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‘Civil War: Marvels Snapshots #1’ (review)

Written by Saladin Ahmed
Art by Ryan Kelly
Published by Marvel Comics
Buy it Digitally from comiXology


I remember when Civil War dropped in 2006. It rocked our worlds. While ultimately, I didn’t think it was particularly good, the premise was a powerful attention-grabber: The U.S. government passes the Superhero Registration Act after a horrific supervillain attack, broadcast live on reality TV, kills 600 people and all but one of the New Warriors team.

Among the Marvel heroes, Captain America leads a faction opposed to the act, Iron Man heads up supporters, and Spider-Man is caught in the middle.

If you pay any attention to history, politics or current events, you probably can see where this was going.

The new law is sold as officially sanctioning supers in law enforcement/crime-fighting activity. The folks in charge fail to consider the authoritarian ends the act could be used for, and soon authorities are rounding up all non-compliant superhumans.

At the time, Civil War was seen as a commentary on post-9/11 America and the massive human rights violations committed in the name of George W. Bush’s war on terror. The Iraq War, abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, torture memos and Guantanamo Bay.

During that time we saw the bureaucratic machinery that created the Department of Homeland Security, privatized war profiteering, transformed INS into ICE, and militarized police force forces across the nation.

Now we’re in 2020, and all that authoritarian apparatus created in the name of security has had legit white supremacists in charge of running it thanks to Donald Trump and his cohort. They’ve sent it into overdrive these past four years: separation of families at the border, children in cages, encouraged police brutality at rallies against police brutality, the Muslim ban, and more.

Just as Mark Millar’s Civil War was speaking to those issues in 2006, Eisner Award winner/Hugo Award nominee Saladin Ahmed and Ryan Kelly’s story “The Program” for Civil War: Marvels Snapshots is speaking to 2020.

S.H.I.E.L.D. rank-and-file agent Clyde Dobronski signs up for Commander Maria Hill’s super-powered round-up detail. He’s a banal stereotype of an everyman character – straight white man, older and pudgy, complete with the haircut and mustache you’d expect.

But it makes sense for this story, which is built on two guiding maxims of fascism: the banality of evil, and that all it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.

After all, Ahmed’s sketch of Dobronski presents him as someone who believes in fairness and justice, but probably hasn’t spent a lot of thought on the systemic inequities built into his way of life.

The story opens on S.H.I.E.L.D. agents apprehending a super known as “Helper” in Toledo, Ohio. Helper turns out to be a teenager named Yusuf Abbas, and he’s been using his low-level elemental abilities to handle a slew of issues from fixing potholes to saving a busload of schoolkids.

Dobronski is operating the holding cells for the supers before they are transferred to a “designated facility,” as he calls it. “You mean a concentration camp,” Helper replies.

Ahmed’s narrative is built on mirroring Dobronski and Abbas, prisoner and jailer, as they deal with the prejudices unleashed by the Superhero Registration Act. Through flashbacks, you also get to see how their run-ins with a certain member of the SRA’s resistance influences their actions in this story.

The story turns when a teenaged girl who can fly is brought in by Dobronski’s brutalizing partner Bartles. It’s not lost on me that both detainees are Arab-Americans, either, tying back to the original Civil War’s topicality while also speaking to today’s reckonings on the police state and people of color.

What will Dobronski do when confronted with injustice, even if it’s lawful? When virtues such as “dependability and zeal,” which S.H.I.E.L.D. Commander Maria Hill commends Dobronski for, can so easily be turned to horrific use?

It’s only a comic book, so you likely can guess where this story will go.

But it’s well done, and the lesson for our real world still rings true when reading the daily news.



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