Monday, July 5, 2021

The Most Uncivil Civil War


Because of its ambitious crossover status, those of use who took an interest in Marvel's 2006-07 Civil War event were obliged to tweak its promotional slogan--"Whose side are you on?"--into something more practical: "Which books will you read?" Many of us probably just winged it, depending on our preferences, but for the most part we probably simply picked up the main seven-issue limited series in order to chart the progress and keep apprised of the clashes between the two major sides of the conflict, while deriving more substantive reading from the event's many, many tie-in books which offered greater perspective from those characters who were either directly or indirectly affected by the event, and certainly more in-depth examinations of their choices and feelings on the situation than what writer Mark Millar could provide for them in the core title. Yet it's Millar's work that we indeed turn our focus on here, since it is the book that all the others orbit around--and what takes place there allows him to pass the baton to his fellow writers, who take the handoff and shepherd their characters through whatever stage the conflict is currently at.

Several key developments, for instance, occur in Millar's story which other titles have already broached in one way or another. The repercussions of the incident in Stamford, CT; heroes attempting to take the temperature of both the government and the public; the swift passage of the Super-Human Registration Act; and of course the taking of sides which signify which heroes are resisting the SHRA and which are enforcing it. Given that the tie-ins are providing character-specific coverage of these developments and others that are relevant, Millar has the luxury of providing just enough detail to pique our interest and allow the story to gain momentum and keep it moving, all of which he handles well enough.

Daredevil is correct in both of his assessments: One, Stamford will be the point where Congress, spurred by public outrage, finally says "enough is enough" as far as giving costumed heroes a free hand when it comes to acting on their own without supervision, oversight, or even, in some cases, proper training... and two, that the matter of registration of super-beings has already been explored at the federal level, as seen in both the Mutant Control Act and, later, hearings on full-blown government registration of individuals who demonstrate evidence of superhuman powers and abilities.

As for the Falcon's basis for objecting to what the government has planned--that "masks are a tradition"--while such paltry justification for resisting registration seems geared to mainly trigger Yellowjacket's pointed response about secret identities making mask-wearers unaccountable to the public, it seems like a flimsy line of dialog for Millar to toss into the mix. Does the Falcon expect that to (forgive the pun) fly in testimony to Congress? It's really Spider-Man who makes the best argument for avoiding disclosure of his identity--yet how quickly his clear-headed resolve would unravel, all for the sake of a camera-ready moment for this series.

You may have noticed that one prominent figure is missing from this gathering, the one voice you'd expect to be raised on this issue and the one man whom the others might wish to hear from in particular. Currently, however, he's meeting with Maria Hill, who's been appointed the acting director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Mind you, the SHRA is still two weeks away from even being voted on, much less signed into law yet; but with the law expected to pass, Hill wants all of her ducks in a row by that time, and one of those ducks is Steve Rogers, who gets an earful from Hill and other agents who expect him to fall in line.

Despite her lack of tact, it's hard to fault Hill for the points she and her subordinates are making. Her real mistake here is her attempt... her intent... to conscript Cap as part of a preemptive measure for dealing with those heroes who might not comply with the forthcoming law. By doing so, she all but assures that Cap will receive the unmistakable impression that he's not going to be allowed to walk out of this room without giving assurances of his cooperation--and as a result, you could say that this "war" really begins here and now.

As is apparent, then, Millar in Civil War provides in essence the nuts and bolts of this conflict, while leaving it to the writers of the tie-ins to take their lead from and/or expand on what we've seen here. In this case, both Hill and Cap have taken the shortest route to open hostilities, while, over in Cap's title, where we find he's gone underground, writer Ed Brubaker gives each person more of an opportunity to justify their actions--particularly Cap, who becomes Captain America again instead of Millar's version who took the almost startling position of heroes needing to stay above "that stuff" (words which could be construed as referring to "the law"), and instead presents his position rationally and thoughtfully. Without that tie-in, it would become too easy to believe that Cap has simply flown off the handle and is lashing out at those whom he can't see eye to eye with, behavior which Millar will provide other examples of as the series progresses.

For instance, following his abrupt exit from the SHIELD helicarrier, one might expect the Captain America we know to make tracks for the White House and respectfully request an explanation directly from the Commander in Chief on this business while also dutifully presenting his own side for consideration. Instead, others have beaten him to the punch--and the sides of this conflict become more clearly drawn.

