Comic Fodder

Marvel's "Civil War" Comes to Surprisingly Logical Conclusion

This is a column by the guy who usually writes the DC columns that clutter up the place. I'm mostly hoping to start a discussion. We've provided a comment section. Please, discuss.



Warning: This review is riddled with spoilers. Management assumes that, if you're reading this, you were one of the 200,000 people who bought issue #7 and read it cover to cover. I absolve myself of any spoilerage.



How else could it have ended?

No, really.

Did readers honestly believe that the protection of MJ and Aunt May from the villainous hordes would really, in any way, convince the government to let masked yahoo's in tights continue to cause huge bodycounts and massive property damage with no oversight? Or that they'd have much remorse about throwing people in a containable prison? Or, if recent history is much of an indicator, any problem refusing the right to trial?

Civil War #7 may, or may not, have ushered in Marvel's next generation of "realism" or, as I like to think of it, "thinking like a grown-up". The events which led to Civil War were, given the parameters of the Marvel U, an entirely likely event. Given that the Marvel U's United States is overrun with mutants, The Hulk, various evil and armored crooks, monsters, evil deities and God-knows-what... It's probably safe to assume that the casualties in the Marvel U are a lot higher than anyone cares to think about. Why, just pondering the people who have died (both named and random by-standers) as various villains have tried to get to Spidey... the number is probably well into the triple digits.

There's a reason the idea behind the Ultimates feels.... right. As does the current portrayal of the Ultimate FF and Spidey. They're takes of original ideas with a less myopic, DC Comics understanding of how superheroes could work.

Millar either did something very smart or something very dumb by leading readers to Cap and Spidey's point of view. From a narrative stand point, Cap's revelation that the Superhuman Community's Family Squabbles are doing nothing but proving Iron Man's team absolutely right is a fine bit of writing, and a bit of a twist to decades of reader expectations. After all, how often do we find out Cap's gut feeling is wrong? Perhaps individually the heroes/superhumans of the Marvel Universe are containable, but a serious brawl like the one provoked in issue #6 and spilling into issue #7 would be a stern reminder to Cap that heroes don't go to daggers-drawn just to fight amongst themselves. Heroes are supposed to exist to serve the populace, not terrorize it.

This conundrum puts a lot of fanboys in a spot (this is where one might suggest Millar and Marvel made a boo-boo). After all, comic book readers can be a conservative, unbending lot. Some readers still long for the days when MJ and Peter weren't married (20 years ago, people...). The fury at Morrison's take on New X-Men and Marvel's shameful erasing of his series should be an indicator that change, even when entirely logical, is not always welcome.

CIVWAR007_2.jpg
Things get out of hand when there's only one slice of pie left

But here's the deal: As much as one will see the phrase "readers hate change" coming from some in the industry, that doesn't seem to be the case. After all, readers pick up comics every month based on the soliciation's promise of a change in the status quo, but a change is rarely actually delivered. Instead, a series of red herrings and false promises are usually delivered, and the heroes return to the status quo, not because readers aren't onboard the change, but the self-fulfilling prophecy of the belief that you can't fundamentally change things.

If editors provide a good framework, and provide decent stories, readers will accept whatever is thrown at them. Throw something that doesn't sit true to what's come before, and, no... they won't provide their sheckles for your glossy colored pages. But the willingness of readers to buy things like Civil War in huge numbers should tell the market that readers are looking for change. They're looking for their stories to progress.

With Cap & Co.'s surrender, Marvel has, in a way, put a big 'ol matzah ball out there that they've got to take care of. They finally found an event which may be the demarcating device of the Marvel U as "Pre" and "Post-Crisis" refers to the watershed events of 20-odd years ago for DC. Marvel's announcement of "The Initiative" seems like a pretty good idea for keeping the ball rolling and maintaining interest. A super-police force is also something we've never seen before, but we sort of think would happen if superheroes showed up tomorrow in New York. And, if it doesn't work, Wanda can always have another breakdown.

Readers can also complain about the spin-off's, etc... but by following Civil War, Civil War: Front Line, Amazing Spider-Man, Black Panther, and possibly one or two other tie-in's, I never felt left behind. (Again, I'm the DCU guy... just be glad I'm reading Marvel at all.) Good for Marvel's sales. Good for me, because that is NOT how DC managed Infinite Crisis.

One minor complaint:

I'm from Texas, a fact of which I am not embarassed (though my fellow Texans go to no small efforts to try to reverse this sentiment). Is that really the line-up we get? They look like a crew getting ready to hit the stage at Six Flags circa 1986 in "A Tribute to the Lone Star State". That's like insisting that Florida's team is composed of gigantic mutant mice and superheroes riding Rascal scooters. I guess I should just be glad that there are Texas-centric heroes, but... I mean, I wouldn't assume all New York heroes were armed with Taxi cabs, Pizza carts and dressed like the Statue of Liberty. (I should have kept that to myself. I've probably just given some enterprising youth an idea for his first black and white indie.)



