Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest - Civil War: Frontline #1

Posted: Sunday, June 11, 2006
By: Keith Dallas

“Embedded” Part 1; “The Accused” Part 1

Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artists: Ramon Bachs, Steve Lieber, Ken Kobayashi (p), John Lucas (i) Laura Martin, June Chung, Christina Strain (colors)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Average Rating:

Michael Aronson:
Dominic Davies:
Michael Deeley:
Charles Emmett:
Martijn Form:
Kelvin Green:
Sam Kirkland:
Nicholas Slayton:
Dave Wallace:

Michael Aronson

The problem I find myself running up against in every aspect of Civil War is that I just don’t buy the concepts they’re throwing at us. It’s not that I don’t buy the overall scheme – I think it could work under a different approach – but each little aspect rubs me wrong in its own way, and this one issue is full of them.

For instance, in the first of three stories, Spider-Man meets with Sally Floyd, telling her, “You’re one of about three journalists who can be trusted in this game to tell it like it is.” She is? This newbie character, who only just debuted in the Generation M series, is one of the three most reliable journalists in the Marvel U? Is it more important to see Spider-Man come to talk to her rather than Ben Urich? Is it more important to see her talk about Jonah Jameson than actually see Jameson on the page? The most important problem, however, is that when Spider-Man, the moral center of the Marvel U, calls her one of the most trusted journalists, it implies that her liberal political views, the ones that she babbles for half the issue, are the correct ones. Hey, I’m a liberal myself, but if you’re trying to tell me that this event has two equally legitimate sides to argue, I’ve got a school in Stamford I’d like to sell you.

(By the way, does unmarrying Spider-Man mean we’ll get to see him date drunks like Sally, who hits on him after literally three minutes because she finds him “dorky”? If so, no thank you.)

Point of contention two: Iron Man, after a speech about why he’d be a hypocrite if he didn’t reveal his identity to the public, reveals his identity to the public. The denizens of the Marvel U must feel like absolute tools right about now, because only four years ago in real time – in comic time, a lot shorter – Iron Man already came out! And only two years ago, he became Secretary of State! No one could possibly not have known this. While I’ve never read an explanation in the comics as to why they think he’s not Iron Man anymore, interviews with Marvel writers say he just told people he wasn’t Iron Man, and they believed him. I really don’ t know what’s more lazy: the fact they made no effort to retcon/reverse that situation, or the fact they relied on this non-explanation to hope the moment in this issue still came off as being significant. No dice. The best they can hope now is that the main Civil War series, which they promised to be self-contained, won’t have to reference the events in this issue.

Point of contention three: Turning superhero powers into an explainable science. The second story reveals that Speedball is still alive because, after taking the brunt of an explosion and being flung hundreds of miles across the country and crashing to the ground, his powers started to make a loud buzzing and then explode again and turn off permanently. Eh, what? Look, I know we’re reading about superheroes with crazy powers, but Marvel’s trying to show us that the Marvel U government treats superheroes like weapons that need to be registered and that the rules of reality now apply to the Marvel U, but powers can also turn on or off because of explosions? Is the only way to keep Speedball around to turn him all grim and gritty? Methinks they missed the point about why people like these characters.

Dominic Davies

After a sombre funeral for an old colleague, the staff of The Daily Bugle spend the night drinking and discussing the future after the Stamford disaster. They agree that things are going to change for the superhuman community, but are at odds on whether the new law is going to be for the best. After a short visit from Spiderman, Sally is given some unique insight into the events and told to travel to Washington for Iron Man’s press conference. Elsewhere, the lone survivor of the disaster has been found, healed and promptly arrested by S.H.I.E.L.D.

Front Line represents the first new series spun out of Marvel’s new event Civil War and so far, it has some very solid storytelling. Jenkins in my eyes has always been a very on/off writer, so it’s great to find something of his I can finally really get behind. Like his other books about the men and women of the Bugle, this one shows exactly how this massive terrible event affects the regular Joes: Jonah is out for blood finally having all his hate justified, Robbie is once again on damage control, Ben seems adamant to remain open-minded, and Sally seeps into a deeper depression. It’s these characters that make the story, giving the Heroes a backseat for a change.

