CIVIL WAR GN
Writer – Mark Millar
Penciler – Steve McNiven
The (possibly) last installment in my editor unaware multi-column crossover theme tableau “Vs” which includes:
Adult Continuity – BATMAN V SUPERMAN XXX and CAPTAIN AMERICA XXX
Cultural Junkdrawer – THE V DECADE
Comics on the Can – SALVATION RUN
“… After the unfortunate events of the single bathroom fiasco of Jenny McQuaid’s 7th birthday party, the day after the season’s first corn on the cob consumption and the disastrous Denny’s of Newhall plumbing incident; the governments of the world can no longer afford to let you operate “Comics on the Can” without any type of oversight. That is why over a hundred and twelve members of the United Nations have come together to form The Potty Accords. Your days of wantonly reading a comic book while going to the bathroom with reckless abandon are over (I mean reading comics with reckless abandon, not going to the bathroom… one would hope you don’t do number two or one even with reckless abandon. That’d be messy.) We can no longer allow you to callously hurt the feelings of the likes of the Black Jack Comics people with your well thought out constructive criticism tempered with light humor, grace, and snarky dialogue. Even though you were justified with your spot-on breakdown of why the comics didn’t work and undeserving of the hefty cover price, such autonomous actions carry with it dangerous ideas and actions that need to be regulated for your safety, my safety, and the safety of the world at large.”
“No longer will you review the comics you’ve read while sitting upon the porcelain throne unless you have been authorized to by a governing body riddled with infighting, contrasting agendas, and a political paralysis so intense that everyone can’t even agree to condemn genocide little less do anything about it. The truth is they couldn’t even figure out what action to take against you until the ghastly images from that Denny’s incident hit the Yahoo front page.
“If you refuse to sign The Potty Accords those of your profession that have signed; such as Dave Barry, Will Durst, that one fucking prick on Gawker… no, the other fucking prick… sure that one too… and the entire staff of Reader’s Digest HUMOR IN UNIFORM will be forced to hound you into personal and professional destruction, removal from the esteemed comedy columnist annual fish fry and ultimate frisbee invite list, and forced retirement. You’ll be stuck doing short reviews of ‘Adult romance’ titles under a fake name for the AVN website at best.”
“The decision is yours.”
WARNING THERE MIGHT BE SPOILERS FOR A COMIC CROSSOVER THAT IS ALMOST A DECADE OLD AND POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE OF THE SAME NAME. OF COURSE, IF YOU ARE ON THIS SITE ODDS ARE YOU’VE SEEN THE MOVIE AT LEAST TWICE ALREADY AND IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT ONCE YOU MUST BE IN A COMA. IN WHICH CASE YOU WOULDN’T BE READING THIS COLUMN SO… FORGET I MENTIONED THE COMA… I FEEL AWKWARD NOW…
Civil War the graphic novel covering about 23.7% of one of the massive multi-title crossover events of the late summer 2006 to early to mid-spring of 2007 is not much like the box office record-shattering super hit from Marvel Studios and their corporate overlords and our eventual world conquering masters, Disney.
That’s a good thing.
Sure, both have Captain America and Iron Man deciding they were bored with punching the likes of Baron Zemo and M.O.D.O.K. through walls and wanted to see how much fun it would be to do it to each other. Both use the idea of Government oversight and super powered beings’ accountability. Both either kill or grievously injure black characters. Both have a seething homoerotic undercurrent (I might be reading too much into that one). Both have Spider-Man. But the comparisons pretty much taper out after that. Since I’m not gonna fall into the trap of comparing the two for the column (I’ll leave that to everyone else on the internet) there will just be a sum-up. Captain America: Civil War is a tight, focused story with more personal stakes because it has to be. Civil War: The comic is the exact opposite because it wants to be.
In fact to establish when I’m talking about the whole enchilada, the Civil War comic Crossover event, I’ll call it CWCE. When I’m just talking about the graphic novel I’ll call it CWGN. When I mention the Movie I’ll call it CWMCU and when I mention Batman V Superman: Dawn of Merchandising Profits I’ll call it YOURMOMISNAMEDMARTHATOO!
