Sunday, March 25, 2007

Civil War Thoughts, Part the Second: What they got right.

This contains spoilers for Captain America #25, Civil War #1-7, and various other recent Marvel comics. Read at your own risk.

Lest it seem that I have nothing but disdain for Marvel's Civil War crossover event, I have decided to list here what I thought they did well, and what I hope to see more of in the future.

The Return of Captain Marvel

I thought this was really cool. Considering the fact that it was Nitro of all people that kicks off the show in Civil War #1, there's a neat bit of symmetry when Captain Marvel turns up unexpectedly. Bringing this character back was a smart move. He's fairly popular, and the setup is perfect. He's already been exposed to the cancer-causing gas. He's a dead man walking and he knows it. His wife has already mourned him, and he's surrounded by familiar people who he doesn't know.

There's so much pathos there it makes me want to cry. Whatever writer gets to play with Mar-Vell is in for a treat. There's some great material there.

The Fifty-State Initiative

This is cool on many levels. Sure at first glance it's silly, 'cause freaking Idaho doesn't have supervillain issues like New York does, why does it need a team?

But when you think about it, it opens the door for a lot of great storytelling. Wherever a chase or investigation leads you, you'll have a handful of supporting characters for backup. And in the hands of a good writer, even a team of c-listers can be fun. Just look at Squirrel Girl and the Great Lakes Avengers.

Also, imagine the potential for conflict when people get touchy about jurisdiction. "Sorry, you can't chase that supervillain into Texas. He's Ranger business now. Go on home." There's even room for fish out of water stories. Imagine a hero from LA suddenly assigned to Kansas or North Dakota. Just picture Nighthawk cropdusting.

Captain America's Death

This one is a qualified like. His death was very well handled and respectful. It is having a significant effect on the Marvel Universe, and actually sparked human emotion from UltronTony Stark. Ed Brubaker is a good writer, and with the help of Brian Bendis in New Avengers, has managed to make me care about Cap again. Brubaker does the very best he can with limited options. Shot by a sniper is not a terribly heroic way to go down. Even if the sniper is paid off by the Red Skull. It would have been much more satisfying for the fans if the Red Skull had done it personally somehow. But since he's "dead" and possessing some Russian guy (Why? I have no idea.), that wasn't an option. The Mind Control/triggered hypnosis on Sharon Carter is cool, though. It sets up what should be an interesting story arc in the issues to come.

The Art

Civil War is gorgeous. Honestly it is. Steve McNiven is good. The level of detail is nice too. A lot of symbolism thrown around, lots of torn masks and whatnot. The proportions and posing of the characters is highly realistic, which only heightens the feeling of immediacy that Marvel strove for in these books. They are trying to make their universe of flying men, mutants and magic seem more like our own, and art like this is a good way of doing it. The tie-in titles are fairly standard fare for their respective creators, but I didn't see anything glaringly bad. She-Hulk has great art as always, and I have to give them bonus points for actually depicting Shulkie as a full-figured woman, rather than yet another perfect hourglass figure. She has mass and bulk, and she should.


Fantastic Four # 541 was one of the best comics I've read in a long time. I laughed on almost every page, but at the same time, the humor was tempered by the knowledge of what Ben Grimm was running away from. His longing for a simpler time was one I understood completely.

Aunt May getting Shot

Not to be bloodthirsty or anything, but kill the old bat already. She's dead weight on the Spider-titles, and I really don't want to see another story arc about her and Jarvis hooking up. And really, if she lives through this, it's only a matter of time till Doc Ock comes for revenge and gets himself a MAX book.

Garth Ennis: I always wanted to do the Marvel version of Overfiend.

The Punisher in a mainstream book

He is not a Quentin Tarantino character, Marvel. He doesn't need to be hyperviolent 24/7 to sell comics. He's a Rambo style anti-hero. Write him like it. He's a trained military man, who has useful skills if you can just convince him to not shoot people. (This is hard to do.)

There were a lot more moments that I liked, such as Sue Richards stopping Tony from drinking, and Cap decking Punisher, but they are small against the bigger picture. Till next time, keep reading comics!


