Writer: Mark Millar
Artists: Steve McNiven (p), Dexter Vines (i), Morry Hollowell (colors)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Ariel Carmona Jr.
In evaluating Civil War #5 in particular and the entire series in general, I had to consider whether I believed it a success or a failure. The answer is a little bit of both, which is frustrating to long time Marvel readers given the fact as much as we might hate the premise, Millar’s writing is still compelling enough to want to read the next installment. Civil War is definitely a commercial success for Marvel, but it has been rebuked by some critics and fans.
The events from this issue pick up from other tie-ins, most notably Amazing Spider-Man #535 in which the ideological rift between Iron Man and Peter first surfaced (which some internet critics saw coming from the distance of the proverbial mile). This comic suffers from the same flaw: bad characterization. Tony Stark continues to act more like a dictatorial goon than the dashing hero we’ve come to know and respect.
The Spider-Man being pummeled by the Jester and Jack O’Lantern hardly resembles the webslinger I know and love. He doesn’t quip, he doesn’t fight back, he just mumbles inanities and takes a beating, though he was allegedly stoned from an exploding gas bomb.
While reading this scene I was flashing back to AS-M #279 in which Jack O’Lantern chides his henchmen for taking a potential battle with the webslinger lightly. “I have battled Spider-Man before, he’s no spring weekend,” he tells them. This scene serves to illustrate what a formidable impression Spidey once made on his enemies when donning the mask. Now that he’s unmasked and being taunted for being puny, it seems that this mystique has been cheapened.
There is also some puzzling logic to some of the statements in Millar’s script. Crime is at an all time low? Given S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are busy apprehending rogue superheroes and non-registrants, one would think that super villains that are not already in the employ of the government like the T-Bolts would espouse the “divide and conquer” mentality and strike at the heroes while they are busy battling each other, thereby causing crime to rise.
There are also inconsistencies between the dialogue in this comic and the story in AS-M #535. In the latter, Peter is appalled by Iron Man’s callous attitude toward locking up the anti-registration heroes. “This isn’t temporary, Peter. This isn’t interim. This is permanent,” says Tony Stark. Yet, in page 4 of Millar’s script, Iron man says, “This is only a temporary measure Peter.” You would think the writers could get together and be on the same page. That said, it’s refreshing to see Peter finally come to his senses and throw down with Iron Man as he attempts to escape the clutches of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Evidently, the man running around in a ski mask helping the anti-registration side was none other than the vigilante with the skull on his chest. Since the book was delayed, I had forgotten there was a mystery man running around helping the anti-registration side until I re-read the previous issue. Here at least, the Punisher seems to have a purpose in the story: He’s never been much of a team player, but when the other side enlists the help of killers and criminals, he has to get involved. Besides determining which side Punisher is on and some full page spreads to show the reader the enormity of the containment unit at Riker’s Island which leads to the contrapment built by Mr. Fantastic to imprison superheroes in the negative zone, not much else happens in the third part of the book.
There are inconsistencies and mischaracterizations throughout this book. However, the same pleasures one derives from reading a What If? story or a story set in an alternate reality make this series enjoyable or somewhat passable because in the end, it feels so far removed from the mainstream Marvel universe we are accustomed to seeing that it might as well be taking place in an alternate reality, or at the very least in the Ultimate universe. The interesting question will be how will the ramifications of the series will affect the Marvel Universe long-term.
There isn’t much more I can say about McNiven’s pencils or the artwork in this book that I haven’t touched on in past chapters of Civil War. I have grown accustomed to his style, and he draws some of the best facial expressions on the characters this side of Mark Bagley.
I would be willing to bet that even those readers who have sworn not to see it through are peeking at some of the latest developments because curiosity gets the best of them. Even though Thor’s return was nothing more than a red herring, like all good cliffhangers should, the shockers bookending each chapter have kept us coming back for more. It will be left up to Millar’s wrap up of the series to see if it was all worth the effort.
This review will be longer than the comic.
Johnny and Sue Storm have joined Captain America’s resistance. Spider-Man leaves Iron Man via the window. He’s hunted down by two members of the “all-new, all-deadly” Thunderbolts: The Jester and Jack O’Lantern. Spidey’s saved by the Punisher who wants to join the good guys. Stark and Reed Richards explain why they’re doing what they’re doing. Basically, it’s this or everyone goes to jail forever. Finally, “Daredevil” is arrested and makes an empty gesture to make Stark feel more guilty.