That's it. That's what I had to say. I'll leave an actual review of Civil War to someone who knows better.

Now, please, discuss. Tell me I'm an idiot, but tell me why. Put on your critical thinking caps and take me to the mat for Cap and Spidey. Come on, I can take it.

Questioning your presumptions: Why is "thinking like a grown-up" a good way to handle a comic book universe that started out as kid-friendly and still pays lip service to being "all ages"? Did you see the item cited on The Beat today about the comic shop that didn't know how to serve a young kid who wanted an Iron Man comic?

http://pwbeat.publishersweekly.com/blog/2007/03/01/things-that-go-on-in-comics-shops/

I'm not suggesting that comics go back to being G rated, but a healthy PG wouldn't be a bad thing.

Also ... on the one hand, you might find Cap's reaction -- punking out -- to be logical in the circumstance, but were the writers wise to PUT Captain America in a position where punking out is the good choice? Is that a story we want to tell?

And the story logic that a world as dangerous as Marvel Earth requires registration ... that seems ill-considered to me. Given the tide flowing against general civil liberties in the US for the past six years or so, with the wiretapping, Patriot Acting, habeas-corpus-suspending badness, is this a story we want to read? Because the parallels here seem pretty unavoidable.

Was the "flaw" in the Marvel U that all these dangerous nuts are running around, they need to be outted and investigated and licensed? Is that the "flaw" we want to explore? Why not the "flaw" that radiation actually only gives you cancer? 'Cause that would break the pleasure of the superhero universe, is why. Perhaps someone should've applied that consideration before hatching this "war."

So I think that to praise Millar et. al. because you think CW 7 does the best it can with what CW 1-6 (and all those crossovers) left to deal with is sort of missing the point, or at least not looking at the situation from the best perspective.

-- Posted by: brian at March 1, 2007 5:31 PM

I think Brian asked some good questions.

Brian: Why is "thinking like a grown-up" a good way to handle a comic book universe that started out as kid-friendly and still pays lip service to being "all ages"? Did you see the item cited on The Beat today about the comic shop that didn't know how to serve a young kid who wanted an Iron Man comic?

Ryan: There's no doubt that comic writers and readers want to have their cake and eat it, too. The mean age for comic audiences is somewhere over 20 and skewing closer to 30. Hopefully by age 20 (and certainly 30) readers should be able to understand fairly nuanced and complicated issues. By "thinking like a grown-up", I was indicating that the writers were at least cognizant of the unlikelihood of the US government to take a back seat to superhuman rampages breaking out in major metropolitan areas. There are almost no logical reasons for the vast majority of superheroes to operate under a secret identity, except that a secret identity is part and parcel of the medium, and it's generally expected.

In writing toward adults, the secret identity and social responsibility of being accountable for your actions (including police officers) is something adults expect out of civil servants and why vigilantism is generally frowned upon in real life.

As kids, the bystanders are cardboard cut-outs, but to a responsible adult, we know why police are put on leave and there's an investigation every time they are forced to draw their weapon.

As to the comic shop owner vis-a-vis Iron Man: Mayhaps he should know his own inventory for just such a question. But, depending on the age of the kid, a lot of us grew up reading some fairly complicated stories about bigotry and drug addiction in comics, as well as watching them on TV. If you're concerned about "the good 'ol days" of Tony Stark, my first memory of Iron Man that wasn't a cartoon was that he was a war profiteer and was seeking penance. Perhaps the battle to get there is a little ugly, but I understood even as an elementary school kid that the point was that Tony was trying to make amends for a crime. Just as I understood Steven Strange was an arrogant drunk who was paying for his sins.

Brian: Also ... on the one hand, you might find Cap's reaction -- punking out -- to be logical in the circumstance, but were the writers wise to PUT Captain America in a position where punking out is the good choice? Is that a story we want to tell?

Ryan: Yes, because if the 20th century taught us anything, it's that fighting never spills out into the streets of urban areas or puts innocent people in harm's way.

I would suggest you review that sequence again wherein Cap "punks out". Ask yourself if a person who is supposedly fighting for the people is helping them or earning their trust by turning their doorstep into a war zone? And if that wasn't Tony's point all along.

Who takes care of those people in the aftermath when Spidey goes home to have one of those bedroom sequences with MJ? Isn't that sort of the point? That with SHIELD behind them, the heroes had damage control, accountability and could better pick the when and where of their fights? Rather than once again tearing up mid-town? Getting renters insurance in the Marvel's Manhattan must be a nightmare.

