In my last post, I set the stage for discussing the 1991 Armageddon 2001 series by DC comics, and I briefly discussed the two main characters: Matthew Ryder and Monarch. We'll talk about Ryder later, but as the story opens, all we know about Monarch is that he is the undisputed ruler of the world of the future: a "Big Brother" figure who used to be one of the world's costumed superheroes, but who betrayed them in the year 2001, killing them and uniting all the world's governments under his singular, totalitarian rule.
Monarch, perhaps not surprisingly, does not see himself as an evil person. Rather, he sees the world as he has been able to make it as "not perfect, but as close to it as it's ever been." He has reduced violent crime to near-nothing, and the world's diverse peoples now live in peace. That this peace has been bought at the cost of humanity's free will is seen as a small price to pay.
Naturally, it is the viewpoint of the authors (and, I expect, of most people) that this turn of events is a horrible tragedy, and Monarch is instantly understood by all as the "villain" of the story. And when I commented the other day about the "disturbing parallels" between Monarch's world, and what the real world has become in the years since the September 11th, 2001 attacks, I am certainly making a statement that some of the things that the US government has done for the sake of making the world a safer place have gone too far.
But it's worth taking a step back here. How much is too far? What measures are appropriate to be taken for the sake of personal and national security? Even if reports of police brutality and abuse are not uncommon in the news (especially here in the Los Angeles area), very few people think that the police should cease to exist, or that all laws forbidding certain dangerous behaviors should be repealed. Very few people think that anarchy is the solution.
But is there a point at which laws and/or enforcement cross the line? What laws are bad laws? What actions to enforce them are unacceptable? We might all agree that it's wrong for Monarch's police force to gun down a man in the middle of a public venue because the man happened to sell computer disks that contained politically forbidden material, but even in the fictional world of Armageddon 2001, the world didn't get to that point all at once. What we read in this story is the result of several decades of Monarch's rule after the world changed in that story's version of 2001 (itself still 10 years in the future when Armageddon 2001 was published). Is there some point at which people might have been able to say "that law went too far," or "that police action was uncalled for" before all but a few (such as Matthew Ryder) got to point of accepting even the most egregious actions as "normal?"
That is the debate that we have today in the real world. But as much as we might wish it were otherwise, it seems that there are no clear answers. Many actions are considered "over the line" by some people, while other people defend those actions. For example, is the President's wiretapping program "illegal" or "not?" Is it justified? Clearly, there are people of good intent who disagree on this question. Also, despite the unpopularity of the war in Iraq today, people are still bitterly divided over how we should respond (or, even, how we should have responded in the first place) to the situation as it stands, and just where that struggle falls within the greater "war on terror." But most people agree that terrorism must be fought. The question remains: how?
Fans of comics no doubt know that Armageddon 2001 (the story itself) was considered a mistake by many. The identity of Monarch was changed at the last minute as the news leaked that Captain Atom was supposed to become the dangerous future despot. Instead, Hawk was revealed to be Monarch, despite the fact that this created continuity difficulties within the summer's crossover issues themselves. As a result, the serious political commentary the story might have represented was somewhat blunted, and various events in recent DC history have (most likely) removed this tale from continuity altogether (although the character of Monarch remains, having been redefined a number of times until he really is Captain Atom now, as was originally intended).
But it seems to me that Armageddon 2001 raises some issues that are worth considering. Although we do not live in a world where costumed superheroes have ever existed, nor is there any one despotic figure who seems poised to rule over everyone, now or 30 years hence, we still have to wrestle with some of the same issues about what lengths we are willing to go through, or to allow our governments to go through on our behalf, to ensure safety and security for the majority.
Link to Part 3