Does Thor know Dagger?
Within the universe of Marvel Comics, Thor is a member of the elite superhero organization and would be known worldwide by everyone the way you know about the most dominant figures in the world. You know Barack Obama is the President, you’re aware of the concept of “God,” etc. But is Barack Obama expected to know the name of some small town sheriff? Does Thor know Dagger?
That’s the question I’m left with from the opening scene where Thor’s arrival into the pro and anti-registration battle is met by Dagger saying, “Where have you been? Everybody thought you were dead.” There’s an implied familiarity there that I, as a reader of Marvel Comics who has barely read a comic with Dagger in it but has read a helluva lot of Thor comics without Dagger in them, am confused by. Thor even addresses her by name! If I was someone who didn’t have any idea of who Dagger is then what’s the purpose in her getting this line instead of Falcon, a character who openly expresses familiarity with Thor? Dagger has no significance in this issue, she’s there to drop exposition about Thor’s recent dalliance with death and call out that he just killed a guy on the same page in which she is depicted with a tear on the ass of her costume. Chase and I are starting to notice a theme from Steve McNiven here…
All of this is a rather long way to arrive at my point: the relationships here don’t really make any sense to me as a Marvel Comics reader or as someone attempting to approach it in a vacuum.
In fact, a whole lot of stuff doesn’t make sense. Turns out Thor is some sort of robot clone that wasn’t programmed with the Three Laws so it ends up killing Goliath. That’s the first superhero casualty of the Civil War (not counting the character that died to kick it off) and let me just say that it is fucking insane that this character is disposed of by being wrapped in a tarp, chained up, and buried in a cemetery where he takes up thirty-eight plots at full giant size. Hank Pym didn’t have any way to shrink that guy back down to size? Mark Millar likes a good image and I imagine the idea of burying a giant-sized superhero gave him enough of a giggle that he had to get that in there.
That funeral is where we get an extra dosage of overt emotional manipulation that might have actually been better served appearing in the first issue. The spokeswoman for the registration movement, a parent whose child died in the first issue’s explosion, appears to remind Tony what he’s fighting for by handing him her son’s favorite toy: a little Iron Man action figure. It’s a little detail that works towards explaining a little bit of where that character is coming from that only occurs after a whole lot of stupid, violent stuff in the last two issues. That little action figure carries an emotionally charged weight that does something that the first issue needed; it punches you in the gut. A little kid who loved superheroes died because his idols weren’t taking things seriously. More than that, a whole school full of kids like him died. You can argue that these sort of consequences “break” mainstream superhero comics by moving them into an adult direction but that’s what this series is ostensibly attempting to do and, with this small scene being a signifier of that, it should work.
Peter Parker’s arc gets some playtime here in this issue. He has a conversation with Yellowjacket and Wasp where those two drop heavy exposition and character notes on him before the horror sets in and Peter asks, “Do you ever wonder if we’ve picked the right side here, Hank?” That line comes after a man has been murdered by a cloned god and Peter watches it bleed as its head is drilled into with the man who made him. That scene is a brick, the pro-registration forces are immediately portrayed as monstrous mad scientists and Peter thinks to ask the mad scientist that question? From everything we’ve seen so far, that might as well be cause for them to arrest Peter right then and there except, no, we only hear Reed say later that he thinks Peter is acting suspicious.
So we’ve established that the pro-registration group is made of morally compromised monsters which would seem to indicate that all attempts at subtlety has been abandoned and the anti-registration group will be our heroes, right? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Instead, we get a scene where a character called Nighthawk expresses uncertainty since Goliath has been killed and talks of turning himself over. Captain America calls him insane and brags about heroes rallying over to their side after Goliath’s death. He doesn’t consider that a man just died because of the course he set these people on but he does consider the positive effect that man’s death is having on his organization. It’s unbelievable. Cap even dismisses the defecting heroes with a shitty, “Let them go if their freedom means so little to them.”
You can make good comics about assholes fighting each other. You can make good superhero comics about assholes fighting each other. I mean, fuck, Mark Millar has written good superhero comics about assholes fighting each other. The Ultimates is easily the best Avengers I’ve ever read and, on a surface level, it seems to have a lot in common with Civil War since they’re both ostensibly political superhero stories full of jerks causing massive destruction. But here’s the thing that detractors of The Ultimates neglect to mention: it’s an actual story full of humor, anger, a genuine point of view that makes it compelling, and it’s a fucking comic about characters. Civil War being an event comic is already hamstrung with how much room it has for character but Millar essentially abandons the notion entirely to push forth unsubstantiated points of view and big moments that could only generously be deemed a “story.”
The 1½ page sequence of Susan Storm leaving her husband Reed Richards is some of the most obnoxious “tell, don’t show” writing of this issue as her farewell letter takes over the narrative captions. You can tell how seriously Millar is taking the breakup of the first couple of the Marvel Universe by the way he makes sure to mention that Sue fucked Reed good one last time because it’s “good for the immune system.” Crazy thing is, the next scene involves Reed and we don’t even see him react to his wife and the mother of his children leaving them. We just skip over anything that could possibly pull out an emotional reaction in a rush to a “shocking” cliffhanger ending.
I thought this panel was pretty neat, though:
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