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.

Just saying.

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!


1 Right Opinion Comics said...

Wow. Some pretty insightful stuff.

I think Civil War had the most anticlimatic endings of any comic I have ever read.

Can you imagine if Captain America had taken this position during World War II.


Jacob T. Levy said...

25. Cap's final position is an appalling one for Cap to take. It embraces, in effect, a government of men not laws-- a set of rules that Cap thinks are really bad turn out to be OK if someone Cap personally trusts is in charge of them.

Even leaving aside that Cap now has a whole Civil War worth of reasons no to trust IM (I know, I know, "I'm still a man of my word, yadda yadda," but still) or his judgment (coughClorcough) and that bitterness like that doesn't turn on a dime; and leaving aside that Iron Man could fall off the wagon or get drugged or otherwise go through one of his less-than-perfectly trustworthy phases; Cap think that *he himself has just proven* that even the most trustworthy super-hero doesn't have magic "always right" powers.

On the other side, are the American people and leaders hwo've been clamoring to bring super-heroes under civilian control like policemen or the army going to be satisfied with leaving them under the control of another super-hero instead? In the new status quo, IM is the superhero equivalent of an all-powerful general who says, "don't worry, I'm not going to mount a coup or anything, but I'll be over here with my army, nothing to see here." Indeed, the end of CW *reinforces* the civilian sense that they're not in control of their own destinies; it's personal relationships between heroes and not democratically enacted law that makes the heroes fall into line, and they do so only on condition of making a hero massively more powerful.

Finally: conscription was at stake, not just registration and name-revealing. Is Cap suddenly cool with conscription? Only if Tony issues the order? Or... whaa?

Anonymous said...

Good list, this is probably the biggest missed opportunity in comics in the last 15 years...and all these delays really point to Marvel getting cold feet at some point (Clor for example). And why does Marvel have to insist on havign a fight scene every 5 pages in a social/politcial (giving Millar the benefit of the doubt) tale?

thou for #23 you could argue politics makes strange bedfellows

Unknown said...

You know how the Infinite Crisis hardcover had all those re-edits in it? Can you imagine the same thing going on with Civil War? I don't think it would be recognizable.

The only thing this makes me look forward to is the inevitable Civil War parody at http://mightygodking.livejournal

Anonymous said...

Great article. You did miss one of my favorite examples of Civil War stupidity, though.

At the beginning of Issue 2, Hill is talking to some SHIELD agents about Captain America:

"The numbers just don't add up. There's just no way Captain America could've taken down all those guys at once. It's physically impossible."


"Our nightmare scenario, unit five. I don't think he's ON HIS OWN anymore."

In other words, SHIELD's "nightmare scenario" is that Cap is not the only superhero in the entire country to defy the SHRA. At least one -- possibly more than one -- other hero has joined the anti-reg side, and that's the absolute worst scenario they could possibly imagine!

It was at this point that I began to suspect that Civil War was not going to be the intelligent, well-written piece of sequential literature that I had hoped.

Anonymous said...

I just feel really cheated and betrayed by Marvel as a company. Being a child of the pointless crossovers and tieins of the early 90s, I came back on board comics BECAUSE of CW, and what I have got has left a bitter, sour taste in my mouth.

I just wish Marvel wasn't so apathetic/condescening/blase/ignorant of the criticism this book is getting. If they would just go, "OK, yeah, we f***** up in some areas," I would go, "That's cool, I liked the part where Sue smashed Taskmaster. Peter's unmasking was also handled well." And then we could have a nice group hug.

But when you ask them, "Hey, what was the point of bringing back Captain Marvel? Why was there all this buildup for Atlantis, when all Namor and co. did was fill up a few panels before Clor showed up? Are you guys really so retarded that you needed Joss Whedon to think up a cliche, obvious, underwhelming ending?", they basically act like you're on some sort of fringe movement who believes that Aliens are controlling people through tomato soup or something.

Unknown said...

i think we shall be citing Civil War as being an example of a clusterf*ck for years to come. Or until the next crossover event.

Funny how the X-Men titles, which weren't involved in the crossover really, have been enjoying an upswing in quality. I don't think I'd be enjoying the 3 main X-Men titles and X-Factor as much (or Annihilation) if they were forced to participate in Civil War. Maybe in the Marvel Universe, the X-Men were smart enough to say "F*ck it, we can see how this will turn out. We're going off to space." I can't remember the last time I enjoyed more than one X-title at a time, but the creative teams are really impressing me with the storytelling - it's fun again. You have expectations of Peter David on X-Factor, but for all 3 main X-Men titles (X-Men, Uncanny and Astonishing) to be clicking is remarkable.