I enjoyed the way the Bugle’s own problems are made apparent in its flawed editorial line and mismatched management. With Bugle sales dropping, even Robbie finally admits to Ben the prime purpose of the paper by telling him to stop trying to write a Pulitzer story and start trying to sell papers. Also, when the Superhero finally arrives, the story still retains its human characteristics. Spider-Man coming to Sally to tell her about his own fears is a great scene thanks to some simple, realistic dialog and is added to by the drama of Iron Man’s own revelation in the press conference.

Politics obviously play an important role in Civil War, and Jenkins has used this book to express his own political views. In most cases this is not something which bothers me (in fact, I welcome it), but I do worry that the slant taken in this book will only add to the “Cap is the good guy” feeling that most fans are having instead of the supposed equal sides that Millar is trying to push.

Another criticism is that while the book fits neatly into the current Civil War story, it may be difficult to at first find its place. It seems to fit right after the events at the end of Civil War #1 and just before the end of Amazing Spider-Man #532. The only reason this could be considered confusing is because the issue does come a week after Amazing Spider-Man did. But most people shouldn’t have any problems working it out.

After the main story, this issue presents another tale featuring the lone survivor of the Stamford explosion and then a few pages of poems discussing a political event, not unlike the current happenings in Civil War. Like the main story, these tales retain the sombre feel of the first and provide welcome additional pages.

The art work sets the necessary tone, matching the themes and characters this book possesses. It is sometimes dark, often dulled and never too colourful or vibrant, it works perfectly. That said, I believe that most of the credit for this goes to John on inks and Laura on colours instead of to Ramon’s pencils, whose Iron Man armour sadly didn’t really sell itself to me. In the second story the mood is continued well with pencils by Steve and colours by June and again in the final small poem with pencils by Kei and colours by Christina.

The best thing about this series is the human touch it adds to this massive event, and this is played out brilliantly in each separate story. It also serves as an interesting opportunity for Jenkins to express a political view but is in danger of having an adverse effect on the series as a whole. The separate art teams do a good job in each story and gift the book with the sombre realism that is required. All these make Front Line a great spin off and provides a welcome addition to the Civil War. Pick it up.

Michael Deeley

I’ve got mixed feelings about this comic and none of them are good.

Civil War: Front Line #1 has three stories related to the Civil War crossover. Reporters Ben Urich and Sally Floyd meet at the funeral for the cameraman who died in CW #1. Urich talks about how Jonah Jameson wants stories that support the superhuman registration act. Floyd’s small alternative paper wants her to write about its infringement on civil liberties. Urich becomes worried that the Daily Bugle is blindly supporting the act without investigating it. Floyd is visited by Spider-Man who wants her to tell readers how unmasking can hurt heroes’ families. The next day, at Iron Man’s press conference, Tony Stark unmasks yet again. Also included is the story of Speedball’s survival and arrest, and a poem written by a Japanese internment camp prisoner.

Let’s get the worst out of the way: The poem is not being read by Spider-Man. It appears above drawings of Japanese entering a camp and reluctantly accepting their injustice. Spidey just jumps around these words and images that don’t connect to each other. Actually, the images counteract the point of the poem. On the other hand, the flimsy justifications for the crime the father tells the daughter are the same ones used to support any act that violates freedom. So the next time someone tells you wiretapping and random security checks are necessary for a safer America, remember that’s what you tell children.

It’s nice to see Speedball survived, but his life is going to be hell now. I know it’s dramatic, but has anyone ever been formally arrested when they’re lying on a hospital bed just returning from consciousness? A lawyer would love bringing that up in court!

Finally the lead story. The problem here is the same general one I’ve noticed in Civil War; There’s no strong argument against the Registration Act. We’ve seen She-Hulk support it, and Spider-Man agreed to join. Wolverine sees it as the Sentinel Program applied to non-mutants, but he’s more concerned with hunting down Nitro than arguing politics. And now we get this series’ lone liberal voice: a troubled alcoholic with tragedy in her past and a weakness for falling for the wrong men. On the other side is Ben Urich: always dependable, honest, hard-working, and a voice of reason in the lives of Daredevil and Spider-Man. He doesn’t support the act per se; just sees its passage as inevitable. And while there are signs he might disagree with it later, he’s not about to go against his employer yet.

