Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Civil War #4

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Civil War #4

The DEATH of my love of Marvel Comics

Writer – Mark Miller
Pencils – Steve McNiven
Inks – Dexter Vines
Letters –Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist – Morry Hollowell
Editor – Tom Brevoort
Editor-in-Chief – Joe Quesada
October 2006

I grew up a Marvel kid.

The reasons for it were very simple. The Marvel universe was still relatively new when I was born. By the time I reached reading age, Marvel trades of the origin and first adventures of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and Doctor Strange existed in paperback form. There may have been more (there were), but I recall owning these three at the very least. 

Laid out on those pages by Lee, Ditko, and Kirby there breathed a magic world that I immediately felt at home in. 

I think each book held the first six or so issues of that title. I devoured them, committed each to memory and read them to pieces. 

DC didn’t have anything like this. No starting point in history so well defined that you could access it and find your way to the current stories being told. To be fair, DC had tons more history to reconcile, including several decades of stores that would have looked silly by comparison. And the origins of their big three were very dated. The Marvel universe felt “fresh.”

It felt like home.

I can remember the first Fantastic Four I ever bought off a spinner rack. 1978’s FF #184, where the heroic first family of Marvel: Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben, searched for the missing Franklin Richards. Their pursuit of the trail of clues ended at Agatha Harkness’s house on Whisper Hill. The quartet took on The Eliminator in a duel that would seemingly destroy them one by one. I learned that they were a family who would always pull together and sacrifice for one another, no matter what. Len Wein on words, George Perez on pencils and Joe Sinnott manning the inkwells. I loved that book so much because it was one of my first REAL comics that I bought myself, not handed down from my brother.

I learned about Cap from a book where his name wasn’t even on the cover. Marvel Two-in-One #42, featuring Man-Thing. John Byrne’s amazing pencils coupled with Ralph Macchio’s words, showed that the real power of Captain America wasn’t his fists, but his enduring spirit and sense of freedom. While fighting Victorious for the cosmic cube, Cap struck more blows with his words and his ideals than he did physically. That book gave me the impression that no one could remain in Cap’s presence for long without being convinced by his patriotism to do the right thing.

Iron Man appeared regularly in my purchases from this time, but I recall issue #114 the most. Tony worked to save both his foe, The Unicorn, from the power that was killing him and then all of his Avenger comrades from the menace of Arsenal. Iron Man would never let his teammates down, nor did he treat his enemies unkindly. Even when those enemies tried to kill him in the previous issue. All of this care of Bill Mantlo, Keith Giffin and Bruce D.

These were the heroes I grew up with and the stories that charted who they were behind the masks, out of uniform and under their armor.

With all these memories, there were certain things that were true about the Marvel Universe. The House of Ideas would consistently give us a world where the heroes struggled to remain virtuous and on the side of right. The writers made silent vows to treat the audience with respect. They wouldn’t pull “This is an imaginary story” tricks unless it was in a “What if…” book. And any undoing of the primary universe would be done in a logical, consistent matter that took history into account.

But most of all, they would look upon our fandoms with the same value we did. They might tweak the mythology, but they wouldn’t damage it. Our heroes would remain heroes, no matter how they might occasionally smack each other around a bit. Like a precious heirloom, the idea of the Marvel universe was to pass it along for future generations to enjoy.

Civil War changed all of that. Civil War was THE series that ended my love affair with Marvel forever and it was a symbolic first step down a path in the comics that has taken the Marvel comics universe further and further away from me.

They made my heroes into villains. They destroyed the fandoms that were entrusted to them by wiser men. They made a mockery of the characters in the story. They made dramatic changes to the universe, created a new paradigm, when in truth they knew the end game would mean rolling back these “permanent” changes.

They didn’t respect the audience.

It wasn’t the first time this same group had done this, either. 

I wasn’t around for The Sentry nonsense, only jumping back into collecting a few years later. The Sentry, a ripoff of the Superman archetype, appeared in 2000. Marvel claimed they “found” him in a series of discarded stories from the 1960’s.

All that was fake, yet Marvel insisted in interviews that they had located a character when digging through the archives, building hype upon lies to create anticipation for a character. And what a crap character he was. Overpowered in the extreme, the Sentry had a few one-shots that made no sense and a limited series. He joined the Avengers for a brief time too.

