Overview

Civil War #4

Review

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Civil War #4

Credits

  • Words: Mark Millar
  • Art: Steve McNiven
  • Inks: Dexter Vines
  • Colors: Morry Hollowell
  • Story Title: Civil War, Part 4
  • Publisher: Marvel Comics
  • Price: $2.99
  • Release Date: Sep 20, 2006

A god returns. A hero falls. A family disintegrates. A team is reborn. And The Watcher watches. But so does a masked man in the shadows.

SPOILER WARNING!!

The God of Thunder has returned, but he brings more than thunder with him. He brings death and chaos. The Secret Avengers are no match for him, and one hero falls before his mad lightning. The other rebels prepare for the same fate, until they are saved by Sue Storm. Once again, it’s toe-to-toe for Iron Man and Captain America, Cap nearly beaten senseless, saved by Hercules and Falcon, and even more adamant about his cause after hearing the horrible news. But a few have doubts and change sides, even though more are sure to join. Later, we learn that Thor is just one part of a larger plan unfolding under the eye of The Watcher. Someone else, in a black mask, is watching, too. But he doesn’t see what’s happening behind closed doors. Sue has had enough, and leaves Reed to join the Secret Avengers. Reed, however, presses on with his plans, which include a new group of superhumans to apprehend them.

Given the quality of its art, it was optimistic at best for anyone to believe that every issue of Civil War would ship on time. But if the great bulk of the Marvel Universe needs to be put on hold for the art team of McNiven, Vines, and Hollowell to produce the work of their careers, then the wait is worth it. First, Steve McNiven, who has upped an already solid game with levels of visual drama and emotional expressiveness that were merely hinted at in his previous work. Add these new developments to what we’ve seen from him before—a rich sense of detailing and perspective, striking figure work, and framing that makes every panel sing—and you have an artist who’s an early lock on Artist of the Year. Then there’s Dexter Vines, his inks displaying equal parts subtlety and boldness, giving dimension and richness to lines that already had tons. Finally, Morry Hollowell, his Thor scene a hyper-real spectacle of color and light, the rest of Civil War approaching levels of tragic opera thanks, in part, to his palette.

No one writes better "moments" than Mark Millar these days, and this issue has three great ones, all of them personal. The first is the exchange between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, gloves and bets off, Rogers going after what Tony’s armor can’t protect, his character, Tony belittling and patronizing Steve for being a relic of the past, almost as if Steve can’t be faulted for lacking the vision to see the world as Tony does. It’s a gut-wrenching scene, one of the most emotionally true pieces of writing in Millar’s body of work. The second occurs at Bill Foster’s funeral, where a mother who doesn’t wear a mask or cape sums up everything that’s right and everything that’s wrong, not about the SHRA, but rather about the idea that heroes should turn on each other. We simultaneously feel its utter lunacy and a sense that things had to turn out this way. Lastly, there’s, of all people, Hank Pym, face-to-face with the consequences of his actions. I’ve hated him ever since he slapped Jan way back in the day, but in that one scene he sums up what’s great about Marvel characters—their flaws.

As for the rest, the stuff that everyone’s talking about, sadly, Millar has run this train off the tracks.

First, Goliath. As soon as it was clear that he would figure prominently in this story, it was also clear that he had about the same chances of surviving it as a nameless red shirt on Star Trek. And yet, however telegraphed, I think it was gutsy to show a black hero killed essentially for resisting arrest. But that’s overshadowed by a sense that Goliath’s death doesn’t mean as much as it should, that its primary function is to advance the plot. There wasn’t enough characterization to form a real connection with the reader, and Goliath seems like little more than cannon fodder, which is a shame.

Second, Civil War #4 further entrenches a sense that the minds behind it are rooting for one side against the other. From the beginning, despite the utter reasonableness of registering superhumans, we’ve seen the pro-SHRA side act in increasingly despicable ways, and this issue is so over the top in this respect that not only is any sort of healthy debate impossible now, there’s also little that the anti-SHRA can conceivably do now to make their antagonists look good. Millar’s balls as a storyteller have gotten the better of his judgment, and consequently, the story itself has suddenly lost all its drama and is in danger of looking like a farce.

Lastly, and worst of all, in Civil War #4, Millar is guilty of the greatest sin that a fiction writer can commit—that of sacrificing character on the altar of plot. He’s got one hell of a story to tell, and it’s apparently so killer that the nuances of the characters involved don’t matter as much as they should. Reed Richards wouldn’t be who and what he is were he not driven. But Richards was always as thoughtful and compassionate as he was cerebral. I can just barely buy that he’d be pro-SHRA, but given his recent difficulties with the government, I can’t believe that he’d so pro that he’d 1) Turn a cloned Thor loose without testing him; 2) build a prison in the Negative Zone for people who’ve fought with him and have been his friends for years; and 3) send Bullseye, Venom, and The Taskmaster after his wife and brother-in-law. Worse, I can’t believe that Sue would leave her children, then hope that the genius of the husband she’s called a fascist will figure out a solution.

It took 22 pages for Marvel’s most mega mega-event to become mega flawed. Who knows how many pages will be needed to set things right?

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