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Civil War General ? Part I

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In most wars, it would be impossible to get real insight from the generals controlling the action.  But luckily, the only American Civil War being fought this year is taking place in the Marvel Universe.  And the man presiding over the whole thing, moving pieces around as he sees fit is Tom Brevoort, editor extraordinaire.  Tom was nice enough to sit down with Broken Frontier and talk about the buildup and execution of issue #1 of Marvel’s Civil War.

BF: With you being the editor of these books, I would be remiss if I did not ask you about some discrepancies leading up to the book.  The first one concerns the Fantastic Four and their stance on the Registration Act. 

Very recently in an arc of FF, Child Services attempted to take custody of the FF's children away from them.  It became so adamant that to prove how unsafe the children would be elsewhere, Reed and Sue allowed Child Services to say they were taking custody of the children and within minutes the house they were supposedly moved to was blown up.  Reed used this as proof that no matter how safe the government thought they were, there would always be leaks and supervillains and enemies would get the information. 

So, why was this not used by Reed as proof against the Super Hero Registration Act (hereby referred to as "SRA"), and why is there such a split in the FF over whether or not the act should pass?

TB: I think you're maybe getting a little bit ahead of yourself here.  There's very little dialogue in CIVIL WAR #1 that indicates precisely how things are going to shake out with the Fantastic Four and the Registration Act, and how each of the various members of the family might feel about it.

Also, there's a difference here. As Sue says in CIVIL WAR #1, being publicly known as super heroes hasn't hurt the FF over the years. The issue with the children is certainly not proof against the Act—if anything, it's proof that being publicly known and recognized as a super hero can make a person's loved ones safer. And the Act isn't even calling for a public unmasking—just for oversight and proper training of super heroes, in exchange for which they receive monetary and technical support. So the way the FF have led their lives all these years is even more openly than the Act calls for, and things have been fine for them.

BF: A second supposed discrepancy then: in the build-up issues of Amazing Spiderman, Congress told Spider-Man that if he would like to speak under oath, he would have to remove his mask.  But in earlier issues of She-Hulk, special devices were used to verify his identity and Spidey was allowed to speak under oath before a court of law.  Couldn't the heroes argue that similar methods could be taken now?

TB: Spidey showed up unannounced and uninvited to a closed session of Congress. Congress was under no obligation to listen to him at that point—he had not been called to testify, as Tony Stark had. And they told him that, if he wanted his statement to be on the record, that he'd have to unmask before them. This was not a criminal or civil trial; it was a closed-door government hearing, so the rules aren't quite the same. Atop of which, it's likely that no such equipment was present, in that nobody could have predicted that such equipment would be necessary for the hearings they were about to embark upon.

BF: Speaking of the Amazing Spider-Man arc, in there Tony Stark seems to be fighting against the implementation of the SRA, yet in every other book, he has come out in favor of it.  Now, please correct me if I am mistaken and it already happened, but is there any reason for Tony's sudden change or was he just using Peter the whole time to prove his point? 

And is there anything symbolic in the fact that in his appearances where he was against the act he showed up as Tony Stark, yet when shown in favor of the act he has only been shown as Iron Man?

TB: Again, I don't see this as an inconsistency. Tony becomes aware that the Act is being discussed in the ILLUMINATI Special—he says it was passed to him under the table—and he tells his fellow Illuminati about it, predicting that it will inevitably pass. Thereafter, he is called to testify before Congress, and he does his level best to either defeat the passing of the Act, or to slow its passing down. And then, the Stamford Disaster happens, which is where we are now—and Tony realizes that the Act is now easily going to become law, and so he steps forward.

Tony is a visionary, a futurist—predicting the future is part of what he does. So he sees the train coming at the super hero community, and he's trying to get out in front of it, to take control of it and to steer it so as to minimize the damage.

BF: In terms of these "discrepancies", one of the things easily noticeable about the build-up to Civil War is that, up to this point and strictly in terms of quantity and not quality, the hype has outweighed the substance by a certain margin.  There has been the New Avengers Illuminati Special, the arc in Amazing Spider-Man, and the two-parter in FF .  Meanwhile, discussion of the book started many months ago. 

