Category Archives: Philosophy

Prophets and The Final Frontier

 Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

I was recently honored to be a guest on The Pink Smoke podcast to join the wonderful Bill Teck, John Cribbs, and Chris Funderburg in discussing the rich, fascinating, and flawed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. The winding road that led me to this in-depth discussion of Final Frontier actually began with how I couldn’t help but feel let down, maybe even failed by, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

All through Deep Space Nine, I was waiting for SOMEONE to ask the series’ ever-present, all-purpose plot drivers, The Prophets, “what does God need with a starship?” the way Captain Kirk does in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Or “what does God need with a Space Station?” Or if not “God,” “omniscient aliens who experience all time all at once” or whatever.

I realize The Final Frontier is derided by critics and fans alike, but I think that moment at the end is so emblematic of Star Trek and its philosophy as to make it an essential part of the franchise. It is such a characteristic Kirk moment as well, to not only have the courage to stand up to a being of indescribable power, but also the intelligence to recognize a huckster when he sees one, no matter how powerful they might be. 

As a Catholic, this is also where Gene Roddenberry’s secular humanism meets with my own beliefs, as no creature, no matter how powerful or divine, has the right to ensnare or enslave another in its will. Sentient beings have the right to determine their own destiny, to make their accomplishments on their own. It is this viewpoint that is at the heart of the Prime Directive (no matter how many times Kirk himself violated it). 

I watched episode after episode of Deep Space Nine in which the Prophets interfered in galactic politics, the lives of Bajorans, the Dominion War, and Captain Sisko’s own life for reasons entirely their own, reasons they rarely, if ever, bothered to communicate with anyone. Meanwhile, Sisko himself was happy to take the path of least resistance as he masqueraded as the messiah for a religion he did not believe in, and Starfleet was all too willing to encourage this state of affairs if it meant maintaining an equilibrium between the Federation and Bajor that allowed them free access to the wormhole. 

I was hoping Deep Space Nine would, at some point, admonish the wormhole aliens somehow for their interference in the affairs of other sentient beings, for their manipulation of multiple generations of Siskos, or for imbuing certain beings with a direct link to their outside-of-time celestial thought-temple while arbitrarily ignoring others. Instead, the series allowed them to annihilate an entire Dominion fleet on a whim, causing the deaths of thousands, if not millions, of beings (beings enslaved to the Dominion, by the way), while the audience is supposed to cheer this last-minute salvation. I understand asking Deep Space Nine to admonish certain behavior is anathema to a show created to live in moral gray areas, but when it turns around and asks us to cheer for millions of lives being erased, I don’t feel like too much of a hypocrite. 

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine "What You Leave Behind"

Finally, in “What You Leave Behind,” the last episode of the series, Benjamin Sisko, our supposed hero, is called to join with the Prophets for… some reason, abandoning his friends, his new wife and mother-to-be of his second child, and, most egregiously, his son Jake. I have a lot of problems with Sisko as a character, especially as a Star Trek captain, but what he never lost sight of was being a great Dad. I thought Sisko’s best moments were with Jake, and we could see the human, caring side of both Captain Sisko and Avery Brooks as they interacted so lovingly with Jake/Cirroc Lofton. For the show to take that away from father, son, and the audience is a bridge too far and a betrayal of the characters they had built over seven years. 

I understand the DS9 creators and writers wanted to construct a darker, more morally ambiguous story for Star Trek, but for their main character to disavow what made them the best possible version of themselves, to abandon their family for an ambiguous and ill-defined “destiny” prescribed to them by beings who have been nothing but manipulative and, at best, aloof, is, to be honest, infuriating. I can’t help but feel that Sisko’s legacy as a character is now a captain of moral compromise (see: “In the Pale Moonlight”) and a mouthpiece for omnipotent aliens who are obsessed with manipulating one particular planet for some undefined reason. If he had rejected the Prophets and chosen to stay with his family, to ask them “what do gods need with a space station?” his legacy could have been as a husband and father, what he was best at. Well, for me, anyway. 

-John Arminio

John Arminio is a comic book, film, and heavy metal enthusiast who peddles his wares at Comix Connection in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. He can be found discussing movies, politics, and his favorite Star Trek captains at QuasarSniffer on Twitter and Instagram.

DMZ = Iraq?

DMZ is a brilliant series written by Brian Wood and published by DC as part of it’s adult Vertigo comics series. The story takes place in the aftermath of a new civil war in the United States. The country is divided in two with the “Free States” made up of militias, etc. holding a large portion of the country and the traditional United States government holed up in New England. New York City is cut off as a DMZ patrolled by the United Nation’s forces and a Haliburton like force called Trustwell.