As a liberal, I’m offended! Is this the best Jenkins could do for the left? A clichéd woman with a past? She’s like Lifetime’s version of Renee Montoya. I’ve never seen her before, but she clearly has a lot of history. Too bad we don’t get any useful details. She lost her kid and wrote about it. She’s an alcoholic, but just fell off the wagon. Is she going to be the primary voice for personal freedom and liberties? Are readers going to take her seriously when she talks about how the public should continue to trust powerful individuals to control themselves when she can’t even control herself?

And that brings me to the one good thing I can say about this comic. When Tony Stark unmasks, he also says he’s an alcoholic. I believe that little fact is the strongest influence in Stark’s support of registration. Stark knows from personal experience that people cannot always control themselves. He has endangered lives when overcome by his personal weaknesses. Sometimes it takes external forces to support healthy habits. Alcoholics have sponsors and support groups. But Stark doesn’t see an equivalent for superhumans. Who’s going to stop young heroes from being too violent? Who will uncover experienced heroes who abuse their powers and trust? If there was a registration act years ago, would Zemo have tried to fool the world with his Thunderbolts? If heroes had to reveal all information to the government, would we have learned new information about alien technology? That’s what I think is going through Stark’s mind.

On the other hand, his unmasking has no emotional impact whatsoever. Really, this is what? The 3rd, 4th time? And did anyone really believe he wasn’t Iron Man when he tried to “remask” during “Avengers Disassembled”?

I give this book because I can say exactly one thing about this comic, but there are too many mistakes, a sign of bias in the entire crossover, and average art. It’s really not worth buying, unless the rest of the series turns out phenomenal.

Charles Emmett

This issue details three stories, (well two and a half really) that are tangents of the main Civil War storyline. Basically what this means is that these are the deleted scenes. Apparently, Marvel thinks that people care so much about Civil War, they’ll want to read everything they can get their grubby little hands on. DC thought the same about Infinite Crisis, but it was contained within solo titles and some one-offs, not a 10 issue series that just so happens to be longer than Civil War itself, something that boggles my mind.

Anyways, back to the plot summary, one of the three tales has to do with Tony Stark revealing himself to the public, as well as some dialogue between Ben Urich and Sally Floyd, as well as Sally and Spider-Man, who is still wearing that ridiculous new costume. (change it back already, sheesh). There’s no real problem with this story, other than there’s no real point to it. Woo, Stark’s outta the Superhuman closet, I needed 16 pages of dialogue for this? It isn’t badly written or badly drawn. Everything is quite adequate, it is just SO BORING. I just can’t bring myself to care that much, a theme which I found carried over to the next tale.

This tale centers around that fact that Speedball, one of the mutants responsible for the explosion that started the Civil War, is found alive but stripped of his powers. This time we get about 10 pages of doctors and scientists wondering “How is he still alive?”
“Where are his powers?” “Why am I still reading this...?” and more. So again, it’s just not very interesting at all. As a casual fan of the Marvel Universe, I don’t even know who Speedball is, much less give a crap about him. The thing that DC did with Infinite Crisis was take B and C list characters and make you care about them (Blue Beetle anyone?), but I felt none of that here. Heck, our main character is unconscious until the last page which (sarcasm) makes for some riveting storytelling. Now I know this part of Front Line is supposed to be about Speedball dealing with survivor’s guilt and what not, but no one is going to care if the main character isn’t likable or sympathetic. Again, the art and the writing are serviceable, but I just cannot muster any enthusiasm about these stories.