Considering the path taken with Annihilation, where there were numerous lead-in mini series and crossovers, would something like that have helped out with Civil War?  For while most people's wallets complained about it, it cannot be denied that it not only helped build up interest, but also helped to clear up any issues surrounding the event and gave the series itself a running start.

TB: That's a pretty inflammatory statement to say "The hype has outweighed the substance." I don't think I can agree with that.

I don't think that any additional prequel books would have helped CIVIL WAR especially, nor do I think that we should have done more simply for the sake of doing more. Time and again we hear from readers who've felt suckered into buying whatever tie-ins or lead-ups are being promoted and feeling like they weren't really necessary. We're trying very hard to make sure that every CIVIL WAR book, tie-in or "Road To..." contains a worthwhile piece of the overall CIVIL WAR puzzle. I think we did the correct amount of "Road To..." books—just as many as we needed.

We wanted CIVIL WAR to be as new-reader accessible as possible, especially with all of the mainstream coverage we've been lining up.  That requires the main story as told in CIVIL WAR to be linear and straightforward. Asking somebody off the street to come into a comic shop and buy sixteen titles before they can try to crack open the book they heard about in the news is counter-productive. We had to serve two masters on CIVIL WAR—the newbie readers and the long-time fans, and make sure that there was enough to the story that would be compelling to both groups, without alienating either group.

BF: Similarly with the hype machine, is there any fear on your part that by the time the first issue is released and read, most people will already know exactly what is going to happen?  The SRA was leaked/announced long ago and the New Warriors opening scene was part of the included in the Illuminati Special. Does this make it harder for you and your team to create and maintain the proper amount of tension in the book?

TB: Judging by the response so far, not really. The balance between advance hype and the need to keep story secrets under wraps until the books come out has been something that companies have grappled with for more than a decade now. It's a double-edged sword, in that the fans want to know as much as possible ahead of time, and you want to give them enough so that they become excited about the story, but not so much that the initial reading experience leaves something to be desired.

This was a problem we specifically ran into last year on HOUSE OF M, in that we didn't want to talk about the recreated world Wanda makes at the end of issue #1, so all of the pre-release previews had to focus on the contents of the first issue exclusively—and by the time it came out, most people knew about most of what happened in it. I think we've done a good job of maintaining the balance with CIVIL WAR.

Even some of the questions you've been asking me here speak to presuppositions that you have based on the advance material, which makes it easier for me and mine to pull the rug out from under you when we don't go where you assume we'll be going. Or at least, that's the hope.

BF: Speaking of the New Warriors, was there any dread on your part over their deaths?  They just had a critically well-received series (although it didn’t sell enough to keep them alive) that established them as one of Marvel's new comedy books.  Then they were used primarily as a plot device early on. Should fans of any other minor characters or teams be worried?

TB: Any time you kill a character, there should be a certain amount of worry. Nobody should be killed willy-nilly. As Millar said, every character is somebody's favorite, so you need to treat them all with respect. However, this is serial fiction, and sometimes the demands of the story are such that the taking of a life is required. These are fictional characters, not real human beings—you can't be so overly delicate with them that you treat them with kid gloves. All that ends up making them is boring.

All told, there were only four New Warriors involved in the Stamford event, so I could field a team of surviving Warriors in a second (and do, in SHE-HULK #8). And hopefully, those four characters come across as a little bit more than just a plot device in those opening pages, and as they're referred to and reflected upon as events continue to occur.

The person I felt most sorry for was Zeb Wells, who'd just put a lot of time and energy into the New Warriors only to see us blow them up. But the set-up he'd left them with—the reality television show—just fit too perfectly into what we needed to accomplish for us to select anybody else.

And yes, there are other casualties to come, though not a massive number of them—so fans should certainly be worried. Fans should always be worried.

BF: You are known as one of Marvel's great historians and the build-up of this series seemed to paint a clear picture of the leaders of both sides of this war.  How hard was the decision to put Captain America and Iron Man on separate sides of the issue for you, knowing that for the entirety of Marvel's history they have been very close friends?

