Nov 17, 2014

Civil War: Why You're Wrong About It, Part 3

Part Three – The Curious Case of Pumpkin-headed Guy
Ben Smith

For those of you paying attention, for the past couple weeks I’ve been explaining the virtues of the classic event series Civil War to fans and naysayers alike. This is all because of Robert Downey Jr. If Civil War happened in real life, RDJ would be on the side of registration. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with RDJ? You’re wrong for disagreeing.

Previously, we saw the destruction of Stamford, which led to the government enacting a superhero registration act. Captain America opposed the act, and Iron Man decided to support it. Spider-Man unmasked because Iron Man told him to. The two sides fought, and Reed Richards’ android clone of Thor killed Goliath. Both sides were upset. Spider-Man is wondering if he has made a huge mistake. To strengthen his forces, Iron Man has added a team of villain Thunderbolts to his side.

Tensions remain high. Captain America is grumpy. Reed Richards is a terrible husband. Iron Man has a grieving mother stalker. Cable has switched sides, which automatically makes Cap wrong. Everybody loves Maria Hill.

Enough preamble.

Commentary by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven has been appropriated from an interview conducted by Mike Cotton for Wizard Magazine #192, “Civil War – The Director’s Commentary.”

Writer: Mark Millar, Pencils: Steve McNiven, Inks: Dexter Vines, Color: Morry Hollowell

Sue Richards and Johnny Storm are on the run from Maria Hill and S.H.I.E.L.D. Nighthawk and Stature are escorted into Stark Tower by Happy Hogan, waiting for Stark to come down and greet them personally.

Only Iron Man is a little bit busy, as Spider-Man has decided he can no longer support the registration side. Iron Man makes a few good points, about how the old ways of superheroing was never going to be an option in the eyes of the government, and that Spider-Man really isn’t in a position to go back to being independent now that he’s revealed his identity to the world.

(If you’ve been wondering, Iron Man had become a mentor for Spider-Man in the comics at the time, hence the red and gold armor Peter is wearing. Should have mentioned that before, but I’m not going to do any second drafts for you guys anymore. Anymore!)

The situation gets heated, with Iron Man trying to subdue Spidey. Before Stark can stop them, Maria Hill’s agents come busting through the door and send Spider-Man falling out of the window, to the street below. Maria takes the situation fully out of Stark’s hands by sending their brand new team of Thunderbolts to apprehend Spidey.

Jack O’Lantern and the Jester track down Spider-Man in the sewer, and have him on the ropes before S.H.I.E.L.D. reels them back in.

Quality Gwen Stacy reference.

(I have a hard time believing the Jester and Jack O’Lantern can take it to Spidey like this, but I’m going to chalk it up to him being already bruised from his confrontation with Stark. And Millar not having read a Marvel comic since Jack Kirby left for DC.)

Suddenly, Jester and Jack are shot from behind by a mysterious savior.

McNiven: I really hated—you can ask Tom—I hate the pumpkin-headed guy. Like, with a passion. I think he was the most ridiculous… something that drives me crazy in comics is when they come up with… There was another guy in the issue that was a minor character that I just couldn’t draw. Some guy with a giant bone for a head.

Millar: A bone?

McNiven: Yeah, a bone for a head. And I’m like, “I can’t, I cannot draw that.” The shame would be too much. But you know, the pumpkin-headed guy…I just wanted him dead so much. And then I’m like, “Yes! I get to blow his brains out.”

Millar: My dream has always been to draw a pumpkin-headed guy. I can’t believe you were annoyed by it.

McNiven: Never again. He’s really dead right? I hope. He could be a very popular character. I’ll bet you I’m pissing off tons of loyal pumpkin-head fans.

Millar: I’ve actually got a vegetable superteam in the works that he was going to lead.

Sue and Johnny have ditched their pursuers, and arrive at the anti-registration team’s new base of operations. Captain America and the team are talking about how for every hero they’ve gained recently, they’ve lost another to the S.H.I.E.L.D. units.

They’re interrupted by the arrival of the Punisher, carrying a battered Spider-Man in his arms.

(For those that may not remember, this was the triumphant return of the Punisher to the larger Marvel Universe. He had spent the last 5 years (or more) separated out in his own world, as part of Marvel Knights and Marvel MAX. This also marks the point where the series goes off the rails for many of its detractors.)

While medics work on the injured Spider-Man, Punisher declares himself a part of the team since he’s been shadowing them for weeks now. The rest of the heroes aren’t all too happy about the idea of working with the Punisher, but Punisher is confident he can infiltrate the Baxter Building, the key part of Captain America’s endgame strategy. Cap has a tough decision to make.

Daredevil is captured by Maria Hill’s agents. He’s transported to Ryker’s Island, where Tony Stark reveals project “forty-two” to be a portal to the Negative Zone, where they are keeping their anti-registration captives prisoner.

Daredevil gives Tony a silver dollar, and calls him a Judas.

(By this point, I remember expecting big cliffhangers every single issue. This one was a bit low-key compared with Spider-Man unmasking, Thor returning, and the Thunderbolts reveal in previous issues. In retrospect, the big reveal came earlier in the comic with the return of the Punisher, but since I never was all that big of a Punisher fan, I didn’t care beyond it being a pretty cool scene. I have an appreciation of the Punisher as a former Spider-Man character, but never enough to get his solo books on a regular basis.)

