Saturday, May 06, 2006

My Flagboy and your Flagboy:
Marvel's Civil War

The above panel is by Civil War penciler Steve McNiven, who has been Marvel Comic's best kept secret for some time. His guest shots on New Avengers highlighted not only his own ability, but the weaknesses of regular artist David Finch. He's got a touch for hyper-reality: he's great at breaking down moments into exact seconds; making each image a snapshot of time. It's an ability that Frank Quitely shares, though McNiven's figures are not as fluid as Quitely's.
Civil War's lead writer (though it's an event spanning several books, and used a by-committee creative process) is Mark Millar, who at his best is playful and energetic, but at his worst is obvious and bland. So far, in Issue 1, we're seeing Millar at his high energy best.

We begin with tragedy. Half a city is leveled and thousands are killed when a superhero reality show gets out of hand. In the quest for ratings, the New Warriors and their camera crew pick the wrong fight with the wrong people, and pay the price.
That moment, while a bit overblown, does connect Civil War to the real world, which is something that Marvel in its heyday prided itself on doing. With its heavy political overtones, complete with cameo by G.W. Bush and his cabinet, Civil War is not shying away from allegory. From the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act to the proposed National ID card.

We're also getting a look into the hearts of two characters that have for most of the Marvel Universe' history been its strongest pillars: Captain America and Iron Man.
Their friendship and trust has been key to the world's survival from the Silver Age on. From Avengers to Secret Wars to the New Avengers, they've been through it all, always on the same side.
But it's finally the issue of what liberties each man is willing to give up for security that divides them.

The public outcry against costumed superfolk hits Tony Stark, in a sense, harder than the rest, because he is the public face of the New Avengers. Everyone knows where their money comes from, and when they mess things up, it's Tony Stark who gets dragged through the mud. Other heroes, whose alter-egos are also public, such as Reed Richard and the rest of the Fantastic Four, are also affected by the incident in their normal lives. Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, is beaten outside of a nightclub by an angry mob:Though, to be fair they're not concerned citizens, they're people who paid to see Fantastic Four in the theater. And Johnny Storm's been begging for a beating for forty-odd years.

What we see in Issue 1 as well is that Captain America stands not so much for the country itself, but for its ideals of 'life liberty and the pursuit of happiness'.
And, when the government turns against those ideals, it's Cap who fights back. The scene is brilliantly done. It manages to be what so few comic book fights are: genuinely thrilling.
In true corny Millar fashion, when Cap hitches a ride on a passing F-14 by smashing through the cockpit, the stunned pilot screams: "JEEZUS", and Cap admonishes him, "Watch that potty mouth, son." Keep in mind, Cap is a leftover from the Golden Age, and this moment is meant, no doubt, to highlight his old-fashioned values. It's silly, but I think it works.

At the end of the book, Tony and Reed have promised President Bush that they will do what Cap would not, which is take care of all the rebellious superheroes who oppose the registration act (check out Daredevil's creepy cameo, earlier in the issue: he's not going along with the group, and he's not going down without a fight).
The battle lines are clearly drawn.
It's appropriate that Marvel's big event is about its heroes struggling amongst themselves, since that's what they've been doing since the beginning. Marvel has always been defined by angst, as opposed to DC, who in their big event was fighting against the weight of their own history.
The book is off to an incredible start. If it keeps up this level of quality, this could be the moment that Marvel Comics regains a solid identity for the first time in more than a decade.


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