Writer: Paul Jenkins
"Embedded": Ramon Bachs (p), John Lucas (i), Laura Martin (colours)
"The Accused": Steve Lieber (p&i), June Chung (colours)
"The Program": Leandro Fernandez (p&i), Dan Brown (colours)
"War Poetry Segment": Kano (p&i), Dean White (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
I think Iím starting to understand what purpose Front Line is going to serve for Marvelís Civil War event: this book is a place for all the loose ends from the core series to be tied up and dealt with in such a way that Mark Millar can get on with telling his story in as streamlined and unfettered a way as possible. The result is that both books feel a little fractured and incomplete, as theyíre both relying on each other Ė as well as the numerous other Civil War tie-in issues Ė to move certain pieces into place in order that the overall story can continue. Where else would a bookís cliffhanger ending from last issue (in this case, Iron Manís identity reveal for what seems like the umpteenth time) be completely forgotten about in favour of exploring a massive plot twist which happened in a completely different title? In some ways, itís an improvement on the kind of new-reader-unfriendly non-sequiturs that we saw throughout DCís recent Infinite Crisis mega-event, and itís commendable that Marvel is at least making some efforts to fill readers in on plot holes that might be confusing to them. Still, I canít help feel that whilst the Civil War book itself might stand as a story in its own right (albeit one with a few holes), the individual issues of Front Line just arenít going to add up to a coherent enough narrative on their own to work as a separate series.
Another problem with Front Lineís main story, ďEmbeddedĒ, is that its two protagonists, ideologically opposed reporters Ben Urich and Sally Floyd, have been little more than bystanders observing the action as it unfolds for two full issues. Their characterisation is so flat and indistinct that it took me a couple of pages to work out which of them was meant to be narrating certain scenes, and their contribution to the story is so minimal that Iíd almost rather they got out of the way completely so that we can enjoy the various scenes from Marvelís Civil War that Jenkins is treating us to here. And some interesting scenes there are, whether itís J. Jonah Jamesonís reaction to Peterís confession, Norman Osbornís violent mood swing upon learning that Pete has changed the rules of their game, a minor hero feeling driven to quit the profession, or the climactic and powerful showdown between Prodigy and Iron Man as the midnight chimes of New York City ring in the advent of the Superhuman Registration Act, the artwork really capturing the raw energy and melodrama of the two heroesí clash in the rain.
Iím also enjoying the section of the book which deals with Speedballís recovery and the fallout from the Stamford incident, as Jenkins writes the fallen hero as a resolutely defiant man who wonít accept the blame for the tragedy which jump-started the anti-superhero movement which is at the heart of Civil Warís premise. ďThe AccusedĒ looks like itís headed for dark places, but Jenkinsí writing ensures that the tone of the story never feels gratuitous, using the characterís story to make some very compelling and relevant points about how easy it is to lose sight of the importance of individual liberties when a country is engulfed by a hysterical war mentality. Whatís more, Jenkins has taken a third-tier character and made him into someone whoís not only easy to root for, but is also becoming one of the key figures in the whole Civil War event. Itís a part of the book which I suspect will become more and more important as Mark Millarís title goes on, and I look forward to seeing how this part of the story develops.
Despite the bookís strengths, though, thereís still a sense that Front Line is less than the sum of its parts, and the nagging feeling that the main section of the book still hasnít found its feet after two issues doesnít bode well for readers buying into the remaining eight instalments. The war poetry segment at the back is still a complete misfire, this time coming off as even more pretentious than last monthís poem, as Jenkins draws forced parallels between Tony Stark and Julius Caesar via a muddled and contrived metaphor.
Still, for readers like me who are still enjoying Millarís core Civil War title, this book is a nice opportunity to see the ideas of that series explored on a wider canvas. If you look at Front Line as more of a Civil War supplement than a solid book in its own right, then itís doing a fairly good job Ė itís just a shame that a writer of Jenkinsí calibre has been limited by editorial necessities which have got in the way of him simply telling a good story.
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