Marvel Civil War by Mark Millar – Comics Review [Shadowhawk]

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Shadowhawk reviews the collected edition of the Marvel Civil War, one of the most defining recent events in the Marvel universe.

“Brutal. Menacing. Thoughtful. Surreal. Existential. This was a joyride to the depths of madness!” ~The Founding Fields

 I’ll be honest. I’ve never really been into Marvel comics. At least nowhere near as much as I’ve been into DC Comics. The only Marvel comics series I even remember reading back in the day are the G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero ones, that one that went for 155 spectacular issues, penned by Larry Hama. I’ve always been more interested in the Marvel-related animated cartoons, particularly Spiderman and X-Men. Getting back into Marvel these recent weeks has not been easy, largely because unlike DC’s New 52 initiative, my ignorant self couldn’t find anything comparable within Marvel-verse.

So in the end, it was some back-and-forth with fellow reviewers Bane of Kings and Civilian Reader that I decided to pick up Civil War. I figured that the omnibus would be just as exciting as the first six issues of Dark Avengers, if not more so because these were the actual heroes and not villains made heroes.

I often talk about expectations when approaching any novel or comic or audio drama or what have you. Thing is, what I’ve realised actually, I always approach any of these works with trepidation. I prepare to be disappointed just as much as I prepare to be wowed. That speaks to the unpredictable nature of fiction, comics particularly as they are such quick readers and there is actually very little room for an author/writer to impress the reader with.

Mark Millar delivered a fantastic experience with Civil War as it turns out, and apart from a few issues (that aren’t really deal-breakers per se, bar one) I was definitely impressed.

Just as with Scott Snyder’s Batman reboot, Millar pulls no punches with his script. There are a ton of explosions, lots of blood and guts fighting up-close and personal, lots of serious talk and some big-time redefinition of a LOT of the superhero relationships in these seven issues. There are a number of tie-in issues to these series, as this Civil War is a large crossover event in the Marvel-verse, but Millar mostly succeeds in holding it all together and delivering the story of a lifetime.

From the very first pages we are treated to a commentary on our fast-moving, easily-impressed modern lives as we meet a bunch of inexperienced superheroes who have banded together as a team for some reality TV show and are going places, throwing their weight around. When things go bad to worse in the space of a heartbeat, as they always must and do, the idealism behind superheroes is irreversibly shattered as the public demands recompense for all the civilian casualties in the city of Stamford, Connecticut and the US government is forced to introduce legislation to curtail the activities of all superheroes on American soil and to make them a part of the society AND the government.

Civil War is a really fast-paced read. Given everything that Millar has managed to pack in here, it has to be, because otherwise it would be way too disappointing a read as we’d just get lost in the narrative. The events here-in take place over several weeks and conveying that sense of time in so few pages is not easy by any means. My only concern here is that the ending itself is too abrupt and I hold  that Millar should have taken another issue to put the whole cross-over event to rest. It would have allowed him to tie-up all his loose ends much more nicely and even give us a larger teaser of how things are post-event. Additionally, I don’t think the ending really does the whole event proper justice because it is so abrupt.

And yet, the ending resonates with the beginning. The Civil War starts when the final straw is burned, deaths of countless civilians at the hands of a rogue super-powered human. It ends when the civilians themselves seek to end it. The entire conflict with the superheroes, while it is not exactly marginalised in the end, serves as a set-piece of sorts. All these superheroes pour their dislikes, sometimes hatreds, discontentment, disillusionment and what have you into this big cauldron of war and try to seek a place for themselves in society. Alongside the civilians. It’s all about the civilians.

Captain America, the rebel and the man who is standing up for his identity as a super-individual. Iron Man, the defender of the new ideals that society and government demands of the entire super-community. The clash between these two Marvel-verse heavyweights is explosive to say the least. I really liked how both of them are portrayed here. The way that Millar has written them, you do sympathise with both, and yet to hate them too for the division of loyalties they bring about. Not to mention that I really hated Tony Stark/Iron Man here, as well as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic. What they do is often deplorable and, I think, unconscionable, but you do have to admire what they are doing. They are trying to go for a middle-ground between the extremes represented by Captain America and American society and it is not easy. Hard calls have to be made and these two are the ones who get the sad job.

The sad juxtaposition of who the leaders on both sides are should not be ignored either. The former soldier who sacrificed an entire lifetime and then some for his country is now standing against it, fearful of what it has become and for what horror a “government-regulated superhero community” would present. The man is just fighting for freedom, his own this time, and that of his friends, instead of his country. The billionaire playboy and science-genius is the one with the soft-heart who wants to make things right, who plays the negotiating middleman so that the rights of the superhero community are not just left by the curb when the new legislation hits. He is fighting for freedom too but he is fine with settling for a controlled freedom.

Enough is enough. It is time that superheroes are held accountable to society. The line that should never have been crossed, is. And all for the sake of some television ratings.

Civil War has some really great moments. The duels between Captain America and Iron Man. Peter Parkers bold step to show that he believes in Tony Stark’s new vision. Sue Richards obeying her conscience and her heart, not her husband. Punisher’s entry and subsequent exit from the rebel cause. The unrestrained melee that happens no less than twice over the course of the script between the two sides. And lots more.

Mark is descriptive and yet economical. He doesn’t waste his words. There is often a layer or two of nuance to them that you just got to appreciate.

And then there’s the artwork here. Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines, and Morry Hollowell have done an amazing job with all the artwork. Really sharp, tight stuff that speaks for itself. More than anything, this entire series is about the humanity of the superheroes, and the art by these fine folk has really brought that to the fore. Each character has a distinct design. They are all easily picked out, even when they are in a free-for-all. And the brutality, with all the blood and guts that Millar has picked into these issues, is rendered with a great care and in detail. It is all, for want of a better word, realistic. You can actually feel it when Iron Man punches Captain America and makes him actually bleed. You can feel it when Thor arrives and starts laying down his hammer.

As a single package, the team has definitely delivered one of the best looking and best written books of all time. They are all to commended. Their hard-work really shines through here.

If I had any negatives for Civil War, it’d be that it ends too abruptly, and that the script is too focused on the primaries – Captain America and Iron Man, with Mr. Fantastic rooting for the latter. I would have loved it if we had delved a lot more into some of the superheroes, like Thor for instance, or Sue Richards, or Wolverine, or some of the younger generation. That would have made it truly phenomenal.

But yes, I do understand that there are a wealth of tie-in issues to this and that they all give the entire story, but I still wish that Millar had been to pack in a lot more than he did. A bigger book? I’d be all over that.

Overall, I’d say that I most definitely recommend the collection. Great script, great art, great everything. What’s not to love?

Rating: 9/10

Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.

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