Friday, May 05, 2006

Chris Reviews Civil War #1

Warning: this post is long and not all that humorous, but I wanted to get all this down before it slipped out of my head.

CIVIL WAR #1 (of 7)

Well, it's here. It's not the worst comic ever made, nor is it particularly great. It is, however, better than it had any right to be.

By now, you all know the particulars: New Warriors fight a bunch of C-List villains and there's a big explosion that kills like 600 people. In the wake of this, the U.S. gubmint proposes that superheroes be registered, trained, and made federal employees and held accountable by the people.

Sides are sort of chosen, and bumper-sticker philosophies serve as character motivations more often than not. And there's absolutely nothing that happens in this issue that hasn't been already given away by Marvel or solicits. Just so ya know.

Marvel has made it perfectly clear that this is a Big Deal. The interviews, the mainstream news press releases, all of that contributes to the atmosphere that Marvel is trying to shoot for, which is: There Are Relevant Philosophical Ideas In This Comic That Our Superheroes Will Wrestle With.

And that, I fear, is what will turn out to be the underlying problem I have with this series. Civil liberties and government responsibility is absolutely a question worth thinking about, because it's a serious matter with ramifications for all of us. But it's a hell of a lot harder to take it seriously when Mr. Fantastic, Spider-Man, and Goliath are waxing philosophical.

Because of all that surrounding "please take this comic seriously" hoo-ha, I'm inclined to do exactly that, to think about it in real-world terms. And that's where the wheels start to come off.

For example, Captain America is asked by SHIELD to, uh, work for them against any of the heroes who might not go along with the new law. He declines...so SHIELD tries to capture him? Whaaaa?

And OK, the scene where Cap surfs a fighter jet is kinda neat, but not two pages later the White House is laughing about how he landed the plane, bought the pilot a burger, and is apparently at large.

So what's the deal? Is he a criminal now, even though the law hasn't been passed yet? Why did SHIELD act so moronically? And why aren't the public worried about SHIELD?

(I'd be a hell of a lot more concerned about a paramilitary spy organization with a huge helicarrier floating over New York run by a creepy old guy with an eyepatch, than I would about, say, the Fantastic Four.)

And it's exactly those kind of 'hey, wait a minute' moments that just throw me out of the story.



Don't get me wrong: there are actually some really good moments in this courtesy of Millar, like the woman whose son was killed confronting Tony Stark outside the funeral, the attack on Johnny Storm at the nightclub, and the scene of the assembled heroes doing cleanup at the accident site.

But for every time I thought, 'Hey, that was really well done', it was almost immediately followed by a head-slapping 'Jeezus, Marvel!'.

Like the Falcon's anti-registration argument about secret identities being "tradition".

Like Daredevil showing up out of jail.

Like The Watcher (oh, Lord) showing up.

And it's goofy shit like that that makes me unable to take this very seriously. But the subject matter and plot points are too dark and serious to be able to read this in a goofy turn-your-brain-off kind of way. So it doesn't quite know what it wants to be, I think.

I will give Millar a ton of credit for dialing down his usual hamfistedness (although there are traces of it) when dealing with the "establishment" side of things, and Steve McNiven, whom I'm on record as not liking as much as others do, really brings his A-game here, as I liked his art quite a bit more than I usually do.

And credit, even (I can't believe I'm saying this), to Marvel. This comic---and make no mistake, this is a big pitch to try and get new readers in---really presents itself well.

Case in point: it's got excellent production values, and a Cup O' Joe aimed at new readers, giving them trades and series that they can pick up if this is the first comic they've bought in a while (or ever). It's a good idea. And the Civic ad, while intrusive, shows a skewing towards the adult reader more than the bubblegum ads, or that hideous one where Wolverine is wearing underwear with his face on it. (That's just creepy.)

And yes, "A Marvel Comics Event In Seven Parts" is silly and pretentious, as is the trade dress, but it's another sign (along with the fact that you could come into this issue cold and figure out what was going on) that this series isn't necessarily meant for those of us that have been reading comics regularly anyway. And I don't have a problem with that.

So, is it any good? Yes and no. It's better than I thought it would be, but it has all the ingredients to become an absolute greasefire in no time flat, I don't see the whole cognitive dissonance between the subject matter and the setting going away any time soon. We shall see.

