Friday, February 21, 2014

300th Blog: Review of Civil War (Marvel Comic)

Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the 300th blog of Beta is Dead. Four years and countless hours of my life have been thrown into this blog and at 300 entries I’m fairly certain I have enough material for multiple novels. As I mentioned in the last blog today I’ll be celebrating this milestone by reviewing one of Marvel Comics' most important modern crossovers Civil War, which began publication in 2006 and ended in 2007. If there’s one huge problem with today’s comics, especially at Marvel, it’s the seemingly constant stream of big comic events and big status quo altering crossovers. Back in the day these types of things were more spread out and they didn’t always “change everything”. Nowadays there’s at least one big storyline a year (sometimes more!) and when it’s over it they’ve made major changes to the canon only to change everything again by the next one. X-Men: Schism is a fantastic example of this. Schism was supposed to be this HUGE deal, a storyline that divided the X-Men into two warring factions but just a year later all of that was tossed out of the window when Avengers vs. X-Men established a totally different dynamic. Why bother changing up the world if you’re going to just change it again before we get used to it?

Anyway Civil War really is the start of this in the 2000s. It was the next chapter of Marvel’s weird ass agenda of pumping out a bunch of events labeled as one big “epic” saga starting with Avengers Disassembled and ending with Siege. But it was Civil War that really got it rolling as it’s ending shattered the basic foundation of the Marvel Universe (of course most things went completely back to normal a few years later, meaning nothing here really mattered in the long term). For the record this book was written by Mark Millar with art by Steve McNiven.

The question is this: was Civil War a good story? It’s a famous story and a historically relevant and is actually pretty controversial but the quality of book itself isn’t guaranteed. Now the Civil War story was made up of seven issues but there were also numerous tie-ins and side story comics. Since I would have to spend a ton of money to buy all that crap we’re just going to stick with the main miniseries. After all the main book alone should have a complete and satisfying story, right? Right?

Full review after the jump.

[WARNING: There are spoilers freely written throughout this review but seeing as this is an eight year old comic you should probably get over it]



Marvel's fate in the hands of Iron Man, Reed Richards and Hank Pym?
Ladies and gentlemen, we are boned.
The New Warriors had recently re-formed as the stars of a reality television show. In order to chase ratings after a dry spell they track down a group of villains, Nitro among them, to Stamford, Connecticut on live TV. Recklessly charging in the team at first seem to be doing well until Nitro suddenly blows himself up, killing the New Warriors and 600 hundred civilians including 60 children. Public opinion of superheroes drop considerably and the previously stalled Superhuman Registration Act is pushed forward to become a law. Under the act any superhuman who wishes to fight crime must register their identity with the government.

The superhero community is divided by notion; some believe this to be the logical next step while others find the concept of being agents of the government to be counterproductive. Maria Hill, interim director of SHIELD, demands that Captain America lead an assault on any hero who refuses to register. Cap declines under the idea that he doesn’t believe the government should be telling the superheroes who the “bad guys” are. For his trouble he is attacked by Hill’s goons and branded a criminal forcing him to go underground. Not detoured from her mission Hill turns to Iron Man for the job. He accepts, vowing bring down one of his oldest friends and anyone working with him to justice.

As the act passes into law the superhero community engages in a civil war.

Oh boy, if you were a New Warriors fan prior to Civil War this book was kind of like a big middle finger. I mean, not only does it kill off two of the founders of the team in a particularly inglorious fashion but it also ruined the whole teams' reputation, branding them as glory seeking amateurs who had no business in the hero world. I never read volume four of New Warriors, where they’re in a reality show, so I don’t know how they are portrayed there but for their brief appearance here it’s pretty damming and I know that they’re better than that. It sort of reminds me of the way DC Comics promoted Stephanie Brown to Robin which was a big deal until we realized they’d only done it so they could use her as a scapegoat to kick start their War Games crossover, killing her and making her look like an idiotic child  in the process.

Ten seconds before the New Warriors ruin everything forever
 The artwork here is fine. Perhaps I should like it more since it’s pretty darn crisp and clean and very detailed. I would say the art is probably my favorite art of the book.

Actually it’s the only part of the book I like.

