This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on May 5, 2016.
Chase Magnett: The best part of Civil War #7 is knowing we are almost done. It has been a long trail over the past seven weeks as we’ve walked this long beach of comics criticism. Sometimes there were only one set of footsteps in the sand, as we were forced to carry each other.
That’s a dumb metaphor and schlocky writing, but it’s exactly what this comic deserves.
Civil War #7 works as an effective end cap to the entire mini-series in that its uniting theme appears to be: shit happens. I don’t mean that in a nihilistic, careless universe sense though. I mean that in the most literal terms possible. Shit happens. Mark Millar writes it. Steve McNiven draws it. Morry Hollowell colors it. A whole slue of guys ink it. There’s no reason for anything of the actions, reactions, or events on these pages though. Each moment exists in a vacuum where it might appear to be cool, at least cool as deemed by someone who genuinely hates their audience. Connection and cause are unimportant when confronted with loads of superheroes in each panel, careless violence, and unearned sentimentality.
Hercules murders the hell out of Thor, Cloak dumps everyone a quarter mile above New York City, Namor shows up, Cap gets tackled by firefighters. If you showed any of these moments to a reader without context, they would feel they have importance. After having read the six previous issues of Civil War, it’s apparent they lack it altogether. Just like your discussion of Cap and Punisher’s confrontation in Civil War #6, there are opportunities to say something, but it’s all just hollow noise.
Mark, you’ve done a great job focusing on specific details in your reviews and narrowing down the conversation to the micro-elements. What in Civil War #7 jumps out at you as worth discussing? I don’t think we’ll get much further than despondency in covering the broad strokes.
Mark Stack: Let me answer that question with another question: Was there anything cool in this issue?
There’s a reason we see superheroes fighting each other so much. There’s a reason why people still like to see it. When one of your favorite characters goes up against another one of your favorite characters, both coming out of their own titles where the rules of the universe are that they never lose, that’s cool. There’s also the element of seeing the true clash of ideologies between well-defined characters. Batman versus Superman is a clash of ideals, methods, etc. Who will be proven right? Will these characters reach an agreement?
This series is ostensibly about splitting superheroes across lines of pro-regulation and anti-regulation. There is a lot of lip-service paid to the idea that we’re going to see a debate with valid arguments on both sides which never really coalesces. “Heroes should be volunteers” doesn’t mean shit when Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, says it.
The end of this issue has Captain America quite suddenly seeing the error of his ways and promptly turning himself in. Tony Stark places a trained and regulated superhero team in all 50 states, has been appointed head of SHIELD so that he can personally safeguard the identities of the superhero community, and things are actually looking better. There’s an argument that could be made, that isn’t made here, that the ends don’t justify the means. They certainly don’t as recruiting supervillains, cloning Thor, and creating an extra-dimensional GITMO are pretty fucking horrifying things for Stark and his cohorts to have done. But they’re portrayed as being in the right at the end of this issue. There was never truly a clash of ideas.
Hercules shows up to kill the Thor Clone, Namor and his invading foreign military appear out of nowhere to deliver a catchphrase, and Spider-Man kicks a man for daring to call him anything less than “spectacular.”
But these moments aren’t really cool, are they? The Thor clone was never really a villain or a character, the hero he murdered isn’t characterized much in this series, and there’s just not a whole lot of build-up to his send-off. That big splash of Herc caving in his skull certainly looks cool.
Namor showing up comes out of nowhere even though it was set-up in the previous issue. There’s not much page space devoted to giving readers the impression that Cap’s forces are losing and need help. Cap gets ganged up on for a page and then Atlanteans jump in out of nowhere on the next page with no indication of where they came from. They’re not even near water. Even if that was cool, it’s undone on the very next page when Thor and the Initiative forces come in out of nowhere on a page with that same panel configuration flipped upside down.
Those Spider-Man panels where Mister Fantastic calls him “amazing” and Spider-Man kicks him while saying “spectacular”? That’s more cute than cool, to be honest.
So, Chase, was there actually anything cool in this issue?
Magnett: Simply put, no. There’s nothing cool in this issue, but there are plenty of things that certainly could have been.
The concept of a brother-in-arms avenging his lost comrade and saving his legacy. That’s cool.
The idea of a long-lost army returning to change the tide. That’s cool.
The image of a hero redeeming himself and fighting for what’s right once again. That’s so damn cool.
These are all ends that Millar and McNiven pack into the pages of Civil War #7, but they never bothered realizing that before you reach the end you have to have some sort of means. In the same way they ignore the truly atrocious actions of the pro-registration heroes to reach the final pages of this series, they don’t even bother putting in the work to achieve their big moments throughout the finale. All of those moments are there, but none of them have any meaning. There’s no cause for readers to actually care about what is happening in each of those moments that is provided by the pages of Civil War.
If someone wants to call Hercules defeat of Thor, or the appearance of Namor, or Spider-Man whooping Mister Fantastic cool, I won’t tell them they’re wrong. However, I will tell them that there’s nothing in this comic book that makes these moments cool. If you enjoy those bits and pieces it’s because you’re adding your own outside context and importance to these characters, essentially crafting the story in your head, to make any of this matter. The work isn’t being done by the creators of Civil War and that’s the problem.