Now is the time for the caveat; Civil War the epic multi-title giganto let’s boost flagging sales crossover event (CWCE from here on in) generally works. The whole idea stirs up a hornet’s nest of debate far beyond “Oh yeah, well Captain America is cooler.” I remember reading several associated titles and enjoying the thornier sides of the spaghetti mess created from the ideas generated; Thunderbolts’ government sanctioned ruthlessness, Ben Urich calling Tony Stark on his bullshit, Howard the Duck stuck in a registration line that would make the DMV jealous. There were so many good ideas that the main story had a problem with being in its own way. That is to say, the main story almost seemed inconsequential by comparison. Primarily because it couldn’t be bothered with the issues it brought up.
This vibe was reinforced by re-reading CWGN; gaping plot holes were basically gleaned over by remembering events in other titles that I had read at the time and utilizing guesswork to fill other gaps.
Oh lawrd, are there gaps!
CWGN opens with the reality show “The New Warriors”. They’re clocking a menace of super powered villains “ham and egging” it together in a small town. Speedball and co. decide to take them on despite the fact they may be outgunned because it’ll give the show a ratings boost.
Things go horribly horribly wrong; an entire elementary school gets vaporized.
Public outcry over the tragedy spurs Stark to get out in front of an inevitable government clampdown with the registration act. Capitan America, reasonably fearing a police state, is reluctant to sign on. The ideological gap grows, talking heads talk talking points. The registration act speeds through congress. One can’t help but think of the days and weeks after 9/11. Which is exactly what the story should do; call to mind the headspace most of the country was in. Mobilized, decisive, ready to rush headfirst into danger to make things right. Never really considering the consequences or the repercussions of what we were doing. Or at least not listening to those who were warning us.
But it turns into a slugfest; by the end of issue one, Director of SHIELD Maria Hill has agents outright attack Cap. Which kinda reinforces Cap’s concern about a police state.
I am aware of a build-up in tensions between Tony and Steve but you’d have to have read both Captain America and Iron Man to get that, I suppose. Maria’s attack is a pretty abrupt flip just reading CWGN. Without much context, it would read as an attack from a mind-controlling villain and Cap’s response is within his experiences with such things.
Lack of context undermines just about every interesting idea generated by CWGN. CWCE mitigates this to a small degree but judging from just this CWGN read it looks like the US government has been infiltrated by a nefarious force and is subtly ripping the hero community apart. Hell, if I recall correctly Hank Pym is, in fact, a Skrull at this point in time!
Skrulls aside, the pro-registration forces pile one dick move upon another; a murderous Thor clone-borg, sending super villains after their former friends, and an interdimensional prison. It seems like they’re saving the good ass-kicking ideas for their former allies. With each bad decision making things worse! Tony Stark and Reed Richards never put this much thought into stopping the likes of Thanos or Doom and that might be a good thing because judging by their batting record here universe 616 would be a pile of ash. Meanwhile, from Captain America’s perspective, his former friends are acting like homicidal lunatics. Which forces Cap to escalate his dickish moves. After reading CWGN I had to check with Wikipedia to make sure I didn’t miss something in Civil War: Squirrel Girl that revealed that Tony Stark WAS under alien control or being manipulated but a Red Skull nefarious plan.
This is the context I’m talking about; if you just read CWGN you could get a whole different story than what was intended. Not that you can pin down exactly what CWCE knew what it intended, really. Which is kinda one of the cool things about CWCE that CWGN misses out on.
Which is a disappointment because while it was going on CWCE felt like it was about something. It was no accident that Iron Man is predominantly red and Captain America is primarily blue here. You could hang issues like gun control, class warfare, the culture war, states rights, our involvement and/or culpability in the mid-east problems, exchanging liberty for safety, Pirates vs ninja, Republican vs Democrats, Christians vs civil rights, Liberal vs Conservative, faith vs Science, reactionary agendas, fear based decision making, and the general adversarial vibe our country was/is going through. The set-up opened the door for something rich, textured, and mature. Some of the writers involved tried to run through that door with varying degrees of success.
