Saturday, 29 November 2014

Mark Millar and Steven McNiven's Civil War: Marvel's Worst Event Book?

This one has been due a re-read for a while and, now that it’s been announced the next Captain America movie will be subtitled Civil War, the timing seems right to re-visit it. I read Civil War many years ago, long before I started really thinking/writing about what I read, which is the only excuse I can give for why I thought this tripe was any good at all. I was wrong - very wrong! The politest way of describing Civil War is a dumb mess, the comics version of a Transformers movie. 

Normally I start with a summary of the book but it turns out that the very beginning of the story is perhaps the biggest stumbling block of all. So, in Mark Millar’s hands, the New Warriors are apparently a group of media-hungry yoofs who film their superhero shenanigans for reality TV. During their latest filmed battle, Namorita (Namor’s cousin) corners Nitro who explodes himself in a small nuclear-like blast, killing hundreds of people, as this is in a suburban neighbourhood. The deaths include a playground full of kiddiewinks. 

Horrible, yes, and tonally all wrong for a Marvel superhero comic. Much too serious, much too dark. But that’s not why it’s the worst. This event causes Congress to pass a law demanding every superhero become registered. Think about this: a group of teen supes and another group of D-list villains fight, some kids die as collateral damage, and the result is all superheroes must carry a licence? How does that even follow? If the New Warriors had licences, would that have made the loss of those kids’ lives acceptable/avoidable? In what way?

So that’s a major problem for me: this entire book is based upon the weakest, most nonsensical of foundations. Because of what Nitro did when he was provoked by Namorita, apparently now all of the good that the superheroes have done goes out the window and to “win back public trust”, Tony Stark insists that everyone get registered. Captain America disagrees, the two form sides, we have Marvel Civil War. Duuuuuuuuuuh. 

And here we come to the next big problem with this book: uncharacteristic characters. Tony Stark is written as this evil neo-Hitler-type figure who is extremely authoritarian, while Maria Hill becomes a Gestapo-type figure and SHIELD become the SS! Reed Richards becomes a Dr Mengele-type who starts cloning Thor - whose clone by the way is a stone cold PSYCHOPATH who murders a superhero the first time he’s introduced - and they set up concentration camps for the superheroes who don’t goose-step into line. 

Even if you buy into that flimsy premise, how can any Marvel fan reconcile themselves with the way these classic characters are written? The tagline to this drivel is “Whose side are you on?” - I can’t imagine anyone would be on Iron Man’s side, given that he’s so ridiculously fascistic! Even Cap is horribly written as this ‘roided-out dickhead who’s constantly growling out menacing statements and beating people to a pulp - he’s our hero, guys! 

It’s implied that Sue Storm sleeps with Namor to get him and his Atlantean forces on Cap’s side, Millar’s Punisher is the stupidest, worst iteration of the character I’ve ever read (you can feel the contempt Millar has for the character in every panel he’s in), and where was Hulk? Was this during the Planet Hulk storyline and he was off-world? I don’t know, but at least one character escaped having their personas assassinated! 

This whole concept of applying the “real-world” to Marvel comics (or DC for that matter) is so flawed. I’ve talked about it in other reviews but when writers apply this approach, the results are always terrible. I mean, buildings fall down, things blow up all the time when superheroes battle supervillains but it’s usually accepted that no civilian lives are lost, because superhero comics are just fantasy. When you start having funerals for kids who got caught in the middle of these battles, it completely ruins the point of these stories: whimsical entertainment. 

Actually a funeral for a kid is an apt metaphor for the way Civil War killed the spirit of Marvel in this comic. They’re supposed to be fun, not grim and miserable. This book was trying so damn hard to be dark and gritty, I couldn’t believe I was reading Marvel! You might be thinking I was going overboard with the Nazi analogies earlier but I promise you, you’ll see it too if you read (or re-read) it - you can’t escape those comparisons or the ham-fisted Orwellian overtones either. 

For more casual comics readers who aren’t as bothered with the above, I imagine their complaint would be more straightforward: Civil War is boring. It goes from overblown prologue to ridiculous reactionary political scenes, and then alternates from silly superhero fights to dreary conversations of superheroes trying to convince one another to join their side. It’s so dull and Millar’s script is tedious at best, cold and cynical at worst. 

I won’t discuss the ending or who won or lost (the answer to the latter being the reader), but ask yourself: does the conclusion solve what happens at the beginning? Is it a suitable answer? Will a supervillain not go too far like he did at the start because of what happens at the end? Anyway, the answer is no. 

Civil War is a mega, mega, mega-DUMB storyline that contains the worst excesses of superhero comics. Millar crafted one helluva distasteful and unpleasant beast with this book. This is one of those instances where I fully believe the movie will be far superior to the source material and I’m actually hoping it will largely ignore it too! My previous pick for worst Marvel Event book ever was AVX but Civil War edges that one out for being so utterly obnoxious.

Civil War


  1. I obviously need to read this again- like you, my memories of it were more positive. Character slaughters aside (yes, they're VERY out of character), I actually found myself kinda interested in a world where you couldn't be sure who the good guys were- nobody's actions were heroic and that was interesting.

    I didn't really pick up on the Sue Storm x Namor thing.

    I think the big problem with Civil War comes from expecting it to be a regular Marvel book (which is pretty reasonable considering it happens in 616). If you treat it like an elseworlds book (even though it isn't), you have a slightly better experience.

    My biggest problem- it leads to One More Day- which is the most boring Spider-Man story in history. If you're gonna break up Peter and MJ, at least make it interesting.

    1. The Sue Storm/Namor thing was hinted at with Namor talking about how Tony was using her to manipulate him into joining his fight, then touching Sue's lips with his finger and her not backing away. Later she returns to Reed and her kids with a look of contrition on her face, and I believe in later comics she became Queen of Atlantis or something? Anyway, all hinted at - but maybe I'm reading too much into it?

      Yeah, Civil War seems to be the book most people remember fondly but haven't read for a good long time. That's why I was curious to revisit it and wow was it an eye-opener!