Whether you want to talk about how cool the action or concepts are, none of the work is on the page. This isn’t even the level of skipping steps like you might in high school math, where a few minor leaps in logic aren’t written down. What is occurring here is like jotting down the final answer to a very complex equation in calculus because you saw the answer guide. You might know what comes at the end, but it is utterly meaningless.
Looking over the final pages of Civil War it’s hard to defend the series. It’s not the worst thing Marvel has published in the past couple of decades, but there’s absolutely no reason I can find to revisit it. Yet it has persisted as one of their most proud publications, one that is pushed at new readers as essential and has a major motion picture based upon it coming out this week.
I have only question in response to that: Why?
Stack: I’m gonna level with you. I don’t really like Justin Bieber’s music. Not in that dismissive “ah, I don’t like that girly stuff” way. It’s just not my thing, y’know? But when I hear a Justin Bieber song now, I kind of smile because I’m reminded of losing my virginity to someone who was basically a stranger at that point while his music was playing.
That same sort of principle applies here, I think. Civil War underwent some delays so it went longer than it was intended to. It was what was going on in the Marvel Universe for a while and a whole bunch of comics were left in the lurch, tying into the main series and expanding upon it. Captain America, Amazing Spider-Man, and books likeFrontline were good in and around the events of Civil War. There are good comics with that event’s banner on it and, even though they aren’t the main series, they can still push people to remember how good they thought Civil War was.
And a lot of good comics came out of this event. Captain America killed off Steve Rogers and that book took off and cemented Bucky Barnes as a major character in the modern Marvel Universe. Invincible Iron Man let Matt Fraction establish his popularity with readers on a long run with the book that was only marginally, 100%, completelyderailed by Fear Itself nearly killing his career. Amazing Spider-Man also completely shit the bed so maybe that deflected some attention away from the conclusion of Civil War.
Maybe it’s that Civil War isn’t ignorable. Marvel’s events all build on each other in a certain way. Each event creates a new status quo that is then the source of the next event or challenged within it. There’s no Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, or Siege without Civil War.
This is essentially a really long way for me to say that it got grandfathered-in because Marvel is actually pretty big on maintaining line-wide continuity. Good or bad, this event was important. And important is all that really matters when it comes to events. Crisis on Infinite Earths is remembered more than our precious Cosmic Odyssey, y’know?
Magnett: Isn’t this just an example of the tail wagging the dog then? We’re asking why Civil War matters and why we should care, and the response is simply that Civil War matters and we should care. We’ve spent almost two months digging to find opportunities for merit, but failing to actually discover any real merit.
Reflecting on this issue, the big finale packed with characters and conclusions to a variety of storylines (storylines being defined in the loosest of terms), it’s difficult to point out much that’s worth passing on. McNiven’s art could be deemed interesting in that it reflects a style emblematic of an entire period for a wide swath of comics. That’s a historical signifier though. Look at these layouts, panels, and faces, and try to tell me this is something unique or telling. It’s certainly telling that McNiven likes to draw dude’s faces one way and lady’s asses another, but that ain’t much in the scheme of things.
The popularity and acclaim of these blunt, broad strokes crafted (crafted being defined in the loosest of terms) by Millar is informative of the audience for Civil War. There’s the feeling of importance, the illusion of scope, and the reference of ideas, but none of those things actually exists within the story. It tells us of a need within Marvel readership for legitimacy. The thing itself is actually a hollowed out shell of chaos, that crumbles once you start to poke at it.
You mention how understanding the Marvel universe at large of the past decade is reliant on Civil War. That’s true, just as true as it is of Identity Crisis and DC Comics. That doesn’t mean there’s anything of merit to be found though. Moving from this to that shit with Skrulls to that shit with Asgardians to that other shit with Asgardians, it all blurs together in the same maelstrom of same-looking art and same-reading words. There’s nothing here. I don’t know if there ever was, even back in 2006.
Is Civil War really just one big cry for us all to embrace that #Quit(Marvel)Comics lifestyle?
Stack: I don’t know if it is. It’s certainly a call to ignore event comics because you don’t actually have to read them to get the effect. The best Marvel event comic, Siege, was only four issues and was able to tell a concise story perhaps because it received the lessons from Civil War and focused more on telling a clear story with obvious motivations and moments that had been properly built up to.
You spoke of legitimacy and this book potentially being the catalyst to “legitimize” Marvel Comics. I can certainly wrap my head around that idea with this being the one where superheroes acknowledge that the sure do get a lot of people killed sometimes and the world changing as a result. It’s comparable to the aforementioned Identity Crisiswhich introduced a whole lot of ickiness to the world of children’s characters on a grand scale. Stuff that it became hard to walk back.
Identity Crisis still sells. I’ve seen two people say they like it previously. I didn’t ask them why and, not that I’d deserve it, I don’t think their explanation would satisfy me. The same can probably be said of this comic.
Civil War is about the fallout of a massacre but what is there to say about a massacre? Things like “Poo-tee-weet?”