This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on April 7, 2016.
Civil War #3 begins by briefly showing readers what sanity looks like. After a splash meant to remind everyone Peter Parker revealed his secret identity to the public, the big cliffhanger at the end of Civil War #2 that is barely touched upon or explored at all here, the issue jumps to Mr. Fantastic and Black Panther in Wakanda. It’s here that the kind of this proud isolationist nation manages to rub two brain cells together and speak some truth.
Over the course of five panels (less than two pages!), Black Panther points out how terrible many of the ideas in this comic are in plain language. Reed gazes off into space while his longtime friend establishes that the hunting of superheroes is a bad idea, having a foreign leader involved in military action on domestic soil is a bad idea, and ignoring your distraught wife and her hospitalized brother is a bad idea. These are all ideas that don’t require any explanation as to why they are bad; that’s apparent on the surface. In this scene Black Panther is a surrogate for the audience, trying to just figure out what the hell is going on and getting nowhere. If this sequence had lasted a full three pages, it would have allowed T’Challa a chance to run through the full checklist of why this event is broken at its very foundation.
The frustration clearly being felt by Black Panther in these first few pages can only amplified as the issue continues. Mark Millar’s editing of scenes in Civil War feels every bit as discombobulated and purposeless as Zack Snyder’s inBatman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Things happen that in retrospect form a plot, but the connections between any two moments rarely serve a point. They are a series of scenes dumped into a blender and spun out the other side into what is certainly a comic book.
Millar decides to utilize Marvel’s mutants for the third issue in a row having previously emphasized Cyclops, Wolverine, Jean Grey, and Emma Frost, only to have them leave the story entirely here. Emma Frost explains to Tony Stark that they would like to remain neutral in this conflict. She points to a tenuous connection between mutant persecution and the Superhero Registration Act, but even more of the scene is devoted to them discussing a sexual history that might be titillating to a twelve year old. Was there a purpose to having these characters at Stamford? Did they contribute to the meetings? What was the point of featuring the mutants as a prominent part of Civil War for almost half of the series only to have them disappear?
As if the premise of Civil War wasn’t already ruinous enough to the underlying premises of the superhero genre, Millar also opts to casually toss in one more conundrum here before forgetting about it. Frost raises the point of Genosha, showing genocide and the neglect of the world when millions were murdered on an island. That story, “E is for Extinction”, functions in a vacuum, but set against the backdrop of the rest of the Marvel universe it makes these heroes seem like buffoons and the choice to only now implement changes seem even more silly.
That silliness rolls into other scenes as well, in a less tragic manner. A diner discussion of new secret identities between Captain America and some of his compatriots serves absolutely no point, except for allowing Millar to try his best at imitating Quentin Tarantino and failing on every level. At one point Goliath asks why he couldn’t have received a cooler profession and mentions being a race car driver, suggesting what while his body may become enormous, his mental growth is stunted beyond repair. These are men on the run, constantly fleeing S.H.I.E.L.D. or rushing to save the day with no time in between. Yet given a moment of respite their dialogue is banal and borders upon the farcical.
This gets to the heart of what Civil War is all about: stringing big moments together. There’s no reason for the diner scene to exist besides its final panel of the heroes charging forward in classic Superman-style poses. It’s an excellent looking panel evoking a steely sense of honor-bound heroism. McNiven makes it clear who each character is by focusing on the most recognizable and varied elements of these costumes. That single panel looks great on its own and serves to make Civil War #3 much more memorable than any of the writing in this scene, but is ultimately a bit of good marketing. It’s all about presentation.
That focus on big moments and connecting them by any means necessary is fundamental in understanding the second half of Civil War #3. The heroes from the diner arrive at a burning factory to help only to discover it is a trap set by Iron Man and his allies to capture them. Everything about this massive action sequence is conceived in service to a few key moments, specifically the issue’s cliffhanger. It’s possible to pull out the individual moments of the sequence and see how the connecting panels were created in service to making sure these moments would occur.
If you care about internal story logic, character-driven stories, or any semblance of respect for reader intelligence, this scene is outright insulting. Millar looks for holes in his story and fills them with the first solution that comes to mind. Why wouldn’t these overpowered heroes flee? The teleporters are knocked unconscious by S.H.I.E.L.D. “Capekillers”. Why don’t these Capekillers get involved in the fight? Maria Hill tells them not to. Why does the terrible idea at the end of this issue happen at all? Well, there’s not even really an answer for that one except Maria Hill, once again, just says so.
The most significant question of all is why are these characters fighting and the only answer that can be found comes from Captain America acting like a great big douchebag. Given an opportunity to talk with his longtime friend and recent rival and potentially receive a full pardon for everyone currently violating the Superhuman Registration Act, he chooses instead to offer his word and immediately betray that trust. It’s a moment that is incredibly out of character, even when considering the full range of more than 50 years of stories that precede it. The purpose of this act is clearly to provide a big superhero smash ‘em up and that’s what it delivers.
McNiven’s work here gives the confounding contortions of Millar’s script some purpose at least. He packs these panels with heroes from across the Marvel universe who appear for no particular reason. With a few notable exceptions like Cap, Spidey, and Iron Man, those involved in this battle serve no purpose except to appear in one or a handful of panels. There are no stories being told or minor arcs composed. It is random, meant to serve the joy of fans recognizing characters and marveling at how cool it is to see so many together in one comic.
His depiction of Spider-Man in his Iron Spider suit is truly thrilling though as he traces his path through this chaos. Spidey bounds through panels affecting speed and grace with minimal blur lines. He picks up Captain America’s shield to sling at opponents creating a dichotomy of motion between his own body and the action of his mechanical appendages.
Taken entirely out of context (and with speech bubbles removed), the second half of Civil War #3 reads like a thrilling artistic fan fiction of Marvel superheroes duking it out for no particular reason. That’s Civil War at its best, distilled moments with nothing allowed to taint them with story or logic. The final splash of Civil War #3 captures that essence beautifully. By itself it is a great image of a very dour-looking Thor. Unfortunately, what comes next just makes it another disappointing, dumb moment in a series already chock full of them.
Addendum: On the She-Hulk ass-watch front, we get another great shot of the Jade Giantess’ rear in this issue when Hercules throws her across the page forcing her to spread those cheeks in a manner that might make Milo Manara blush.