TB: Not too hard, really. We've seen Cap and Iron Man take sides quite often in the past, whether it was over the leadership of the Avengers in the days when Jim Shooter was first writing the book, or over the question of assassinating the Kree Supreme Intelligence at the end of Operation: Galactic Storm, or Cap as the Captain opposing Tony during Armor Wars. There's plenty of precedent for Cap and Tony not agreeing on a given point, not coming at a situation from the same perspective. That's part of what makes them interesting.

BF: On that same topic, now that the issue has been released, can you speak a little more about the decisions made by the heroes and how it was determined which side some should stand on? 

Sue Richards seems like an easy candidate to be against the SRA yet stood for it. She-Hulk, as a lawyer who practices super-human law, seems like she'd be a good person to be against it but is not in this issue.  And it looks like Captain America is going to fight the US government. 

What was the debate like within the editorial ranks over who should be on which side and why?  And were there any decisions that you didn't like but were convinced they would work?

TB: Again, I think you're getting a little bit ahead of yourself. By the end of CIVIL WAR, we’ll know preciously little about where most characters are going to fall in relation to the Registration Act. And even for the ones we do have an inking on, this isn't a static affair—people can change sides if their point of view changes, which is part of the whole discussion.

In most cases, the characters themselves told us where they were going to stand. During the very first discussion, we started with the notion that Captain America would be on the Pro Registration side, and be forced to take up arms against his fellow heroes even though he didn't want to. But the more we discussed it, the more it didn't seem to fit. Cap wouldn't let us make him do something that was against his character, and Cap is really all about the ideal of America, rather than the reality. Again, to quote Millar, he "smells of 1776" in terms of his
belief in civil disobedience and the sanctity of personal freedom.

The same was true for most of the other characters. As we examined them in this context, they told us what they were going to do, based on who they were and always had been, and where they were in their lives at that moment. There was certainly some discussion back and forth over some of them, but in the end, the characters kind of guided themselves to their conclusions.

BF: What was your stance on the SRA when the idea of Civil War was first brought up?  Would you have been in favor of or against the idea of superheroes needing to register?

TB: Honestly, I didn't and don't have a great opinion on this, because I don't live in the Marvel Universe. As an editor, my concern is with the story, and the integrity of the fictional universe. But within that universe, registered or unregistered just leads to different story opportunities.

I've said before that, if there were masked superhumans operating in the real world, I'd for damn sure want some oversight placed on them. But there aren't, so it's not an issue that weighs heavily on me.

BF: Finally, this seems to be Mark Millar's baby the whole way, but talk a little about the pairing of him with Steve McNiven.  His artwork on the first issue was top-notch, capturing everything we love about the heroes, all the emotions that have been shown, and he truly shined on the Captain America action scene at the end.  Was he an easy choice to be made for this book? And how was he selected for it?

TB: Steve was the only choice for CIVIL WAR, the one guy Millar wanted to work with on the project—and it was difficult, in that Steve was originally supposed to have drawn the entirety of the "Collective" arc in NEW AVENGERS rather than just the prologue. But we had to give him up on that book for the greater good.

I think Steve's been ready to really break out as an artist in a big way for a while now, and he's been foiled by lousy luck at every turn, with a string of projects that he didn't end up being able to finish usually through no fault of his own. But CIVIL WAR is his chance at the bright lights, and he's stepping up in a big way. He's got a truly unique style, one that's not quite like anybody else’s in the business. He draws all of the characters extremely well, does terrific, kinetic action sequences (as displayed in Cap's escape from the SHIELD Helicarrier in issue #1), but is also completely at home in capturing a small, quiet, emotional moment, as we saw time and again in his work on MK4.

And not to slight inker Dexter Vines by exclusion, but Steve's also got a strong partnership going with colorist Morry Hollowell, dating back to their CrossGen days. Morry's completely in synch with whatever Steve is trying to accomplish in a given sequence, and knows exactly how to add a whole other level of detail, texture, ambiance and atmosphere atop the structure that Steve puts down. It's truly a winning combination.

To be continued next month when we check back with Tom Brevoort for the lowdown on Civil War #2.

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