Nov 24, 2014

Civil War: Why You're Wrong About It, Part 4

Part Four – The Man with the Iron Tattoo
Ben Smith

After three grueling weeks, we reach the conclusion to my admirable, yet exhausting, quest to prove to fans and naysayers alike why Civil War rocked out with its clock out. Thusly inspired by the rumors that Marvel Studios is working to their own big screen version of the seminal crossover event, I decided to tackle the landmark comic series with the level of preparation and quality analysis that my three readers have come to expect, which is none. Yet, what I lack in intelligence or work ethic, I make up for with boundless enthusiasm. So suck it, comic scholars.

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 to support registration, but then switched sides after Goliath was accidentally killed in battle. Iron Man recruited villains to his side as part of a new Thunderbolts team, and Captain America reluctantly worked with the Punisher. Both sides maneuvered and planned for the final battle, resulting in the two sides coming face to face outside the recently established Negative Zone prison.

Tensions have boiled over. Captain America is spouting tough talk like a star-spangled Clint Eastwood. Iron Man continues to be surprised about being a central figure in a Marvel event comic. Sue’s been hypnotized by Namor’s junk. Everybody loves Maria Hill. The final war to determine the future of the Marvel Universe is set to begin.

Let’s end this.

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, John Dell & Tim Townsend, Color: Morry Hollowell

The fight begins.

McNiven: This was fun. I love stuff like Cap shoving Bishop’s head into the ground. It’s a bunch of guys fighting!

Millar: Yeah, I thought at least in this, I don’t know if anyone noticed Woody Allen in the New York scene where they all appear in New York and there’s an explosion of yellow cabs and Woody Allen driving to work.

S.H.I.E.L.D. shuts down the Ryker’s Island portal, but Black Panther overrides their system and finds the coordinates out, and then Cloak teleports everyone from both sides into the middle of New York City.

Iron Man sends out the order to contain the fighting and prevent civilian casualties (setting up what comes later).

(This page is pretty corny, but like I said before, I’m a sucker for Spider-Man being depicted as a force to be reckoned with. Something that doesn’t always happen in these bigger stories. Plus, he’s kicking Reed Richards.)

Captain America is in a bad situation, surrounded by Tony’s Thunderbolts, when Namor and his Atlanteans come to the rescue.

In response, the registration side is bolstered by the arrival of Clor and all the new Fifty State Initiative recruits.

Iron Man finally stand face to face on the battlefield. The Vision surprises Iron Man from behind, shutting down his armor.

(Another quick original art story. This page was inked by John Dell, who was a frequent guest of my LCS when I lived in Biloxi. The owner of the store had this page framed on the wall of the store, and after a couple weeks of us prodding him to sell it to us, he actually agreed. Thus marked the first page of original comic book art we ever purchased, and an addiction was born. It’s also the one page we get the most unsolicited requests to sell from interested buyers, which of course could never happen.)

Cap is taking it to Stark, and the Thing shows up to do some crowd control (he’d decided to remain neutral throughout the conflict previously). Hercules picks up Clor’s hammer, and uses it to smash the android clone’s head into pieces.

Captain America has Stark beaten and on the ground, arm cocked back for the finishing blow.

Millar: It is very satisfying that you’re seeing someone get the shit kicked out of them. Look back at Dark Knight Returns book 2, where Batman is fighting a mutant leader. There’s nothing better than seeing your guy come back and just kick the living shit out of a guy. And that [third] panel on that page is the most disturbing image ever, that Iron Man’s helmet just goes to that floor. That’s horrible, but really brilliantly done. At the meeting [where Civil War was planned] it was asked, “Where the hell do we end this?” Because all the specifics of it, you work out all the plot stuff and everything, all the little back-and-forths, that was easy. But it had to be a group decision of who was going to win this because it’s such a change in the Marvel Universe, depending on who won. So yeah, that was actually really hard. And as you know, we argued for a day and a half over who should win and how they should win. And Joss Whedon came in as the voice of common sense and suggested a really nice, simple ending, because one of the things we talked about was a kind of “Hey, everybody wins.” You know, you’re all winners. And he was saying that’s the most unsatisfying ending, and after seven months you have to have one guy beat the other guy. And it was a really good point.

As he contemplates his next move, Captain America is tackled by firefighters, paramedics, and military men. Initially trying to fight them off, Cap finally sees the truth when he looks around and sees the city in flames.

So Captain America does the unthinkable, and surrenders.