Let’s take this in chronological order. The fight between Stark and Parker continues from Amazing Spider-Man #535 and not Civil War #4. You really need to read Amazing to learn what happened. It also gives deeper insight into Tony’s conflicted feelings and cruel intentions. Tony’s actions betray his hypocrisy. He says the alternative to registration is all superheroes being outlawed and arrested. But he’s also incarcerating heroes until they give in and register. So the only real difference between registration and prohibition is prohibition means no pardoned villains.
Now I’ve been hearing for months about the “all-new, all-deadly” Thunderbolts. A new team that includes Venom, Bullseye, Taskmaster, and more of the deadliest, cruelest, sickest murderers in the Marvel U. And who do they send out after Spider-Man? Jester and Jack O-Lantern. Jester is a Daredevil villain, so you know he sucks. And Jack? Spidey beat Jack when he was calling himself Prodigy. So how can Iron Spidey get taken out by exploding pumpkins and yo-yos? Wouldn’t his Spider-sense have helped him out? His proportionate strength? How about his new organic webshooters? That’s all he needed before, why not now?
Now I only have one problem with the registration act. I understand the need for registering, training, employing, and tracking superbeings. I also see the necessity for these “cape-killer” squads to protect the public. My problem is making the act compulsory. As we’ve seen, it turns ordinary people into criminals by default. And once you start treating someone like a criminal, they act like a criminal and start an endless cycle of violence, crime, and recidivism. Tony Stark, Reed Richards, and others also understand this tragic necessity. But if they feel so guilty about fighting their own friends, why are they doing it? Why aren’t they joining the resistance or agreeing to a temporary suspension of all super-activities? They could at least pressure Congress to change the law.
One good thing has come out of this. The Punisher and Captain America will be working together. I always thought there were great stories waiting to be told with these two soldiers from America’s defining wars. Many Americans still see our country as the arsenal of democracy we became in WWII. Others think we’re the corrupt powermongers who mired the country in Vietnam. There could be fascinating stories just with Castle and Rogers asking each other, “Tell me about the war.”
But the thing that bugs me the most about this comic was how quickly I read it. The panels were very large and contained very little dialogue. Not much happened to advance the story. There were two fight scenes, and even they didn’t last long. This felt like a dead spot in the Civil War storm.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have the first boring Mark Millar comic.
See, this is what I get for not following every single episode of Civil War; I missed the one where Spidey lost his Spider Sense.
You mean he hasn’t? That it’s yet another case of this series bending its characters into nonsensical shapes in order to make the story work? That Spider-Man did in fact get caught out by a slow-moving bomb that he saw coming miles away? Tsk.
As if basing the main dramatic moment of the issue around forgetting what Spider-Man does isn’t enough, this comic is just dull. Very little actually happens, and there’s a worrying number of pointless splash pages and irrelevant panels creeping in to slow things down. What’s worse is that what little that does happen is merely a further instance of Mark Millar’s usual second-act ritual humiliation of his protagonists, something I’ve seen him do far too many times to be impressed by here. It’s only been a few months since he did it in The Ultimates, for crying out loud, and it was getting old then.
Elsewhere, the usual problems remain; Steve McNiven’s art retains the lifeless, dead-eyed, plasticity of a bunch of posed shop dummies, and Millar continues to do whatever he can to avoid the story being about anything, with any real grappling with the potential of the central premise completely dispensed with yet again in favour of cocktail parties with Tony Stark and Captain America’s presumably tense strategy meetings that we don’t actually get to see. Wasted opportunities abound.
But around 400,000 of you don’t seem to care about all that, so I give up.
Well, here it is, the fifth issue of Marvel’s big event of 2006 (even though given all the delays it’ll now end in 2007). If you’ve been reading any of the reviews Civil War has been getting, you’ll know that opinion on this series really is polarised. One thing that can’t be denied is that this has been a huge financial success for Marvel. True, there have been variants, but mostly only after the fist printings sold out, and I really don’t think (or at least hope) that there are that many people nowadays who buy variants simply for variants’ sake.