Basically, a male Mary Sue, Sentry’s powers consisted of strength equal to “a million exploding suns” making him a rival for the strongest of Marvel characters. He could also do impossible things, like calm the Hulk down and allow his Banner intellect to gain control – simply by talking to him! Masterminded by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee, may their names ever have this albatross hanging around their necks, he existed only to fight his nemesis, The Void, a likewise ultra-powerful being who was part of the Sentry and could destroy the universe or some bull-plop. In the end, they both vanished in a puff of illogical nonsense, never to be seen again. (I hope!)

The Sentry’s scam marketing did a disservice to Marvel fandom.

If anything this was only a test for what Marvel would pull next. 

Civil War began much like any other “event," lots of promos and posters. I went all in. Loaded my pull list with nearly every Marvel book at the time. The crux of this series was pretty much the same as the movie, a band of superheroes causes the deaths of several innocents by accident when fighting a group of villains. Due to this and other actions, Iron Man realizes the public no longer trusts heroes. He gets the US government to enact a “Superhero Registration Act” so that each hero could be deputized and held accountable. Captain America lines up on the opposite side of him, citing civil liberties reasons for heroes to not register. Discussion devolves into destruction as heroes joined one side or another.

Peter Parker, who trusts Tony as a surrogate father, unmasks on TV in support of the registration act. He and his family are immediately targeted on all sides. Due to this, Spider-Man eventually switches sides. In this very issue that I'm reviewing, the family that is the Fantastic Four split down the middle over the registration act and the way Tony and Reed are incarcerating heroes and villains in a pocket negative zone prison if they do not register. The Invisible Woman and the Human Torch eventually join the resistance while Ben quits the group and goes back to Yancy street.

I have a special place in my childhood heart for Iron Man, so I secretly rooted for him to somehow be “more” in the right than Cap. The deeper I went into the event, and I bought the “Frontline” series so I went pretty much as deep as you could go, the more I hated what Tony and Reed were doing.

This issue was the straw though.

We begin our tale with the morally ambiguous methods of Iron Man and Reed having prompted the group of “Secret Avengers” to attack them openly in hopes that defeating them will somehow cause them to reverse their position on the registration act. In Issue three Tony’s group meets with the "heroes on the run" to work out a compromise. At that meeting, which begins very cordially, Steve acts completely out-of-character by sabotaging Iron Man’s armor before the two even begin speak, starting the very fight that wraps up so tragically in this issue.

The brawl that ensues brings everyone to the fore, heroes trashing heroes for no good reason when this was supposed to be a peaceful d├ętente. The prior issue is a backdrop of explosions and fire, and as passions heat up in the imagery so does the anger of the participants. Anger that is unleashed as Stark calls in his secret weapon: Thor. He arrives in the final panel of Issue 3 looking not quite himself.

This is where the end starts, with the erupting thunder of a god, who is not a god by the way, heralding what I had hoped would be a return to common sense on the part of all participants. Thor, who has stood for so long above the mortal realm, should have words that would sooth both his friends’ hearts and lead them to a just and fair reconciliation.

Or he could just hit a bunch of people on the Secret Avengers side with his super-powerful enchanted mallet. Like someone battle crazed, Thor metes out fury and lighting on friends he has known for decades of comics history. And all the while he appears completely enraged while doing so.

As Thor single-handedly defeats the rest of Steve’s Avengers, Cap and Iron Man’s side battle looks to be near the end. Mark Millar appears to forget which Cap this is, however. Here he turns him into Ultimates universe Cap, complete with his “This A doesn’t stand for France” attitude. I HATE this Cap, and not because he opposes Iron Man in this. I hate him because he can’t articulate his thoughts. I hate him because he isn’t filling word balloons with speeches designed to have more power than his punches. I hate him because Millar has neutered the most important component of Captain America, his belief that he can convince his enemy that his side is the right one.

A Cap who would verbally joust with the Red - Fucking - Skull about who’s ideology was correct in the middle of a fist fight is who I grew up with. This sham in a costume isn’t Cap. He’s a muscle-bound stand-in from a writer who doesn’t understand the clay he’s been given to work with.