As expected, the SHRA goes into effect, and we begin to see that Cap has begun organizing his forces--which is fortunate for the Young Avengers, who during their capture are schooled by predictably cocky SHIELD forces on which choice they should have made. One agent, however, makes the mistake of going too far on the issue with his undercover driver--while Millar manages to offer a stinging rebuttal of the Falcon's position on masks.

Dagger is referring to a public relations coup for pro-registration advocates--most notably among them Tony Stark, who sets up a media event to demonstrate the positives of the SHRA by bringing forward the most visible figure of those with super-powers who guard their secret identity, and unmasking him with his full cooperation.

So how did Peter Parker--who like others of his ilk has loved ones to protect from those who wouldn't hesitate to come after them as a means of revenge or retaliation--come to reverse the position Millar staked out for him? We find the answer in Amazing Spider-Man, where writer J. Michael Straczynski makes the risk to Peter's wife and aunt palatable to him simply by their accepting that risk knowingly.

Since we've seen the end result of this conversation, we know that Peter has caved, rather than putting his foot down and bringing up names like "Gwen Stacy" and "Green Goblin," or wondering aloud if Mary Jane might feel the same if she and Peter had a child or children to consider--while Aunt May fails to note that some of those high-profile figures in professions she's named have security in place for their families. Yet all things considered, it's the only argument that Straczynski could make if Spider-Man's decision to register and side with Stark's forces was to move forward.

Later, we find that this story has moved forward, to what amounts to a turning point in the "war"--because while there have been other deaths which could be termed collateral damage in this conflict (a man Ben Grimm knew from Yancy Street, for example, whose death makes Ben read both sides the riot act), the death which strikes home for everyone is the direct result of the efforts of Stark, Reed Richards, and Henry Pym to give their side an overwhelming edge against Cap's forces: a cyborg clone of the Thunder God, Thor, whose DNA was secretly collected by Stark long ago and fused with Pym's cyber-technology. (Now that's asking for trouble, given Pym's track record with cyber-tech.) The moment comes when Cap and his forces have walked into a trap, and "Codename Lightning" is held in reserve along with SHIELD forces--but not for long.

Of course, judging from appearances, there was no real reason to unleash "Thor" given that Cap and his forces were arguably on the ropes by that point. Still, for those anti-registration heroes not in the know about their new foe's true nature, the demoralizing effect of Thor's sudden and hostile appearance, an Avenger who had been presumed dead, allows them to be taken off guard and fall prey to the lightning attacks which sweep through their ranks. In addition, they must also deal with Iron Man, whose prime target remains Cap but whose sonic attack debilitates many of them.

Yet just when you think things could not be more dire for Cap and his team, we see an attack by Hercules shift the momentum their way once again--a last-ditch rally that subsequently seals the fate of Bill Foster, aka Goliath, when Thor takes decisive and fatal action against him.

Before Thor can wipe them out, however, Sue Richards intervenes with a force field which save their lives and provides for their escape. From there, reassessments are made on both sides... loyalties shift... blame is cast... and the struggle continues for everyone:

...everyone, it seems, except for Tony Stark--who isn't among those in Avengers Tower who cope with the tragedy of Foster's murder and the ripples of discontent from several in their camp who now voice disapproval over what they're doing. Instead, we find him attending the still giant-sized Foster's burial and proceeding with his plans for the fifty-state initiative, while continuing to touch base with his pro-registration forces to ensure an end to this civil war. Also, in a head-shaking decision, Stark has arranged to furlough a number of super-villains from incarceration and join them with the Avengers in order to offset the numbers advantage of Cap's forces. The way that this conflict is spinning madly out of anyone's control, it's beginning to look like Stark's bold new vision of the future of super-heroes might ensure that Goliath's grave isn't the last one dug in its name.


Big Murr said...

"The Fantastic Four has been public since the beginning...and it's never been a serious concern."

Is there a psychiatric response at the local Emergency Room? Because the Invisible Woman needs her head examined, stat!

