Thursday, February 22, 2007
Civil War's Crimes Against Logic
After reading this week's concluding chapter of Civil War and before writing my contributions to next week's Best Shots column, I re-read the "Marvel Event in Seven Parts" cover-to-cover in one sitting. See, I was pretty disappointed with the conclusion of the story, and thought that may have been in large part do to how long we were kept waiting for it, thanks to several delays. The longer you wait for something, the higher your expectations get, naturally.
But even read as a whole instead of in gradual installments, there are problems with the story. Ignoring the steady drop-off in the quality of the art (and number of characters per panel and existence of backgrounds), the story itself seemed to get worse and worse as time went on.
There were several rather glaring, logic-defying holes in the story (And I don't mean things like Reed Richards protesting the Mutant Registration Act a decade ago in a different comic book, I mean within the seven issues of Civil War proper). And such holes seemed to appear more and more frequently with each passing issue.
Here are the ones I noticed, along with some other story problems that make it hard for me to believe that this Mark Millar is the same guy who did that amazing run on Superman Adventures back in the day:
1.) In Civil War #1, Goliath refers to the Stamford disaster as “the straw that broke camel’s back.” Eight pages later, Daredevil says, “Stamford’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. That’s kind of a weird coincidence isn’t it? (By the way, does Spider-Man have a villain called “The Camel?”)
2.) Why does Maria Hill have her SHIELD “Cape Killer” squad attack Captain America in #1? I can see him being angry with her and refusing to follow the order to take down his friends and allies just because she says so, but at the beginning of the scene, she says that registration “could be law in as little as a month.”
Or, in other words, it’s not the law yet. And even if it were, Captain America is an Agent of SHEILD; they already know his "secret" identity, and probably have his W-9, forwarding address, social security number and a couple of years' worth of performance evaluations on file. The man’s pre-registered for the hypothetical future law.
So what’s Hill busting him for, exactly? Refusing in advance to obey a potential order that she might make a month or so from now?
3.) When Captain America lands on the cockpit of a jet plane, the pilot says, “Jeezus!” Captain America responds by saying, “Keep flying son— And watch that potty mouth!”
A few pages earlier, Captain America says “Damn you to hell for this, Hill…”
Later he says, “Damn SHIELD Units” in CW #5 and “What the hell is going on here, Diamondback?” in CW #6.
4.) In Civil War #3, Reed Richards travels to Wakanda to ask King T’Challa, the Black Panther, to come back to the U.S. with him to help him hunt down Anti-Registration heroes. When the Panther points out that he’s the head of a foreign state, Reed says, “The president requested this of you personally…”
Let’s pause to think about this for a moment. Not simply that the federal United States government is approaching a foreign head of state to help them enforce a law, but that President George W. Bush is personally behind the request. Mr. Go-It-Alone. Mr. With-Us-Or-Against-Us. Mr. “Old Europe.” Mr. "Eat It, Kyoto!" Why am I having a hard time believing this? (If I were going to point out the ways in which Civil War doesn't match-up with the rest of the Marvel line, I might point out that relations between the U.S. and Wakanda are strained; the former invaded the latter recently, and is currently performing war games near its borders while plotting an invasion. But if you're not reading Black Panther, you wouldn't know that).
5.) I think my favorite part of the entire series is the panel where Hercules reveals that his secret identity is of “an I.T. consultant for a major international finance corporation,” despite the fact that he still uses the word “thou” instead of “you.” Good luck keeping that identity secret, Herc. This is one of two points in the series where I think Mark Millar's just screwing around. The other, oddly enough, also involves Hercules:
6.) Also in Civil War #3, Captain America’s entire “Secret Avengers” movement shows up at a burning chemical plant because they heard there are “three or four hundred” people trapped inside it. They mill around the empty factory, which harbors no trapped workers or emergency personnel or vehicles. Couldn't Millar have come up with a rationale that would trick me into thinking superheroes were needed there, let alone Captain America? Maybe something like The Red Skull and Dr. Doom are meeting there or something?
7.) During their fight, Iron Man totally knocks one of Captain America’s teeth out, but in the next shot we see of Cap’s mouth, all of his pearly whites are still there. Long-time Marvel fans can bitch about continuity all they want over this series, but how about a little panel-to-panel continuity between the pages of the same comic book story? Like, if you lose a tooth in one panel, it’s still lost in the next panel?
(Above: Please note Cap's teeth)
8.) After that dramatic splash-page appearance in the end of #3, Civil War #4 explains how it is that Thor is alive and teaming up with Iron Man to beat up his former friends. It turns out, he’s not actually Thor, but a clone of Thor spliced with cyborg technology.
Let’s stop and think about this for a moment. Not that Tony Stark and Reed Richards built this Clor character; cyborgs, androids and clones are a given in the Marvel Universe. But federally-funded clones created for use by the United States government? There’s suspension of disbelief, and there’s suspension of disbelief.