Overall, I’ve been enjoying Civil War. Now, I’ll be one of the first to admit that some of the heroes are portrayed out of character and that the whole central concept does seem a bit far fetched, but I have still enjoyed the ride so far, found the story quite compelling and now more than anything I really want to know how this is going to end. The main problem that Civil War has faced, in my opinion, is the portrayal of the pro-reg side. When this event was first announced, Marvel said that both sides would be portrayed in an equal way, that they wouldn’t deliberately cast either in a bad light. Well, that hasn’t happened. The thing is, if you think about it, the whole concept of superhuman registration makes sense. If you have people who can destroy whole buildings or disintegrate people with a thought then surely asking for some kind of monitoring of these individuals sounds reasonable. As the boys at the top at Marvel have pointed out, police officers, fire fighters, hell, even normal citizens who make citizens’ arrests have to answer to someone and explain what they’ve done. Why should it be any different for superheroes? The only valid argument really is “because it’s always been like that and it’s worked for us so far.” So, as a premise, the idea isn’t too bad. But then it all falls apart when you look at the kind of treatment the pro-reg side and S.H.I.E.L.D. are getting in the comics, especially in the tie-in books.
First off, there’s the sheer number of heroes who think that the act is an assault on their civil liberties; far more are anti than pro. In nearly all the tie-ins, the pro-reg guys are portrayed as borderline fascist, gun-totting, trigger-happy bastards, and it’s obvious that this is the way most of the writers feel. After all, everyone likes the underdog who sticks it to “The Man” (I know I do!), and if they want to sell their titles then they’ll probably have more chance doing so if they take this approach. Even in books in which the leads are pro-reg, the “heroes” are portrayed as either very unsure or irrational. Take Ms. Marvel for example: she’s one of the most obvious pro-reg choices out there, yet in the last issue of her title’s Civil War tie-in, she’s shown questioning The Shroud, anti-reg, with gritted teeth and an almost insane look in her eyes whilst her prisoner just sits there calmly, looking sad and betrayed. Iron Man is portrayed as a cold unemotional prick in all the tie-ins, check Amazing Spider-Man; Wonder Man is only helping out under coercion, check Front Line; S.H.I.E.L.D. allows an insane psychopath to torture kids in Young Avengers/Runaways, and at this point there just isn’t any incentive to route for the pro-reg guys, who, when you break it all down, could be on the right side of the argument. To paraphrase Congressman Sykes from Front Line #7, it’s not the storyline that I have a problem with, it’s the way that it’s been implemented. Sorry for digressing into a bit of a winging diatribe, but it’s something that I feel is really affecting the enjoyment of the event as a whole. If you’re still here, let’s get onto the issue at hand.
Of all the books, the main Civil War title is the one that has been trying the most to keep things even between both sides and has done the least bad job of portraying the pro-reg guys as “heroes.” Things start to fall apart in this issue though, but I think that here it’s entirely intentional. After an opening that shows the Storms on the lam, we switch to the Iron Man/Spider-Man confrontation that’s been foreshadowed for months. Quick digression, this scene doesn’t make much sense if you haven’t been following Amazing Spider-Man as this scene direct follows a scene in the last issue of that book. This has been another problem with Civil War: though personally I’m enjoying most of the tie-ins, there really are some you can’t do without if you want to understand the whole picture. Moving on, Iron Man tries to talk Spidey down with what appears to be the most clarity he’s shown in months. Then he cocks up big time by bringing Mary Jane and Aunt May into his argument, and Spidey lets him have it. After which, despite pleas from a refreshingly slightly-sane Tony Stark, S.H.I.E.L.D., and Maria Hill in particular, toss all hell at our poor friendly neighbourhood webslinger.
So, it’s enter the Thunderbolts. I won’t go into detail here about what I think of the Thunderbolts revamp, but suffice to say that using these guys to help take down heroes has to be voted worst idea…, ever. Of the 14 “operatives” Hill calls for, Jack’O Lantern and The Jester (the two most disposable members of the new team) just happen to be the two who find Spidey and get whacked by a peeved off Frank Castle as he saves Peter’s life. Okay, the S.H.I.E.L.D. handlers tell the creeps if they lay a hand on Peter they’ll get fried… What!? They’ve already beaten and drugged the guy senseless. As The Punisher explains later, he has multiple fractures and lost a severe amount of blood. That’s acceptable? I mean come on, what do they expect from using supervillains!?