The third and final tale in this book deals with Spider-Man straddling the fence, a new and totally original subject, I’m sure (sarcasm strikes again). However, this tale is set to a poem from the Japanese Internment Camps of WWII, as well as imagery from those camps. The thing is, it actually kinda works, and this tale is the only reason my score is so high. I like the art a lot in this part, and the poem is moving. It also does (kinda) tie into the greater theme of Civil War by examining how much of your liberties you should give up for your country. While it doesn’t offer any sort of resolution, it does make the reader wonder, which is a good thing because it was the ONLY thought provoking thing about this book. Too bad it’s the one shot.

On a whole, I realize I really don’t care that much for the characters and stories being told in this issue. Both the Stark and Speedball tales left me feeling cold and bored. For a mini-series called Front Line you might think there would be at least some action in these pages. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single panel. Despite the best efforts of the final tale, this issue fails to be enjoyable in any sort of meaningful way and deserves to sit on the shelf waiting for some poor kid to confuse it with the real Civil War mini-series.

Martijn Form

Plot: Three different ongoing storylines about Marvel’s Civil War through the eyes of two journalists .

Comments: Somehow I’m really into Marvel’s Civil War event. I can’t really explain why at this moment. Is it heroes fighting heroes? Or is it just a different take on the Marvel universe? The last big event The House of M was enjoyable, but in the end nothing much changed for most of the Marvel titles. So I hope Civil War will shake things up in the Marvel universe.

Front Line was the last book I put on my pull list because I thought it would be a boring limited series. What can be exciting about journalists writing about the Civil War events that we already read in all the other Civil War issues? But I changed my mind. Why? I’m not sure, but I like the idea of two journalists reporting their stories from different sides, and I hope that this will bring more depth to the Civil War saga.

Front Line contains three different stories. The first one, “Embedded,” will probably be the main story of this series. Sally Floyd and Ben Urich are journalists working for The Daily Bugle and The Alternative respectively. They meet at a morbid party in honour of one of their colleagues who died at the Stamford massacre. They debate if the Superhuman Registration Act will actually happen. The Daily Bugle point of view is that America has been attacked by out-of-control costumed freaks. Ben is troubled by this point of view because his newspaper is only focusing on the disaster and not on why such a thing could happen in the first place. What went wrong? But he is pressured, because their take on the story will sell a lot of newspapers. He must act more like a salesman of newspapers than an objective journalist. This is a great parallel to real life journalism, where people who must bring objective news are embedded in the U.S. Army who control what can be written and filmed about Iraq and then shown to the world.

When Sally gets back to her apartment, she fights with her alcoholism when suddenly Spider-Man jumps into her living room. So overwhelmed at this opportunity for an exclusive interview with him, she starts to drink again. Strange. Somebody dies, she stays sober, but this makes her grab the bottle? Well at the end of the story Iron Man confesses in public that he is also an alcoholic. Let’s see how the story develops with Sally, because they are now connected in the club AA. Will this cloud her judgment to get an objective story?

Artist Ramon Bachs has a lot of trouble getting the Spider-Man sequence right. His drawings of Spider-Man’s costume are not that convincing, especially Spider-Man’s goggles. Are they inside the costume or outside? And to make matters worse the colouring of Laura Martin is not consistent. When he enters, his costume is purple, during the interview red, and his exit again purple. Did the lights go on or off? Was it a long night? Or the small neon light had something to do with the colouring? This wasn’t clear to me. But on the positive side the end of the story is thrilling. Is Iron man doing the right thing here? We shall see throughout the Civil War, but it’s a bold move.

The second story, “The Accused,” covers what happened with Speedball after the disaster. A confusing story. Speedball is dead. He is not dead. The explanation that he absorbs all the energy is a bit weak. When S.H.I.E.L.D. enters the story, it ends with a nice cliffhanger.

The last part is a 3 page story. This whole book is wall to wall story of 32 pages. No ads. Can you believe that? Marvel and no ads.


If you are into Civil War, you should pick this up. If not, you passed it big time.

Kelvin Green

Ye gods...

Over the past year or so, Marvel and DC together have successfully made me lose all interest in big event superhero stories, and in previews Civil War did not look like it would change my opinion. Vastly bloated (what is it, seventy parts?) and based around a rather desperate civil rights metaphor, I wasn’t expecting a great deal, and to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t have bothered looking in at all were it not for my involvement in this Slugfest (I can imagine your sighs of relief).

