In the world of comics, epic life threatening events happen every month. It’s the business that super heroes are in. Whether Steve Rogers is defending Washington DC from weird Norse powered Nazi mechs or 17 different colored Lantern corps are having a big throw down, the world is in constant earth ending turmoil.
Do real life disasters, then, have a place in the world of super hero comics? Do super heroes need to stop and acknowledge that on September 11th, 2001 the World Trade Center towers were brought down in New York?
No. There’s no need. And in trying to acknowledge 9-11 in a universe where Galactus occasionally shows up to eat the planet, we are devaluing the power of how terrible that real world event truly was.
In the weeks and months following 9-11, there were countless tributes and benefits. Some of them were wonderful; some of them were completely tasteless. And some of them were experimental community theatre pieces about the passengers of United 93 that used pieces of fabric to represent courage that, like the day itself, we’ll never forget. Ever. No matter how hard we try.
Marvel Comics made their own tribute, releasing three books as a reaction to 9-11 as benefits for various charities: Amazing Spider Man #36, Heroes and A Moment of Silence. Two featured super heroes reacting to Ground Zero while A Moment of Silence focused purely on the real heroes of the day.
A Moment of Silence is a beautiful piece of work. Focusing on real stories, and using a ‘nuff said’ speech bubbles style to let the art speak volumes, the book is a powerful tribute to the events of 9-11. It is grounded in real life.
However, Spider Man #36 and Heroes do not work as reactionary pieces. I can understand the effort of Marvel creators trying to convey their reactions with the characters they’ve lived with for years, but in a universe where catastrophic events much larger than 9-11 are the norm, it completely trivializes the event.
Marvel prides itself on being ‘grounded in the real world,’ which is great when someone has to draw a president into a panel. It’s not quite as great when trying to make someone in the Marvel universe understand how horrible 9-11 was. “The WTC went down, huh? Man, remember last week when reality ended? Man, that sucked. Still, shame about two buildings falling.”
9-11 happening in the Marvel universe wouldn’t even make headlines, much less make Dr. Doom cry at Ground Zero, considering what he’s done in the past, say, week. It becomes shoe horned in. It feels forced. And it kept coming up in Marvel titles long after the benefit comics were released.
The example that sticks with me most is an issue of Uncanny X Men where Havok comes out of his coma and someone is getting him up to speed on what’s occurred in the world while being under. Anyone else remember this? Havok wanted to bang some nurse and Archangel was banging Husk and Nightcrawler’s dad was Satan? Ah, the Chuck Austen years. They make you want to complain about Greg Land less, huh? Well… not a lot less.
Anyway, someone is catching Havok up and it’s just stupid. “Let’s see, thousands of people died from the Legacy virus, there were some alien invasions, 9-11 happened, Onslaught, someone blew up the moon…” And the reaction shot of Havok when they say ‘9-11’ kills it. “WHAT happened? Two buildings fell down?! MY GOD.” For readers, 9-11 really did happen. Their emotions and experiences were real. Putting it into a comic book, on a laundry list of fictional events, starts to erode the seriousness of what really happened that day. The next panel might as well have been Hacksaw Jim Duggan kicking down the door, swinging his 2×4 and yelling “NEVER FORGET! HOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
It also just makes Marvel’s super hero community look like a bunch of assholes. Seriously, no one was able to prevent this? They can stop Namor from flooding Manhattan but Stark’s Extremis systems didn’t detect a handful of airplanes? SHIELD can track super powered Hydra agents but didn’t figure out that something was up? Maybe the guy working radar was already a Skrull and 9-11 was part of the SECRET INVASION.
Any attempts to explain away 9-11, lack of reaction, or lack of having Franklin Richards fix everything in 2 seconds is forced and shallow. So why bring it into the fictional comic book world at all?
9-11 is a horrible wound in our nation’s history. But in a universe of alien invasions, Avengers, Revengers, and Xorn-Magnetos, it becomes just another Tuesday.
Joe Starr is a comedian in Los Angeles that loves X Men, long never ending fantasy series, and hopes one day to have the time and resources to have his own Warhammer 40K army. You can like him on Facebook and follow him on Tumblr.