Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

road to civil war coverWriters: Brian Michael Bendis, J. Michael Stracynski

Artists: Alex Maleev, Ron Garney, Mike McKone, Tyler Kirkham

Issues: Amazing Spider-Man #529-531, Fantastic Four #536-537, New Avengers: Illuminati

Though House of M had several tie-ins and shook up the world for mutants and X-Men, it was Civil War, Marvel’s next big event that hit in the Summer of 2006, that really became the premiere Marvel crossover event, with just about every single ongoing series having an appropriate tie-in or story arc.

With big events comes big responsibility, er, numerous trade paperbacks. Marvel knew they had a grand story to tell and planted some early seeds of the Superhuman Registration Act in New Avengers and other series. The Road to Civil War is a stand-alone trade paperback that collects three issues of Amazing Spider-Man, two issues of Fantastic Four and a special one-shot issue called New Avengers: Illuminati (which would later become a limited series).

Though I’ve recently become quite the Marvel connoisseur (see, um, all these Final Thoughts on my blog) I actually haven’t read two of Marvel’s most famous and longest-lasting series, Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. Jumping into Amazing Spider-Man wasn’t too harsh – after all Spider-man is a member of the New Avengers (at the time). In issue 529 Tony Stark builds our friendly neighborhood sass machine a custom spidey suit with all kinds of fancy cybernetic enhancements, including four additional arms! All Stark wants in return is for Peter Parker to become his right-hand man in the political storm that’s brewing in Washington D.C. – the Superhuman Registration Act.

What follows is a nifty little arc where Mr. Stark and Mr. Parker go to Washington for a Senate hearing, discussing the pros and cons of forcing masked superheroes to reveal their identity to the world and be held accountable for their actions (like for example, all the property damage their battles cause). The lengthy scenes have all the potential of being long-winded and heavy-handed but Brian Michael Bendis does a superb job making good points on both sides and generally making the actual politics interesting rather than hand-waving.

ASM #530

Of course since it’s a comic as soon as they walk outside they’re attacked by the Titanium Man, a Russian mercenary in his own fancy suit, and Tony flees while Spidey battles the surprise attack. At the end it’s revealed that Stark actually paid the Titanium Man for the attack to remind everyone why superheroes are important, and Parker begins to doubt his trust in Tony.

In New Avengers: Illuminati Stark visits the secret organization that was first revealed back in New Avengers – a clandestine meeting of the world’s most powerful superpowered leaders: Dr. Strange, Mr. Fantastic, Black Bolt, Namor and Professor X. The extra-long one-shot issue dives into the murky past of the Illuminati, including their formation after the Kree-Skrull War. Fascinatingly the whole comic adapts a very retro 70s/80s art style and actually sticks with it throughout (despite catching up to modern events leading to Civil War). It works quite well and lends the story an air of authenticity.

When the group is first formed they invite Black Panther to join, but he instantly refuses, being the only one to have the foresight to see where this collusion will lead to. The group meets again to discuss shipping off Hulk into space after a particularly violent battle – which is a fun way of tying together the beginnings of “Planet Hulk,” the major storyline that takes over the Incredible Hulk series throughout Civil War. Namor has a huge problem with this agreement to simply get rid of the Hulk and ends up fighting Iron Man and leaving the group in a huff. I’m unfamiliar with Namor other than he was the very first Marvel superhero and thus far all I’ve learned is that he’s a huge asshole.

Our secretive leaders meet again to discuss the Superhuman Registration Act, and Stark suggests moving in front of it to support it so it doesn’t get out of hand. He also has the creepy foresight to predict almost exactly what ends up happening in the actual Civil War storyline, including a masked hero attacking a villain near a school and causing a horrific number of casualties. That part gets a bit heavy-handed but it’s still fun seeing this group of major players in the Marvelverse come together and discuss the big issues (as well as squabble amongst each other). Dr. Strange leaves, Namor curses them all while Mr. Fantastic supports Stark. The lines are being drawn and it’s a cool way of leading to Civil War.

The two Fantastic Four issues are much less of a direct tie-in than the others. The story revolves around Thor’s hammer crashing to Earth after the “Ragnarok” events in Thor, which I’m wholly unfamiliar with (I can only read so many comics!). The Fantastic Four are called in to investigate but Dr. Doom shows up with a legion of Doombots to stake his claim. Apparently he was in hell last we saw him, and hitched a ride when Mjolnir ripped through space on its way to Earth. For being completely lost on the goings-on of the Fantastic Four it was a pretty decent little story with lots of action and Doom chewing up the scenes as he does so well. How it ties into Civil War I haven’t the foggiest idea, other than further explaining what the situation is with Thor at the time.

The entire trade is ancillary reading to Civil War but it does provide a lot of nice background information, especially on Spider-Man leading up the grand event. If you have Marvel Unlimited I would definitely recommend reading the Amazing Spider-Man issues but as a whole the trade is only okay as a tie-in, and harmless fun as an overall collection of comics.

FF #537 edit