My expectations turn out to have been confounded, but in the worst possible way. For the most part, the exploration of the premise is as heavy-handed and unsubtle as I expected, full of cack-handed metaphors and strained attempts at relevance and profundity on the subjects of freedom and rights. But then the issue finishes up by scaling nosebleed-inducing heights of audaciously embarrassing nonsense with an attempt to juxtapose a poem written by a Japanese inmate of one of the American internment camps (sorry, “wartime communities”) of World War II with Spider-Man swinging around New York and casting wistful glances at the Statue of Liberty. This is all done with complete and utter sincerity, and the sentiment is perhaps a worthy one, but my gosh, the execution is about as elegant as a drunken rhino on rollerskates.

The ineptitude trickles down to the details too, as Ramon Bachs consistently makes the error of drawing long-standing character Robbie Robertson in the place of the newly introduced “Robby.” At first, I’d thought that it was simply a typo, but “Robby” is written so differently to the way Robertson has been portrayed for thirty years that he just has to be a new character. It’s just possible that we’ve got established characters (Robby/Robbie’s not the only one, sadly) being bludgeoned to fit the story, but Marvel are too professional to let that kind of thing happen. I mean, it’s not as if they often make rookie mistakes; like trying to make Iron Man revealing his identity into an important sequence even though it’s the nineteenth time he’s done it in the past five years, or spending umpteen pages reiterating the premise of the Civil War event in the same way that they’ve done in every other chapter so far, or anything like that. Oh no.

On the plus side, the comic does look good, and the grimy, realistic house style Marvel have adopted of late does fit in quite well with the more ground level approach to the scenario taken here. Furthermore, even though different artists handle the various segments of the issue, the overall look meshes well, and the art on the Japanese section in particular is quite beautiful.

I do feel a little churlish for picking this comic apart as I can’t remember the last time that either Marvel or DC attempted to tell a story that was actually about something significant. But merely trying is not enough, and there’s no excuse for the sheer unbridled hamfistedness of this poor effort. They’re certainly aiming high with this, but they’ve ended up in the shit.

Sam Kirkland

Civil War: Front Line is an adless, bi-weekly series, providing supplemental material to the main summer blockbuster event, with each issue providing three distinct sections. The first enhances the Civil War experience by highlighting the media's highly influential role in the coming conflict; the second focuses on Joe Quesada's favorite Marvel character, revealing that not everyone in the Stamford explosion met the same fate; and the third makes a slightly ridiculous, slightly poignant comparison of the Marvel Universe to the real world in the form of a poem from the second World War.

32 pages. Three stories. A lot to digest.

“Embedded” promises to explore both sides of the conflict by showcasing the work of two journalists from competing newspapers: Ben Urich of the Daily Bugle, and Sally Floyd of the Alternative. Outright references to the September 11 terrorist attacks and wiretapping, as well as parallels to Japanese internment camps of all things (not to mention the drawing of political lines by using the words “right-wing” and the “L” word) seem just a tad overbearing. Marvel has pledged to make Civil War as even-handed as possible, but issue #1 of Front Line doesn’t quite maintain that all-important sense of fairness. Unfortunately, the first issue presents an overly one-sided viewpoint due to the vituperation of a very one-sided J. Jonah Jameson and the focus placed squarely on Floyd's viewpoint. Surely at some point the pro-registration side will get an opportunity to make its case, but this issue is a little disconcerting on that front.

The strongest part of the chapter is Spider-Man’s heart-to-heart with Floyd. Spidey reveals how sympathetic he is to both the pro- and anti-registration positions, but chooses to make a sacrifice for the good of his country, a point further addressed in the aforementioned poem. Iron Man’s press conference is a necessary turning point, despite the cheapness of the moment because of past continuity. It’s a powerful moment if you’ve never read Iron Man’s past identity frauds, but makes for an underwhelming cliffhanger ending otherwise.