Next: the plot hole so big, it tunneled straight to hell.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Detective Comics #829 review

Spoiler warning, as plot details are discussed. If you haven't read this issue, you probably shouldn't read this.

This was a good issue, the story was engaging, and had some really nice moments of emotion and kinship shown between Batman and Robin, emphasizing their new relationship as father and son.

Look at that cover. Dr. Wertham would be proud. Batman standing behind Robin, who is covered in some kind of goo.

This is why people think you're gay, Bruce.

That aside, Batman as Bruce Wayne holding a peace summit in Wayne Tower? Very cool, and it's nice to see him portrayed as using his vast wealth for good, beyond simply buying bat-themed gadgets.

The bit at the beginning about how precious Wayne Tower is to him, as a token of his parents is a bit too blunt foreshadowing for my taste. The second he said it, I knew there was going to be a bombing in the issue. But it segued nicely into talking about one thing more precious to Batman, and introduced Robin into the scene, in the guise of Tim Drake (or is it Wayne now?) uncomfortable in his tux and feeling out of place among the high rollers.

Vox seems to be a fairly disposable villain, pun intended, as he is essentially a high tech suicide bomber. His liquid C4 gun is sweet, though. The way he squirts it around makes me wonder how he can get a detonator in each puddle and keep track of which is which, but that's probably overthinking things.

The angle of Bruce stuck in his secret ID because of the crowd of hostages has been done before, but it's done well here, as he makes good use of his cell phone and PA system to make people think he's in two places at once. Robin dashing into one of Wayne Tower's secret closets helps, too.

The issue ends on a nice cliffhanger, with Robin in deathly danger and Batman nigh powerless to rescue him, let alone the building and all the other hostages. It should be wrapped up next issue, in keeping with Detective's recent run of self-contained, one or two issue story arcs.

Overall, good stuff and well in keeping with DC's new angle on Batman: Hope in the darkness.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Civil War Thoughts, Part the First: Pro-registration- dead on arrival?

This post deals with Civil War #1-7, the supporting tie-in books and the aftermath. There are some spoilers below if you have not read Civil War #7, Captain America #25, or Amazing Spider-Man #538. You have been warned. That's more than you got from CNN.

Mr. Speed (and other people) have wondered why so few comics fans have fallen onto the pro-registration side of things in the wake of Marvel's Civil War event.

That's a good question, and some of the answers are part of my bigger problems with Civil War and Marvel's current editorial position in general, but for this post, I'll focus on why the Pro-Reg arguement never had a chance.

1. History.

Ever since the ground-breaking "Days of Future Past" story in X-Men #141-142, the realization of a mutant registration act has been one of the signs of impending doom for mutants at the least, other superhumans and normal humans in the more apocalyptic possible futures. Rachael Grey, Cable and Bishop all come from different possible futures where the Mutant Registration Act became law, and the persecution of mutants and development of the Sentinel program all but doomed humanity. Convincing comic fans that this very same Act, applied not only to mutants, but all superheroes, is suddenly a good thing is a nigh-impossible task.

2. Plausibility.

Marvel's effort to apply the X-Men's "sworn to protect a world that fears and hates them" shtick to all superheroes in the wake of M-Day isn't a bad idea, but presents a great many logistical problems. How do you make heroes like the Avengers, or the Fantastic Four, who have saved the entire world/universe multiple times, and have been publicly acknowledged as doing so, hated and feared by the common man?

Marvel's answer: kill some kids.

Stamford was a tragedy, sure. But far worse things have happened in recent memory. An entire country was wiped out in New X-Men #115 and superheroes failed to stop it. I'm fairly sure there was more than one school's worth of kids in Genosha. Where was the outcry then? Kang the Conquerer nuked Washington D.C. in 2001 (Avengers #41-55, The Kang Dynasty) killing millions of people, as well as taking over the world. Did people blame heroes for that? Was there vitriol spewed at the Avengers when they finally beat back the menace? No. they were treated, quite rightly, as heroes.

So you can see my confusion when minor collateral damage, relatively speaking, sparks a witch hunt in the Marvel U. In the end, why did this particular event turn public opinion against heroes? Because the writers wanted it to. You'll be seeing that motivation a lot in Civil War.

