Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest - Civil War #1 (of 7)

Posted: Sunday, April 30, 2006
By: Keith Dallas

Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: SteveMcNiven (p), Dexter Vines (i), Morry Hollowell (colors)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

EDITOR’S NOTE: The first issue of Civil War appears in stores this Wednesday, May 3rd.

Average Rating:

Keith Dallas:
Michael Deeley:
Shawn Hill:
Sam Kirkland:
Shaun Manning:
Nicholas Slayton:
Dave Wallace:

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the course of their assessments SBC’s reviewers made every effort to not spoil any events from Civil War #1 that has not already been revealed by Marvel over the past few weeks.

Keith Dallas

As I see it, an appreciation of Civil War relies on two matters:

First, it relies on an admiration of Steve McNiven’s artwork. I’d be very surprised if readers reject Civil War because they find McNiven’s work “substandard” or “deficient.” They would have an aesthetic taste completely inverted from my own. I won’t refute that, like all artists, McNiven has some shortcomings. Principally, because McNiven doesn’t use speed lines, characters supposedly in motion look like they’re in stasis. For instance, in a spread page found early in the issue, both The Falcon and Spider-Woman are a state of “frozen flight” because of the way McNiven draws them. Speed lines though would most likely ruin the stunning composition of this spread page. (Interestingly, in the issue’s later pages during a spectacular fight sequence, speed lines are inserted in each panel’s background, and that certainly supplies dynamism.) The intensity of the artwork pretty much obliterates its flaws. McNiven draws the most effectively intense facial glares I’ve ever seen in a comic book. Very powerful visages. My ultimate assessment of Civil War’s artwork is that what McNiven, Vines and colorist Morry Hollowell present here equals the kind of remarkable work that John Cassady and Laura Martin present in Astonishing X-Men. Hollowell’s colors makes McNiven’s work “pop” off the page.

An appreciation of Civil War, however, doesn’t begin and end with a judgment of the artwork; it also relies on a willingness to believe that after being the most loyal of comrades for the past 40 years of published history, Captain America and Iron Man could oppose each other in a conflict that will divide Marvel’s super-hero population right down the middle.

Civil War’s tagline is “Whose side are you on?,” but the real question is “Is this story plausible?”

An event like this needs to satisfy causal conditional logic: IF as a result of the negligent actions of a group of C-list super-heroes 900 people died (mostly children) THEN the American public would demand accountability of the super-hero population and THEN Congress would enact legislation requiring all super-heroes register with S.H.I.E.L.D. IF S.H.I.E.L.D. ordered all the super-heroes to take off their masks (effectively revealing their identities to the public) THEN Steve Rogers and Tony Stark would find each other on opposing sides of an ideological “war” that is bound to become violent.

Is it plausible for A to yield B to yield C to yield D to yield E?

The cynic will assume the architect(s) of Civil War (during one of those Marvel creative retreats we keep reading about) began with conclusion “E” (Cap and Shell-Head opposing each other) and worked backwards. That, in essence, someone decided it would be “cool” if two of Marvel’s long-standing super-heroes fought against each other and then constructed a story around that premise.

Regardless of the creative process, I feel Civil War DOES sufficiently demonstrate the plausibility of an Iron Man-Cap conflict that pulls in the entire Marvel super-hero population. This issue goes to enough lengths to show how and why Stark and Rogers assume the ideological positions they do. Of particular significance is an encounter Stark suffers at a funeral service. Essentially, Stark is shamed into concerning for the public’s safety. Cap, on the other hand, honors the integrity of the masked men and women who put their lives on the line to safeguard America. No question, their ideological stances need to be further elaborated in subsequent issues. This first issue only presents the foundation of their beliefs, but it’s enough to convince me that it is plausible for Stark and Rogers to entrench themselves in opposing viewpoints. And it’s enough to hook me into buying the Civil War #2...

which…, by the way.., will need to convince me that E can yield F: that Captain America and Iron Man assuming opposing viewpoints will lead to them trading blows over them.