In the second story, a New Warrior finds himself alive but faced with serious consequences from his team’s actions in Stamford, Connecticut. The character will undoubtedly become the nation’s scapegoat, and his legal struggles will likely add a very personal side to the events that jumpstarted the Superhuman Registration Act. While it’s mostly set-up here, the character’s struggle should make for a compelling story.

The historical poem, while not particularly good, makes some interesting comparisons to the current struggle of superpowered beings. It feels slightly inappropriate to compare one of the worst violations of civil liberties in American history to spandex-clad superheroes. Still, it reinforces Spider-Man’s willingness to sacrifice some of his own freedoms for a greater good, just as some Japanese-Americans were forced to do in World War II.

With so many important events taking place outside of Civil War proper (Iron Man’s press conference here, as well as Spider-Man’s “identity crisis” over in Amazing Spider-Man), I have to wonder whether the main series will be as self-explanatory as Marvel claims it will be. Already, the timeframe is utterly confusing; it’s impossible to have separate series enhance the larger picture when it’s so hard to make connections between the various pieces. Still, Front Line has the potential to be a nice companion piece to Civil War, and the variety of stories, adless format, and biweekly schedule should make it even more worth following once the story gets off the ground and finds its identity.

Nicholas Slayton

Plot: Following the death of a journalist at the Stamford Incident, a congregation of journalists is held. Over drinks, Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich and The Alternative reporter Sally Floyd learn that they will be covering the Superhero Registration Act, but with different perspectives. Ben deals with his morals while Sally receives a late night visitor, and a certain mutant finds himself in an interesting position.

Commentary: When I found out that writer Paul Jenkins was given carte blanche to compare the Superhero Registration Act to the current American political landscape, I was thrown off. Doing that kind of turns Marvel’s “Big Event” into a thinly-veiled satire of the America of 2006. Between all the references to current events, the pop culture references, heck, this story has already doomed itself: It’s not going to hold up. It lacks a timeless feel. It has forced itself into a corner by being “real world” story and when looked back upon ten or twenty years from now, it won’t be as good as it will be in the immediate. Then of course there’s the fact that for all intents and purposes, it basically takes potshots at America today. From negative remarks about illegal wiretaps to safety over freedom, this issue provides a very liberal stand. Personally, I fear that this may devolve into more of a satire of the now then an exciting story.

Still, with all that said and done, what about the story itself? It’s actually really good. The idea of having the story of Civil War viewed through the eyes of reporters is very fresh, and very creative. Ben must deal with his conflicting views with his employers, while Sally gets a very fun interview with Spider-Man. My hat is off to Jenkins for his excellent use of Spider-Man in this issue. Well done and very close to the iconic character. In fact, this issue does a wonderful job of piecing together a muddled timeline of the events taking place in Civil War #1 and Amazing Spider-Man #532.

Yet, there is another story: Running parallel to the story of Ben and Sally is “The Accused,” following the sole New Warriors survivor of the Stamford Incident that started the entire Civil War series itself. This looks extremely promising and exciting, but the first part of it really rubbed me the wrong way. Basically, our hero wakes up from a coma near the end to find a S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent arresting him and summing up Stamford in about ten sentences, while our hero is barely saying “Where am I?” The heck? It definitely feels like Jenkins is trying to portray the pro-Registration party as evil, and it works.

The story concludes with a poem about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, accompanied with Spider-Man swinging around, eventually ending up at the Statue of Liberty. This scene really has no purpose, and compares two totally different things. It could have been left out, and the story would have been better. In my opinion, all this does is drag the first issue of Front Line down.

When it comes to the art, I love it. Bachs’ figures are sharp, realistic, and dynamic. His Iron Man is incredibly cool, with futuristic angles and a very streamlined appearance. His Spider-Man ranks as the one time I’ve truly been a fan of the “Iron Spidey” costume. With his pencils and Martin’s colors, Spidey comes to life and nearly leaps off the page. My only complaint with Bachs is his Ben Urich; the man has more wrinkles then a Shar-pei. I don’t remember Ben looking like that on the pages of Daredevil. Meanwhile, in “the Accused,” Chung’s colors give the story’s opening a creepy, moody atmosphere that really sets the stage for the New Warrior’s reveal. The oddity is the poem about the Japanese internment. The manga style of the art clashes with the overall look of the book and further removes the poem from the main story.