Man, where do I even begin? Well I guess it’s best to talk about the premise of the book. The “Pro/Anti Registration” concept is bullshit. It is a flimsy excuse plot that’s only there to justify why Captain America and Iron Man would ever be at odds with each other. At least with AvX the stakes were very high: the possible destruction of the Earth versus the possible restoration of mutant kind. In Civil War it’s whether or not you think it’s okay to illegally fight crime. The idea is that it’s supposed to be this big “who do you think is right” marketing but it’s hard to take it seriously. After all myself and many others grew up in the 90s and the 80s during which there was an abundance of storylines in X-Men comics and cartoons that flat out tell you that registration is evil as f**k. So it’s very easy to depict any Pro Registration heroes as being assholes, because otherwise the implication is that the X-Men, who don’t even play a major role in this series, are terrorist. Since the X-Men are my favorite team you can guess where I fall. It’s not helped that the book is extremely vague in what happens when you actually register. In truth it basically means that anyone who wants to fight crime must receive proper training at a boot camp, assigned to a superhero team, receive a salary and benefits, and submit their identity only to Iron Man which is held as a guarded secret even from the government. Not perfect but not nearly as bad as the comics make it (to be fair Iron Man’s goons do kick in civilian’s doors open and “recruit” super humans into their program after Civil War but that’s not super relevant right now). But these details don’t seem to be circulating in the book the way it should be and even the heroes seem confused by what the act actually does.

There’s not really a divide of which side is right and wrong but rather which characters you think are less dumb which brings me to my next problem: the characters are seriously poorly written, especially Captain American and Iron Man. During this event Iron Man got a huge reputation for being a mustache twirling fascist but this is 100% due to inconsistent writing in other books, such as The Amazing Spider-Man. In this main book he’s not evil...he’s just incredibly shortsighted and has a horrible overestimation of his ability to handle his new role. Cap is no better; he’s super prideful and borderline incompetent. Both repeatedly make stupid decisions for poorly explained reasons even though at their core they’re both right. Cap believes the government shouldn’t be in charge of the superhero community, which makes sense based on his own experience as an agent for America during the Bronze Age of Comics. He’s attacked by SHIELD which forces him to be criminal. Iron Man believes, and probably rightly so, that heroes need to be held accountable for their actions and younger heroes need training and guidance. He’s practically forced by SHIELD and the President to go after his friends. But after that initial plot they both go off the rails to the point that both of them should probably go to jail. By the time I was done reading the book the only character whose side I was on was Doctor Strange, who did pretty much nothing but fast in the snow for the entire series.

"Oh man, this has gone way too far. Let's stop the fighting."
-Said no one after this happened
Of course the Pro Registration side is clearly the worst of the two. Let’s not forget that they made a gulag to store heroes that wouldn’t join their side (which was a MAJOR plot point in DC’s Kingdom Come and the point where Superman stopped being benevolent, but I guess no one at Marvel read that book), they started hiring unstable super-villains to hunt down rogue heroes, and worse created a clone/cyborg version of Thor that upon being unleashed murder Black Goliath because it was poorly made and then unleashed it again because THEY DIDN’T LEARN A F**KING THING! The clone thing really bugs me actually; the real Thor died a while before this so that means that Iron Man honored his dead friend’s memory by turning his DNA into a living weapon…which then killed another of his friends. Iron Man, you are awesome.

Characters in this story are flat, which is really disappointing considering that with a politically charged story like this it presents a great opportunity for development. Heroes who pick sides barely offer up explanations for their motives, even ones who seem extremely passionate about their choice. I have to say this is due to all the damn tie-ins to this book (which we’ll talk about in a second). As it is it seems that perhaps some of these guys had more to say and do in other comics outside of these seven issues which would be great if you were buying Fantastic Four or whatever but if you were mainly reading this series than you’re shit out of luck. The biggest example is Spider-Man revealing his identity at a press conference. I’ve talked about this before but it’s relevant again. Peter Parker was under no obligation to reveal his identity for the SHRA because the registered heroes’ real names would only be revealed to the government, not broadcasted to the world. However he does it anyway, despite earlier in the comic flat out saying he thought it was a bad idea due to safety concerns for his family (which, in retrospect, was 100% justified). Why the change? I don’t know because he changes his mind in his own comic that isn’t part of this series. Also as I recall there was a really important plot point in which a civilian is killed during a battle between sides, which causes the Thing to tell the rest of the heroes to f**k off while he flees the country in protest of the whole thing. That’s a really big deal because it shows just how insane both sides had gone and should have been a big reality check. Oops, my bad; that happened in a tie-in and not the main series SO F**K IT, YOU BETTER SHELL OUT MONEY FOR IT!!!

And here's the exact moment Spidey becomes the dumbest hero on Earth
That’s a huge opportunity missed especially since this book’s story is so goddamn weak. But it happens all the time in this book. Characters disappearing and reappearing, plot threads barely mentioned, most of it can be traced to OTHER books that you’ll need to pay extra to see resolved and played out. Comic books, especially superhero comics, have a hard time being considered works of art. Marvel exploiting the readers by having them buy any comic with the name “Civil War” on the cover certainly doesn’t help. Of course it’s not like this only crossover to do this in history but it’s made worse by a) how poor the main plot is and b) how interesting stuff going on in other books are. If the main Civil War book was properly self-contained it wouldn’t matter how many tie-ins there were. But it’s not. You have to buy every Civil War tie-in to get the whole story, which is not something I was willing to pay for this review nor should it have been.