Michael Deeley

A fight between the New Warriors and escaped supervillains results in their deaths and the deaths of hundreds of innocent people, including many children. This tragedy awakens the nation’s distrust of heroes. A bill to register and control super-humans gains strength in Congress. The heroes debate the benefits and dangers of this bill, and who would support it and who would oppose it. By the end of the comic, two characters have defined themselves as the leaders of each side of the issue.

Right, instead of the usual review/summary style, I’m just going to list every memorable element of the comic:

Daredevil: What the hell is he doing here? He’s in JAIL! Is this the fake Daredevil? If so, why is he there? If not, then this story must take place sometime after events in the current Daredevil series, which puts it at least four months into the future. Try resolving that time gap with the other Marvel comics. On second thought, don’t bother.

And why are you here? Goliath and Nighthawk haven’t played active roles in any Marvel comic in the last two years. So why are they at this meeting? Who called them? And when you have the Avengers and X-Men helping a rescue effort, why call in some no-name fourth-stringer who’s only power is growing big? And apparently Hank Pym has decided to be Yellowjacket again. I guess he and Jan decided to leave their work in England, dress up, and hang around with their old friends. Also, why has Dr. Strange shown up? He made his feelings clear on this issue in New Avengers: Illuminati. Why was he invited? On that note, who felt it necessary to call in this random collection of heroes to express their feelings on this manner in 25 words or less?

The Usual Millar Complaint: I never liked Millar’s work. Not his Authority, not Ultimate X-Men, not Wanted, and certainly not Superman: Red Son. But much of that came from my dislike of the characters themselves. So now that he’s writing characters I actually like, I’m willing to give him another chance. Unfortunately, Civil War has the same problem as those series: shallowness. Millar’s work is marred by a definite lack of depth both from the characters and the story. The legislation itself isn’t really defined. It’s said heroes would have to reveal their identities and would receive job benefits, but that’s it. Would their true identities remain a secret to the public but known to the government? Is there an organizational structure similar to the military or a police force? I know it’s only the first issue, but this is the premise of the entire crossover. That should be explained at the start. What we get are a lot of sentences that don’t quite connect with each other. To get a feeling of what that’s like, just read the first sentence of every paragraph on this list.

Captain America: It has already been leaked on the net that Cap ends up leading the new Alpha Flight in Canada. I will say that I have no problem with what he does, just with how quickly it happens. He acts in character and true to his core beliefs. I would have put it later in the series, but again, that’s Millar for you.

Art: Beautiful art here. The characters look larger than life. (Or maybe that’s because I read this on my laptop with enlarged pages.) McNiven does a great job drawing these people as powerful yet human. The coloring tends to give everyone a shiny, almost plastic look. I’d watch for that in later issues.

So Marvel’s big event gets off to a rocky start. We’ve got a great fight scene, great art, and passable writing. This feels very bare bones though. There’s still time for this story to grow and mature. But with Millar at the helm, I kind of doubt that.

Shawn Hill

Plot: Nitro kills the New Warriors and some school kids. Concerned moms lobby for legal responsibility for super heroes. Some of the “masks” have problems with this.

Comments: Yeah, I do, too. The rating is because this is a fleet, well-organized, deftly-told and well-illustrated modern day comic book. But I hate the story.

I don’t think making the heroes face up to reality is the way to go. They should have different rules, because they are different, exceptional people. They have gifts, and their job since forever has been to police themselves. They operate in a separate sphere than your ordinary human, and like celebrities they’re already giving us something in exchange for their perks and elite lifestyles.

With celebrities it’s entertainment and access to their private, larger lives. With post-humans, it’s protections from exceptional threats. But this is not the Avengers of alien invasions and fallen gods, and the walk-on of one of Marvel’s most famous omnipotent beings doesn’t guarantee a cosmic sci-fi bent to the proceedings. This is a flawed human struggle for power, and it’s not that riveting and certainly not escapist.

Agent Hill has rarely been more than an irritating nut, throwing around power she doesn’t have. As Spider-Man says, registration endangers heroes rather than protecting them. I don’t get Sue Storm’s noblesse oblige attitude about secret identities at all, but I do get Cap’s and the Falcon’s objections, and those of the various other warriors who do what they have to in the trenches and still go home to families when it’s done.