Iron Man is about to tap Cap out, when Hercules tosses an oil tanker at him (which seems pretty careless, given how Cap is RIGHT THERE dude!!).

The explosion renders IM’s high-frequency sonic nerve messer-upper inoperable, meaning the fisticuffs are back on and everyone is beating the crap out of everyone else again. In the thick of things, Falcon goes in to rescue Steve and sounds the retreat.

Black Goliath runs interference against Thor, a job he is sorely lacking in skills or power to accomplish.

Thor kills him.

Just straight up murders Bill Foster. A guy who guarded Project Pegasus with Quasar. Saved the world by alerting the West Coast Avengers that the High Evolutionary was about to detonate a genetic bomb. Short-lived former member of the LA group “the Champions.” 


And why? Because the event needed a death. It needed another hero (on top of the four or so it had already killed in issue 1) to be placed upon the alter of sales to ensure the book hit a targeted number. It needed a dramatic death to prove that the audience watched events that put these characters at risk.

Of course, it didn’t matter to Marvel that the audience saw right through this obvious ploy. That anyone buying the book knew right away that Black Goliath dies. Black Goliath, who had been in a mere handful of books his entire career and hadn't been in a story before this in...months? years, perhaps? He wouldn’t be missed. He was looked upon as at best a third or fourth string hero. They brought him back just to kill him.

If Marvel learned anything from this it was to kill bigger named heroes next time. That was a lesson they learned too, too well.

At the time, I thought this was the Thor. For those of you familiar with the series, you find out this homicidal maniac isn’t Thor in just a bit. However, when I first read these I was astonished that the hero I knew would straight up murder a person. Especially another hero. Incredulous. And his continued harassment of the fleeing secret avengers made me doubt the very things my eyes were seeing.

Luckily some of the “good guys” in this book are actually acting like good guys.

The secret avengers find a way to teleport out using Cloak and Cable and a little bit of elfin magic for all I know.

And Reed Richards uses something akin to a codeword to shutdown Thor like he is flipping off a light switch. 

It’s here that we learn that this isn’t “the old Thor” but something else entirely. Something cobbled together by Reed, Pym and Stark. Something that the characters I grew up with and looked up to as heroes would never in a million years do. None of these guys were ever billed as Frankenstein nor would they turn into him to settle a score with their worst of enemies.

Let alone their best friends.

To spill the beans, this is a clone of Thor. And the very thought of these characters creating a lobotomized version of their friend…THEIR FRIEND, the god of thunder is so untrue to the very essence of who they are…I don’t have words to explain my disgust with Mark Millar for perverting the icons I grew up with and turning them into these morally bankrupt phonies.

The Ultimates universe had these types of characters. And the Authortiy did as well. They were fine in those sand box’s. The 616 universe didn’t need them too.

But they got them sure enough. Heroes who aren’t heroic.

We end up with both the audience and the characters suffering from very real cases of PTSD.

And the longer we linger around, the worse it gets. Seems Tony Stark had all this planned since the first Avenger’s meeting. How’s that for tarnishing Iron Man’s reputation? I don’t want to know why editorial thought this was ever any story I wanted to read, one where there aren’t any real heroes. One where everyone I felt a kinship for will have all of that goodwill destroyed before my eyes.

Turning to Cap’s side is no better. He’s more interested in politicizing this turn of events, including Bill’s death, than he is on consoling his followers or grieving himself. Millar’s Cap is a driven and insane commander who doesn’t care about anything but winning at all costs. This isn’t really Captain America. This is a cardboard cutout imported from Millar’s Ultimates.

And members of his own team know it, leading to defections.

Next Millar takes us to Bill’s funeral and has this shit play out to further egg Tony Stark on. The mother of one of the dead kids from issue one brings this to Tony, as if on cue. Because at this moment, we know Stark has to be considering calling this, and Millar has to dream up some contrived reason for him to continue. So he pulls out this woman at the exact moment needed to force Stark back into the fight for registration. It’s crap storytelling, but by now I’m too in shock at the actions of characters I knew growing up, behaving in such vastly different manners than expected, to really notice it.

