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Saturday, 2 November 2013

Marvel: Civil War

Writer: Mark Millar
Penciller: Steve McNiven
Inker: Dexter Vines
Colourist: Morry Hollowell
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Publisher: Marvel

What's it about?
A group of young heroes accidentally kill themselves and 600 civilians. This alarms the government who introduce the Superhuman Registration Act - everyone with powers must register with the government and become paid operatives of S.H.I.E.L.D.  If you don't comply, you'll be arrested and charged with treason.

This Act splits the heroes. Iron Man, Spider-Man, Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, She-Hulk and others are in support of the Act.  Most of the X-Men, Captain America, Nick Fury and others oppose it.  As the supporters are hired to bring in those that don't comply, the opposing faction go underground.

The book builds on and references other key events in the Marvel universe but you don't need to know about these to read it.  The other events are used to build the case for the Act and explore the moral quandary that the Marvel universe finds itself in.   The supporters believe registration is necessary to ensure new heroes are adequately trained and to ensure a measure of accountability.  The opposers believe that heroes shouldn't be beholden to government (what if government fucks up?) and that registration puts their loved ones at risk. 

What's good about it?
I'm not going to say that this is a remarkable story, that it will change your life, or convert everyone to superhero comics.  However it may challenge your beliefs and it may make you think a bit.  It's fun with a serious discussion behind it.  I went into it knowing very little about the Marvel universe and I understood it all.  It's a pretty big deal in the Marvel Universe and had a long lasting impact.

The political lines being discussed in the book are interesting, particularly if you are a politics or civil liberties nerd.  What is the right thing for the heroes and the government to do?  Who do you sympathise with?  When this series was published the internet comics community was aflame with discussion over who was right, who had more rights, what is the ideal and/or pragmatic thing to do.  This is a topic with real life ramifications and the last time I saw a similar discussion was when Superman: Sacrifice came out. 
Marvel pride themselves on creating a universe as closely aligned with the real one as possible.  Essentially, this is our earth with superpowers.  The depictions of ordinary people's reactions are pretty realistic.  I can see it happening in the real world - folk have knee jerk reactions, they blame the Avengers for glamorising superheroics, the media is after ratings, others only get fed up with heroes when they see them getting perks they don't.

It's a good introduction to the various characters too - it affects literally every hero in the Marvel universe and if you are particularly interested in one person's story you can read more about them in their own book.

What's bad about it?
There's a scene fairly early on where a very well known superhero unmasks.  I had been led to believe, both in story and online, that this was a pivotal moment in the story and would change everything.  It doesn't.  I didn't feel like the ramifications were explored within this series, although they probably were elsewhere.  I expected it to continue the political discussion and the ethics of the superhero registration act, but it didn't.  It feels a bit disappointing and a bit of a waste, like it was included only for the wow factor and to drive the story in the hero's own book.  It didn't need to happen in this series. 

What's the art like?
The art is pretty average if I'm honest.  It's of an industry standard, typical of the time this comic was published.  The colours are all done by computer, and it shows - there's not a lot of depth to it.  The action scenes are serviceable.
The inking is very light.  There's the obligatory arse shot of a female superhero (I mean c'mon comics, stop pandering to your perception of fanboy sex drives).  The penciller isn't great at faces - they all look a little plastic and too perfectly handsome.  Admittedly, the low key inking and flat colours don't help this.  See these panels of Reed Richards and Iron Man:

However some panels are better, this one of Doctor Strange for instance:
The most positive thing about it are the choice of viewpoints through which we see the characters - these serve to highlight the tensions of the plot and reflect characters' emotions and moods. A lot of the panels are set up to give you the feeling of urgency and show the divisions across America and the superhero community.  Some panels are arranged so as to highlight what is happening off panel - characters are looking to the horizon, or to something we can't see, so the art implies that the story is bigger than what is directly being shown.  For example this panel, where Namor and his army are charging towards something we can't see, almost racing for the reader.  Imagine that you oppose him, that's not something you want approaching you!

Other information
Price: £10.99
ISBN: 1905239602
You can read a preview of issue 1 here: https://marvel.com/digitalcomics/view.htm?iid=5486

There were 74 comics in whole Civil War series, which include the 7 issues of the main series (the subject of this review) and all of the other titles that crossed over with the event.  Instead of listing them here, I'll direct you to the Trade Reading Order entry on Civil War and you can browse through the list.  I have read only one other tie in, and that's Black Panther: Civil War, which I thought was marvellous.

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