Welcome to ”What We Said Then”! This column is going to display various reviews to projects that are relevant now to comics.
With the announcement of the upcoming film, Captain America: Civil War, let’s see what Comic Bulletin’s Jason Sacks had to say about the comic book series way back when.
Civil War: A Negative Review in Seven Parts
Last weekend this site posted a Sunday Slugfest of reviews of Civil War #3, the latest issue of Marvel’s much-hyped cross-over event of the year. I gave the comic a one-star rating, which ordinarily would have been the end of my thinking about it. But I just can’t get the stink of this comic out of my mind. I have to write about it some more, if for no other reason than to figure out why I hated it so intensely. So, just as the series is “A Marvel Comics Event in Seven Parts,” so this review is also divided into seven parts.
Oh, and warning: spoiler alert!
1. The main premise doesn’t make sense: Ever since I heard about this comic, I’ve been bugged by the main premise of the book: a horrific act happens, and a group of fifth-rate heroes are blamed for it. Because of that act, the entire cohort of super-heroes in the Marvel Universe is made subject to a law that, we are told, has been supported by 90% of the American people.
Now never mind that it’s almost impossible to get 90% of the American people to agree on anything. For instance, even right before he resigned, Richard Nixon enjoyed approval ratings around 25%. Or if an example from 30 years ago isn’t relevant, think of the reaction after 9/11. In the first few days after the tragedy, probably 90% of Americans gathered around President Bush and his efforts to find those responsible. But consider how quickly the events of the day cooled down. Consider the spirited opposition to the USA Patriot Act for an example of how a 90% approval rating can evaporate.
One of the main reasons the Patriot Act was so strongly opposed was because people simply felt it was wrong. And in the Marvel Universe, why would 90% of people support legislation to force heroes to do something that many of the heroes feel is wrong? Why wouldn’t the American people give heroes the benefit of the doubt? Sure, a terrible, terrible event occurred, but these are also heroes who have repeatedly saved their world in the most selfless of manners. Where is the gratitude? Where is the benefit of the doubt when it comes to giving the heroes a break?
And why don’t the heroes go the route that every other political activist makes by working the media, going on TV to plead their case, and advocating for themselves like any other American would do? Is this comic book logic at its worst?
2. Characters constantly act out of character: No matter how you interpret Marvel time, Captain America and Iron Man have been friends for a long time. They have a longstanding respect for each other, hard fought from battling side by side against the worst that the Marvel U had to throw at them. So why are they caught in a vicious battle against each other? Is the Marvel U so operatic that a simple conversation is out of the question?
This is not to mention the fact that so many other friends end up battling each other, too. The Thing and Spider-Man versus Captain America and Daredevil? It seems awfully far-fetched that Spidey and Daredevil would suddenly want to tear each others’ heads off.
And hey, when did Tony Stark and Emma Frost have that affair together? Is the Marvel U so malleable that just about anything can be added to continuity even if it doesn’t really follow the history of the characters.
3. Give readers an establishing shot, please!: This is a particular objection I had to the beginning of the battle at the chemical plant that forms the centerpiece of this issue. We readers had just seen Hercules, Daredevil, Goliath and Captain America rush off to try to save lives at a petrochemical fire. When the four heroes land, there are other heroes there – we see the Vision, Cap, Cable, Daredevil and Luke Cage in the first panel in which we can see who’s there. Suddenly Cable discovers the event is a trap, and in the next panel we see two other heroes, who we have no idea are there, apparently get shot by SHIELD snipers. Where did Cloak and Wiccan come from? Were they already there or did they transport in with Cap and his crew? Would it have killed Steve McNiven to give readers an establishing shot so we knew which heroes were there at the plant? How in the world are readers supposed to have any idea what’s really going on in a scene if we never get an establishing shot that tells us what’s happening?
Oh, and by the way, why didn’t the team get transported back out of the plant once they knew they would be shot at? Discretion is the better part of valor, isn’t it?
4. The story doesn’t really move forward: So what actually happens this issue? The Black Panther stays out of the battle, as does Doctor Strange. Tony Stark tries to get the mutants on their side. Emma refuses, but Bishop has other ideas. Meanwhile, some of the heroes who oppose the act have new secret identities (were the old ones not good enough or are these new secret identities?). Then the battle happens, and Thor appears. And that’s it.
This just doesn’t really feel like plot movement. There’s little or no sense of the plot building on itself. I know this series is mainly intended as a launcher for crossover books, but there’s no discussion after the first page of the ramifications of Peter Parker revealing he’s Spider-Man. There’s also no sense of the storyline building towards a conclusion; instead, this feels like a series of random events.
5. What does the ending really mean?: So Thor is back. What does his return mean? Apparently, he’s working for SHIELD, on the side of those who believe in super-hero registration. So what does that mean? Is he in the thrall of Loki or is there a more complex explanation behind it?
I guess this is actually one place where the series succeeds for me: I’ve genuinely curious what Thor’s return means.
6. Who is Daredevil?: This is a case where Civil War is a spoiler for events in another series, because that definitely looks like Matt Murdock running around in the Daredevil tights. Did Mark Millar really want to ruin the conclusion to Ed Brubaker’s storyline in DD’s own book?
7. The ramifications of this series will be around for a long time: This is the place where this series most falls short for me. Once the events of this series have happened, the Marvel Universe really can never be the same place again. How can heroes who once were mortal enemies team up again to fight evil-doers? It feels like this series ends an era in Marvel. From now on, you need to know which side each hero was on in order to know how they will interact with each other in the future. Will Spider-Man refuse to help Captain America in the future because they were on opposite sides? Will we never see the old Avengers team again? How can a Marvel Universe that presupposed that all heroes were potential pals create a world where they now are mortal enemies?
It’s sad to me because while the Marvel Universe might become more interesting and complex, it also loses some of its charm and wonder. This civil war will forever taint the heroes and their relationships. Okay, I’m a big boy, I can handle such a world. But it’s sad to see the world move so far away from Jack Kirby’s fundamentally optimistic view of the world.
Conclusion: Sigh. I feel better now. It feels nice to vent constructively. I feel much better now that I’ve thought through my intense dislike of this comic. Civil War is very bad comics on nearly every level. Though I really am curious about Thor.