The Bush administration (all pictured on the last pages of Civil War #1) is against stem cell research, of course they’re against cloning too. Hell, President Bush has specifically mentioned his opposition to cloning research. There’s no way that the United States government would greenlight the creation of Clor.
Now, go ahead and tell me it’s just a comic book—I fucking dare you!
Oh, it’s just a comic book, and not about current U.S. politics, you say?
That’s funny, because in Marvel’s house ad for Civil War #7, they chose to run a quote from The Miami Herald saying, “Civil War is intriguing because of its pointed, albeit allegorical, exploration of a question that faces us in the present era of surveillance, detention and the Patriot Act.” During his high profile appearane on The Colbert Report, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada framed the story as one premised on the very relevant debate of security vs. liberty. Additionally, Mark Millar and Paul Jenkins (in Frontline) have repeatedly called upon the imagery and language of 9/11, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, Cindy Sheehan and the Iraq War protests.
Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s a great idea for a comic book story, and it’s definitely one I’d like to read. But if you’re going to create such a political story, why not at least take some time to get the politics right?
9.) In Civil War #4 we see a blue-eyed man in a ski mask and trenchcoat holding a pistol and hiding on a fire escape, looking down at a couple of defecting heroes. It turns out this The Punisher, as we learn in #5. So, why on earth is The Punisher wearing a mask? His entire career has been one of murdering people; he’s a wanted man who breaks dozens of laws a day, and yet he’s never felt the need to hide his face from the authorities before—in fact, he even wears a gaudy uniform with a skull on his freaking chest to clearly identify himself. So, who’s he disguising his identity from here exactly? Us. The readers. Why? Who knows. The fact that Punisher sides with Captain America was common knowledge about four months before this issue was released, and there are other ways to show a mysterious stranger lurking around without revealing their identity. Why not a sillhouette, or a close-up of his feet in the foreground and the people he's spying on in the background, either of which would imply someone standing there, without revealing their identity and without having to resort to cheating the readers.
10.) Susan Richards is upset with her husband because he helped build a killer clone of one of their friends that killed another of their friends. She also thinks he’s being “fascistic” and doesn’t pay attention to the kids (“[I] beg you to give them the time you have so often denied them in the past”).
So she does the only sensible thing she can think of; she has a romantic dinner with him, does it with him, then splits to join the team fighting against him, leaving the children in his care.
Now, what exactly is Susan Richards’ plan for the future at this point? Best case scenario is that she evades capture and lives the rest of her life on the run from the law until such point as it’s overturned and a president promises to pardon her or something. Worst-case scenario is that she gets arrested and spends forever in a Negative Zone prison. Either way, she’s not going to get much quality time with the kids.
11.) The New Thunderbolts are a bunch of mass-murderers who have had microscopic nanobots injected into their bloodstream. If they get out of line (try to kill a good guy, for example), the nanobots can fire off an electric shock. Ignoring the ethical and legal implications, it is a very odd move for Richards and Starks to make pages after their las technological achievement malfunctioned and killed one of their peers. If the “don’t blow holes in people” program in their clone/cyborg hero didn’t work, what makes them so sure their nanobots won’t similarly malfunction, and they’ll be turning Venom, Bullseye and Taskmaster loose on their former friends, allies, teammates and, um, Reed’s wife and brother-in-law?
12.) Perhaps the biggest head-scratcher of the series occurs in Civil War #5, when we see Spider-Man and Iron Man arguing in front of a huge hole in a wall for some reason.
Seriously, what the fuck is happening?
We went from Peter Parker expressing doubts to shouting at Tony about something. If you don’t read Amazing Spider-Man, you won’t realize that they’ve already come to blows over the Negative Zone prison. Of course, if you do read Amazing Spider-Man, you’ll see that there it was Tony Stark who was the aggressor, while as in CW it was Spider-Man. Just as in ASM Tony tells Spider-Man that the NZ prison is permanent solution, while in CW he says it’s temporary.
13.) SHIELD arrests Daredevil and take him to prison, but they don’t take him out of his devil suit, unmask him, or even identify him as anyone other than Dardevil (Tony calls him “Daredevil” while talking to him). So, why not? Do they let you keep your secret identity a secret up until you register? And if you don’t volunteer to register and they catch you, they hold you indefinitely without a trial in an alternate dimension…but they let you keep your secret?
14.) Underwater visiting Namor, Susan Richards stands completely erect, with both feet on the floor. Even though the room is full of water. Her hair and Namor’s billowing robe sometimes float in the water, and sometimes don’t. I know this is comic books, but I demand that they at least adhere to the science I knew by the time I was in sixth grade. If they want to make up a bunch of crazy physics that’s fine, I won’t know any better, but people and objects not floating in water, like people talking in space, is one of those things that just bugs the hell out of me.
