Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Nerd Rage #16: Road to Marvel's Civil War

Ever wonder who would win in a fight?
No? Too bad
This is my 299th blog, which means two things: 1) Holy shit, I’ve written 299 blogs and 2) the next blog will be #300. That’s a pretty big milestone and one we cannot ignore. A while back, maybe a few weeks or months after uploading blog #100, which if you recall was a rant/review of Spider-Man: One More Day, I was trying to figure out comics that I’d want to review for future big milestones. I decided Spider-Man: One Moment in Time would be appropriate for the 200th blog but there was a comic that I really wanted to review but that I felt deserved an equal amount of attention as those two heinously terrible Spider-Man stories. Then I remembered Civil War, a major crossover for Marvel Comics in 2006.

What’s so important about Civil War? So important that I would sit on reviewing it for years? Well it was a major game changer for Marvel Comics that set a particularly dubious status quo for Marvel both in narrative and the way they conducted business. The effects of this book, as far as the storyline went, lasted for the rest of the decade up until 2010’s Heroic Age. In my opinion Civil War is likely the most important storyline from Marvel Comics during the 2000s (House of M would be the other logical choice).

So next time I’ll be reviewing the main Civil War book, which was seven issues. However today I’d like to talk about important points that lead up to this crossover so that we are all on the same page when I review it, much like I did with One More Day and X-Men Schism.

More useless information after the jump.

I’ve decided to split this into three sections.

Registration Act
Marvel would like you to forget about this when reading Civil War
The major plot point of Civil War is the Superhuman Registration Act. The concept of superhuman registration is a decades old one, especially in Marvel Comics. The idea is that a targeted group of superhumans are forced to register their identity (along with details of their powers) with the government for various purposes usually depending on the storyline. The most famous of these was likely the Mutant Registration Act as featured in the X-Men books (and in X-Men: The Animated Series and the first X-Men movie) and was a recurring plot point during Chris Claremont’s epic run as writer of Uncanny X-Men. In X-Men the MRA is ALWAYS depicted as a sinister agenda that would likely be the first step towards the complete subjugation and/or elimination of the mutant population. I can’t express this enough: registration for years and years was akin to potential government sanctioned genocide. This depiction of the Registration Act will be important later. The MRA concept quietly disappeared after Claremont left X-Men.

Besides that Marvel has had a few other storylines that dealt with the issue, most notably the Super-powers Registration Act in Canada that played a part in Alpha Flight. However, like the MRA, this concept never led to a conclusion as future iterations of Alpha Flight didn’t really touch on it. This seems to be a pattern: a big idea of how character would act when faced with government crackdown but weak follow-up, possibly due to lack of ideas of how to wrap it up.

In regards to the Superhero Registration Act it actually was proposed in the months leading up the series. In fact apparently public support for the bill began in the aftermath of the miniseries Secret War in which Lucia von Bardas, the crazed cyborg Prime Minister of Latveria, engages in an all-out assault on New York City following Nick Fury tricking a bunch of superheroes into illegally sneaking into the country a year earlier. The bill was eventually delayed due to the actions of Iron Man who bribed known super villain the Titanium Man into making a big public attack in Washington D.C. that  Spider-Man manage to publicly “stop”. It’s important to note that Iron Man was very against the idea of the SHRA at this point and that he is not above hiring murderous villains to do his dirty work.

Pictured: Mutant Registration in Action
At least that what the X-Men books taught me
In any case by the time Civil War has rolled around the bill is one the table, the general public is already unhappy with costumed heroes being above the law, and the superhero community is extremely on edge as the fear of superheroes registering for the government could lead to a disastrous future.

New Warriors
I didn't have to pick the cover with the Scarlet Spider
But you youngsters gotta learn!
I talked about the New Warriors when I profiled Night Thrasher earlier this month. As a refresher they are a team of young superheroes, none of who were sidekicks. In the Marvel Universe there are top tier teams (X-Men, Fantastic Four, Avengers) but the New Warriors are on a lower level than that, often being the place writers dump third tier characters. To be fair the book did have its fair share of fans and even I have a soft spot for them since two of my favorite characters (Jubilee and the Scarlet Spider) have been members of the team at some point.

