Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Steve McNiven (p), Dexter Vines (i), Morry Hollowell (colors)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Daily Bugle Pulse Special Edition: $.50. Freelance pictures of the latest Electro fight: $300. Learning your star photographer was secretly taking pictures of himself, the world famous webslinger and bane of your newspaperís existence, all along? Priceless.
Yes, Virginia, something does happen in Civil War #2 other than what made headlines on Yahoo, the New York Times, and Howard Stern on the day of its release. But Spider-Man taking his mask off in front of hundreds of reporters and flashing cameras is the latest event to ďbreak the internet in half,Ē and one of the most siginificant events in Marvelís history.
Midnight strikes on the Superhuman Registration Act, and any costumed do-gooder not complying with the law immediately becomes an outlaw. Iron Man, Yellowjacket, and She-Hulk work to earn back the publicís trust, Mr. Fantastic works on an idea that will revolutionize superhumans in the Marvel Universe, and Captain America finds a way to continue to fight the good fight while staying under the radar and recruiting others to his cause. Writer Mark Millarís script is well balanced and well paced, fitting into the tapestry of the entire Marvel Universe, while Steve McNivenís artwork helps contribute to the large, widescreen scope of the series. I even laughed out loud in two instances: one with Jonah providing comicdomís panel of the year; the other involving the only thirty-third degree S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.
Thankfully, the pro-registration side of the coin is portrayed in a much better light here. Tony Starkís side is much more sympathetic than it had been to this point. One page in particular proves enlightening as Stark laments the fact that he was not able to persuade Captain America to join him and wonders aloud whether he made the right move in becoming the public figurehead for registration.
Captain Americaís side, on the other hand, seems a bit less justified in their actions, and their cause is less defined. The group, which includes the Falcon, Daredevil, and Cable of all people, intervenes in S.H.I.E.L.D.ís interception of the Young Avengers. Cap continues to reel in super-villains as he always has, but refuses to yield to the new law. Exactly what his end goal is remains a mystery, but heís quick to declare that heís willing to go to great lengths to fight back against Iron Man. Itís interesting that the same man who attempted to keep the Young Avengers from endangering themselves as superheroes is so quick to help them break the law here. It may speak to Capís extreme distrust of S.H.I.E.L.D. that heís so desperate to keep the young heroes from falling into the potentially corrupt hands of Commander Hill.
As for Spider-Manís unmasking. Iím all for it. Done right, it should be a breath of fresh air for the character. Yes, the likelihood of Aunt May or Mary Jane biting the bullet has never been higher, especially if Spider-Manís seemingly inevitable flip-flop to Captain Americaís side takes place, but the decision makes sense for the character at this point in his life. Unfortunately, the final four pages come out of nowhere and make little sense if you havenít been reading Amazing Spider-Man. Thereís no more denying it: whatever Marvel claims, the tie-ins are absolutely essential to the overall Civil War picture. I certainly hope Marvel had a clear strategy in place for the fallout before deciding to take such a risky plunge with Spider-Man.
Another slight flaw that I can find in Civil War #2 is that the pace is just a little too swift. Lots of exciting events take place within these 22 pages, but it might have been advantageous to spend a little more time delving into the motivations behind these characters. But, as I said, I suppose thatís what the countless tie-ins are for, and the series is still young.
Civil War delivers in ways other recent ďmajor eventsĒ havenít; itís quicker than House of M, more accessible than Infinite Crisis, and less mind-numbingly pointless than Spider-Man: The Other. Mark Millar ďgetsĒ the characters heís writing about. The merits of Iron Man and Captain Americaís actions could be debated indefinitely, but, that said, I donít believe either cause stands out as ďrightĒ or ďwrongĒ from a purely objective viewpoint. As long as that continues to be the case, Civil War will continue to soar past my expectations.