Final Thoughts: “...Shove it down the liberal’s throats so hard they think the Wednesday Sports page is the Sunday Edition!” Despite the fact that the miniseries probably won’t hold up well in the future, in the now it has an interesting premise, fun characters, wonderful art, and a very human perspective on Marvel’s “Big Event.” In fact, this issue is a better start to a miniseries than Civil War #1.

Dave Wallace

A few years ago, Marvel published a great four-part miniseries called Deadline, in which Daily Bugle reporter Kat Farrel gave us her take on the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe from a grounded perspective. At around the same time, Brian Bendis was writing his breakout book Alias, which saw Jessica Jones explore the seamier side of the MU at the same time as her character got over some serious personal problems. Later, these two books met in Bendis’ The Pulse, with the remit of giving us a look at the bigger events of current Marvel continuity from a reporter’s point of view, and later still Paul Jenkins brought us a similar style of story in Generation M, with his troubled creation Sally Floyd providing the human focus of a storyline which dealt with the aftermath of last year’s House of M. With Civil War: Front Line, Marvel is continuing this recent tradition of giving us a street-level view of its latest big crossover from a reporter’s point of view, but as the above examples prove, it’s not going to be able to get by on the novelty of its premise alone.

Sadly, this first issue doesn’t really give us enough to get our teeth into, as the main story, “Embedded,” presents us with Ben Urich and Sally Floyd, our two intrepid reporters destined to each take opposing journalistic stances in Civil War, but fails to give them anything really significant to do. The opening pages present the funeral of one of their cameraman colleagues who had the misfortune to be covering the New Warriors on the day of the Stamford disaster, but what tries to be a poignant and affecting look at the impact of one of the hundreds of lives lost instead comes off as generic and derivative. When Spidey shows up in the middle of the night to talk to Sally about his troubles and advise her to attend a press conference the next day, it feels shoehorned-in and contrived rather than a logical story development. And when Iron Man publicly unmasks at the end of this first installment, I was left wondering why this apparently key development to the Civil War story didn’t happen in an Iron Man book, his guest-starring appearance in Amazing Spider-Man, or even – God forbid – in Civil War itself?

Jenkins establishes the opposing viewpoints of Urich’s Bugle and Floyd’s Alternative easily enough, but doesn’t really do anything with it. Urich gets some nice moments of characterisation and his conflicted motivation is made clear, but ultimately the story of the two reporters doesn’t go anywhere. The trouble is, I know Jenkins is a good enough writer that he can create a solid story with these two personalities and the whole “embedded reporter” concept, and I want to give him the benefit of the doubt on this, but I just worry that there’s more than a whiff of editorially-mandated plot about this book, and I hope that he doesn’t let his story get buried beneath the need to have certain events happen here to tie in with the core Civil War title. Luckily, the book makes up for things to a certain extent in the art department, as although there’s nothing particularly outstanding or stunning to be found here, the artwork is decent enough. Even if Bachs’ work in the main story is nothing special (bar an atmospheric first couple of pages) we’re treated to some solid work from Steve Lieber in the more satisfying and more instantly intriguing Speedball back-up story – especially the panels which show the aftermath of his crash-landing – and some lovely watercolour-style art from Kei Kobayashi and Christine Strain to accompany the war poem at the issue’s end (even if I can’t quite work out how Spider-Man’s appearance in the illustrations is meant to fit in).

Although it looks like it’s going to be an interesting place for Civil War related tidbits and for the storyline of Mark Millar’s core title to get a slightly deeper level of exploration, if Front Line can ’t stand on its own two feet then I don’t really see the point of it being a separate title in its own right. I would have imagined that the point of books like this is to give the events of Civil War some depth by presenting them from a human perspective. Instead, the reader has so far gained about as much insight into the crossover as any random onlooker in the Marvel Universe, and if the “Embedded” section of the book doesn’t get more interesting and examine the core of the Civil War conflict more thoroughly next issue, I can’t see many people sticking around for the full 10 issues.

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