The ending is, unsurprisingly, underwhelming as the story basically fizzles out in the end. It left kind of a bad taste in my mouth, like nothing I just read really mattered. I think it’s because I had lost so much respect for all the characters I didn’t particularly give a shit who won anymore. There was a point that the story could have been saved and it would have been when both Captain America and Iron Man realized they were being insane and joined together to fight a bigger threat…which of course never happens. Looking at the video game Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 makes this more frustrating. Based in large part on this comic the game plays out almost identically until both sides of the conflict have to team up to save the Earth from an apocalyptic threat…and goddamn if the game isn’t a much better story than the original comic as a result! That’s what this book is missing; a villain, a threat that must be defeated and serve as redemption for characters who have fallen from grace in the prior months (even AvX got this right, even if I hated the villain they chose for the role). Hey, you know who is a super big asshole in this book who clearly doesn’t give a shit about the heroes or possibly even the people who’ll get hurt? Maria Hill, who really started this whole mess by being recklessly gung-ho over bringing down anyone crossing the government. She attacks Captain America, practically blackmail Iron Man to do her dirty work but in the end gets no real attention (hell, in tie-in books she admits she doesn’t even want to be director of SHIELD). Something more could have been done but it wasn’t. As a result the book suffers.

Everyone knows the best possible police force are super-villains
I don’t hate Civil War but it’s a very weak comic considering how important it’s supposed to be. It’s a dumb story with a dumb ending that seems fairly clear was made for financial reasons rather than artistic ones, which is usually how things start off kind of bad anyway. Now I do think this is a bad comic but it’s not the crime against good taste and sanity that One More Day and One Moment in Time were. It’s just a big disappointment and worse than that it’s not worth reading. If you get a chance to barrow it or read it for free then maybe it’d be okay but spending money on it seems a bit pointless here in 2014. Heroes fight each other for a bunch of issues then they stop, the end.

I give Civil War 2 Adorable Pandas out of 5.



Pros 

-The art is fine

Cons 

-The plot is very weak

-The cast is full of unlikeable characters acting like jackasses

-The ending is underwhelming

-The whole thing feels like a big money grab


Aftermath
Next Stop: The Middle East
So Marvel Comic’s status quo was drastically altered after this story. Iron Man was appointed the new director of SHIELD and the controversy greatly raised the stock and (*AHEM*) popularity of the character. Between this and the Iron Man film that came out not too long afterwards Tony Stark soon became one of the top characters in the company. The non-X-Men Marvel books split down the middle, one half being heroes who were on the Pro-Registered side (such as Mighty Avengers and Avengers: The Initiative, the latter being an awesome book that introduced a lot of cool new characters) and ones who were branded outlaws (such as New Avengers and another New Warriors book). Though the SHRA was supposed to be depicted as being fairly positive there were several instances of it being a superhero draft with the government un-ironically building a superhero army for…well we never really find out before things change again. Within a year and a half Secret Invasion, another big crossover, changed things again making this story even more pointless. Obviously Spider-Man was greatly affected as his unmasking in this comic led to Aunt May’s being shot which in turn led to the events of One More Day. So, you know, Civil War has a lot to answer for.

The biggest impact at the time was the death of Captain America. Within hours of being arrested at the end of Civil War Steve Rogers was murdered while in SHIELD custody from a brilliantly executed assassination by the Red Skull. The event shook Iron Man greatly as he (rightfully so) blamed himself for it. Marvel handled Cap’s death incredibly well in the Fallen Son storyline which lead to his former sidekick Bucky Barnes, aka The Winter Soldier, taking on his mentor’s mantle leading to some of the most well written Captain America stories in decades. Then Marvel wimped out and brought Steve Rogers back soon afterwards. Apparently he was shot by “time bullets” or some bullshit, which is not just stupid it’s insane. Completely insane.

Anyway by 2010, with the big crossover event Siege, things went back the way they mostly were prior to this story with Captain America, Iron Man and Thor back together and the Avengers reunited into one force yet again, all thing forgiven, no lessons learned, nothing gained. I think the biggest change this book had was giving writers a taste of the “heroes fighting heroes” plot because, at least at Marvel, they never stopped writing those stories. The four year Avengers cold war, the X-Men’s split in Schism and the more recent Avengers vs X-Men where no one seemed to have remembered why superhero civil wars are a bad thing. It’s become a cliché, one that I have become extremely bored with.

Because Cap just couldn't get enough of fighting other heroes
That’s it, I’m done. Thanks for reading my giant size 300th blog spectacular (and note that I had to cut it down to avoid something closer to 4,500 words). And thank you for reading Beta is Dead, whether you’ve been reading since January of 2010 or if this is your first entry. While I can’t speak as to how much more I have left in my system I hope that we’re all here for a 400th blog and beyond!

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