Spider-Man’s rescue leads us to check in on Captain America’s ragged crew (vive la Resistance!), which now seems to include everyone and their uncle (Ultra-Girl? Hmm, wonder who gets whacked next). I must admit I’ve never followed The Punisher and don’t know much more than the basics about him, but if Cap’s boys (and gals) are breaking the law, won’t that make them targets in his book? Cap wants to get inside the Baxter Building, and with all the varieties of powers at his disposal his best bet might be The Punisher’s “Black-Ops” training? Interestingly though, if Cap were to accept Frank’s help, he would definitely lose some of his precious moral high-ground. Another thing that just niggled was the “who do you think the guy in a ski-mask was” comment. Sure, it lets the reader know who it was last issue, but I think most people would have figured that out by themselves and what does it mean to the Resistance if they’ve never seen anyone in a ski-mask watching them?
Then there are a couple of “what the hell” moments. What is Tigra doing there? Is she undercover or do Cap’s guys have the world’s crappiest security? Daredevil arrested? When? How much time has passed? I suspect his capture was intentional and is part of Cap’s plan. We shall see.
In my opinion, this was probably the weakest issue of Civil War so far. Even though there was some high octane stuff, there wasn’t really a whole lot happening here except Spider-Man’s defection, which we knew was coming anyway. The new Thunderbolts debut was also disappointing with none of the big guns putting in an appearance. But it’s always easy to focus on the negatives. All in all, I still got a kick out of reading this. I just find something appealing in seeing these guys go at each other in such a vicious way. I’m definitely in this to the end and am genuinely intrigued as to how it will all work out because right now I really have no idea.
Steven G. Saunders:
Okay, I’ll come clean: I haven’t been paying much attention. I have certain superhero comics I read (mostly Marvel; and that mostly is few, and mostly Ultimate Universe stuff… mostly), and I stopped trying to keep up with all the crap involved with the latest Marvel cross-over after Civil War #4, which I have to admit I didn’t like much. So, yeah, I had determined that Civil War wasn’t my cuppa and all that. I read bits here and there, saw things on some boards, and friends told me some things. I wasn’t all that thrilled, to be honest, but I do like Tony Stark’s Negative Zone Gitmo-like detention centre. That’s pretty cool. I’m saying all this because I want you, dear reader, to know where I am coming from.
Now, I’m sure that my fellow reviewers, who are most excellent at what they do, may be a bit critical about Civil War #5. However, and perhaps I’m going out on a limb here, I really enjoyed the issue. CW #4 made me question Mark Millar’s writing choices in quite a few ways: “Clor”? And Goliath being killed? What a surprise. Here’s my surprised face. I wept for days. No, really… Alright, maybe not. Also, either I’m taking speed reading classes in my sleep or space aliens are involved somehow because I managed to read issue #4 in about five minutes (it always irritates me when I finish a comic book that fast). Right, decompression. Got it. Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting much for issue #5. Nothing all that good, anyway.
I am not going to say that this issue was awesome; but I have to admit, I was happy to see Frank back in Ye Olde Marvel 616. I was so happy that I even cheered. You must understand, I’m a big-time Punisher supporter. As a matter of fact, he’s my favourite Marvel character; so to see him appear in Civil War popping a couple of villains who were even less known than Goliath (Jack O’Lantern and The Jester, I believe) was actually more satisfying than reading the standard tripe that has plagued the series thus far. He was also saving Spider-Man’s ass, who had just got that same ass handed to him by Iron Man. Why Parker was getting owned by a couple of z-list baddies, I have no idea (yeah, yeah, Spidey was hurt, etc), but I guess it gave Millar the excuse to kill off some more characters; which does lead me into some cynical thinking: What’s next? Does Cap face off against Crossbones? Which side is Cardiac on? Hey, any chance Dreadknight is going to show up as a Thunderbolt? Is Frank going to kill Abominatrix? I could probably go on for twenty or more pages with these “important” questions, but for the sake of my home not being set ablaze, I’ll stop. You know, I figured that the Punisher was that guy running around in the ski-mask. Well, he was at the top of the list anyway…if I had a list that I was making; but that’s not important. It’s cool to see him make an appearance, and now I can’t wait to see my beloved Frank Castle go off and fight Stilt Man in Punisher War Journal Vol. 2 #1. Hear that? That’s me sighing. Oh, well I’m hoping it will be cool rather than the Punisher becoming the Roach Motel of the Marvel Universe. We’ll see, as the saying goes.
What? Yeah, I know. “Enough about the Punisher, Steve.” Got it.
