Pipeline, Issue #506


(The following review is free of specific details about the ending to the CIVIL WAR mini-series. I'm not going to tell you who wins or how. I'm not going to tell you who lives or dies. But if you're spoiler-sensitive, I suggest waiting for the issue to come out before reading this. You've been warned.)

CIVIL WAR ends not so much with a bang, but with a whimper.

It reminds me a lot of GENERAL HOSPITAL, actually. Let me tell you what my problems with that soap opera have been for the past month, and I think you'll get a good idea of my troubles with CIVIL WAR.

GH has done the last four weeks' worth of episodes in real time. It's been a daytime version of "24" in many ways. Lotsa guns, miniscule budget. Gunmen storm a hotel to get a MacGuffin suitcase out of the vault, but things go badly. The silent alarm locks down the vault for 12 hours, and so the gunmen take hostages in the lobby and wait it out. And for all those hours, we watch the hostages and the police outside occasionally attempt to plan a way out of this with as few deaths as possible. But nothing ever happens, nothing changes, nothing works. Conversations run in circles. Two major bluffs get run, but neither get the hostages anywhere. Two attempts against the hostage takers are run by the hostages, but nothing changes after each. Twice, outsiders manage to infiltrate the hotel, but do nothing constructive. The latter actually masquerades as one of the gunmen, enters the lobby, and stands there for three hours doing nothing.

And in the end, the hostage takers find a way to open up the vault early - despite repeated assertions that it couldn't be done - and blow up the hotel lobby. The hostages are left under rubble and we're left To Be Continued. In other words, very little of what happened inside the hotel or outside the hotel mattered. Events occurred just as you would have predicted they would at the very beginning. It's all so very anti-climactic.

There are lots of character moments during the crisis, and maybe one or two life-changing revelations. Things are set up now for the next overall "act" on the show. But the end was horribly anti-climactic. There's a big fight in the last five minutes that's shown through heavy filtering. The infiltrator starts punching out the lead hostage taker, while leaving his automatic gun on his shoulder, untouched. Cops storm the hotel, but the damage has been done, and the 60-second trigger on the bomb suddenly becomes instantaneous.

It's just frustrating to see all these things put into motion, but then never activated. There are no consequences to any of the decisions made, in the end. One character may die, but he's inconsequential. Another character may die, but that's just because the actor has been on the show forever, his contract is up, and the producers want him gone.

Yes, soap operas have a version of The Big Giant Reset Button of their own.

Chekov's Law is horribly violated by some hand waving and a batch of writers afraid to deal with the serious consequences of the characters' actions. They instead opt to keep things at the status quo for as long as possible.

Meanwhile, over in the Marvel Universe, there's been a major conflict between the superheroes who wish to legitimize themselves by working with the federal government, and the superpowered people who prefer to remain on their own as lone vigilantes. Each side plots against the other, both in the court of public opinion, as well as in a series of brutal combats. And leading into this issue, the majority of characters on both sides wind up facing off against each other in what promises to be a big fistfight to decide something or other. Seriously, think about it for a second. What will this fight prove? Not much. The federal law isn't going to be revoked because Tony Stark lost a fistfight with Captain America. The American public isn't going to be relieved that they're any safer because Spider-Man beat up Venom in public.

Characters on both sides act crazier and crazier as the mini-series develops, going to further and further extremes in defense of their position. Captain America welcomes The Punisher into the fold. Iron Man recruits the deadliest bad guys to be The Thunderbolts. Mister Fantastic alienates his family. Spider-Man may be losing his. The Avengers are no more, once again.

And so the seventh issue is set up to be a nearly impossible task - wrap it all up, make it make sense, and make the readers happy that they've slogged through dozens of comics for the past 10 months or so to get here. Failing that, at least provide a new status quo that they might enjoy.

The good news is that I think the new status quo is an interesting one. Millar spends the last pages of this issue in a denouement rife with plot exposition to explain how things now are. I just don't think the way we all got to it was all that exciting or entertaining. It built to a fever pitch, pulled the rug out from under our feet, and then asked us to accept a wildly different status quo. I'll accept it in the end because I think it's an interesting idea and because I don't think cutting out all Marvel comics from my reading material would make me a happier person. But I think the road there was far too rough.

Having Superboy punch the universe was silly, but it gave DC fans a blank slate to see new stories on. One silly plot machination does not invalidate everything that comes after it, right? It's up to the writers in the future to deal with the repercussions of the Civil War to see if this whole trip was worth it. I give Marvel credit for trying to reformulate the paradigm in which their characters exist, particularly without the aid of some cosmic deus ex machina, or universal reboot.

Clearly, Joss Whedon really idolizes/hero-worships Captain America to think up this series conclusion, and has to think the rest of the Marvel Universe does, as well, bad guys included. (Remember, Joe Quesada has credited Whedon with the ending since this series was announced.) And, yet, it's not the conclusion everyone thought it would be. I'm not terribly sure if that's a good idea or not.

And still left up in the air, dangling like a giant dangly thing, is the question of Tony Stark's ulterior motive for this whole thing. I hope FRONT LINE #11 comes out soon to clear that one up.

On the bright side, we now know what "42" stands for, and lots of people will think it's lame. I thought it kind of clever, actually. But for those who want to set themselves up to hate everything about this series, it's just one more bullet in their gun.

I tell you what will be most interesting about this final issue: seeing everyone track down the last year's worth of pronouncements from Marvel to see where they planted false leads, how they covered up their leaks (and I can think of one right away that they lied about to cover up), and what sentences have to be parsed very carefully to determine the truth.

