Civil War

By | Tuesday, February 28, 2006 Leave a Comment
At the right, you see a preview image from Marvel's upcoming "Civil War" event. Marvel's largely been touting this as a big, brother-against-brother, this-will-tear-family-and-friends-apart type of event, but there's been the odd reference here and there to what it's actually about. I tend not to play into company-generated hype any more, so I haven't paid too close attention to what the storyline's actually about, but what I've gathered so far points to some sort of government proposal to regulate/monitor super-powered individuals and the heroes are split as to whether or not this is a good idea.

That's certainly suggested in the confrontational line-up in the image. Captain America, Wolverine and the Human Torch are staunch individualists with a deep belief in personal freedom. Iron Man, Sentry and Colossus tend to prefer looking towards what they consider the "greater good" and that sometimes means sacrificing some personal liberties. Spidey strikes me as belonging more to the other side, generally, but recent events in Amazing Spider-Man put his loyalty directly in line with Iron Man's.

Here's a couple of issues I have with the premise. First, we've done this already. Back during Acts of Vengeance, there was a whole sub-plot running through some books whereby the government wanted to regulate super-powered individuals and Mr. Fantastic pointed out any number of logistical problems with that idea. How does one identify a super-powered individual? Equipment that detects genetic variations would gloss over people like Iron Man, and what would be considered a baseline anyway? There's inevitably some genetic variation from every individual to every other individual so what where would you define a cut-off? I can forgive Marvel somewhat on the redundancy factor since that story was written in a time when terrorism wasn't really an issue in the American public consciousness, but since we've already covered this, I've got something of a been-there-done-that feeling about that basic premise.

The other issue I have is with the marketing of the story. The notion is effectively an ideological debate and clearly different characters are going to have different opinions which, as we all know, can lead to arguments. So you've got plenty of fertile ground for drama to be sure. And with Mark Millar writing, I'm fairly certain they'll be a reasonable amount of addressing the issues. But then, the promotion material makes it look and sound like a seven-issue slugfest among all the heroes.

Personally, I don't care about that one whit. We've already done two Contest of Champions series, not to mention that almost every first team-up between two characters results in a "misunderstanding" that leads to the two protagonists trying to knock each other senseless. Maybe it's just me, but I don't know that it makes sense to sell this whole series on a premise that, within Marvel, dates back to long before Marvel was even called Marvel!

To be sure, an event that will tear the Fantastic Four or New Avengers apart doesn't necessitate a pro-wrestling style smackdown, but all of the promotional material suggests that's what we're going to see. Now, I'm savvy enough to know that it's advertising and Marvel's trying to grab people's attention by suggesting that Captain America is going to hit Tony Stark in the face. Effectively, it's no different than saying that I'll be popular and have lots of fun by drinking Pepsi or driving a Vibe. But, for some reason, Marvel's efforts rub me the wrong way.

Back in the day, Stan Lee mastered the art of hyperbole to sell comics. How many times did say that the next issue promised to be the most exciting thing in comics... until the issue after that? That's continued, after a fashion, to this day. (Need I remind anyone of Joe Quesada's "crack the Internet in half" line?) But I think there was always some sense of acknowledgement that we, the audience, knew that they were exaggerating. Stan did it a very self-effacing way, and Joe tends to use metaphors that are simply beyond the realm of true believability. But this campaign strikes me as more subversive.

Fans have long had a rather open relationship with Marvel. They took a great deal of personal ownership in the characters, and Marvel generally listened to what they had to say. Going back to the early 1960s, it was fairly well documented that a lot of complaint letters came about how absurd and asinine the Impossible Man was as a character. Not only did Stan not use him again, but it took Roy Thomas over five years to persuade Stan to even let the character show up again. Much more recently, Mark Waid was fired from writing the Fantastic Four, only to have a groundswell of fan support help to reinstate him almost immediately.

But this subversive-seeming advertising almost strikes me as coming from a different Marvel. A Marvel that has less respect for their readers. Maybe I'm wrong, and the "Civil War" event will have lots of hero-versus-hero battles and the imagery is perfectly apt. Maybe I'm seeing things that aren't really intended and the image above is supposed to be more symbolic than factually representative. But for the moment, I've got my eyebrow raised and have some concerns whirling in my head.
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