Anyways, the rest of the issue is quite solid and is certainly a step up and in the right direction from CW #4. The part where Stark explains to Daredevil all his crap while leading him to imprisonment in the Negative Zone was excellent, and the part at the end where Daredevil makes the poignant Judas reference with the coin is pure gold. I like the fact that Spider-Man finally realised that Iron Man is a douchebag and that we will probably see that “Iron Spidey” outfit go. I’m sure I missed some “side-bar” stuff, as this is a cross-over event, and for that I sincerely apologise, but I think I have a good handle on what’s going on thanks to this issue. Now I wonder when the real Thor is going to show up, and when the rest of the Thunderbolts are going to beat up some good-guys. Sure, I’ll bet people are going to yammer on about how the plot has gotten as thin as campaign promises and that Civil War should be done. But these people will say that about every damned cross-over, no matter who runs it with whatever books. I don’t really care, as long as I’m entertained and they don’t drown in clichés and lame plot devices (like—wait for it-- issue #4… and yes, I realise I read comic books!).
Have I mentioned the art? The art is incredible! Steve McNiven, along with Dexter Vines and Morry Hollowell, really make this comic come to life. The characters are vibrant, the action is intense, and the backgrounds are actually nice to look at. In my opinion, and no offence meant at all to Mark Millar (who’s writing I love more often than not), the illustrations are the best part of the Civil War books. There may be better art out there, and I’m certain there is, but this team really brings the house down.
In the end, I feel the writing is much stronger with this issue, and now I would actually like to see what happens with Civil War. Congratulations, Mr. Millar, you have brought me back into the cross-over madness fold (I might even read Front Line, New Avengers and Amazing Spider-Man again). Not any easy task, I must say. I fully admit that it was the Punisher and how he was brought into this that did it for me. In fact, bonus points were added for that. I will probably like this whole thing in trade format as the “decompressed” story-telling thing with this series in particular is getting on my nerves. Ah, well, can’t win them all. If there was any way I could give this issue 3.75 bullets I would; but I felt it be nice to err on the positive side today. Here’s to hoping Civil War #6 is even better…., and if it isn’t, I won’t feel too let down.
Civil War raises its game this issue, offering up some genuinely important plot developments and making room for several very well-illustrated action sequences to ensure that anyone who’s been a little bored by the book so far should be shaken out of their apathy towards Marvel’s big event. The centrepiece of Spider-Man’s rejection of his pro-registration comrades provides an exciting opening and allows Millar to address some of the complaints about poor characterisation in the book with a spot-on moment of clarity from Peter Parker in which he voices his own disappointment in himself as he dances through the multiple panels of his fight with Iron Man. With Peter Parker’s escape leading to the first deployment of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s new Thunderbolts and the arrival of the Punisher on the scene, Millar’s plotting hangs together very well, with each scene leading neatly into the next in a logical and compelling progression.
It’s also nice to see the writer provide some genuinely convincing arguments in favour of the Registration Act too, as the revelation that crime is at an all-time low combines with a few lines from Iron Man about how he’s trying to make the best of what was always going to be a bad situation to suggest that maybe the pro-reg crew really do have a valid point. There’s also a later scene which shows that Reed Richards has some reservations about what he’s doing, which should placate those fans of his who have complained that he’s been portrayed as cold and unfeeling in previous issues. Whether these lines have been included as a reaction to fan complaints isn’t important – it’s just nice to see a little balance in a book which hasn’t exactly provided the most unbiased perspective on the Civil War so far.
Steve McNiven’s artwork continues to be effortlessly impressive in every panel, with some lovely little touches of detail showing the amount of thought and consideration which has gone into his creative process. I’m particularly happy with the way he renders the S.H.I.E.L.D. vehicles and locations, as it adds an element of military realism which helps to reinforce the seriousness of their situation. His faces look less plasticky than before thanks to the improved colouring (I love the close-up face-off between Iron Man and Spidey), and he concentrates on storytelling over flashiness, with only a great Punisher splash page and the opening shot of Sue and Johnny Storm standing out as real artistic indulgences, and ones which serve the book well in context.
When an issue’s biggest flaws are a slightly misleading cover (maybe they’re saving Bullseye, Venom and the Green Goblin for the big finale) and some slightly clunky and obvious dialogue (referring to a “final battle” and Tony Stark being a Judas figure), then you know it must be doing something right; indeed, some people might say that both of those elements are virtually a tradition in superhero comics. Millar has surprised me with a far more involving and significant beginning to Civil War’s third act than I expected, and I have a feeling that the relatively gradual build up to this point - which has been playing out throughout Marvel’s line - is going to result in a satisfying payoff when the series reaches its climax.
What did you think of this book?
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