A year ago, I volunteered to write about a terrible, over-hyped yet historically important event comic book called Crisis on Infinite Earths and, proving that I don’t learn shit, I volunteered to write about Civil War with my buddy Chase. I asked for even numbered issues because I remembered #2 specifically as being really good. It’s the one where Spider-Man takes his mask off and reveals his identity to the world! That was huge, the key to the whole event was Spider-Man’s shifting loyalties and mistakes.
I don’t have as much to say about this issue as Chase had to say about #1 (in part because talking about #1 lends itself to talking about the flawed premise and the failure of the event as a whole). I can say this, though:
I won’t call it good but I will call Civil War #2 a comic. It was written, drawn, lettered, and published. There are images in sequence. It has everything you need to call it a comic but, by god, it is not a story. There are scenes which feature characters achieving goals but at no point do they cohere into anything resembling a story with a beginning, middle, and an end. And what you do get just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The thread that carries over from the previous issue is the Superhero Registration Act which comes into law within this issue, “leading” to the violent hunting of superheroes that was already underway before the bill was passed.
The pro-registration Avengers defeat a Doombot and you see a preposterous bubble butt ass-shot of She-Hulk that made me frown. SHIELD is tracking down heroes for performing acts of heroism without being registered. Captain America wears glasses so that he can save the Young Avengers from being sent off to some mysterious Guantanamo Bay for superpowered folks. Spider-Man tells everyone he’s really Peter Parker. That’s what happens.
None of that coheres. The closest we get to a thread in this issue is Sue Storm seeing a disc labeled 42 in Reed’s lab and a SHIELD goon talking about a blacksite called 42 several pages later. There’s also J. Jonah Jameson saying that the registration is everything he’s always wanted from superheroes while Spider-Man swings by before fainting when he sees his employee take his mask off on television to reveal he’s been defrauding him for the better part of a decade.
What is there to say about any of this? Steve McNiven draws handsome dudes. Peter Parker is very handsome. Captain America is very handsome. Jennifer Walters has an ass for days that is so remarkably exploitative and mercenary in its deployment that McNiven must have giggled himself half to death.
The action looks good. The sequence where SHIELD agents destroy an office block trying to apprehend super-teen Patriot for stopping a mugging is ludicrous and exciting. That kid runs, jumps, gets shot to shit, and then blown the fuck up. There’s an energy to all that. The pull back to the floor’s windows shattering as smoke bursts out of them is some lowkey great action. The writing is pretty fucking terrible because it brings up the fact that going after this kid has created a ton of collateral damage, something SHIELD and the Superhero Registration Act were meant to prevent. It doesn’t make things look balanced (“Both sides have valid points!”), it just makes everyone involved seem like a stupid asshole. The scene after that, though, where Captain America and Falcon rescue the Young Avengers from a convoy is pretty sick. Maybe they should have tried to make this wordless?
Everything in this issue is a moment or a scene built around a single event that is ostensibly attempting to create a wider picture of it. Like the film Traffic but, really, more like Crash in terms of poor quality and hamfistedness.
The Spider-Man stuff works in the barest sense. It’s set-up and punchline. JJJ is ready for Spider-Man to get his shit packed in by the Superhero Registration Act only to find out his favorite employee has been defrauding him for years! The way “don’t interrupt me, Ms. Brant” segues into “My name is Peter Parker and I’ve been Spider-Man since I was fifteen years old” and ends with JJJ fainting is great. But it’s a comedy bit that would definitely work better in live-action where page design isn’t a concern. McNiven doesn’t quite have a handle on how to pace or draw the scene to get the most out of the comedy beats.
Yet the real problem is that Spider-Man is only here to say his line and then end the issue. He’s the delivery system for a shocking moment. We don’t see him grappling with the decision to reveal his identity to the world after fighting for years to keep it secret. The reader can project that. The reader can go read the Amazing Spider-Man issues that tied into the event to get an idea of his emotional turmoil. But it’s not here in Civil War #2. You have to go elsewhere.
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