Marvel headquarters? Open up, this is the Department of Consumerism; weíre here to relieve you of your readers. More specifically, the fans of your number one franchise character, Spider-Man. Our records show that you have been deceiving, disillusioning and depressing them for too long, and this is, pardon the irony, the straw that broke the camelís back.
Strike #1: You turned Spider-Man from a normal man with spider-like powers to a spiritually empowered creature that can reveal large claws and restore himself to top shape by shedding his skin and forming a cocoon. No explanation necessary as to why this merits a penalty.
Strike #2: You abandoned and/or neglected any and all of the above changes and upgrades detailed in Strike #1 by imbuing the character with a suit of armor that negates the need to use any of his powers. And for the record, the mechanical arms looked better on Doc Ock.
Strike #3: Despite the fact none of the superheroes are required to publicly unmask (they need only register with SHIELD, who possess copious files on every hero anyway), you have subjected Spider-Man to a needless and illogical unmasking, unsupported by anything so far established in the Civil War miniseries. Fans point to a recent issue of his own series for the rationale behind the demonstration, but then you promised that no other tie-in book need be read to understand the core series. Furthermore, his switch from the garish armor costume to the classic costume for the unmasking serves no discernible purpose other than familiarity (an accessible splash image for media outlets to reprint, no doubt). Lastly, this clearly significant event occurs, of all places, outside Spider-Manís own titles.
It has come to our attention that you have found yourselves at a lack for inventive and imaginative stories to tell with this character, having resorted to exactly the kind of shock-for-the-sake-of-shock changes you have publicly decried. You have been deemed unfit to continue the publication of this character. The previous six months of his stories hardly resemble anything of the entire past forty-four years of his existence in any media.
No, donít take that as a compliment.
Furthermore, it is highly recommended that you relinquish the rights to publish further stories using the members of the Fantastic Four, especially Mr. Fantastic. In a recent interview, Brian Bendis responded to a fan inquiry about Reed Richards supporting the Registration Act when in an earlier issue of Fantastic Four, Richards makes a compelling argument counter to registration. Bendis said that this would be addressed in the second issue of the Civil War miniseries. In this issue, the readers, undeserving of further debasement of the characters they enjoy, are nevertheless given the explanation that Richards has used mathematical formulas to arrive at the conclusion that registration is necessary. Indeed, either Captain Americaís rebels are unquestionably unintelligent and at fault for opposing clear indubitable logic, or you are relying on the unquestioning faith and acceptance on the readersí part. If only you had graphs to prove to the readers why this seems like a credible explanation.
Though these are the most grievous offenses, there are many further discrepancies within the issue you shall be held account for. Despite Captain Americaís public identity, he goes completely unrecognized by at least one member of the registration task force, likely others. Daredevil, whose identity is unknown to the readers, is accepted without explanation by the rebels. The rebels hide out in massively enormous safe houses, whose location is only known to Nick Fury Ė and the thousands of construction workers who constructed them, and the hundreds of officers who delivered the cargo and weapons and vehicles and installed the computers there. Director Hill calls Captain Americaís group a ďnightmare scenarioĒ when she was the one who had come unprepared, yet intended to apprehend him in the previous issue. The pro-registration heroes take down a Doombot Ė which doesnít resemble the usual Doombot in the slightest Ė which is neither a hero escaping registration nor a costumed villain but the automated drone of an international dictator who plays no role in American politics.
The inconsistencies continue, but there reiterating the poor handling of this large cast of characters is futile. Even their detailed depictions by artist McNiven falls short of their intended goal in many a panel. Furthermore, too many of these themes and characterizations are redundant of what is currently being published in the Ultimate titles.
Lastly, we at the Department are welcome to attempts at presenting political situations in a fictional setting. However, we do not appreciate when the politics depicted show a heavy bias one way or another, despite our own personal leanings. No matter the level of subtlety involved, misrepresentation is misrepresentation and a bias shines bright and clear. Save it for the blogs.