In the two pages that follow, the Fantastic Four break apart, Sue leaving a note for Reed professing love and asking him to please “fix it" as she walks out the Baxter Building. She means his family, not the horrible mischaracterization of everyone in the book. That plea falls on deaf ears as the next place we go is Avengers tower, where Stark and Maria Hill are pushing us further down the rabbit hole of crap our characters wouldn’t do by creating a squad of Avengers made up of these guys…

Yes, they expect me to believe that an Iron Man who sides with supervillains over his old friends is in anyway still a hero.

I bought the rest of Civil War to see if Marvel could redeem any of this mess, but they only made it worse. When the smoke cleared, I said goodbye to my beloved Iron Man and had my local comic shop remove every Marvel title from my pull list.

I never looked back either. 

I watched as Marvel killed Captain America while shaking my head on the sidelines. Read all the news zines about Spider-Man making a deal with the devil to save his Aunt’s life and give him back his secret identity at the cost of his marriage. Watched as Marvel killed Vision and Hawkeye and Wanda and Jean (again) and Thor and Iron Man and so many others, all for brief bumps in the distribution numbers. 

None of them permanently gone, all of this inconveniencing the very fans Marvel claims to serve. Someone should explain that the “pent up demand” this generates doesn’t match the number of issues Marvel would sell by leaving the flipping title on the shelf for the months they have them removed. Not to mention how it might drive people to stop buying your title when you begin publishing a Thor of FF book again. 

Watched as the powers-that-be holding reins over the careening, out of control continuity create event after event in an effort to hit some new, temporary sales target: Secret War, Secret Invasion, Infinity, Spider-verse, Secret Wars, Inhumanity, Secret Empire…on and on it goes.

I watched it all knowing that there was one secret that kept eluding them. The secret of keeping the “True Believers”… the Marvel Zombies, as they once called us, buying their comics. Because the truth that they don’t understand is that we don’t care about 9 different spider-titles a month, forced diversity, number ones, or "event topping EVENTS"…we care about good story, characters who act like heroes and a consistent, careful attention to the iconic archetypes and history they have been entrusted with. A history that was created by hands greater than their own.

The DEATH of the Super-Blog Team UP continues in these fine blogs:

I deeply regret that this union of super-pals has bit the dust. As we know from comics, death is always final. We must make peace with that fact. I will miss my comrades and fellow bloggers, but alas...nothing is forever. May the slumber of eternity bring them the comfort of sweet dreams and knowledge that they will be missed.


  1. I can identify with a lot of this. I remember the promo stuff leading up to Civil War, and not much caring for it (though I think initially I sided with Cap...but when stuff ran late, I basically bailed, only touching back (offhand) for #7 and Cap #25 (after waking up to Yahoo spoilers).

    For me, Marvel's been largely downhill since, though I've had a few spurts with getting some of their stuff...but I've primarily retreated to back-issue and bargain bins for them, far preferring 16 25-cent-bin comics to a single new issue; or new collections of "old" '90s stuff 3, 4, 5 times as thick as collections of newer stories for cheaper.

    Glad to be part of this round of SBTU...may it Rest in peace!

    1. Feels like we are speaking the same language here. I wonder how many people held this up as their final straw from Marvel?

  2. This is a great write-up coming from the perspective of a life-long Marvel comics fan. I picked up Civil War after I'd taken a decade-long 'break' from Marvel (for reference, I think the last 'modern' Marvel event I'd really been excited about was Age of Apocalypse). When I had come back, Marvel had become a very different comics company and everything had become more adult and cynical -- so I had pretty much accepted that things were different. In that respect, I didn't mind Civil War or the Ennis Punisher or the Ultimates or just about anything else Marvel was publishing. After reading your article, I can really empathize and understand why you'd feel betrayed by the editorial direction of Marvel.

    1. re: "This is a great write-up coming from the perspective of a life-long Marvel comics fan."

      I meant your article. Not the comment I was writing. I'm not THAT vain.

    2. Thank you, sir. I poured out a lot of emotion in this one. It was almost like therapy. I don't know where Marvel is headed these days. They look a bit battered from the outside, with no idea how to right their floundering ship. DC is still chugging alone and I've picked up more than a box full of their post-rebirth stuff to mostly enjoyable reads. I want both companies to be good, but only one of them realizes how to make good stories (as a whole) anymore.


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