Friday, August 31, 2007

An Un-Civil Review: Civil War

I have finally got around to reading the tpb of Civil War, Marvel's recent blockbuster event. It's something that I have put off for a while because I really haven't been enjoying Marvel's product at the moment and this, alongside the debacle of Avengers:Disassembled, were the cornerstones of that lack of enjoyment. Still, it's unfair to judge something without having sampled so I read on.

To it's credit there are some rather good bits in the story. Any full page panel of Hercules, Mjolnir and Thor, loads of violence and the line 'Thou Art No THOR!' is going to get me slightly damp in the panty regions. Some of the language was good too - I particularly liked the two word interchange between Spidey and Reed Richards 'Amazing','Spectacular'. Not only was it a nice nod to the names of the Spiderman comics, but it was also a pleasantly acceptable rip from the end of Infinite Crisis#7 when Superman states (and I paraphrase) 'Its not about what you wear, it's about what you do, it's about Action'. I enjoy clever wordplay like that. It makes me smile. The art was also exceptional, with some excellent renditions of characters and good action sequences. I'll be looking out for McNiven's stuff in the future. And some of the characters came across REALLY well - especially Sue Storm, Spiderman and strangely, Tony Stark. Yes, I can accept that Iron Man is that much of an asshole. He always has been.

However, thats where the good bits pale into insignificance for me. And that little bit at the end is probably the most pivotal bit - for me - because I think that Civil War (and it's otherworldly cousin, Infinite Crisis) mark a sea change in modern comic books. I think certainly for Marvel it is a story that has opened a Pandoras Box, one that will be almost impossible to close.

In modern British politics, it is often said that the three main parties have very little to differentiate them for one another and the two main parties are so similar that if they changed government no-one would notice. I think for many years, editorially, this could have been said for Marvel and DC as well. Sure they did things differently on an operational level, but really they were following the same comics paradigm. Superheroes in superworlds with supervillains. It's almost as if Dan Didio and Joe Quesada sat down and decided that the status quo had to change. They flipped a coin. Didio took his company back towards it's Silver Age roots whilst Quesada jumped the rails completely, had Sentry punch out the Fourth Wall and planted the Marvel Universe firmly in the real world.

Thats the concept of Civil War - in light of an ill-timed attempt to capture some villains by a neophyte superteam hundreds of children were killed by an exploding villain. This tragedy triggers a reaction by the US Government to register superheroes and have them paid, trained and accountable to the taxpayer as federal employees. Some people agree. Some disagree. They fight. Shit happens and then in the face of members of the emergency services physically intervening, Captain America (the face of the resistance) stands down and the 'free' superheroes 'lose'. End of.

In some ways this is a fantastic read because it faces you with inescapable logic based on the workings of our modern society today. In a world where a young man wearing a hooded sweatshirt can instill fear and dread simply by his presence on a street, what chance harmony if that same young man could throw cars around? You would want that destructive potential trained, controlled and registered. You would want some say as to where that potential existed in your community. You would want to control it. We see this in our media and on our streets every single day nowadays and it is mirrored amazingly in the comic. There is one character, the mother of one of the children, who appears in the comic and makes these blanket emotional statements that you simply cannot argue against... but you have to. Something deep inside you tells you that there is something wrong here but you cannot put your finger on it. And then when 'Black Goliath' is killed whilst resisting arrest, she says that it was his fault because he was breaking the law and the finger begins to be put on it. Its that 'any means necessary' attitude. Thats what grates slightly. Thats what makes you sit, ill at ease.

And then the Pandora's box is opened up. The King no longer has his new clothes. Suspension of disbelief has occured because Millar has placed a veneer of real world morality upon a superhero scenario. You can't stop with registration. What happens next? If you can mirror issues such as teenage killings, gangs, gun control etc (all of which are analogised in Civil War) then really you need to be looking at issues such as immigration, world hunger, real natural disasters, military dictatorships, global warming - and I am sure we have seen some of this already before in Kingdom Come, Squadron Supreme and Rising Stars.

The problem is, all of them are either alternative reality or out of continuity stories. This is the mainstream Marvel Universe. This is arguably the biggest comics company in the world. It has to follow through with it. It cannot now ignore what it has done. Real world issues now effect the Marvel Universe and 90% of it's heroes are federal agents. Telepaths working homicide duty? Weather controllers averting tropical storms around New Orleans? Reed Richards and Hank Pym putting their minds to cures for cancer and the common cold? If YOU were the Head of SHIELD, what would YOU put them to work upon?

Its a sobering thought

And therein lies the problem, for me. The concept is very strong but almost too strong. There is no way that I can see that Marvel can legitimately retrace their steps now. There is clear blue comic shop between DC and Marvel. DC is printing (amazingly violent) traditional comics and Marvel would appear to have moved it's focus into the world of the pseudo-real. For me, thats not what comics are for. I have always been a big fan of keeping real world and comics world seperate. Answers to real world issues are too easy with superpowered solutions. It makes a mockery of our trials.

And indeed, nothing could be more apparent as a stamping of this than what happened to the moral centres of the two companies in these stories. In Infinite Crisis, the world is going to pot - it's dark, it's scary and really it's very bad. And then Superman comes to the rescue. Not just any Superman. THE Superman. As if to remind everyone of the moral code and fictional conventions that underpin the DCU. And in the reprecussions of Civil War what happens?

Captain America is killed. Shot on the steps of the Court House.

And who is the new popular moral centre of the MU? Iron Man, the instigator of the Civil War.

No greater statement could be said.

I'll revise my statements however. Civil War is not a bad story as a trade paperback. Any comic that can make anyone think this much about the implications and the themes of the story has to be pretty well written.

I will therefore retarget my ire at the editors. What a bag of shite. Guys, look. Its dead easy. When you have one of these big crossovers in one TPB, and you insist on writing the story so that the reader has to read some of the crossovers to get the bigger picture, please, for the love of god, do some extra exposition pages?

Why is Cable here? Why does he suddenly become a pussy half way through the book?
Thor? Clone? When? Where? How? PLEASE EXPLAIN?!

And my favourite...

Decades ago one of the more potent characters in the MU, Captain Marvel, died of cancer. He has, in the most part, remained dead. In this story, he returned in a one-shot special called 'The Return'. NONE OF THIS WAS MENTIONED IN THE TPB. We just got a shot of Captain Marvel, as part of a larger group of superheroes. WHAT THE FUCK?!

Choppy, shoddy, horrible HORRIBLE editing with no eye to creating a fully flowing story made this painful to read in places and it fails as a tradepaperback.

So there you have it - Civil War - quite possibly one of the most important stories ever told in the Marvel Universe IF they can maintain their stance on the very important issues they have raised.


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