Only a few days after the events of the first issue, already the sides have been clearly drawn. Cap and his underground resistance appear to be systematically taking down Villains while Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. do the same while also hunting those resisting. The Bill passes and after an exciting chase and rescue, the Young Avengers become the newest recruits to join the underground. Meanwhile, in Washington Peter Parker makes a public appearance and a massive decision.
After a dynamite first issue from Mark Millar and Steve McNiven, Civil War continues its action packed story but some small cracks are beginning to show. In this second issue the teams are being formed with some heavy hitters on both sides. Itís great that Nick Fury (while still in hiding) is helping out the resistance in the form of a safe house and even better to see that Cap is not wasting any time running but instead taking down as many Villains as his team can. We also (albeit briefly) see Iron Manís side do the same to a DoomBot and S.H.I.E.L.D. begins hunting the resistors. Both sides are getting to work, and the pacing is solid.
My first criticism is that it seems that the reader is going to be too inclined to side with Captain Americaís team instead of Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D.ís. While Capís team are good guys, rescuing team mates, S.H.I.E.L.D. blows up buildings, and Tony shows signs of uncertainty. In a series that at first boasts equal division among readers sadly almost everybody I have asked seems to be of the opinion that Captain America = Good and Iron Man = Bad. This was also my criticism of Frontline, and it is a danger of bringing the series down.
The only other problem I have with this issue is Capís actions during the rescue attempt. Pushing another Soldier out of a moving truck into oncoming traffic does seem a little out of character, and in this series he is tending towards the Cap presented in Millarís Ultimates. However, this could simply be argued as us getting to see a wartime Captain America with him upping the ante.
The book is packed full of good little character moments, especially from an interesting scene featuring Reed and Sue. Itís great to see him getting excited about really improving the world. And even his reasons for siding with Tony in the form of a mathematical equation promising doom without registration is painfully something only Reed could come up with. Most importantly this scene presents cracks within the marriage, and it promises to be a major factor later on in the series. More solid character work is shown in Tonyís aforementioned hesitation and of course, Peterís revelation.
I suppose that brings me to the major spoiler at the end of the book, and while I am sure you most likely know what happens, I am simply going to say that it is a well crafted and stunning end to this latest issue, it takes guts to upset the status quo in such a manner both closing and opening doors to future writers. As long as Marvel backs up the decision, there is no reason why this couldnít be a success.
The artwork is as solid as it was in the first issue with McNiven continuing to deliver some great looking action and detailed characters. I was a massive fan of his work in early Ultimate Secret, specifically the action featuring Captain Marvel and look forward to some scenes of equal quality to Millar and Hitchís Ultimates. Kudos must go to Dexter Vines and Morry Hollowell for great work on inks and colours too.
This latest issue of Civil War begins what promises to be a provocative and action packed series. With such a huge cast itís going to be trickly for the reader to avoid getting overwhelmed but so far thanks to solid pacing and quality artwork, there is no reason why any new readers could not enjoy this series as much as old readers can. All this coupled with one big shock of an ending makes Civil War easily on top of the pile for me. It should be for you as well.
I began reading this miniseries with the highest of hopes. A political take on superheroes, written by the man famous for his real world portrayal of heroics in the pages of The Ultimates. At the end of Civil War #1 I was sorely disappointed. However, I decided to read this story to the end. After all, it had only been Part One of a seven part story. The next part had to be better, right? A good story can only build upon itself, as the saying goes.
I was wrong.
My biggest complaint with issue #1 was that there was not enough information given. We never found out how the Registration Act was handled by other countries, considering that many heroes were foreign. While there is still a lack of information in this issue, my biggest complaint is that nothing happens, with the exception of a small shocker at the end. For a book that proclaims to shake the Marvel Universe at the end, I kind of want to see a little more than what we were presented with in this issue.