Stark and his ilk are preachy bastards, and their arguments do not convince. Superheroes are not “alcoholics” and aren’t in need of a “wakeup call.” It’s an offensive analogy. Johnny Storm is arrogant, but never so foolish as to rub his success in the face of an irate public.

Still, McNiven’s mix of wide-screen with sequential storytelling is impressive, and though I reject utterly the ideology of this comic, Millar’s plotting does provide thrilling action sequences.

Sam Kirkland

One aspect of Civil War #1 initially struck me as odd. Actually, it didn’t really strike me as “odd.” More like “poorly written.”

But as I read the issue again (and again and again), I realized that Mark Millar and Steve McNiven accomplished exactly what they intended to in creating a well-balanced, politically charged series that can appeal to older readers, but doesn’t sacrifice any of the explosions and shield-slinging goodness that appeal to the kid in all of us.

Most surprisingly, Civil War #1 left me with the impression that there is a definite “good” side and a definite “bad” side to the impending clash of heroes due to the Superhero Registration Act. Not once did I get the sense that both sides were equally right and equally wrong as Millar claimed they would be; I couldn’t shake the feeling, particularly with the way the issue ended, that one character was, without question, vilified, and another was portrayed as a heroic patriot who wasn’t afraid to stand for what he believed in.

What intrigues me the most about that fact is that before reading the issue, I never would have been able to guess whether I was referring to Captain America or Iron Man in that paragraph above. Indeed, depending on your own personal beliefs and interpretations of the actions taken in the pages of the first part of Civil War, those statements are interchangeable for both main characters. Steve Rogers is simultaneously “villainous and heroic.” The same holds true for Tony Stark. That doesn’t make for a poorly written story. That makes for an incredibly well written story.

These events will undoubtedly polarize the readership. Like anything taking place in the “real world,” nothing is black and white in CW. But, as in the real world, even though everything is grey, individual readers can choose what is black and what is white. Millar doesn’t define the pro- or anti-registration sides as being right or wrong. Instead, he makes sure that each character’s convictions are presented in a fair and carefully calculated manner, leaving it up to the reader to choose sides.

Steve McNiven’s artwork leaves me speechless with each ensuing page. He possesses an extraordinary ability to mesh his ultra-realistic style with a dynamic, comic book-y feel that makes him the quintessential superhero artist in the industry today. The heavy inks outlining each of the characters make them pop off the pages, and each wide-screen panel is infused with an amazing level of energy.

Millar tones down his overly dramatic dialogue for this series. A few of his trademark cheesy lines slip through the cracks at awkward times, but overall he does a nice job of making sure the story moves forward at a brisk pace. If anything, the first issue could have used a bit more exposition and detail. Still, any more set-up would have run the risk of seeming redundant, especially for anyone who has followed the countless interviews, tie-in issues, and podcasts leading to Civil War #1.

Granted, not much takes place here other than what has already been leaked, but a few genuine surprises occur that are fun to watch unfold. One character makes a dramatic stand, another falls prey to the public’s growing anti-superhuman sentiment, and every ensuing panel ratchets up the intensity level, noticeably building to what should be one heck of a climax. Civil War promises to be an exciting, pulse-pounding adventure in the Mighty Marvel Manner that isn’t afraid to tap into a level of realism that makes it relevant to today’s world.

Shaun Manning

Marvel gets straight to business in Civil War #1, packing intense emotional and political drama with superhero action and its disastrous consequences. Good show, kids: this is going to be an event worthy of the name.

When the New Warriors, a reality-television superteam, engages bad guys well out of their league, a villain’s atomic attack leaves nine hundred dead—many of them children. The public outcry over the heroes’ carelessness in Stamford furthers the cause of a post-human registry, which would require all super powered individuals to register with the US government and undergo training before they are legally allowed to serve and protect. By the end of the issue, heroes have taken sides, with Iron Man enforcing the new laws, and Captain America the figurehead for resistance.

