Friday, February 23, 2007

Marvel's Civil War

I was going to write about Civil War next week when the last issue of Front Line appears but the whole thing ended up so silly that I couldn't wait. Because after everything that's happened, after the big ideological debates (more below), after all the bad blood, the deaths, the damage, the flagrant violation of the Constitution (looking at you there Mr. Iron Man), well let's see…. Captain America just quits. Yep, that's right, just quits. I think this can be seen two ways. Either Millar & McNiven (plus their editors) had an idea for the ending they were too clumsy to pull off or they're just too incompetent to have been allowed near a project like this. Let's just ignore the fact that Cap is a WW2 veteran and would have known perfectly well that collateral damage is inevitable. Even in that case there's no build-up (possibly going back a couple of issues) or emphasis on just how much damage (which really just looks like any other superhero rampage). Cap just screams at civilians holding him, looks up and then decides to quit. Can anybody spell "anti-climatic"? And if it was such an obvious decision then shouldn't many on his side agreed instead of, let's count, NONE of them? Oh, and then we have Reed's exposition letter to Sue (which really should send her straight to the arms of Namor) that doesn't really explain much. Did the heroes that given amnesty still have to sign up for the Act? I would guess so but that seems quite odd. After all this nothing seems quite resolved. Just what was the point of the cheesy, out-of-place Reed-Peter dialogue "Amazing"/"Spectacular"? Or the deux ex imperius appearance of Namor, which would be completely unexplained if you hadn't been following the tie-ins? How did Ben suddenly appear in just the right city block halfway around the world from where he was last seen? And why bring Clor back? Just bad writing all around. (For a funny synopsis check out Civil War in 30 Seconds at There doesn't seem to be a permalink but it's for Feb 21.)

There's a saying that's more clever in its original form but goes something like: Most stories have two sides and in a melodrama one side is right but in a drama both are. The original promotions and interviews for Civil War promised the drama, that idea that both sides would be right. It would have been a tricky approach since if superheroes actually existed in any kind of real-life world there would certainly be something like the Registration Act, if not quite so heavily governmental then at least something resembling deputies or tighter legal controls. But 60+ years of superhero comics have created the opposite thinking and while it works fine for those stories if there's going to be any genuine balancing of the two approaches then there will need to be more emphasis on how reasonable registration is (whether or not this particular form). As it happened Marvel never really pursued that. By the infamous issue 4 the pro-registration side were already the bad guys. I've still never seen any decent explanation about the new Thunderbolts which still seems hideously out of character for pretty much everybody (even though Ellis' series is off to a good start on its own terms).

As it turned out this must be the first big crossover where all the really interesting stuff appeared in the tie-ins and the main series was more or less botched. Front Line has been pretty solid even if issue 10 was mostly filler. Tie-ins at New Avengers (especially the Luke Cage issue), the Spider-Man books, Black Panther, Captain America and some others have generally had the real conflict and power that Civil War itself doesn't. An exception is probably Fantastic Four which never satisfactorily explained Reed supporting registration (this is the guy who a couple of years ago invaded a foreign country, ignored all U.S. government responses and nearly started an international war). This series just felt like the writers wanted to split the Four and just did it arbitrarily, not having any good way otherwise.

Something that nobody will care about in a few years is how Marvel also really fumbled the production. Yesterday, the owner of my comics store pointed out that this had been seven issues in eleven months and by its nature delayed several other series, most notably the Spider-Man books (he said there had been nine ASM issues in the past year). In other words, Marvel's inability to keep to schedule--and this is hardly the only such book--directly impacted stores' finances. The main response from Marvel has mainly been that McNiven should be given the opportunity to keep the series consistent but really even the story would benefit from having been done on time instead of greatly drawn out.