Because they're public, the FF has suffered belligerent home-invasions from gun-toting, grenade-tossing thugs to endless supervillain teams to heralds of Galactus ripping the top floors off the Baxter Building. But none of that was a "serious concern". Boy, do I feel like a sucker for being on the edge of my seat when reading the particular story. Apparently, it weren't no thing.

But the argument is pointless. Comic book writers decided a couple of decades ago that secret identities were juvenile and completely uncool. Despite all manner of real-world examples like spies, undercover cops, and people in witness protection needing a secret identity, comic book hacks decided wearing a mask was a joke or a weird fetish thing.

In movies and comics, only Batman and Spider-Man are allowed to have secret identities.

Comicsfan said...

Murray, your as usual well-presented points reminded me of an old Avengers story where Jarvis had alerted the team members by signal that he was escorting someone to see them--and the Panther responds in a hurried manner, "Masks on--those of us that need them!" (as if the others wouldn't have known to do so themselves). That turned out to be Henry Pym (as Yellowjacket), Clint Barton (as the new Goliath), and T'Challa (who wished no "outsiders" to know that he was an African chieftain)--leaving the Vision and the Wasp to remain as they were. I don't know what the deal was with Yellowjacket, since his marriage to Jan was common knowledge and he was later revealed to be Pym.

The inconsistencies with masks probably rates a post of its own, one of these days, though I shudder at the thought of charting it all. :) Carol Danvers, as I recall, was maskless as Binary but masked up when she switched her identity to Warbird and rejoined the Avengers--which aside from Peter's reasons (at least until this story) is the only sensible example I can think of given that no one in outer space is going to care about whatever identity she had on Earth. For what it's worth, Sue's rationale for the FF choosing to live their lives publicly is probably best dealt with in a prior story which called into question the danger she and Reed were subjecting their son Franklin to in doing so.

Anonymous said...

Y'know, looking at this again, it's more compelling than I remembered. Herc going ballistic, for example, when he sees Cap in deep trouble. It's nice to see him portrayed seriously, although he has been in other comics, I admit.
And the scenes in the bunker were pretty dramatic, with Rodgers and his crew, beaten and battered and wearing splints, licking their wounds and trying to figure out there next move. And he's the guy holding them together, even though he looks like he's been through a meat grinder. This is the "soldier" aspect of "Super Soldier."
I was kinda horrified about Bill Foster. Creating a homicidal Thor clone is some real diabolical supervillain $#!t, right there. How cold-blooded is Richards, anyway? (That was his work, I take it? I haven't read the whole thing.) I don't see even Dr. Doom pulling that stunt.

...and who the heck is Nighthawk, here? Did they bring Kyle Richmond back from the dead? And if so, why?
Anyway, great post, C.F. The perfect way to unwind after a long hot day.


Comicsfan said...

M.P., as I understand it, the Thor doppelganger was the joint creation of Stark, Pym, and Richards using one of the original's hair follicles, and then fusing the cloned DNA with S.I. tech to produce a "cyborg clone." Storm and Hercules would later deal with the clone in the final clash between the two groups of heroes, punctuated by Herc when he pulled a Lloyd Bentsen and made it clear to the clone that he was "no Thor."

You're not out in the northwest U.S., are you, M.P.? Those are absolutely roasting conditions out there--a dry heat, maybe, but small consolation, I'm sure!

Anonymous said...

South Dakota, actually, C.F. It got up to 96 F today and the Big Sioux River, she's a' goin' dry. Geese can walk across it now, I've seen 'em do it. We're in the midst of an historic drought.
Hope things are more pleasant where you're at.
I think the upper Great Plains are gonna be a desert at some point, in the future.


Big Murr said...

Don't be saying that, M.P.! I'm right north you in Saskatchewan and we've only had one decent rain since winter. At least that "heat dome" has broken and the 39c (with a "low" of 22c!!) weather is done for now.

That Thor clone (aka "Ragnarok") was a double affront to me. Thor, my favourite Marvel guy, had been AWOL for a long while from the news stands. Not only was this appearance NOT the return of Thor, but a murderous imposter built by heroes playing "lowlife villain for a day".

Anonymous said...

I'm already ready for winter, Murray! Give us some moisture!


alan993 said...

You're absolutely right! Even during the Byrne years Reed and Susan used a secret identity to give their son more security and a more normal life.