Principally, the issue presents three events: the passing of the Registration Act, the Young Avengers on the run, and shocking turn for Spider-man. Thatís it. Story wise, itís not much. Weíve known the Registration Act was going to be passed for months, thanks to the solicits and press coverages. Meanwhile, the Young Avengers, while interesting characters on their own, take up a third of the book, and all they really do is run from the authorities. In fact, the Young Avengers scene really threw me off.
To quote Patriot, while heís on the run: ďS.H.I.E.L.D. just caught me breaking up a mugging, and now theyíre all over me!Ē My initial reaction to this line was, ďWhat happened to the muggers?Ē The sheer oddity that the authorities were more concerned about the heroes, and not the people actually causing harm was mind bending. True, theyíre renegade heroes, but theyíre heroes never the less. The ideology presented by the pro-Registration heroes strikes me as just plain lunacy.
The first of two revelations presented in the book is that Captain America has been gathering his own group of heroes to counter Iron Manís group. Cool, but weíve known this for awhile, thanks to the solicits. So the constant repetition of this fact starts to get annoying near the end. Meanwhile, we also learn that Iron Man and Co. are working on a special project that will apparently contain the renegade heroes. Again, another oddity considering that Iron Man is insisting on resolving the matter peacefully at best.
Then, of course, there is the big event at the end of the book. I have to say that this was the one part of the story I truly enjoyed, not for Spideyís decision, but for J Jonah Jamesonís response. While the scene could have been funnier, I laughed out loud. A nice change of pace there. With the big event itself, while it may be interesting now, I highly doubt it will last long. Sooner or later, a retconning or another such idea will remove this moment of its impact.
The art, however, continues to be some of the best out there. McNiven is at the best of his game, especially with this issue. From highly detailed character models to vivid backgrounds in the panels, the art continues to impress me, and makes up somewhat for the lackluster story. McNivenís use atmospheric touches like smoke or fog really accentuate the overall quality of the pages, and really captivated me as I read the story.
Overall, Civil War continues along at a slow, moderately interesting pace. Solicitations have somewhat spoiled the story, but the eventual showdown between the two factions, as well as McNivenís amazing art are going to keep me around for the long haul.
The first thing that strikes me about this issue is how quickly things are moving for Mark Millarís Civil War. Thereís none of the kind of navel-gazing or lengthy speech-making which passes for studious characterisation in the hands of lesser writers, as Millar makes sure that every page counts by advancing the story at a rapid pace which sees the superhero registration act already coming into force by the issueís halfway point. This is a great thing for readers who will be used to the decompression of Marvelís house style and suggests that Millar has a lot more up his sleeve for this book than originally met the eye. In the space of this issue alone we have multiple costumed heroes on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D., super-villains finding themselves worked over by Captain America and his band of fugitives, a large-scale plan to contain disobedient superheroes being put into place by Tony Stark, Hank Pym and Reed Richards, and the public revelation of the secret identity of one of the Marvel Universeís oldest and best-loved heroes. Decompressed this ainít.
However, thatís not to say that the writer skimps on providing decent character work either, as he chooses to let us in on his charactersí motivation and personalities as much through what they do as through what they say. The scene featuring Reed Richards is a good example of this, as the exchange between him and Sue carries a subtext Ė both in the dialogue and the physically opposed body language - which addresses the morality of how Reed is planning to contain the ďrogueĒ heroes whilst never explicitly stating Sueís concerns, or overstating her increasing disconnection from her husband. Itís subtle writing from a creator who has a reputation for being heavy-handed and over-the-top, but who here manages to capture the essence of his clash of ideologies without ever resorting to clumsy exposition or clunky dialogue to carry his ideas. Itís a step up from the first issue, which hammered home its points in a far more simple manner, and it suggests that giving Millar the benefit of the doubt whilst he was laying his groundwork is going to pay off for readers who have chosen to stick with the series after its big-selling first issue.