Mark Millar turns in an incredible script here, loading up on conflict and action without sacrificing characterization. What is absolutely stunning is that Millar manages to present the complexity of the situation the heroes face, without taking sides. Understandably, with the Stamford catastrophe so fresh, this first issue is weighted in favor of registration, but there is still a degree of discontent and a very concrete example of why dissent is necessary in a free society. Further, despite all the media coverage of this series, Millar still manages a few surprises, and a fairly significant one involving Captain America. Millar does lose a few points, though, for repeated and incorrect usage of the phrase “straw that broke the camel's back.” An explosion that kills nine hundred people is not a “straw.”

McNiven’s art is beautifully dynamic and detailed. Speedball’s sheer absurdity shines in the first few pages, which makes his tragic demise and what he comes to represent all the more tragic. The inking and coloring, courtesy of Dexter Vines and Morry Hollowell, give an interesting CGI feel to the book, subtle but distinct.

The strength of Civil War is that the opposing sides are clearly defined, yet there’s no real bad guy. Emotions are charged by tragedy to such a degree that the characters certainly know which side they’re on, and are willing to fight for it, but since both sides hold such valid positions there isn’t a villain-proper. This is the sort of thing that really stirs people up, and is one of the truest representations of the comic book universe reflecting real-world passions. For all this, Civil War never devolves into talking heads belaboring the argument, but keeps momentum throughout, showing rather than telling. With a powerful story and compelling artwork, this one has the potential to become a classic.

Vive la resistance!

Nicholas Slayton

Plot: In the wake of a disastrous mission on the part of the New Warriors, and with the Superhero Registration Act getting support within Congress, the heroes of the Marvel Universe gather to discuss their options. Choices are made, loyalties are broken, and the future looks grim...

Commentary: I’ll admit something right off the bat: I don’t read Marvel. As a teenager, I was never around for the Marvel Revolution of the 60s or the famous Avengers stories of the 70s and 80s. I was introduced to comics through the various cartoons of the 90s. Marvel’s stuff never clicked for me. So when I started reading comics, I stuck with DC. Everything I researched or read by Marvel just made me shake my head and turn towards the latest DC offering. In recent times I have broken my ban. I picked up Moon Knight and New Avengers: Illuminati Special but was disappointed with both. Yet when Civil War came into my hands, I shoved all my bias to the corner and eagerly attempted to enjoy this. This is Marvel’s “Big Event” for 2006 on which they put their finest talent. I mean, this is written by Mark Millar, the alleged genius behind The Ultimates. How could this go wrong?

And once again, Marvel disappoints me.

Here’s the basic, spoiler free (hey, they have put this in solicitations and previews, so unless you’ve been living in a hut for the past six months, keep reading) plot summary. The New Warriors screw up a mission, leading to the deaths of hundreds of children at a school. In response, Congress pushes more and more for their Superhero Registration Act. For me, the premise of the story is utterly brilliant. Yes, the idea of heroes being forced either to work for the government or be outlaws has been done before (DC’s Justice Society of America famously disbanded once during the height of McCarthyism rather than give up their IDs to the government), but every time it is done, writers always manage to put a fresh spin on things. I will admit that Millar does put a new spin on this, if a bit impractical one.

First off, I just have to point out the sheer lunacy of the New Warriors’ mistake. They attack a superior supervillain team to get better ratings for their reality TV show. Ugh, what? I hate reality TV with a fiery passion. I consider it demeaning to the entire human race. Yet, still, what the heck? A reality show that puts the heroes in mortal danger? Heroes that do it all for the ratings? Heck, even Booster Gold isn’t this vain and immoral. I’m sorry, but my suspension of disbelief (which is rather large, mind you) ends there.

There are other plot moments that just raise the question of… well…, questionable writing. Hundreds of children die in the explosion, yet the entire anti-hero movement that arises from that focuses on one kid. Not only that, the kid’s name is Damien. Anyone kind of in a state of shock after reading that? I was. Still, it feels as if all the other kids’ deaths were disregarded. Somehow that seems inhumane.

