Friday, January 23, 2015
Giant Size Review # 3: "Civil War" Tie-Ins
THE ROAD TO CIVIL WAR
For me, this is required reading. If you've read "Civil War" and not this, then you're truly not getting the full picture of why the likes of Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic have taken up the pro-registration side. The "New Avengers: Illuminati" one-shot is a revelation, outlining how a group of heroes has been meeting in secret masonic style to exert a level of control of the events on Earth. This issue - by Brian Michael Bendis - did not sit well with a lot of people, casting classic heroes in a bit of a negative light. But this new context opens up the floodgates, letting a wave of opportunities surge forth.
The big one in terms of "Civil War" is Tony Stark getting his hands on pending legislation for a superhero registration program. Whether he supports it is unclear, however he feels by having the Illuminati come out in favour of it, they can help guide how it's introduced. That additional context makes an important tweak to one's understanding of the story, and it's one that I'm glad I read before tackling the main line.
After "Illuminati" and a couple of fairly inconsequential "Fantastic Four" issues, "The Road To Civil War" wraps with three issues of "The Amazing Spider-Man," written by J. Michael Straczynski who was the pen behind pretty much every great episode of "The Real Ghostbusters" on TV. Tony tries to get Peter into his fold by offering him the official position of his assistant. Parker's first assignment is accompanying Stark to Washington for a congressional hearing on the registration act.
What occurs in front of the committee are the best parts of the book. Peter gives two great, thought-provoking speeches - one with his mask, one without - about the dangers of the act and the consequences it could have for people close to masked vigilantes. The arrival of Titanium Man outside the government building complicates matters, and who's responsible is an epic shocker.
The Spider-Man stories are easily the best of the bunch. Which sets things up perfectly for what is also the best tie-in of "Civil War."
CIVIL WAR: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
As Captain America and Iron Man lead both sides, Spider-Man is set up as the man in the middle. He is constantly faced with moral dilemmas from tracking down anti-reg heroes to unmasking on live television. The biggest problem he faces, though, is when he's forced to choose between doing what he feels is right and the safety of the two most important people in his life: Mary Jane Watson-Parker and Aunt May.
In between the gut-wrenching moral choices are some truly epic scenes. Spidey goes toe-to-toe with both Cap AND Iron Man and the fights with each are outstanding. Later, there is an incredible moment of villainy from a character who's become associated with another hero reminding you of his cold, sordid past with Spider-Man. He takes full advantage of the means to strike, and it's pure evil.
The way this set is written is top notch. Straczynski chains issues and events together in a way where keeping up with the events of "Civil War" is unnecessary. You can read only this collection without missing a beat. However, the development that ends this issue is a tough one to read, especially if you're aware of the editorial choices that hit Spidey immediately afterward. A dramatic moment is compromised by knowing that it began what may very well be the most hated Spider-Man story of all time: "One More Day." It's a shame that this ends on a sour note because what leads to it is gold and every bit as good as "Civil War" itself.
CIVIL WAR: X-MEN
If only every hero tie-in was as good as Spidey's. With the mutant team taking a neutral stance, "Civil War: X-Men" feels both disconnected and uninspired.
M-Day has created serious consequences with most of the world's 198 remaininh mutants being interned outside the Xavier Institute. With the mansion ground turned into a practical concentration camp guarded by human-piloted Sentinels for "protection," the inmates have had all they can stands and they can't stands no more. Former X-Forcers Domino and Shatterstar organize an impromptu jailbreak and the surviving members of the original five (aka "everyone but Jean") set off in unintentionally-funny black costumes to find them. Iron Man-aligned Bishop tries to track down the trackers, there's a bomb or something and there's this mutant that pops voodoo dolls out of his chest messing with everyone.
David Hine is a skilled writer, but I feel like he misses the mark with a lot of characters and fails to capitalize on the recently Joss Whedon-revived Cyclops who comes off pretty weak here. When he's backed up with a skeleton dramatis personae, it only makes things worse. The art is also disappointing given that Yanick Paquette is very capable. He draws, perhaps, the worst version of "Cat-Beast" I have seen, and there have been a lot of poor interpretations of the Hank McCoy of that era.
CIVIL WAR: FRONT LINE
If you liked the societal implications of a registration act, then this is the book for you. Split into two volumes, "Civil War: Front Line" covers some major angles and has the right people at the centre of the story: journalists. The principal characters - Ben Urich and Sally Floyd - make me think a lot about how I do my job. My real job. Writer Paul Jenkins did his homework.
"Front Line" focuses on three plots. The biggest one has Urich and Floyd trying to track down the reasons why the Civil War is happening, working from the top to the bottom. The second plot - the revealing of an Atlantis sleeper cell - ends up tying into what they're working on. Overall, it provides an excellent commentary for the events of the main series. Floyd attacks one of the main players in a way you would not expect, and it's one hell of an epic teardown.
The third main plot is also very good as it focuses on Robbie "Speedwall" Baldwin, who instigated the attack that led to the acceleration of the registration act being passed. The young hero has been branded as the sole party responsible, a completely unfair position that Baldwin fights a losing battle against. This should have been a star-making turn for Speedball, but - unfortunately - it has an endgame that looks and feels ridiculous. The character is cut out from under the knees before it can really get anywhere. It was so bad that other writers made fun of it from the start. Baldwin was forced back to square one and has never recovered.
There's also an element that offends me a bit as images and actual writings from past wars are juxtaposed with images of comic book fights. It's meant to be poetic, but it comes off as disrespectful. These are real wars where actual people died and comparing it to men in tights non-fatally punching each other is ridiculous.
That said, don't let it deter you from picking up this book. Even its clear faults are thought-provoking and its dialogue is pretty damn smart.