Historicizing the Present in Harbinger Wars II 4

by Drew Baumgartner

Harbinger Wars 2 4

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

All those innocent contractors hired to do the job were killed! Casualties of a war they had nothing to do with. All right, look, you’re a roofer, and some juicy government contract comes your way; you got the wife and kids and the two-story in suburbia — this is a government contract, which means all sorts of benefits. All of a sudden these left-wing militants blast you with lasers and wipe out everyone within a three-mile radius. You didn’t ask for that. You have no personal politics. You’re just trying to scrape out a living.

Randal, Clerks

Violence is never a good look. Self-defense may justify it in some cases, but any innocents caught in the crossfire tar even the most noble motives. It turns heroes into villains and obscures the line between good and evil. I’ve had the luxury of thinking of this as a hypothetical question for most of my life, the kind of moral quandry characters might be confronted with in comics, but not exactly an active concern in my day to day life. But in a country facing the rise of white-supremacists, I can’t tell you how many think pieces I’ve read in the past two years debating the morality of punching nazis. More broadly, the questions are about when violence is justifiable, and how much collateral damage we’re willing to accept of said violence. These are exactly the questions everyone is weighing in Harbinger Wars 2 4, though they’re far from the only “ripped from the headlines” commentary in the issue, which paints a startlingly nuanced portrait of our times.

I quoted that bit from Clerks in reference to G.A.T.E.’s crashing airship, which everyone agrees probably has innocent people on hit who don’t deserve death. But Aric later suggests that the collateral damage of Amanda’s blackout is much, much larger; that many more innocent people — perhaps even those sympathetic to Amanda’s cause — are suffering because of her actions. In the end, even Aric seems to agree with Amanda’s argument, but he maintains that she’s “done too much damage.” That is, she’s fighting for a noble cause, but those ends don’t quite justify the death toll of the means.

But those ends are what make the political commentary here so pointed. Maybe cutting power to the entire country and crashing an airship full of innocent wage-slaves is a bridge too far, but this issue ends with virtually everyone agreeing that G.A.T.E. was in the wrong here. And the crime that convinces everyone as such? Perhaps Ninjak put it best:

Ninjak vs Palmer

There you have it. The unforgivable crime that the government committed was imprisoning children. Only dyed-in-the-wool “good soldiers” like Palmer and Capshaw can fight for a cause that does anything like that.

With all of these timely political and moral questions swirling around this issue, writer Matt Kindt cleverly uses Capshaw’s after-the-fact narration to push us into the future, giving us an almost historical perspective on these events. That little extra bit of distance makes Palmer’s monstrousness and Ninjak’s righteousness all the more obvious. And perhaps it also makes Aric’s “yes, but” to Amanda’s argument the obvious way forward. There’s definitely some truth to the notion that anyone complicit with fascism is a fascist, but there’s also some truth to the notion that the contractors on the second Death Star didn’t deserve the death that, say, the Emperor himself earned. Fighting evil — and only evil — is hard, vigilant work, but that seems to be the task Aric has set for the Valiant Universe going forward. The silver lining is, everyone seems to be on the same side now.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

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