For such an ideas-based book, thereís a ton of action to be found between its pages too, as penciller Steve McNiven turns in some career-best work to bring Millarís larger-scale sequences to life. Brief moments like Iron Man and his team in the aftermath of taking down a Doombot or the quick glimpse of Spider-Man as he swings past the Daily Bugle are well-rendered and instantly attractive to the eye, and build to a simply stunning sequence later in the book which shows Captain America and the Falcon hijacking one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. armoured trucks and using the powers of Young Avenger Wiccan to teleport it out of the way of the pursuing police force. In the space of a few pages, McNiven subtly references both Matrix Reloadedís freeway chase and Back to the Future as he shows the truck blasting out of existence in one place and back into Captain Americaís safehouse, and the quality of the choreography of the action really makes Civil War feel like the comics blockbuster that Marvel keeps telling us it is. For such a short sequence, itís a real burst of adrenaline and reassures me that Millar isnít going to get too carried away with his political posturing to give us some strong superhero action as well. Considering my lack of connection with some of the characters involved, the scene is one of the most exciting Iíve read in quite a while, and whether the sequence was cynically included to entice readers over to Young Avengers or not, I still canít help but feel that I should invest in a TPB or two of theirs. This time round thereís also a notable absence of the overly plasticky and shiny colouring which put me off some of the visuals last issue, as colorist Morry Hollowell pulls off some great night-time scenes with a palette which really plays to the strengths of McNivenís linework. Frankly, I canít imagine this book looking any better, and as it heads towards its conclusion over the following months, Iím sure weíre in for a real visual treat.
However, with the advent of the much talked-about final two pages of this issue, the book threatens to slide off the rails. Itís not that I think Spider-Manís unmasking is a bad thing for the plot of this series Ė in fact, it raises the stakes for both sides, adding the voice of a genuinely sympathetic and heavyweight character to the pro-registration side and opening up a more personal angle for a story which has so far been more about the big picture. I even think that Spider-Manís support of registration is in-character, as he more than anyone would want people to be responsible for the great power they possess. My concern is that this move damages the character. Sure, weíve had reveals of Spideyís identity happen many times before, and the increasingly laissez-faire attitude of the editors of Spider-titles in recent years means that the number of people who know Peteís identity is now higher than ever. The trouble is, such developments have been far easier to undo than what essentially amounts to a worldwide public confession which throws caution to the wind as far as the longtime secret of Peterís civilian identity is concerned, and puts an end to the years of storytelling which has taken advantage of the fun that can be had with the secret of Spideyís identity. Spider-Manís essence is his relatability: heís the man in the street; he has the everyday worries of family, money and girls; crucially, he could be you or me. With going public, Peter Parker loses a huge chunk of his appeal simply because it removes him yet another step from normal life (as though a supermodel wife and penthouse Stark Towers apartment wasnít removed enough), and it amazes me that the same publisher who consistently bemoans the constrictive nature of Peterís marriage is going to such lengths to eradicate the secret-identity aspect of his character. To adopt a Joe Quesada-ism, this is a genie thatís going to be very difficult to put back in the bottle, and although Iím all for changing the status quo if it allows fresh and original stories to be told, I can only see this development harming the character in the long-term. I only hope he still gets to wear a costume.
(Whatís more, current issues of Amazing Spider-Man are absolutely required reading if you want to even try and understand why the web-slinger has had such a radical change of heart between issues #1 and #2, although Iím sure anyone with any interest in this book has already got themselves a copy of the tie-in Amazing issue #532.)
That said, the Spider-Man reveal is only one misfiring element of a book which generally gets it right, and which in my mind is getting better and better as the whole Civil War picture comes into focus. Millarís writing might not quite be up there with his Ultimates or Ultimate Fantastic Four, but itís close Ė and for a project with such a huge cast and massive ramifications for the Marvel Universe as a whole, heís doing a damn good job. Coupled with McNivenís fine art and the great set-up provided by these first couple of issues I canít see this series going too far wrong, and as such it might just turn out to be that rare thing: a company-wide crossover that actually deserves the hype.
What did you think of this book?
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