Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Armageddon 2001 Revisited: Part 3

Last week, I commented on a 16-year-old DC comics event, and speculated about some parallels that could be drawn between that story and our world today. I then commented on the motivations of the main villain of the story, Monarch, and asked where we might "draw the line" between appropriate actions to make our world more secure, and inappropriate ones.

I have not yet commented much upon the "hero" of Armageddon 2001: Matthew Ryder, who becomes the time-traveling Waverider by the end of the first issue. Ryder, one of the few people living in his time openly dissatisfied with the society created by Monarch, seeks to eliminate Monarch from history altogether.

I'll stop just short of accusing Ryder of seeking to commit murder. We're not ever actually told how Ryder seeks to prevent Monarch's ascension. In fact, the whole point of the story is Ryder's search (now as Waverider) to find out which hero becomes Monarch. But what would Waverider have done once he found out who the would-be dictator is? We never really know.

We do know, however, how Waverider attempts to discover the answer to his question. As he comes into contact with each hero in the "present day" (1991 at the time), he is able to read that person's history: past, present and future — or, at least, whatever the most probable future is at the time Waverider comes into contact with the hero (this enables writers to come up with completely different future storylines for heroes, such as Superman, who have multiple titles devoted to them). In so doing, Waverider is able to, in an instant, learn all of the most intimate details of a person's life, without that person ever becoming aware of the intrusion.

I'm not sure if the writers of Armageddon 2001 intended this kind of moral ambiguity or not. It's entirely possible that they did, but I'm not sure that it's clear. In any event, the "hero" of Armageddon 2001 is at best an exponentially more intrusive "peeping tom." At worst, Waverider is not only a would-be murderer of a single man (however dangerous), but of an entire future timeline's worth of possible people who might never come to exist if Waverider succeeds in his goal (and, indeed, Ryder's native future is eventually eliminated altogether).

I commented last week that Armageddon 2001 came to be seen as something of a failure for DC, in part due to the last-minute change of Monarch's identity. It seems that DC never really knew quite what to do with either of the new characters introduced in this event. Monarch was used in a single 4-part story immediately after Armageddon 2001 ended, and then disappeared, only to resurface and be totally revised into a new character, "Extant," in the Zero Hour event of 1994. Waverider fared a little bit better in the short run, showing up every now and again in Superman stories, until the powers-that-be decided to kill him off in Zero Hour (a process that actually facilitated the transformation of Monarch into Extant). Waverider was then immediately re-created as the Matthew Ryder native to our own time (rather than the off-shoot future of Armageddon 2001), so ultimately little had changed, although Waverider's appearances became less common after that point. Extant disappeared again after Zero Hour, coming back just once, so DC could kill him off in the JSA title in 2000. A new Monarch was introduced, then quickly forgotten, in 1995, and DC finally got around to making Captain Atom into Monarch (as was originally intended, although he's not been explicitly called "Monarch" in the comics yet) just last year. And, about the same time, Waverider was apparently killed off again (apparently for good) in last year's 52 event, effectively eliminating the last element of the Armageddon 2001 event from continuity.

Perhaps it's just as well. The whole thing was a bit of a mess. Still, it's worth considering some of the moral issues that the story (consciously or unconsciously) attempted to deal with. Too many people seem to assume that certain actions are good just because they're committed by people we believe are "good." But isn't it more appropriate to determine if someone is "good" on the basis of their actions, rather than the other way around?

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