3. Privacy

Everyone knows that we have little privacy left these days. In the wake of 9/11, it's accepted that the NSA is recording phone calls, particularly cell phones, and anyone saying jihad, bomb, Allah, or a variety of other keywords can expect some attention paid to them. It's safe to assume that the US government in the Marvel U already had most of the secret IDs they were asking people to register. Certainly S.H.I.E.L.D. did. So why the furor about registering?

Just like mutant registration, the problem was never having the information, but what governing bodies chose to do with it. In "Days of Future Past", it was the Sentinels, in Civil War, it's the Thunderbolts.

The Thunderbolts was a superteam created by the incredibly talented Kurt Busiek. It was a new team that stepped in to fill the void caused when the Avengers and other heroes vanished in the aftermath of Onslaught. Or so the world thought. In reality, they were the Masters of Evil in new costumes. Except once they got going, the team realized they liked being heroes, and stayed that way. Since then, and until Civil War, the book has been all about redemption, and one of the better tales told by Marvel.

In Civil War, the Thunderbolts were co-opted by the government and captured supervillains were added to the team. These were not villains who wished to atone for their actions or redeem themselves. These were unrepentant psychopaths, soulless killers like Venom and Bullseye. They were fitted with shock collars and mind control nanites in their blood. These incredibly dangerous individuals were then used like hunting hounds to subdue and capture unregistered heroes.

On one hand, I'm appalled that Kurt Busiek's inspiring tale of redemption and true heroics has been perverted into yet another Warren Ellis snuff comic. This is the writer who recently had the Punisher shoot Stilt-Man in the crotch with a rocket launcher. Stilt-Man! How could a man on stilts possibly be enough of a threat to merit that kind of overkill?

On the other hand, I'm even more appalled by the people who support the Registration Act turning a blind eye to this. Killers or not, supervillains or not, Bullseye, Venom, Green Goblin and the rest are human beings. They have basic rights, and being tortured and subjected to behavior-modifying technology is barely different from the lobotomy trend of the fifties. and we know how well that turned out. The actions taken regarding the Thunderbolts are exactly the reason that people fear registration.

4. Writing.

According to interviews with Marvel editors, Civil War and its tie-in issues of other comics were supposed to show a balanced field of opinion. About the same number of titles were to be from the anti-registration side as were from the pro-registration side.

Due to the many complications and delays Marvel experienced during Civil War's publication, this did not happen. Far from it. Nearly every comic printed showed the Anti-Reg forces fighting the good fight, standing by their principles, and losing ground. They were in the right, they were the underdogs, they were clearly the side the writers wanted the readers siding with.
Even in his own title, Tony Stark was portrayed as an amoral, emotionless, logical bastard whose best arguement for supporting the law was: "I can see the shape of the future! This was inevitable!", but we are shown him manipulating his friends and war profiteering. We are not shown a human perspective on Tony until Civil War: the Confession, when he tells Cap's body that it wasn't worth it.

Reed Richards is shown comparing the Registration Act to McCarthyism, and acting as if that was a plus! He states that breaking the law has consequences, even if it's just telling powerful men to go to hell. Excuse me? Here I thought that was covered under freedom of speech. Reed is also shown to have created a new form of math, capable of mapping the whole of human behavior. This is the man who a few years ago (in the Marvel Knights series 4), could not predict the stock market well enough to make a living at it. So the stock market is super complex and outside the reach of the Smartest Man on Earth, but a behavior model of the human race is something he developed in his teens!

5. Change.

The single biggest hurdle that the Pro-Reg arguement had to face was the stubborn nature of their fans. Comic fans tend to be conservative, if not in politics, at least in entertainment. They don't like change.

And Civil War changes a lot. Every superhuman in the Marvel is now either a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent/operative or an outlaw. Captain America is dead, Captain Marvel isn't. Tony Stark is the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The mutants are off doing... something. The archetype of the inexperienced vigilante is officially dead in Marvel Comics. Spider-Man is Back in Black for no apparent or explained reason. Aunt May got shot.

A lot of changes, and while some are for the better, or at least could be, very few were handled all that well.

But that's fodder for a whole different column. Till then, keep reading comics!