Anyway the New Warriors was not a super popular book during its run as it kept getting canceled and restarted. Prior to Civil War there had been three volumes of the title, which is a surprisingly large amount all things considered. Volume three was the final series before Civil War and was a six issue miniseries published in 2005. This version was revamp of the concept of the team as they were re-imagined as a superhero reality show, where their adventures were filmed and key members seemed a bit more concerned with getting ratings than stopping bad guy. Now Marvel already had a superhero team with an extremely similar concept with the book X-Statix, which had only just ended the previous year, so why they felt the need to make New Warriors into a bunch of jokes is a mystery. Regardless the thing to take away from this is that by 2006 this team of young heroes was active but not exactly at their best or most respected.

Step 1: Make Them Stupid. Step 2: Make Them Scapegoats
Step 3: Civil War
Of course let’s not forget that the New Warriors aren’t a team of screw-ups, nor are the a team of rookies who don’t know what they’re doing. They have been around for a long time and have fought all sorts of villains during their time. They are as capable of heroes as anyone else in the Marvel Universe, with several founding members going on to join the Avengers. And, as any NW fan will tell you, they're fun characters. And in superhero comics isn’t having fun supposed to be the most important thing?

[Note: The New Warriors Vol. 4 began immediately following Civil War starring a completely new roster and lasting twenty issues before being canceled (but giving us the awesome that was…WONDRA!). Volume Five is set to be launched later this year. Because if at first you don’t succeed try, try again.]

New Avengers
The Word's Greatest Heroes...and Wolverine...and the Sentry
At the end of the day Civil War is a crossover that centers around the Avengers therefore we have to look back at what brought them here. The 2000s marked a drastic change to the team. The Avengers, unlike DC’s Justice League of America, are not usually depicted as a collection of the company’s most iconic or popular heroes (though it includes several of them most of the time). In 2004 Marvel handed the reins of the Avengers franchise to Brian Michael Bendis, a writer whose stock recently skyrocketed due to the unbridled success of his book Ultimate Spider-Man. His first act was to destroy the team in the storyline Avengers Disassembled, a dubious plot that saw the Scarlet Witch going insane over something she had previously gotten over in a different old storyline that everyone apparently forgot about and attacking pretty much everyone in her madness, causing the death of several Avengers. In the aftermath the team broke up (I think I’ll save my rage over this for either a review of this story or of House of M which was directly related to this). Not long afterwards a breakout at the superhuman prison known as “the Raft”separately attracted the attention of Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman and Luke Cage (and Daredevil, but no one cares about him apparently) and the heroes decide to reform the Avengers, recruiting Wolverine soon afterwards. Despite being the company’s two most popular character this marked the first time Spider-Man or Wolverine had officially and permanently joined the team. The new book, titled New Avengers, became a huge hit for Marvel. It was so successful that it turned third-string hero Luke Cage into the most prominent black superhero in comics and greatly raised the popularity and awareness of Spider-Woman, a character who we hadn’t seen regularly in years but now was suddenly one of Marvel’s top heroes.

This new status quo of Avengers also included heroes like Echo (under the guise of Ronin) and the Sentry (under the guise of “worst new superhero of the decade”). This version of the team would also be involved in House of M. The most important thing about this storyline is that when it ended, known as Decimation, 99% of the mutant population was depowered. With mutants making up the vast majority of superhumans across the world this meant that the United States suddenly had the largest collection of super powered beings in the world. Now if only there was some law the government could pass that would allow them to draft the vast majority of these people so that they could win the genetic arms race…

A big different in this status quo was Spider-Man’s lifestyle. Prior to joining the Avengers he was just your friendly neighborhood crime fighter but suddenly he was rubbing elbows with Captain America and Iron Man on a daily basis. In fact he became very close with Tony Stark, who became something of a mentor to him. He moved into the fancy Stark/Avenger Tower with his family, he was able to indulge in scientific pursuits and was even given a terrible spiffy new costume created by Stark with high tech bells and whistles. By the time Civil War came around Peter and Tony are BFF.

Comics circa the 2000s in one gloriously overly sleek image
The New Avengers greatly raised the stock of the Avengers brand, paving the way for it to replace the X-Men as Marvel’s big money maker.

I think that’s the most important stuff you’d need to know for the review. I can tell you right now that I do not possess the sheer amount of hatred and loathing that I did for One More Day so there’s less of chance for a biased review. That said this comic is not without controversy and immense critics. On the next blog we’ll see how Civil War was, how it’s aged and how it affected the Marvel Universe.

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