And comparing the events of Anhilation to Civil War makes the heroes on earth seem petty. "Registration isn't a crisis or a cause for war. Giant alien bugs destroying everything and making Galactus their beyotch? THAT's a crisis dipwad!"

Jon Hex said...

You forgot that SHIELD let Daredevil keep his silver coin while leading him to his cell. Though, I found it nice of them.

And if Tony had it planned to be in charge of SHIELD, did he set up Cap(or anyone who chose to rebel) so that there would be some huge clusterf#ck and the President would choose the only likely candidate(the guy at the front of Pro-registration) to head SHIELD? How much of a douche can Tony be? Though he did ask the deputy COMMANDER of SHIELD to fetch coffee.

Caleb said...

Hey all, thanks for reading! This is definitely the Internet's favorite topic this week!


Yeah, I assume he was in ice before we got around to dropping A-Bombs, or he would have cried his eyeballs right out of his skull. You'd think a dude who lived through a war fought mainly by the bombing of civilians cities all over Europe wouldn't be so freaked out about property damage.

Nice point. If the American people are so scared of supeheroes, why did they just organize them into an army to rule over their lives.

I'll forgive the handshake if T'Challa was doing that thing where he's squeezing real hard to hurt Hank's hand and prove he's the Alpha Male of the handshake.

I can't wait for the re-dubbed version...I also really enjoyed the ISB CW in 30 Seconds (there's a link in the next post if you haven't seen it yet).

Heh. Yeah, SHIELD agents are easily frightened, huh? If THAT was their nighmare scenario, they must have fainted when they heard "Imperius Rex!"

I'm still looking forward to Dan Slott's initiative and the New FF, but man, CW #7 plummetted my interest on a lot of the follow-ups, like the Confession and Initiative and that Loeb series, where they're supposedly greiving over something--the death of Clor? The Damage of the buildings? The Death of Cap's spine? I dunno.

Caleb said...

I like to think that they were taking Dardevil's coin away and he was like "Wait, wait, you have to give that to Tony for me. I have a cool line to say, and it's a prop. C'mon, trust me, it's gonna be cool"

Anonymous said...

I'll add another, admittedly minor, beef. SHIELD is not a U.S. agency. It's a U.N. agency. Yet at the end of CW #7, it says the president appointed Stark as SHIELD director. Bad enough they expected us to believe that after 40 years of Nick Fury, the world would accept another American in charge of an international law enforcment agency, but to then think the U.N. would accept a thirdAmerican is utter nonsense.

My biggest problem is that nobody thought to ask exacty what "winning" the Civil War would mean for the anti-reg side, but that's already been covered.

Anonymous said...


I don't know where SHIELD is ever referred to as a UN agency.

Are you sure you aren't confusing it with Checkmate?

I'm not saying you're wrong, I just want some specific referance to this as proof.


Caleb said...

SHEILD Used to be an international institution, back when it stood for "Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division", but it's since been changed to "Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage and Logistics Directorate." Soooo I THINK it was a U.N. or international insitution at some point, but is now a U.S.-controlled entity, but I don't know for sure.

Anonymous said...

From, " The bulk of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s operations are covert, but a number involve public activities The organization's policy prohibits it from usurping the role of the nation's armed forces by engaging in warfare on enemy soil. Domestic matters falling under the jurisdiction of the militia are coordinated jointly, with S.H.I.E.L.D. generally taking an auxiliary role, as in the case of the U.S. Army's pursuit of the Hulk. All covert operations are automatically S.H.I.E.L.D.'s province, making unnecessary coordination with the armed forces. Unlike the various national intelligence agencies, such as the CIA, Mossad and M-16, S.H.I.E.L.D. is international in membership, scope and jurisdiction. Most of the world's free countries participate in S.H.I.E.L.D. and sanction its activities on their soil."

So, even if SHIELD isn't controlled by the U.N., and exactly who SHIELD answers to isn't entirely clear, it is NOT a U.S agency and even if the government allowed SHIELD to enforce U.S. law, the president can't order SHIELD to do anything. Or appoint a director.