Current Reviews


Civil War: The Return

Posted: Friday, January 26, 2007
By: Dave Wallace

Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artists: Tom Raney (p), Scott Hanna (i), Gina Going, Sotocolor's A. Crossley (colours)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

One of my earliest comics memories is reading a UK reprint of a 1970s Captain Marvel story. I remember the young me being dazzled by the cosmic nature of the story and the striking costume design. However, beyond that, I have absolutely no connection with the character and wasn't even aware of the revered past storyline which dealt with his death from cancer until speculation about his return began to circulate. In some ways then, the character is a blank slate for me, and as such I can't judge whether Jenkins is remaining true to the established take on Captain Marvel or not. What I can say is that Jenkins' first story is accessible, original, and emotional without being overly sentimental, and his writing makes what could be construed as an editorially-mandated and hollow "event" into a thought-provoking and worthwhile short story.

Rather than a straight "resurrection" (which would likely offend those readers who see the character's original death as sacred), Jenkins takes the novel route of dragging the pre-cancerous Captain Marvel into the future as a result of the pro-reg crew's experiments into opening portals to the Negative Zone (explaining this plot development via that ever-useful word, "somehow"). In avoiding the risk of getting bogged-down in the how and why of his return, Jenkins concentrates on the emotional impact that being plucked from the timestream and learning of his future death would have on Captain Marvel, and it makes for some compelling human drama. New readers are brought up to speed with a potted history of the character, recreating key scenes from his backstory in an abbreviated, although very poignant, manner, and the intriguing premise that Captain Marvel is living on borrowed time in a future in which he's already dead provides an interesting angle for the hero's forthcoming solo series.

What isn't clear is why this comeback was tied into Civil War at all. Captain Marvel's role of guard for the pro-registration faction's Negative Zone prison seems arbitrary and doesn't have any bearing on the core story at all. The prison crisis may be tied into the breakout at the end of Civil War #6 (although it isn't clear), but I have a feeling that the final issue of Millar's series is going to have more than enough on its hands without having to bring Captain Marvel into the story at the last minute as well. It makes the tie-in seem clumsy and rushed, and I can't help but feel that the Civil War angle was only introduced to boost sales for the book. Sadly, its inclusion detracts from the power of Jenkins' story.

Unfortunately, the second story in this issue isn't anywhere near as successful as the first. "The Decision" sees the Sentry engage in a battle with the Absorbing Man before coming to a decision about whether or not he should register his identity with the authorities. When you consider that we've seen a very similar tale featuring the character's defeat of an energy-absorbing foe in last year's New Avengers Annual, and that we've already seen the Sentry choose a side in the regular New Avengers book and in Civil War proper, it's difficult to see why this story even exists. The self-doubt and internal conflict of the character is only touched upon, and Jenkins even admits to the redundancy of the Absorbing Man's defeat in the Sentry's internal monologue. A snipe at the ease with which characters can be resurrected in an issue which exists to do just that? Maybe Marvel's got a more self-effacing sense of humour than I thought. It's been frustrating to see so many mediocre stories created for a character that held so much potential when he first appeared, and whilst I'm still a fan of the Sentry as a concept, I'd rather he return to continuity limbo than continue to be blandified in stories which ignore the interesting parts of his character in favour of a "B-list Superman" approach. It's even more saddening considering that Jenkins created the character; surely, he should appreciate the attraction of Robert Reynolds' complexities better than anyone?

Tom Raney's artwork is decent, conveying the tone of Jenkins' writing even when he isn't given anything particularly spectacular to illustrate. The Captain Marvel story is suitably downbeat and serious, capturing the shock and concern of Marvel's friends at his reappearance in their lives, and recreating his last days in a couple of panels which really evoke a sense of the classic Marvel Universe (the deathbed scene in particular, in which Marvel lies on his bed surrounded by the pantheon of MU heroes, is a very evocative image). The Sentry story allows Raney to illustrate some more traditional superhero action, and I enjoyed the lighter colouring by Crossley, which allows the back-up to function as a counterpoint to the darkness of the main story. However, the artwork can't make up for the flaws in the writing, and there's a definite feeling that this issue would have been far more enjoyable if Jenkins had taken a full 22 pages to explore Captain Marvel's return, rather than tagging a disposable and inconsequential Sentry story on the end of it.

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