Then again, this all brings me to my main complaint with the first issue: the politics. This has nothing to do with liberalism or conservatism, but rather the execution of the politics. We were introduced to the Registration Act in the Illuminati Special, given a rather nice description of it, and we saw the Pros and Cons of it. It also appears to have just been drafted. Yet here we jump right into the middle of things, not long after Illuminati, and it appears that the tension has been building for years. Umm, no. The entire thing is forced down our throats instantaneously. And then it gets weirder. This Act calls for all superheroes to work for the United States government. What about the foreign characters like Black Panther or the ones without powers such as Moon Knight? Are the other countries in the world supporting this and initiating similar programs? Nothing is answered.

The entire comic feels a bit rushed. The attempts to make the situation appear rooted in the past and having built towards this moment are woefully unsuccessful. A late, and confusing attempt to introduce a cosmic omen of doom near the end is completely sudden with no real lead in. The scenes jump back and forth instantly. In fact, the timing is odd. In what appears to be less then a week’s worth of time, the “Stamford Reformists” have grown a huge following that would have taken months at least.

So, Nick, are there any good moments in this comic? Yes. Aside from Nitro’s creepy contribution to the fight with the New Warriors, the issue presents a wonderful montage of Marvel heroes at the big gathering that lets you play “spot the hero.” There is a wonderful Captain America fight scene that has to be seen to be believed. Topping that is an incredibly kick ass scene in which a single man hijacks a fighter plane.

And of course, there is the art. McNiven and crew deliver, big time. As previously stated, the Captain America fight scene is incredible. The art is fluid, crisp, and wonderful. Yes, sometimes the characters look a little stiff, but for the most part everyone has movement and lifelike qualities. The coloring may take a bit to get used to, but trust me, after a while, you really appreciate it. In fact, this issue kind of adds weight to a theory I've had for a while: DC has all the good writers, and Marvel has all the good artists.

Final Thoughts: “This will split us in two.” Indeed. I have a strong feeling that this series will polarize fans’ thoughts. The story as of this issue is a bit stale and too forced, but the art and the final page really keeps one interested. I'll personally give this series one more issue to see if I want to keep reading. Until then, let the anticipation gather.

Dave Wallace

I really wanted to love Civil War. In theory, this could be one of the best things Marvel has done in ages, building on the foundations of their various recent events and asking a question which has had a blind eye turned to it for years: shouldn’t the super-powered individuals who inhabit the Marvel Universe have to answer to someone? Having Mark Millar onboard the series as writer had my expectations raised from the start, as if there was ever a creator who seemed the perfect choice for a series which mixes punch-ups and politics together so comprehensively, it was the guy behind the Ultimates. Penciller Steve McNiven also seemed a strong choice, as he’s undoubtedly a rising star in the field, and has already convinced me of his talents despite my having only read very little of his recent work for Marvel. And the central conceit – that heroes turn against heroes, brother against brother, as they argue about just how accountable they should be to society – sounded to me like comics gold, and a great playground for a writer like Millar to create something really special. Perhaps these preconceptions about the series have coloured my reaction to its first issue then, but I came away from this book feeling neither completely elated nor totally let down, which is perhaps the worst possible reaction you could expect for a series which was meant to be so incendiary. This isn’t a bad comic, but neither did it blow me away: It’s good, but not great. And I didn’t expect that.