CIVIL WAR #7 is, nominally, the end of a very tough year's worth of planning and publishing for Marvel, but it's also just the start of a new era of storytelling. In the end, the mini-series didn't pay off as strongly as I had hoped it would. The first couple of issues started things strongly. But as time passed, as plots piled up, and as expectations rose, the whole house of cards got shakier and shakier. Major plot points were pushed off to other titles, while everyone at the House of Ideas claimed those spin-off stories weren't necessary. CIVIL WAR isn't a complete loss, mind you. It's just a disappointment, based on how strongly it started. Right now, I'm just glad to have it over with so we can move on.


Imagine this scenario:

Marvel's been through another upheaval. CIVIL WAR and the more realistic style of storytelling has finally backfired. A new team of creators must be chosen to lead the Marvel Boat through new and choppy waters. Who do you go to?

For me, it's simple. And you can promote from within, to boot.

First, we keep Tom Brevoort around. I'd make him co-editor-in-chief alongside Ralph Macchio. Both have long histories at Marvel and a familiarity with the characters, even the obscure ones. We'll need all of that.

Then, I'd choose the architects for this new universe: Dan Slott and Jeff Parker. They've proven an ability to write Marvel characters in the Marvel Universe. They have good senses of humor. They can write for all ages. They can revive old characters in new ways without resorting to rape, tearing bodies in half, and other general mayhem. To put it bluntly, this new Marvel Universe will be about the fun.

Families of titles would be firewalled from one another to ensure that readers don't have to read them all to get any story. More done-in-one stories would be produced, less writing for the trade. Creative teams would be encouraged to stay on a title longer than six issues at a time. And any big names brought in wouldn't be announced until their creative run is well underway and material has been backlogged.

So, yes, we can keep Joss Whedon around. I'd keep Peter David around, too, and let him run loose with a Spider-Man title. I'd even let him keep X-FACTOR humming. It's a little darker than the rest of the titles, but variety is the spice of life. And the X-titles have always been a little darker and angstier, right?

With this new worldview, Mike Wieringo would be kept very busy. I'd bring Phil Winslade over from DC to draw something. ANYTHING. Marcos Martin (DOCTOR STRANGE: OATH) would have regular work, not just a mini-series here and there. Mike McKone hangs around. Mark Brooks gets a regular title. Kevin Maguire gets free reign to draw whatever he likes, and maybe we can convince Keith Giffen to work with him on something.

To keep things lighter, the coloring team would be led by Lee Loughridge, Paul Mounts, and Laura Martin.

And Marvel would also translate and reprint at full size a large variety of French comics, friendly for all ages. SPIROU, THE SMURFS, and more would suddenly appear on these shores.

OK, so I'm kidding about that last part, but a man can dream, can't he?

In any case, this daring approach to lighter continuity, lighter comics, and brighter books would no doubt result in a plummeting market share for Marvel with a slight increase in its 6 - 16 demographic. Marvel would go bankrupt again, producing some beautiful comics that would never see a bookstore because Marvel would shut down its offices rather than pay another electricity bill for books that never sell.

If Marvel were to survive, however, no doubt the pendulum would quickly swing back the other way to an extreme fashion and mutilation, torture, and general brutish nastiness would be the cause of the day.

And it would all be my fault. But it'd be worth a shot, wouldn't it?


Five years ago, I was writing about very similar things.

In Pipeline #245 (19 February 2002), an issue of DC's all-ages IMPULSE caught my eye:

In any case, IMPULSE #83 is now out at a store near you. The creative team remains Dezago and Barberi. As much as the book may get ignored, it's a good book for what it is. It's a perfect entry-level book for younger boys and girls. It's a DC "Ultimate Marvel" book, in that way. I think it might even skew younger than that. Typical of this comics market, though, it doesn't sell to a potential audience made up of college kids and nostalgia freaks who don't want to buy a "kiddy" book.

Dezago writes his butt off to make sure each issue is a good first issue. No writer exemplifies this attitude better in any book being published today. Each issue of IMPULSE is laden with caption boxes and exposition to give the most novice reader a fair chance to get into the book. It reminds me a bit of how Chris Claremont used captions and dialogue to reintroduce readers to the plot at hand. He had verbal shortcuts for things, and a way to use sometimes flowery prose to set a scene. Dezago uses easier language here. His narration is bouncy, like an enthusiastic adult reading a story to his young child. The dialogue reads naturally without trying to sound hip.

I bet you that not too many others have ever compared Dezago to Claremont.

That Friday, Pipeline2 #139 focused on art books, with reviews of THE ART OF NICK CARDY, LUIS ROYO'S EVOLUTION, and WINGS OF TWILIGHT: THE ART OF MICHAEL KALUTA.

That column ended with a plea to reprint Art Adams' original LONGSHOT mini-series. It seems like such a no-brainer, but here we are five years later with nothing. I would think the Premiere Edition HC line would be a perfect format for it. If we can get KRAVEN THE HUNTER, why not LONGSHOT?

Further irony: That column ended with a tease that Pipeline Daily was returning the following week with five columns devoted to Image Comics. It was a hodge podge of topics, to be sure, but we'll look at them all next week. The irony comes from the fact that I just interviewed George Khoury over the weekend for the Pipeline Podcast. For an hour, we discussed his upcoming book on the history of Image Comics. Keep an ear out for that in the next week to ten days. It was a lot of fun to record.

(Update: Blame Alanis Morrissette if you will, but that really isn't a good example of _irony_. It's more _coincidence_, I suppose.)

Coming up next week: Another Marvel preview of a big #1 release, plus more reviews, looks back, and general merriment.

I'm still available on MySpace and ComicSpace.

My blog, Various and Sundry looks like a lot of Reality TV show reviews with sporadic tech/geeky things thrown in. The AMERICAN IDOL stuff is going full force right now.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 700 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

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