McNiven: I think it was the Cap crying thing. Mark really wanted him to be bawling out. And initially I was like, “I hope I can hit this right.” But I think it did. I think he genuinely has an expression of remorse and sort of stunned into silence in that way. I love that shot with him dropping the shield, and it’s really paved out in the script. It was all there. It was just done for me to draw.

Millar: Steve just picked the perfect angle on it. It’s beautiful. Cap with his head down crying, walking away in handcuffs. This is maybe my favorite moment in the book. But I’ve got to say, I should point out that there’s a line I love on the previous page that Mr. C.B. Cebulski came up with, which was, “They’re not arresting Captain America. They’re arresting Steve Rogers.”

(This was a pretty underwhelming conclusion to the fight at the time, after months of sequential comics buildup, but it’s pretty much the perfect ending. Captain America was winning the fight, but not the argument.)

All that’s left is the setup for what comes next in the Marvel Universe. Reed tries to win back his wife Susan. The Punisher ominously picks up Cap’s discarded cowl. Iron Man debuts his hand-picked team of Mighty Avengers. The Fifty State Initiative is implemented.

Millar: It was great for me to touch on all these little pieces of the Marvel Universe. So with those final eight pages or so, I got to do a blueprint for the Marvel Universe, which is the fun part, you know, coming up with the high concepts. And that’s actually very satisfying. It’s nice having to set up this new Marvel Universe and then letting other people do the hard work. And some of them get carried through and some of them didn’t. Like one I really wanted was the Punisher to become the new Captain America and we have that on some level, but I wanted him to be in costume as the new Cap, that was my idea from there. The Initiative is actually a run I was going to do at some point. My brother used to have a company called the Scottish Initiative that pulled together all of these charities from all over Scotland. So just all these little things like that. I had a very loose idea for [Alpha Flight] that Mike Oeming did a much better job with, which was that some of the heroes would flee across the border because nobody’s really interested in Canadian heroes. Sorry, Steve. [Both laugh]

McNiven: When Hank is introducing those guys, the Texas Rangers… these guys are sad. One guy’s an armadillo. [Laughs]

The public unveiling of the Negative Zone prison is met with high approval. A handful of heroes defect to Canada. Spider-Man is back in black.

(Say whatever you want to say about Civil War  itself, it set up some good ideas going forward. I didn’t follow books like The Initiative or Omega Flight, but they seemed to be highly regarded. Iron Man had never been more prominent or important to the Marvel Universe. Spider-Man’s status as a public hero on the run, wearing the black costume again, had a lot of potential that wasn’t really fully realized. Black Panther and Storm filling in on the Fantastic Four while Reed and Sue work on their marriage was an interesting idea.)

The final reveal is that Tony Stark has been named Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. He escorts Miriam Sharpe around the bridge of the helicarrier, taking time out to order Deputy Director Maria Hill to get them some coffee (something I quite enjoyed at the time) and letting her know his plans for the future, how the prison was “number forty-two” because it was forty-second idea out of one hundred ideas he, Reed, and Pym came up with to make the world a safer place.

(Stark and Maria Hill’s relationship was a true highlight of Matt Fraction’s upcoming run on the Iron Man comic. It’s what cemented me as a Hill fan for life, along with Mrs. Back Issue Ben’s undying devotion.)

With Tony safeguarding his friend’s identities, he and Miriam look off to the future, the future of the Marvel Universe.

(I remember someone wondering online if we were supposed to read this final scene with The Empire’s theme music from Star Wars echoing in our heads. I thought that was pretty clever.)


Millar: I didn’t look at a single thing after we finished.

McNiven: I’m reading Mighty Avengers and New Avengers. Leinil Yu is doing a beautiful job on New Avengers. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

Millar: I love all the guys, but I just got too close. After all that time I had to go away and do something else. It would have felt like we were still working on the book if we read the new stuff.

McNiven: True. You have a sort of vested interest in it. Yeah.

Millar: It was like probably 10 months of a life, but it was literally in your every waking thought.

McNiven: Yeah. Well, that last issue, I did it in all of January. Like I started Jan. 1 and I drew every single day until Jan. 31, like every day. Straight through. Thank God it’s done.