What started off as a study of journalism in a war zone shifted recently with a story arc involving the election of leadership in the DMZ. Both forces vied for office with a third option called the Delgado Nation entering the fray. Having just finished the sixth and final part of the arc I can’t help but wonder if this was a metaphor or the elections that have taken place in Iraq.

While sides tried to prop up a puppet government another option, not popular with those involved but popular with the people, decided to throw it’s hat in the ring. Could Delgado Nation be a metaphor for Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Iraqi political forces in comic book form? A parallel exists of people giving their lives to vote, violence preventing them, and corruption in the counting all around.

The series has take a definite shift from it’s early issues and is moving from surviving a war zone towards how you govern a nation. If nothing else DMZ is THE must read political comic book.

Captain America Approach to Foreign Policy

Recently in the American Prospect, Ezra Klein wrote a blog Captain Americapost entitled “A Superman Approach to Foreign Policy” where he describes current American foreign policy in relation to Superman, Captain America, and Jack Bauer. While I understand the point Ezra is making, his understanding of comic book characters comes off as limited, and simplistic ignoring the very rich history both Superman and Captain America have. And “facts” cited are often inaccurate. So first let me set the facts straight:

“Superman and Captain America were superheroes of an odd sort: tremendously powerful beings whose primary struggle was often to follow the self-imposed rules and strictures that lent their power a moral legitimacy.”

Fact: While Superman may be tremendously powerful, Captain America is very much human with extra speed and strength given by the super soldier serum to him. And while I agree both characters follow self-imposed rules, these have lead to questionable power and legitimacy, but more on that later.

“Neither allowed themselves to kill, and both sought to work within the law.”

Well, Captain America has killed, and the fact is Superman is famously attacking a gang on the cover of Action Comics #1, pretty sure that counts as vigilante justice and working outside the law.

“Given their strength, either could have sought world domination, and even if they didn’t, they could have been viewed with deep suspicion and even hatred by those who were convinced that they one day would seek world domination.”

#1 Captain America doesn’t have that type of strength. #2 Superman did try to impose his moral authority on the world in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace by ridding the world of nuclear weapons and the comic Superman for All Seasons. Also in Frank Millar’s brilliant Batman: the Dark Knight Returns, Superman is the arm of a fascist United States government imposing it’s will on the world.

“Indeed, soon enough, both were forming communities of like-minded super beings (The Justice League for Superman, the Avengers for Captain America) and generally operating much like, well, the nation that birthed them.”

Captain America didn’t form the Avengers, case closed on that part of the argument. They were put together by the very Halliburton like, end justifies the means Iron Man.

“If Superman and Captain America were the emblems of the national mood directly after World War II, Bauer expressed the national anxieties uncovered by 9-11.”

Well the issue here is that both Captain America and Superman were created before World War II. They reflected the Great Depression and unease of immigrants and the populace as a whole. Superman is the immigrant. Shipped off like Moses to our world from a dying planet and being adopted by a mid-west couple. Captain America was a great example of ra-ra flag waving. He was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby who were repulsed by the growing power of the Nazi’s in the lead up to World War II. His first appearance is in Captain America #1 which debuted in 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor. In this issue he is already knee deep fighting Nazi’s something the United States had yet to do. Much like throughout the years Marvel’s Universe and characters were often ahead of the times when it came to international issues or domestic policy. Captain America was a call to action against oppression and intolerance much like the character Jack Bauer is a reaction to the current political climate. Those early Captain America stories showed rather racist depictions of Germans and later Japanese much like Muslims may be depicted unfairly on the television show 24.

The latest layers of the Captain America mythos is what’s truly amazing and what Ezra clearly misses. In a recent origins series it’s revealed that Steve Rogers was not in fact the first Captain America. In truth the super soldier program that created him had a Tuskegee like past leaving many African American men crippled in their later years. His shining beacon of democracy was tainted by the sins of his creation. As mentioned above Captain America entered World War II far before the United States did in the real world.

But this isn’t the last time that he would be a part of a offensive defense of democracy. In the recent mini-series Secret War Captain America was part of a secret operation to overthrow a democratically elected government who was secretly funding and plotting against a terrorist attack on the United States. But what’s most interesting was his turn as a anti-United States resistance fighter in Civil War. In standing up against a Patriot Act like legislation Captain America leads a band of heroes against government regulation. While standing up for the liberty he represents he in turn becomes an enemy of the state and terrorist.

Captain America is America, both sides of the same coin. He represents the interventionist, the patriotic, the benevolent, the aggressive, the diplomatic, the tainted past, liberty, freedom, democracy, a real reflection upon the nation and it’s people. The question is what Ezra proposes in the end, “Do we want the foreign policy of Jack Bauer and John Yoo, or of Clark Kent and George Marshall?” The fact is we have been living the Captain America Approach to Foreign Policy since our founding.