A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Sunday, January 07, 2007

I just can't take the SRA seriously

Even after my previous post, part of me really wants to rip into the SRA, and dissect its ridiculousness. I still plan to explain what's wrong with Iron Man's legal rationalization for his Negative Zone prison, but so much of the rest of it is too amorphous to get a good grip on.

Now several months ago, I'd have sung a different story. The details of the SRA weren't exactly explicit, but at least they were a little more consistent and straightforward. From Marvel editor Tom Brevoort:

The Superhuman Registration Act does require anybody with superhuman abilities to register, even if they don't intend to use them in a super heroic capacity. It's just like owning a gun.

And at the most basic level, nothing more is really required. However, if you are intending to use your powers in a super heroic capacity, you have to demonstrate the necessary capability and control, demonstrating that you possess the wherewithall to use those powers responsibly. In essence, this is like qualifying to be on the police force.

That'd be easy enough to address. It's also fairly reasonable in a real-world context. But that's not what the SRA turned out to be at all. In the last issue of She-Hulk, the SRA was responsible for getting Jen drafted into working for S.H.I.E.L.D. against her will (how a US law can mandate participation in a UN organization is an obvious question).

But my favorite illustration of how absurd the execution of the SRA has become is this scene from Amazing Spider-Man #535:

The fellow locked up in the bottom left panel is Richard Gilmore, aka Prodigy. I know this because his name is printed on his door in panel 2. So if the government's interest is in knowing WHO has superpowers, or WHAT those powers are, well, they already know the answers to those questions. Better yet, Mr. Gilmore is not a superhuman himself, but rather gets his powers from his Prodigy suit, which, for whatever reason, they've decided to let him keep and wear in his cell. And for some strange reason, Mr. Gilmore doesn't seem to be acting the part of a civil disobedient (like, oh, everyone else in the Anti-Reg camp), but appears honestly confused as to why he's imprisoned.

So here we have a case study where Iron Man is really concerned with a young man who has no innate superhuman powers, but is not concerned at all with the suit that provides superhuman powers. Go figure.

It's this sort of scene that makes it difficult to evaluate the legal ramifications of characters being asked to "register," because after all these months, that word..."register"...has come to mean everything, and nothing. When a character refuses simply to "register," what is he objecting to? Sharing his name? Revealing his powers? Submitting himself for training? Participating in a SHIELD army? Prodigy certainly has nothing to lose from agreeing to the first two, considering it's knowledge the government already has. And it's hard to imagine him being willing to go to prison rather than take part in some training classes. On the other hand, if it's an objection to the conscription aspect that's landed him in prison, then it's hardly fair to say that his crime is simply refusing to "register." Such an innocuous label for such a weighty obligation.