Civil War  was a watershed moment for the Marvel Universe, and for the comic book publishing industry. House of M had preceded it as the first modern event comic, but Civil War is what really cemented the crossover as an annual part of both Marvel and DC’s publishing plans. It propelled Iron Man front and center in the Marvel Universe, and continued the meteoric rise of the Avengers as comic’s number one franchise. New Avengers and Mighty Avengers was probably the most organic two-book franchise in comic history, as Cap’s former allies comprised the “New” team, and Iron Man’s handpicked squad was running around in “Mighty.” Captain America (SPOILER ALERT) was assassinated while in captivity, setting Brubaker off on his epic “Death of Captain America” story arc. Spider-Man faced the consequences of his unmasking, leading to Aunt May being mortally wounded, and Peter faced with making a deal to save her life that would cost him his marriage.

The Registration Act would be a major part of the status quo of the Marvel Universe going forward, leading in to the next major Marvel event, Secret Invasion. The skrulls secretly infiltrating the Marvel Universe was as strong a concept as Civil War, but was similarly was considered not executed fully to its potential. But that’s a story, possibly, for another time.

I’ve always been all-in on these big crossover event comics. Many fans seem to get pretty upset when the comics don’t wind up changing their lives for the better, but I tend to think that’s more a fault of expectations than the books themselves. Most of these things aren’t designed to “push the medium forward,” or be overly thought provoking. They’re the equivalent of big summer blockbuster popcorn movies. They’re supposed to be fun, and I had a lot of fun reading Civil War month to month. You can analyze how Iron Man and Captain America should and would act all you want, or you can just sit back and enjoy them going at it. What you can’t deny is that Civil War was very successful. (It ended up being the book that got Mrs. Back Issue Ben fully involved in the Marvel Universe for a time, reading several books on a regular basis.) Success doesn’t always guarantee quality, but it’s pretty much the least subjective measuring stick.

Or maybe it sucks after all, what do I know?


Tony Laplume said...

I disagree that Civil War positively impacted the Marvel landscape. Civil War was itself a brilliant idea, but it was unsustainable, and that's why House of M is superior, an idea that continued for years and is still being played out. Civil War in contrast forced Marvel to continue a charade of enacting real change while only window-dressing developments with cop-out moments like Captain America's "death," which was what destroyed Ed Brubaker's run. It diddirectly into the movies, which is probably where it'll have its best impact, the same as Brubaker's best idea, the Winter Soldier. But the bigger argument might be that it was the style of Brian Michael Bendis that gave the Avengers their edge, and now there's a chance to do something more with it, which is why we're getting deeper stories in the movies, drawn from the deeper stories Marvel has allowed itself to do.

But bottom line, Civil War was basically exactly what Captain America realized it was, another excuse to have a bunch of random fights, which is exactly what succeeding Marvel events did, especially Secret Invasion, which was the one that exposed Marvel for the true shallowness of its Civil War commitment. Captain America has a long history of forced to side with the right cause rather than actually win, costing him his active role time and again. Brubaker took the chance of exploring that in its biggest spotlight by taking the cheap way out, and by the time Steve Rogers returned...Well, at least Remender is finally doing something right in that regard.

Civil War represents the period where I gave Marvel the biggest shot as a reader. I'll admit, I've always been a DC guy. I wanted to see the House of Ideas live up to its image. And this was a big idea. But it was one that was quickly abandoned. That's the nature of comics in some respects. There's always another story to tell. The thing is, Marvel promised that this time it would be different. Turns out they really didn't. The first time the two teams of Avengers clashed shouldn't have had anything to do with Skrulls. In a war of ideologies, opponents step up. Leaders are replaced. No one ever replaced Rogers. And then the whole thing was forgotten. The Green Goblin became the hero. Etc. Turns out this was all just another exercise in exploring Tony Stark's ego while still pretending he's better than he really is. If I were writing this stuff, Stark would have become the new Bruce Banner.

Doc Savage said...

What a bad comic book. Awful art and worse writing. I can't even fathom the ridiculousness of public opinion being in favor of a blatantly unconstitutional registration act that would be shot down by Congress as well as the Supreme Court in a heartbeat, much less the public turning against Captain America in favor of a billionaire prettyboy like Tony Stark. Flies in the face of truth and reality; but I haven't read any curren Marvel comics since the late '80s so maybe they gave up on the whole "Our world but super heroes are real" premise that Stan Lee and his successors used to great advantage.

Also, if Iron Man's helmet sustained that much damage that it would splinter, guess what? Tony Stark's head and brains would look like a scrambled egg.

Unknown said...

Say what you want Matt Celis, but I can't comprehend how you can possibly think the art was awful. It is some of the very best I've seen and instantly made Steven McNiven one of my favorite comic book artists ever.

Anyway, great articles Ben Smith. I just recently finished Civil War for the first time and it was interesting to read this.

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