15.) So, what is Captain America’s plan in #6 and #7 exactly? He’s supposedly a brilliant tactician and field leader, right? What’s he up to? It appears that he’s gathered his entire force and brought them with him to the Negative Zone prison. Why? Presumably to rescue the prisoners there, but then, he had Hulkling impersonating Hank Pym, and Hulkling has already managed to free the prisoners all by himself anyway, so Cap and his forces aren’t needed for that.
Of course, Cap knew Tigra was a mole, so perhaps his plan was to feint like he was attacking the prison, have Iron Man’s forces show up (Of course, he didn’t even tell Spidey about it, if that was the plan), and then surprise Iron Man in a pincer attack, with Cap’s forces attacking from the front and the rescued prisoners attacking from the rear.
But then what? Say Cap’s team totally beats the hell out of Iron Man’s, what do they do with them then? It’s not like Captain America was going to summarily execute each and ever Pro-Reg hero, right? And it’s not like he has his own giant prison complex he could throw Iron Man and the rest in. So why would Cap ever bother pressing the offensive against Iron Man? I just don’t get what the hell is going on here.
16.) In the climactic battle, Black Panther sends Cloak coordinates to teleport everyone to the Baxter Building, which is located in downtown Manhattan. Why does the Panther do this? Why not just fight it out in the Negative Zone? Or why not teleport them all to Wakanda and let his forces make the difference? Or why not teleport them to a desert, where no innocent bystanders will get hurt? Better yet, why not have Cloak teleport all of his team out, and leave Iron Man’s team stuck in the Negatize Zone until SHIELD can get the portals open for them?
17.) Why is the Sentry such a total pussy? I thought he had “the power of a million exploding suns!” He should be able to wipe the floor with Cap’s team all by himself. But he only appears in one panel, in which Hulkling and Hercules punch him in the face simultaneously. And that’s the end of Sentry. Even Bishop got up again to keep fighting after Cap stomped his head into the ground.
18.) What happens to Namor in the fight? He makes a big splashy apperance, She-Hulk refers to how Namor and Atlantis will be enough to turn the tide of battle, and then Namor completely disappears. We don’t see him at all throughout the rest of the issue. Did he and the forces of Atlantis retreat or surrender when Cap told everyone to stand down? (As if!) Why didn’t Namor take Iron Man’s head off like he almost did in New Aventers: Illuminati? Is Atlantis at war with the U.S. now?
19.) Seven ethnically diverse policeman, fireman and EMTs rush through the big superhero battle and tackle Cap simultaneously. He says he doesn’t want to hurt them, and when they point out it’s a little late for that, Cap looks around and sees sompe property damage and realizes he’s not fighting for the people, he’s just fighting.
Apparently, being tackled by uniformed emergency response people is the wake-up call Cap needs to see he’s gone too far.
In the first issue, he beats up at least 15 SHIELD agents escaping from the SHEILD Helicarrier.
In the second issue, he throws a SHIELD agent through the door of a speeding truck while on the highway in front of a few speeding police cars, causing a three-car pile-up and almost certain injuries to New York City police officers (one of the cars goes airborne and sideways in the crash).
20.) What happened to Storm? She was in the big about-to-fight two-page spread in #6, but she doesn’t appear at all in #7.
21.) In Reed Richards’ letter to his estranged wife, we learn that she has accepted the “general hero amnesty given in the wake of Captain America’s surrender.”
Who else took the amnesty? Was it offered to every Marvel hero? If the latter, what was the point of all the fighting, anyway?
The series doesn’t answer this question. We know that Lady Deathstrike, Taskmaster and Captain America are in jail, and that Luke Cage, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Spider-Woman “remain readicalized in the underground movement.”
As for everyone else on the anti-reg side that got significant panel-time—Cloak and Dagger, the Young Avengers, Hercules, Falcon, Dardevil, Black Panther, Monica Rambeau—no word.
22.) And on the subject of that letter, did Reed Richards really write the words "old school?"
23.) Hank Pym was named “Man of the Year” in Time magazine. Not Tony Stark, but Hank Pym. Okay, fine, whatever. What makes this so weird is that the cover shows an image of Pym shaking hands with the Black Panther, who not only fought against Pym in the “Civil War,” but did so specifically because Pym, Stark and Richards’ side killed Black Panther’s friend Goliath. (Bonus: Does this mean the story wrapped up in December after all?)
24.) As Tony Stark, the new director of SHIELD, brags about his accomplishments in the last scene of the story, he smiles, “Do you really think I’d let anyone else guard my friends’ identities?”
So, is that what this was all about? If so, I’ve got two questions.
How many of Stark’s (former) friends and allies even have secret identities? Seriously, think about the number of old, New or Mighty Avengers with secret identities. All I can come up with are…Sentry and Spider-Woman...maybe?
And if that was Stark’s motivation, why on earth did he push Spider-Man to unmask on live television?
Well, that's only 24 problems with the story, or less than four per issue. Huzzah!