Writer: Mark Millar, Pencils: Steve McNiven, Inks: Dexter Vines, Color: Morry Hollowell

Maria Hill and Hank Pym look on at the new Champions, part of the registration forces new Fifty State Initiative, which is their plan to put a superhero team in every state.

(This was the only page, at the time, that had both Maria Hill and Hank Pym on it together, two of my wife’s favorite characters. Fun story, my wife and I collect original comic book art, and she tried every art representative and dealer possible to find this page. No luck. In 2009, we attended our first comic book convention together, Megacon in Orlando. I was looking through Dexter Vines’ portfolio of art for sale, and I found this page. I nearly leaped out of my shoes, and begged him to hold it for me while I went and got more money, not that is was probably in any danger of being purchased by someone else. One of the more exciting original art finds of my collecting career.)

Reed Richards continues tinkering with the Thor clone, while having a conversation with Stark, who’s overlooking a crime-free city. The President has agreed to grant them twelve immunities for anti-registration heroes once the conflict is over.

The Punisher uses his stolen Stark tech to infiltrate the Baxter Building and get Captain America the valuable intel he needs.

Down in Atlantis, Sue has been sent to request the assistance of Namor, to aid Cap in the coming battle.

(I remember someone on the internet re-dialoguing this comic for comedic effect, and there were a bunch of references to Sue being mesmerized by Namor’s “package” here. Unfortunately, I cannot read this scene anymore without thinking about it.)

A recovered Spider-Man banters with Luke Cage, as they prepare for Captain America’s big meeting. They all gather together to go over the big plan for the upcoming final battle. A couple villains show up to offer their services to the anti-registration movement, and are immediately shot and killed by the Punisher.

(I know the Punisher is a pretty no-nonsense character when it comes to criminals, but I think it’s a little over the top for him to immediately shoot a couple guys offering to help. It’s all part of Millar’s tendency to take a character’s tendencies and then crank them all up to eleven. I chalk it up as a byproduct of him not having read any Marvel comics since Ditko was on Spider-Man.)

Captain America has had enough and beats down the Punisher, who refuses to fight back. We then get Spider-Man commenting on how they’re the same man, but from different wars. (This is Millar’s opinion coming out of Spider-Man’s mouth, and it’s not only wrong, but it’s just bad writing.)

(Captain America working with the Punisher was a pretty big point of contention for detractors of the series. To me, Cap’s in a heated conflict with one of his oldest friends, he got a little tunnel vision’d, and needed the Punisher for his ability to get into the Baxter Building and get him the information he needed. Some would say it’s drastically out of character, and maybe they’re right, but I’d argue that the whole point of the series is about how these guys are acting out of character. And I’d be right. Now stop arguing and enjoy.)

Reed and Tony visit the garden in Stamford they helped build in honor of the fallen children. Miriam Sharpe thanks them again for all they’ve done to support her big idea, and apologizes for everything its cost them personally.

Captain America and the anti-registration team make their big move at the Ryker’s Island portal to the Negative Zone prison. They’re met by Iron Man and the registration team. Iron Man had fed them false information through the mole they had imbedded in Cap’s team, Tigra. Cap reveals he knew all along that Tigra was a spy, and that’s why he had Hulkling replace Hank Pym earlier that morning.

Hulkling’s shapeshifting ability gave him unique access, since Pym is one of the core members of the registration movement. Having freed all the captured heroes, they come pouring out of the portal, evening up the two sides for the final battle.

McNiven: This was a bitch to draw.

As the final battle is ready to begin, Captain America says something appropriately tough, “Now close your eyes gentlemen. This might hurt.”

(Captain America and Iron Man trading some “I outsmarted you” moments was a nice touch, if a little indulgent. Finally after two issues of mostly set-up, set-up, set-up, the final jawbreaking fight for all the marbles is ready to begin. Who will win? Isn’t it obvious?)

Again, if you’re really paying attention, you can see all the evidence supporting registration. The government’s stance that unregulated superheroics was never going to be an option again. Crime rates are at all-time lows. Miriam Sharpe and her dead child. However, it’s really hard to root against Captain America, and it’s even harder when Spider-Man has decided that Stark and Reed have gone too far, and switches sides. Both sides have compromised a lot of their principles, by working with characters like the new Thunderbolts, or the Punisher.

I think if this series was written by someone other than Millar, but still similarly plotted out, it wouldn’t get as much criticism as it does from some of the hardcore fans. Millar is one of the more polarizing superstar writers in comics. I think everything that is commonly used as an example of characters acting out of character, makes sense within the framework of the story. They’re all acting a bit out of character, that’s the point, but Millar’s tendency to go over-the-top with everything only makes it more prevalent. (Admittedly, I was a bigger fan of Millar back when I was fairly ignorant of the Avengers side of the Marvel Universe. The more I’ve become a fan of Captain America and Thor, and read more of their back issues, the more I’ve come to hate The Ultimates, and Civil War is a little bit off for me.) What is considered “in-character” is always highly subjective. Real human beings act “out of character” in relation to their previous behaviors all the time, but these are fictional characters, and are expected to fall in line with more recognizable previous patterns of behavior. Whatever, only Kirby’s versions are accurate. The rest is fan-fiction. Or the opposite of that, it’s really not worth getting flustered about.

Next week, the end!

1 comment:

Doc Savage said...

Why on earth Spider-Man, the most experienced hero in Marvel comics, would need a mentor is beyond me. And why he would want a third-stringer like Iron Man as a mentor makes even less sense. I guess the writer has some Iron Man fetish.

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