Last week, we asked readers to submit their suggestions of top national priorities in comic book universes. Congratulations to our winner, Brian Moore, who proposed superhero/metahuman regulation, writing:
Governments have spent eons establishing a system of rules that are dependent on how things "work" right now. If people start turning up with abilities that lets them get around those rules, then registering and regulating those individuals will be top priority, since you'd (from the government's perspective) need to keep those people in line or none of your rules will work. It's a necessary pre-condition for everything else, and therefore the highest priority.
Sure, it's to the point that this plot device has become trite within "superhero" worlds, but I think that's only because it's an accurate guess about what would happen.
There's plenty of evidence to corroborate this theory (much of which we blogged about previously). Of course, the most pertinent example is the superhuman registration act, which requires superheroes to register with the federal government, thereby forcing them to abandon any insulation from criminal prosecution (or taxation). The Act was so important that it was actually the the cause of an entire Marvel crossover event and sparked a civil war between the superheroes of the universe (and you know it's important when a concept not only gets its own series, but filters into other existing titles as well).
Another example is Proposition X, a bill in the Marvel Universe which would ban unauthorized mutant breeding. Indeed, this is considerably less pertinent than the superhuman registration act for many reasons, not the least of which being that the mutant population has dwindled and mutant births now happen rarely, if ever (not to mention Utopia does not have its own series). Nevertheless, the fact that the prospect of the passage of the bill has fomented such fanatical and extreme responses from the public is reflective of a deep-rooted prejudice, perhaps not towards superheroes in particular, but certainly towards metahumans of a certain type.
If we look to other universes outside of Marvel, we see similar examples of this. In the DC Universe, there exists an organization known as Checkmate, a United Nations agency affiliated with the Security Council. The agency acts as a metahuman monitoring force, charged with preserving the balance between the globe's human and superhuman population.
In fact, the DC Universe at this very moment is plagued with an enormous metahuman crisis--one that is so severe that is has engendered a wave of xenophobia and paranoia. I am referring to the emergence of the 100,000 Kryptonians from former Kandor and the creation of New Krypton. After a failed attempt at assimilating these Kryptonians , anti-alien sentiment grew so strong that they were relegated to Superman's former former Fortress of Solitude, secluded from the rest of the planet's population. After this too had failed, they had moved to a completely separate planet across the yellow sun.
And still, Earth's population remains concerned that the Kryptonians are planning a campaign to destroy or dominate the planet. This has led to the United Nations agreeing to ban any Kryptonians (save for Superman) from so much as entering the planet's atmosphere, and has also led to the creation of yet another covert group, Project 7734, tasked with keeping the alien threat in check. Although this is a secret organization (that not even the President of the United States is aware of), it managed to generate extreme hatred of aliens by strategically denigrating Superman in the public's eye.
Then, of course, there there are the Boys, a covert CIA-backed group of renegades who monitor (and frequently kick the ass of) superheroes who abuse their powers (a problem that runs rampant in that particular universe).
Indeed, superhero regulation might be an easy answer, as Brian noted, since it the current theme of many comic book titles. And yet the concept has been so prominent throughout comic book history that it can most certainly be considered the United States' top national priority. In many titles, people (at least in major cities such as New York, Metropolis, Gotham City, Keystone City, etc.) seem to be much more willing to spend their tax dollars on the control and prevention of metahuman disaster than on any other issue. In New York City, J. Jonah Jameson has directed most of his administration's budget towards commissioning an anti-Spider-Man task force--and his public support seems to remain steady. In the Marvel Universe, people are more than willing to give up large portions of their income towards funding H.A.M.M.E.R. rather than health care. The logic seems to be: what good is health care when at any given moment, the world is vulnerable to Skrull Invasions, terrorists in Iron Man suits, unauthorized mutant births, etc? And what if the superheroes falter (as is believed Tony Stark did with the Skrull Invasion)?
What's worse is that supervillains are very aware of this. In fact, if entire US population were to suddenly devote unconditional trust towards their superheroes, the supervillains of the DC and Marvel Universes would have almost no means of defeating them. Is it any wonder that the best villainous plots have involved turning the public against their beloved heroes? And is it any wonder that they always seem to do it so easily?
The reason is that no matter how many times Superman saves the world, there is always that hint of doubt. There is always the possibility that one day he'll turn the other way (see Irredeemable for evidence of this). At any given time, if you take a public opinion poll on national priorities, I'm willing to bet that metahuman regulation tops the list.
Congratulations again to Brian Moore. Please e-mail us at ecocomics dot blog at gmail dot com with a list of your top five graphic novels under $20 and your mailing address.