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WARRING SIDES: All Hysteria Aside - Part I

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Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson proudly presents 'Warring Sides': an editorial civil war exploring both sides of the most controversial topic of our time—the Superhero Registration Act. Should masked vigilantes be forced to unmask before congress? Should all super-powered individuals be documented and controlled by state and federal legislatures? Is this an idea whose time has finally come? Only one thing is certain: whether we're super or human, we're all fiercely divided upon the answer. Making a stand for the pro side is heroic fiction critic Dave Baxter.

Let’s remove the sensationalism of placing “registration” and “hero” in the same sentence and the answer one logically derives doesn’t even deserve the question.

Heroes do not have to be vigilantes, and, in fact – in a legal sense – they can’t be.  A citizen wishing to perform a good deed will never be frowned upon, but what about a citizen who will only do a good deed if they can be flagrantly disobedient of the law and at no other time and in no other way?  That smacks of psychological imbalance and behavioral addiction; if a falling piece of masonry was about to collapse upon this writer’s head, I know I’d want a super-human hero to pluck it out of the air before it crushed my frail, homo-sapiens body, but it staggers me; beggars my imagination that they refuse to carry out such an act legally as a public representative.  The question is: why?  Is there a reason?  Is there a reason that – all hysteria aside – makes sense?

First, let’s tackle the most obvious and banner-waved causality for such staunch resistance to the Super-Hero Registration Act’s (SRA) possible passing: privacy.  In question is the privacy of precisely two sets of individuals – the vigilantes themselves (which is most emphatically, by technical definition, what an unknown, unauthorized costumed hero is), and the loved ones of said spandex superiors.  The argument for such is simply this: their enemies seeking vengeance.  If a vigilante’s identity became public, they themselves claim that all they held dear and cherished would become direly vulnerable.  Yet, what of the Fantastic Four?  They are by far the most public – what the vigilantes would call “vulnerable” – heroes; their home is in the center of Manhattan, their personal privacy is on par with the most popular of celebrities, and yet they still have suffered innumerably less than what the vigilante heroes claim they would suffer given a similar treatment (and as a cohesive collective, all heroes could benefit from security as designed by Reed Richards or Tony Stark). 

Since such current examples disprove the need for such a fear, this proves that the vigilante heroes who do fear must be speaking only from their own, personal experiences, meaning that they, as current vigilantes, must have lived through a richer number of tragedies and loss than the average public, authorized (or at least publicly recognized) heroic figure of national renown.  And if this is so, how can a masked vigilante, who already suffers daily for his life of secrecy and mistrust, come to claim that following the lifestyle of such heroes as the FF would be personally disastrous?  Does that – all hysteria aside – make any sense?

It is further reasonable to believe that super-powered criminals would seek less personal vendettas if a vigilante was a public authority figure and not a devil-may-care individual operative.  If a hero acts as an anonymous defender, any super-villain who wishes revenge against a hero can do so without any obstruction from law enforcement, neither federal nor local.  If a super-villain wishes to begin a personal vendetta against Spider-Man, well…there is no such citizen as “Spider-Man”.  The villain is not, in any legal sense, going after a person who is classifiable or defendable.  The villain has free reign to do as he pleases and the vigilante can depend on no other but himself and whatever smattering of powers he may wield.  As a registered, authorized, deputized upholder of justice, however, the hero could depend on full local and federal support, as all members of law enforcement enjoy.  The plain fact of the matter is: in real life and the modern day, there are no documented cases of criminals going after a law man’s family. 

I suspect the reason for this is that a “law man” represents the law, and is rarely a direct, human figure to criminals who are captured and imprisoned by “the law” (a far more ambiguous thing for a villain to hate than a singular “Spider-Man”).  If stopped by a law-breaking, solo-acting vigilante, the villain is likely to focus upon a rivalry (as both hero and villain, in truth, are law breakers, yet only one is being punished by the law, and is being delivered into their hands by the other, overall ignored lawbreaker.  With that in mind, is it any wonder – all hysteria aside – why the life of a vigilante is more susceptible to acts of super-villain vengeance?

And what of the supposed edge the SRA act will give super-villains?  Are people who spout this still living, breathing, thinking individuals?  A villain, unsupported by any major network, acting alone or in tandem with, at best, a small select handful of other back-stabbing characters, post-SRA act would be going up against a fully organized, fully mobilized, federally supported, veritable army of super-heroes. All hysteria aside, how exactly does this give the villains an unfair advantage?

And what of those who claim that a registration for super-heroes would be unconstitutional?  Hell, muffins, let’s look at the history of this great nation.  In the early 1700’s, yes, vigilantism was encouraged to maintain civil order amongst the burgeoning states.  Before long, vigilante committees naturally evolved (the modern parallel being, of course, super-teams such as the Avengers or the mutant X-men or – yes, they count – the New Warriors).  However, without any jurisdiction outside of their own judgment, these vigilante committees soon came to be known by a different, more affecting title – lynch mobs.  And we have already seen that even the best super-powered hero, when unsupervised, can enact very poor judgment indeed. 

A perfect example is Reed Richards’ recent coup d’état of Latveria in Victor Von Doom’s absence.  It was a political and national nightmare which took months of diplomacy to simply keep national borders where they originally stood.  As always, the heroes’ intentions were divulged and (to a degree) exonerated, but was this federally unsupported act truly the best and only way to alleviate such a politically charged situation?  Can men of any level of character, even those of proven stature like Reed Richards, when confronted with a situation more personal than political, possibly be infallible indefinitely without a system of checks and balances to allow for equality on all sides of any given conflict? After all, equality is what America is all about, not unbridled, anarchist freedoms…

A man named Michael Mullins once posed as an FBI agent, entered into an apartment where three reformed sex offenders lived, interviewed these men about their crimes, and then promptly shot them in the head.  All three men had been sentenced, served their full time, and according to the authorities and psychologists both, been fully reformed.  But Mullins himself had been sexually abused as a child and as a vigilante of good intent, he unfortunately retained as accurate an ability to dispense justice as any vigilante committee of old.  He, in effect, was a one-man lynch mob.  Deputizing the heroes who wish to be true heroes no matter the circumstances – which is my definition of a hero – would allow law enforcement to hopefully distinguish between those with the good of the many in mind, and those who simply wish to fulfill the desires of their own traumatized psyches, as ex-army man Frank Castle – otherwise known as The Punisher – does on a continual basis.  History has shown that men and women can show good judgment as vigilantes, but not a single one of them show good judgment perpetually.

Continued in the Daily Bugle edition of Thursday, May 18th, 2006.

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