One of the metaphors you can toss at this story is the escalation in the war on terror and how we create the enemies we’re guarding against. CWCE predates Isis but it also (arguably) predicts them. Iron Man puts together The new Thunderbolts made up of super-powered murderers and psychos. Captain America starts making alliances with members of the super criminal community.
With Gulf War part deux barely in the rear view and the wreckage of it still littering the road some of the writers tackling the side titles saw the connection and expanded on it. Warren Ellis’ Thunderbolts having toy commercials labeling the Captain America action figure as a terrorist springs immediately to mind.
Meanwhile CWGN barely has time to address its own sprawling plot little less the bigger issues and themes at play.
Of course I remember being disappointed that the whole thing degenerated into a massive brawl on the streets of New York. WIth Cap surrendering because he suddenly realizes the damage being done.
I expected something a bit more “out of the box” from Millar, like what he did with Ultimate X-Men. When Millar was doing The Authority he ended an outrageous and hysterical super conflict by the opponents talking for a minute and realizing they had the same goals. A lot of Millar’s work up to that point had big ideas. Different ways of solving problems and with an eye on who the real villains were. It led me to hope he had some interesting left field solution in the bag for CWGN. I didn’t expect a blinding revelation, I didn’t expect a solution to what ails the soul of this country, but I did expect some creative perspective on the problems. I had come to expect that from Millar.
Sadly CWGN (and Millar by association), beholden to the necessity of being all things to everyone, including a marketing hook and crossing over to every character in the Marvel universe, opted to build a foundation only to smash it down shortly after.
Stuff tangentially related to the main column that I couldn’t fit in organically…
I still feel awkward about the coma comment.
Hey, your mom is named Martha too? Shit, I had you all wrong Supes! Let’s be pals!
So this might feel like a condemnation of sprawling cross-over events but it’s not necessarily.
It’s a condemnation of the mercenary attitude that dictates these massive cross-over events.
A menace of super villains is like a murder of crows, school of fish, or a crash of rhinos. My call, there.
Speedball used to hang out with a different team of superheroes before New Warriors. Let’s see… there was Hip Flask, Chronic, Crackpipe, Eightball, and Rocket Racoon.
Or was it Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, Marijuana, Xtc and Alcohol?
No, that was Queens Of The Stone Age – Feel Good Hit Of The Summer.
Ham and egging it means, I guess, being roommates. This weird old guy I worked with on a show used the term and I liked it.
The weird old guy not so much.
Especially when he threatened to jam a knife into my throat. Normally I don’t bring that out in people.
Even though I think Millar peaked with Wolverine: Enemy of the State/Agent of SHIELD he was still generating some interesting throwaway ideas. Like Reed designing the Baxter Building’s security that week like the human immune system. Tony Stark and Emma Frost were fuck buddies. Or the T-Rex bonded with a Venom symbiote in Old Man Logan.
I’d read the crap outta a comic entirely dedicated to a T-Rex bonded to a venom symbiote!
Is it any surprise that CWCE got so ugly so quick? The main architects of the registration act were an alcoholic, a wife beater, and a neglectful husband/father.
To further prove Steve’s misgivings; right after Secret Invasion the powers that be handed the keys to the kingdom over to Norman Osborn.
If you want metaphor try a Norman Osborn/Dick Cheney one on for size.
I guess you could view this whole era for Tony Stark as a proxy for the United States; overpowered, best-laid plans backfiring, well-meaning to a point but just can’t help but think his way is the best way even after shown copious amounts of evidence to the contrary. Discuss?
I loved CWMCU but I’m surprised that Cap didn’t at some point remind Tony that they spent the last two years trying to get HYDRA out of all the nooks and crannies of just about every government on earth. Why would the Avengers now hand over legal control to the same governments?
Yeah, and that Sokovia was Tony’s fault.
NEXT: I see Black Panther on top of the pile.
LATER: Who knows but hopefully you won’t have to wait as long. Sorry ‘bout that guys.