II. Was he raising such objections when enemy installations were being blown up, the people inside them never given warning or the opportunity to evacuate? Did he ever chide snipers about murdering unsuspecting targets? Did he ever storm into command headquarters and demand to know why populated cities were being bombed? He's probably the last person to be galloping on such a high horse.

Cutting to the chase three months later (our time), the war reaches its climax when the Shi'ar detonate a nega-bomb that virtually wipes out the Kree to a man and reduces the empire to ruin. All has gone according to plan--but you may be surprised to find out the identity of that plan's true architect.

The question perhaps hangs in the air for some readers of this story as to how a bomb designed to wipe out the Kree race can somehow leave untouched the Supreme Intelligence, the living embodiment of the finest Kree minds and a clear and present danger to the Shi'ar. You'd think the Intelligence's citadel would be ground zero for the bomb's detonation.  But as we'll see, the Intelligence's survival is a crucial part of this story's climax.

Indeed, as the Avengers begin to reassemble their forces and meet on the Kree homeworld of Hala, the Intelligence appears to emerge triumphant, as Captain America and the Shi'ar agent known as Deathbird find themselves given an impromptu audience by this being who finally reveals his machinations and astonishingly claims victory for the Kree--a "victory" realized at the cost of billions upon billions of Kree lives.

Atlas and Dr. Minerva, part of the Intelligence's "Starforce" squad, also emerge from the ruins, with Atlas quick to seek vengeance on those he blames for the disaster: the Avengers, whose claims of innocence fall on deaf ears. It's only when Cap and Deathbird appear and report on the admission they've heard from the Intelligence that Atlas turns to hear--especially when Minerva is incriminated in the plot and subsequently confesses, even boasts, about how complicit she was in it all.

Shamed and despondent, Atlas then proceeds to use his suit's self-destruct device to atomize himself, with Minerva breaking free in an attempt to prevent him from ending his life but instead joining him in death. But there is still the matter of the Supreme Intelligence to be decided, a being clearly responsible for all that has occurred and who remains free. The Avengers stand poised to act--but how? And can they? The Intelligence would seem to be out of the Avengers' jurisdiction, as Cap might argue--but there are some on the team who strongly disagree.

It's at this point that the issue of deadly force that the Avengers have wrestled with during this entire conflict comes to a head, as Atlas's suicide serves as the catalyst to ignite a once-and-for-all debate about what the Avengers stand for. Since some on the team refuse to just walk away from this affair vis-à-vis the fate of the Intelligence and instead wish to act on the shocking proposal to end this being's life, the point of contention boils down to how those Avengers justify the act. Are they avenging the dead? Are they meting out justice? It's a riveting scene to witness, all hinging on a single question, and not at all the one we might expect: not the question of whether the Intelligence is guilty of genocide and should pay the ultimate price, but whether or not the Intelligence meets the definition of being "alive."

By mixing the signals here and making the Intelligence's status as a living, sentient being the deciding factor in how the Avengers proceed, writer Bob Harras to an extent gives a pass to those Avengers who decline to act, since those falling in line with Cap and not Iron Man never have to face the quandary as to whether to exercise deadly force on a being that has murdered an entire race. But the disagreement certainly raises an equally interesting question: How would these Avengers respond if it had been the human race that had been wiped out? Would even Cap have hesitated to "avenge" those who had been lost?

Nevertheless, the decision is made--the stands taken.

Yet the decision proves to be more complicated for the Avengers who have committed themselves to the Intelligence's death. Once they breach the Intelligence's projection of itself, they discover hard evidence that the Intelligence is comprised of organic material, whatever its coherency. So, what now? Wasn't that the entire basis for Iron Man taking matters into his own hands? The firm belief that the Supreme Intelligence is a machine? A "soulless piece of hardware"? Yet it isn't the sole basis, and Harris knows it. Nor is it about simply making sure that the Intelligence's madness stops here. It's about the kind of justice that Iron Man and those who have sided with him believe should be brought against the perpetrator of this mass death and destruction. That's the true drama here, not the fact that the Intelligence has proven to be something other than "an extremely complex computer," as the Vision described it. It's why the Avengers ignore the truth of what they see before them--"We came here for a purpose," as Sersi bottom-lines it--and proceed to deliver the justice, the vengeance, that they feel empowered to dispense.

The Intelligence emits a scream of agony that heralds its death and the destruction of its citadel, with the Avengers barely escaping the carnage in time. But while it's clear that the Intelligence has planned for even this and manages to survive without the Avengers being aware of it, it's the Avengers who must walk away from the incident and live with their decision. The same can be said for the Shi'ar, those who were the unsuspecting pawns of the Intelligence.

Is Cap right?


George Chambers said...

It's a tough question for sure. My immediate thought is, Cap is right - the war is effectively over and the Kree are unlikely to be a threat again for a century or more, scattered and decimated as they are, so going after the Supreme Intelligence with intent to kill is more an act of revenge than anything else.


It's similar to the Nuremberg trials after WW2. Germany was defeated and no longer a threat, and yet many senior Nazis were sentenced to death; Hitler certainly would have received such a sentence had he survived to be tried.

Did Cap object to Nuremberg? Or is it the lack of due process to which he objects? And if so, how could the Supreme Intelligence be brought to trial?

Comicsfan said...

All good points, George. We'll find out a little more about Cap's thoughts on the subject in this post's follow-up, though I'm sorry to say that neither Harras nor Mark Gruenwald seemed interested in pursuing the matter to any extent in their respective books.

Unknown said...

The writing here was great, and a necessary counterbalance against the encroaching craptide of non-written Image trash of Image's 1st iteration. This year's current events make this tale seem timely, even today.

Sad though to see such script pages and what could have been above average/possibly very good art ruined by seemingly giving Tom Palmer less than a week or less to ink the entire issue.