Best Moment: I may be reading too much into things, but I get the feeling that My Man Tony Stark isn't so much pro-registration as just trying to get control of the situation by allying himself with the gubmint. And that's supercool and in character. Or the splash page of Cap surfing the jet.

Worst Moment: That SHIELD thing. How was that legal? How was that not stupid? What was the motivation? That whole SHIELD thing was dumb with a capital Maria Hill.

Comic Book Goodness: 3/5. Lowered expectations resulted in mostly a nice surprise, and McNiven's art really stepped it up a notch. Especially the last page, where finally he draws a clean, simple Iron Man without trying to muddy it up with his customary "kewl armor" lines everywhere, and it looks fantastic.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

9 Comments:

Blogger CalvinPitt said...

Yeah that Cap/SHIELD thing seems to be a major sticking point for most people.

Still, I haven't seen anyone say outright it sucked which is a good start I suppose. With the state of comics today, first issues are basically all exposition anyway. Hopefully now they'll really get down to it.

Whatever "it" is. Hopefully not "deep philosophical discussions underminded by Millar's standard lack of subtlety".

1:17 PM  
Anonymous Patrick said...

SHIELD in general these days is really overexposed and largely poorly handled. I mean, they were always this kind of quasi-legal government group with ill-defined duties and jurisdiction, but I think it's gotten more glaring recently, and Marvel really needs to dial down the SHIELD presence in their books and define just what it is that SHIELD is supposed to be doing.

I mean, are they a US or UN agency? It seems to be the former in the Ultimate Universe but the latter in 616, which is curious because SHIELD is the one implementing the Superhero Registration Act in Civil War. Are they still an espionage/intelligence agency or do they exclusively do the superhuman stuff now? This kind of stuff should really be addressed, not out of anal-retentiveness but because I often get the feeling SHIELD is being plugged into all kinds of situations whenever Marvel needs a military force. It seems kind of lazy.

11:28 PM  
Blogger Cap'n Neurotic said...

I'd gone back and forth on whether I was going to pick this up or not, but finally caved today; I was actually enjoying it up until that Cap/SHIELD sequence, which just made me shake my head in dismay. I mean, how in the world can anyone think that pointing guns at Captain Frickin' America is a good idea? Especially when, at that point, he hadn't broken any laws? Idiotic.

And yet, I'm probably going to keep picking it up, so who's the real idiot, hmmm?

11:17 AM  
Blogger JattaPake said...

Just found your review site and I'm enjoying the indepth reviews of the comics. I've been frantically trying to get caught up myself after a 2 decade absence.

Mind if I link to your site from Minimate Headquarters?

www.minimateheadquarters.com

7:29 PM  
Blogger redlib said...

It's only because I've seen Jaws about 1.1 million times, but the confrontation at the funeral just took me completely out of the book. It was the Jaws scene where the shark eaten boy's mom slaps Roy Schieder.

I'm not over the moon on this, but don't hate it either. I think they could just steal the essence from the end of IC7- 'we have our differences, but when we need to come together'.

7:38 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

The Daredevil thing doesn't really count as big mistake, however, since there is a Daredevil impersonator running around in his own book while Murdock is in jail.

Although the heroes letting Daredevil into the meeting at the Baxter Building without knowing who he really is may be a mistake...

11:03 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Patrick: I couldn't have put it better myself.

Cap'n: Right there with ya, buddy.

Jattapake: Please do! Welcome!

Redlib: I KNEW I knew that scene from somewhere! (Still, if you're going to rip off a scene, you could do worse than that one.)

Scott: Good point. My money's on Iron Fist.

7:11 PM  
Blogger Spencer Carnage said...

SHIELD has obviously been overstepping their bounds and getting into the super heroes business more so than ever the past few years. Personally, I liked the confrontation. Lets me know exactly where this Fury-less SHIELD stands and seems to be completely in line with what we've seen of them in New Avengers. Given Maria's reluctance to call in the Avengers a few issues ago, I see her as a person who strongly opposes the idea of super heroes in her world and is now given the chance to act upon a secret agenda of her own.

All in all, Civil War was awesome. If you don't like this one, you're definitely not going to like what comes next.

A little tease, Millar is going to ruin the Marvel U first, then make his way to the X-mansion second.

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Civil War Fan said...

I think Civil War is just one huge and it has the right to be where it is right now. The story is mainly based on what is happening to the real world right now where everyone's privacy is getting breached little by little.

6:15 AM  

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