The events of this opening issue revolve around the much-previewed disaster in which reality-TV-star-superheroes the New Warriors accidentally incite C-list bad guy Nitro into blowing up a huge area of Stamford, Connecticut, and killing hundreds of innocent schoolchildren. It’s a neat opening sequence which kicks off the issue well, and manages to be surprisingly tense and exciting despite my having no investment in the characters involved. From here on though, things feel slightly forced, rather than developing organically out of the actions and viewpoints of the characters involved. Although we’ve seen events in other comics build towards the difficult situation that the Marvel heroes eventually find themselves in, the way that the Stamford disaster acts as the catalyst for a turn in the tide of public opinion against the superheroes can’t escape feeling pretty contrived. One of the problems is that, after 40+ years of Marvel comics, it seems remarkably convenient that events would only now conspire to create an anti-superhero atmosphere where their regulation is seriously considered; another is that, despite the events which transpire at Stamford being fairly tragic, we’ve seen death and destruction on a far greater scale in the Marvel Universe before, and the public have never blamed the world’s masked heroes so readily for any such past events. Of course, you could argue that Millar makes a point of tying the tragedy in as closely with the least laudable kind of super-heroes you could imagine, but the truth is that the explosion at Stamford is the work of the villains, not the heroes, and it’s a bit of a leap for me that the general public would so readily turn against the people who have saved them time and time again as a result. If opinion within the superheroes’ camp is so split down the middle, couldn’t we expect the same to be true of the everyday men and women who inhabit their world? This issue is sidestepped, however, in order to create the necessary social climate for the heroes ’ Civil War to work.

Surprisingly for me, one of the other elements which prevents this from being a great comic is the art. I’ve been a fan of Steve McNiven since seeing his contribution to the first issue of Ultimate Secret about a year ago, and since then he’s done some work on New Avengers which I’ve also enjoyed. However, his weaknesses are brought to the fore here, as the occasional tendency for his figures to come off as flat-textured and plasticky is compounded by the overly-bright colours and airbrushed facial sheen which makes McNiven’s superheroes look more like action figures than ever before. I actually really like some aspects of the artist’s pencilling – he’s consistent, handles facial expressions well, and creates a tangible feeling of weight and form for most of his characters – but there’s just something that feels a bit off here. Some of the visuals (like the double-splash on the title page, and the issue’s cliffhanger) come off as flat and lacking in detail, and later scenes rely too heavily on the colourist’s input, with the heavy purples and reds which are used to create a foreboding mood drawing attention to themselves, rather than complementing the pencils in a more subtle fashion. Maybe I’ll get used to the vivid art style as the series progresses, but this certainly isn’t the great leap forward in McNiven’s work that some people have hailed it as.

Character-wise, Millar holds things together pretty well for such a large cast, although there are a couple of minor mis-steps: Captain America reads a little too much like his Ultimate counterpart (especially when he chides a fellow soldier for his “potty mouth”), and the continuingly underhand, two-faced and manipulative approach to Tony Stark’s character is getting difficult to take. I’m surprised that Iron Man would roll over and comply with the government as easily as he does here, and even though previous comics such as the New Avengers Illuminati Special and recent Amazing Spider-Man have explored this aspect of the character, I’ve yet to see a really convincing reason why he might actively work against some of his fellow heroes so readily. What’s more, Millar risks repeating ad nauseam what we already know about the political viewpoints which surround Civil War, as despite having many of the MU’s greatest heroes in one room debating the problems they face for the second half of the issue, he struggles to find anything really pertinent or original for them to say. If you were coming to this project cold, I could understand why it would be useful to have the writer set the two sides’ arguments out in such an obvious way, but with all the build-up that this event has had, a lot of the dialogue of this first issue is superfluous and feels like unnecessary repetition.

I’m also a little worried by some of Millar’s online interviews which have described the appeal of Civil War as lying in what kind of stories it would free Marvel up to write after the event, and I can only hope that this isn’t another House of M-style event comic which exists only to push pieces around a board in order to set up a new status quo in the Marvel Universe. This is pure speculation, however, and as long as the writer concentrates on the story in hand and doesn’t get too sidetracked by the need to feed his project into however many new series are going to spring out of Civil War next year, he should be able to capitalise on the undeniable potential of the series’ core concept. Indeed, Millar’s hand in the projects results in a stronger opening issue than we may have received from a more decompressed writer (under Bendis, you just know that those opening seven pages would have been stretched out to the entire first issue) and events move along at a pleasingly swift pace throughout. By the end of the issue we’ve already seen enough conflict generated to fuel the plot of an entire seven-issue miniseries, and I’m definitely still keen to see what happens next after those final few pages, but there’s somehow something anti-climactic about a series which promises to be a revolution in the Marvel Universe’s history but instead provides a fairly predictable introduction to our heroes’ Civil War.

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