Monday, June 14, 2021

The Truth Will Out


"I think I know the real reasons behind the Civil War." -- Ben Urich

The final issue of the 2006-07 series Civil War: Front Line brings reporters Ben Urich of the Daily Bugle and Sally Floyd of the Alternative full circle in their coverage of the Civil War conflict--and in particular, the ramifications of the Super-Human Registration Act, which required federal registration of the country's super-beings and redirected or otherwise held sway over their activities. By this time, the series' other storyline involving Robbie Baldwin, a.k.a. Speedball, has been concluded, as he makes a deal with the government but also decides to adopt a painful new suit of spikes for himself which causes him injury and extreme pain with every movement he makes offensively. Designed with the deaths he indirectly caused in Stamford, Connecticut in mind, the new suit comes with a new name he has chosen for himself: "Penance."

Eventually, Penance, in his self-loathing and rage, goes looking for Nitro, the true murderer at Stamford's Ground Zero, for reasons which should be obvious--and part of his search points him in the direction of Latveria, where Dr. Doom has granted him asylum. The Thunderbolts' attempt to capture Penance fails at the not-so-abandoned site of Penance's incursion to gain the information he needs (where he runs into Doom's old lackeys, the Terrible Trio); but the story of Penance is unrelated to the evidence which Ben and Sally have recently uncovered for their story, which has led to Ben's resignation from his job at the Daily Bugle because he believes the paper would never choose to publish it. But in this final issue, we will learn what Ben and Sally have learned--a story told within the framework of two interviews the pair conduct which bring closure to the Civil War conflict in a way that the moment of surrender of Captain America could not.

With two heavy hitters like Steve Rogers and Tony Stark splitting this issue in separate segments, it's fair to wonder why their moments here in the spotlight are virtually occluded by the opinions of the two reporters granted interview appointments. While it's true that Sally and Ben have been the focus of this series, and that a reporter's perspective of the "war" which took place between Cap's camp and that of Iron Man often made for good reading, neither of these reporters were truly on this conflict's "front line" in the literal sense but rather as either (a) spectators at the scenes of battle (when they were fortunate enough to make it to the scene in time) or (b) journalists digging up details after the fact, not in any decision-making role for either side--nor were they embedded in either camp as the eyes and ears of the public. Yet during these interviews, they at times treat their subject like a captive audience (a literal assessment in Steve's case, certainly)--while writer Paul Jenkins leaves both Stark and Rogers (each of whom had plenty to say when justifying their actions during the conflict) with nothing substantive to say in their defense.

Yet if nothing else, the pair's interview with Cap is a study in two approaches to conducting an interview. Ben, we'll find, is the more polished and tactful of the two, his questions conversational yet frank while gauging the direction Cap is taking with his responses and structuring his follow-up questions accordingly--while Sally's method of questioning is more blunt, an odd mixture of confrontation and barely-held restraint that showcases her own frustration rather than the answers she receives from the person sitting across from her.

Sally's parting question to Cap was practically dead on arrival, given that Cap is being held in federal custody pending his arraignment and isn't in a position to fix much of anything. (In any event, the question would be rendered moot with Cap's later assassination outside of the courthouse.)

Off-panel, however--and prior to Cap's interview--there have been two developments that have impacted on our intrepid reporters. Like Ben, Sally has quit her job at the Alternative (citing her failings in objectivity), though she remains committed to seeing this particular story through with Ben. But the more jarring development arrived as the final battle of the war was breaking out, and they were able to compare notes on what turned out to be a game-changer to the entire story--one so revelatory that it prompted the quote from Ben which heads this post and, in a startling about-face, a mutual decision on their part to bury the information which they've discovered.

Consequently, they've decided to hang out their shingle and strike out on their own--just as the country is facing the threat of war with Atlantis, and their interview with Stark was approaching.

Whatever our expectations at this point of Stark giving "his side" of the story as to why, like Cap, he took up arms against his fellow heroes, or hearing him refute Cap's points about individual rights being abused, we find almost immediately that the tenor of this interview will be different, as Ben and Sally take a more confrontational approach with Stark--perhaps because, given what they now know, they're fully aware this story will never see print, and they can afford to lay all their cards on the table. Whether Stark will do the same, at least for the benefit of Sally and Ben, remains to be seen.

It's an ending to this Marvel 2006-07 "event" which adds a disturbing footnote to the conflict and saps it of any impact it might have had on the parties involved. Stark's only saving grace was that his actions had no connection with passage of the SHRA or the fact that it led to loss of life--simply that he took said actions knowing the friction and ripples of discontent and discord the Act was bound to create and acted to mitigate the fallout. Why he's feeling so anguished in the final scene is anyone's guess--he's pulled off what he set out to do (with Reed Richards in his confidence, no less), and he's been assured that this information isn't going to be made public. Heaven only knows how this is all going to hit him, however, when Cap meets his death at the courthouse.

But there are questions and observations which Jenkins bails on. Apparently neither Sally nor Ben have any problem with activities on Stark's part which would have raised the collective eyebrow of the Securities and Exchange Commission under other circumstances--to say nothing of Stark's intrusive and illegal violation and manipulation of Norman Osborn. Reporters, burying the truth for "the greater good of th[e] country"? The fact that they feel entitled to make that decision does little to paint them in a sympathetic light. Those points made, however, there's something in Sally's tone and mannerisms (her mock applause, for instance--along with an exit capped with a parting glance that speaks volumes) which lends credence to the supposition that the goal of their presentation was to let Stark know that he may have gotten away with this plan scot-free, but he hasn't been as careful in covering his tracks as he'd thought. If that's indeed the case, then the question remains: Why would our reporters sweep all of their evidence under the rug? Stark appears to know but isn't saying--and in that respect, it seems he and Jenkins are of like mind.


Anonymous said...

That's Skyhawk up there! Remember him?
He was in the "Earth Force", from the old DeFalco-Frenz run on Thor.
I'd forgotten all about that. It was pretty cornball, but picking up the latest issue of Thor at the P.X. made the Army a little more tolerable.
Of course, there were several cheap S.O.B.s in my company that thought I was running a comic book library. "Did Thor come in yet? What about Detective Comics? What about Spectacular Spider-Man?"
"Yeah, yeah, you can borrow it, emphasis on 'borrow', but don't expect me to kick in for beer on Friday. I'm drinkin' for free. And fix my truck already!"
Mechanics. Sheesh.
But I really enjoyed that run on Thor. Have you done a post on Earth Force yet, C.F.? I kinda wonder what happened to those guys.


Comicsfan said...

M.P., Earth Force showed up in the PPC's post on the Egyptian god Seth's war on Asgard (which you've already visited). Compared to that, their gig as part of Stark's 50-state initiative is probably a relief!