Thanks to my local library I read History of the Marvel Universe by Mark Waid and Javier Rodriguez yesterday, hoping to clarify some of my questions about the Siancong War. It didn’t do anything but give me a greater dislike for that particular retcon.
The premise of the series is that at the end of time, Galactus and his BFF Franklin Richards are preparing to launch Franklin into a new universe; he’ll be our universe’s sole survivor the way Galactus was for the previous cosmos. To pass the remaining moments — and to keep Franklin from dealing with the fact his buddy is about to die — Frankllin asks Galactus to tell him the history of the MU, from genesis to heat death. Galactus, it turns out, is conversant with details of Earth history you’d think would be beneath him (the Rawhide Kid, Freedom’s Five), but they explain that after eating the Watchers’ planet he absorbed all their awareness of Earth minutiae.
It’s largely impossible for me to judge the quality of the book. From the Silver Age through the end of the last century, I’m so familiar with the material that I just skimmed most of those issues. That’s not a fault in Waid’s writing. Nor can I blame him for all the tedious big events History has to cover, or the retcons I hate — a Stone Age Avengers, a 1950s Avengers (unrelated to the What If version who are now the Agents of Atlas), SHIELD being merely the latest incarnation of an organization going back to ancient Egypt (surprisingly they’ve dropped the idea Hydra is an offshoot of some ancient conspiracy called Leviathan) and the absurd number of aliens who’ve been manipulating human genetics. The section giving a capsule history of Marvel’s cosmic entities is clunky, but that was inevitable — it’s hard to write about such things smoothly.
I do, however, fault Waid for being too reverential to Silver Age canon. He includes a lot of earlier retcons — the First Line, the Monster Hunters, the Orson Randall Iron fist, the Invaders — in the appropriate period. But even though the Sentry appeared at the dawn of the modern heroic age, Waid doesn’t mention him until he returns years later. Likewise Jessica Jones’ career as Jewel should have been covered when it was happening, rather than Waid telling us about when she reappears in Alias.
I respect that there’s a shit-ton of information to fit in but a little attention to the rest of the world would have been nice too. The series doesn’t mention Captain Britain until he forms Excalibur and its only acknowledgement of Russia’s long metahuman history is mentioning the Black Widow. And I’m really baffled that H.G. Well’s Martian invasion takes place in 1917; like the Siancong War itself, that seems a much larger game changer than having it take place in the late Victorian Age. Apparently this brilliant idea comes from the godawful Original Sin crossover event.
Speaking of Siancong, here’s the relevant text in the annotations:Right from the start, this defeats the goal of detaching Marvel characters’ military histories from any specific era. I can’t buy the French fighting any colonial wars later than the early 1960s when they shed almost all of their colonies. France conceded Algeria’s independence in 1962 even though that enraged some of the French military to the point they attempted a coup. I can’t buy them fighting for Siancong any later than that.
That ties Wong Chu and the Swordsman to a battle taking place in probably the late 1950s, which makes both of them waaaaay too old to play a role in respectively Iron Man’s and Hawkeye’s origins. It would also imply that the Siancong War ran more than 40 years, which is absurd. Of course, it’s possible to fix — the initial revolutionary government went bad, the Wong Chu/Swordsman revolution came later, as did our involvement — but that raises other problems; if the country isn’t under French control, Swordsman can’t be an idealist siding with the locals against his own people. Did the power of the Dragon’s Breath make them both immortal? Lord knows, Marvel’s racked up a lot more immortals than it used to have, many of them on display here.
For a continuity fix, Siancong’s not working very well, is it?Then there’s the racist aspect of the concept, something I discussed in my first post about this retcon. In that one I took issue with the Yellow Peril imagery; reading the history above makes it worse. Saying we were in Siancong to liberate them from a communist dictatorship means this is the fantasy war Vietnam was supposed to be. Our government assured us we were fighting for Freedom in ‘nam, liberating them from the Communists who were oppressing the freedom-loving, pro-democratic nation. In reality, Ho Chi Minh and General Giap fought against French colonialism at a time we supported it. As the Vietnamese would happily have picked Ho as their leader, our government made up South Vietnam as an independent state, giving us an excuse to keep fighting the Reds. And no, the South Vietnamese government was not at all democratic or freedom-loving; if you want details, Stanley Karnow’s book on Vietnamese history is excellent).
In Siancong it seems we were the heroes so many Americans imagined we were in Vietnam. Conversely Wong Chu, who apparently fills the Ho Chi Minh role in Siancong history, is a black-dyed villain. That leaves a very bad taste in my mouth, much as Rambo rewriting the rights and wrongs of the war did.
But I guess we’re stuck with Siancong for the foreseeable future.
#SFWApro. What If cover by Kirby, everything else by Rodriguez