Brian: And the story logic that a world as dangerous as Marvel Earth requires registration ... that seems ill-considered to me. Given the tide flowing against general civil liberties in the US for the past six years or so, with the wiretapping, Patriot Acting, habeas-corpus-suspending badness, is this a story we want to read? Because the parallels here seem pretty unavoidable.

Ryan: I'm as much of a lefty (or libertarian) on these issues as the next guy, but that's apples and oranges. You're talking about people who can shoot lasers from their fingertips putting on a hat and goggles to prevent recognition deciding that their "gift" is a sign from God to go out and fight people in the street with questionable training, at best.

Civil War draws some clunky comparisons about tactics of the government and compromises made by government officials, but there's a far cry between people hopping around rooftops, and the fallout from 9/11.

Now, if you want to talk about methods that Stark and Richards utilized to get their way, that's another story, as their MO was definitely Constitutionally questionable (which may or may not reflect Gitmo, depending upon your political persuasion). And, as we all learned, you need to do a lot of beta-testing before unleashing your hastily cloned Thunder God.

I would also point out that you're treading close to asking Marvel to censor discussion of fantasy political issues as their possible reflection upon our own current political situation doesn't necessarily jive with your POV. Marvel has ALWAYS had various wetworks prisons where they supposedly stashed the super crooks (ie: The Vault). This one just has a harder to reach address.

Brian: Was the "flaw" in the Marvel U that all these dangerous nuts are running around, they need to be outted and investigated and licensed? Is that the "flaw" we want to explore? Why not the "flaw" that radiation actually only gives you cancer? 'Cause that would break the pleasure of the superhero universe, is why. Perhaps someone should've applied that consideration before hatching this "war."

Ryan: Marvel has long touted itself as bringing fantasy elements to a real world (ie: We don't need no stinkin' Metropolis). They certainly could have made the decision to let sleeping dogs lie on this issue and accept that it's just part of the conceit of superhero comics. As are laser eyes, dudes made out of rock, and Jean Grey's inability to stay dead.

Hence, Marvel has often "worked" because of the "realities" of the world that it's set in. And, hey, it's not like registration is anything new to Marvel (I sent in a Mutant Registration card to Marvel when I was in middle school).

What's the real concern here? Obviously superfolk wouldn't exist without cosmic rays and super soldier formulas. And, thusly, no cool super fights. So, sure, you could apply that logic, but it sort of detracts from the super-stories.

My assumption is that readers are a bit afraid of the unknown as it applies to their heroes. The X-Men went unmasked and it's not significantly changed those comics (and, in fact, adds another layer to the super-metaphor of the series). Steve Rogers went unmasked, and Tony Stark's been a revolving door of in and out.

Marvel readers should be excited to see what Quesada and Co. have cooked up and have a little faith in them. if it doesn't work... I guarantee you someone has written a back door.

In the meantime, I'm as curious as the next guy to see how "The Initiative" plays out. There's a grand plan to this. Trust in Marvel.

If you want secret identities, DC still has them in spades. I believe it shall be a very cold day in Miami before Superman and Batman drop the secret ID's. Heck, Wonder Woman just got a new one.


Brian: So I think that to praise Millar et. al. because you think CW 7 does the best it can with what CW 1-6 (and all those crossovers) left to deal with is sort of missing the point, or at least not looking at the situation from the best perspective.

Ryan: I'm not sure what point I'm missing. That "stay the course" in a fight is the only solution? That it's cooler to see the Spirit of America beating the crud out of his pals?

If superheroes really believe that with their great power comes great responsibility, then it's not much of a stretch for Cap and others to understand that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the individual (ie: covering your own butt, and, unfortunately, the butts of your model wife and frail aunt).

It's a bit silly to think that Marvel won't find a way to redeem Steve Rogers, punish Reed and Tony and resolve the rift one way or another (amnesty? Now THERE'S a fantasy element). Comics are, after all, mostly morality plays. This one may have simply been a bit more complicated than the average slug fest.

And this is for EVERYBODY: If you DON'T like what Marvel did, and you don't like how your comic books work, quit buying them. You just bought more than 200,000 copies of Civil War, and probably a huge pile of Frontline.

You can vote with your dollars. It may not change every element of continuity, but it sends a clear signal to the company (which is surviving on publishing as of 2006), that you don't care for this business and won't give them yours unless things change.

-- Posted by: ryan at March 1, 2007 8:26 PM

Dang it! Apparently Dave's Long Box made the beta-testing joke regarding Thor before I did. And did it better.

http://daveslongbox.blogspot.com/2007/02/civil-waaaah-marvel-comics-2007.html


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