Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – War Machine, Vol. 1-2

A satisfying and exciting arc unfolds in James Rhodes’ first real solo series as a badass cyborg soldier of justice.

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With 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!

War Machine 2008Writer: Greg Pak

Artists: Leonardo Manco, Carlos Magno

Issues: War Machine (2008) #1-12

 

On again, off again Iron Man sidekick War Machine literally took over Tony Stark’s solo series during the Secret Invasion. Stark’s whole world fell apart during the event, and his story was told in the main Secret Invasion trade.

Meanwhile War Machine actually received his first ever solo series following those events, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t amazing. James Rhodes had barely been used at all in the least few years of comics.

This relatively short, 12-issue series does a fantastic job explaining his character, developing a satisfying arc, and using the events of Dark Reign to weave together a compelling narrative. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – War Machine, Vol. 1-2”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Iron Man: Haunted

“Haunted” successfully ties plot threads and seeds from Stark’s previous stories while sending him on an emotional journey filled with mystery, political intrigue, and an action-packed finale.

With 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!

iron man hauntedWriters: Daniel Knauf, Charles Knauf

Artists: Butch Guice, Roberto De La Torre, Carlo Pagualyan

Issues: Iron Man: Director of SHIELD #21-28

“How do you feel, sir?”
“How do I feel? I saved 97.5% of the human race. Proved everyone who doubted me wrong…and I kicked the living crap out of The Mandarin. I feel great.”

Considering Tony Stark became an even bigger asshole during the whole Civil War event, his solo series during that time has been surprisingly fantastic. As the Director of SHIELD Stark’s resources and reach have never been higher, yet neither has the emotional and psychological toll. In the massive eight part story arc, “Haunted,” the writing father/son team of Daniel and Charles Knauf successfully tie together the story elements and seeds that Warren Ellis planted back in the first arc while giving Tony Stark an emotional journey filled with mystery, political intrigue, and an action-packed finale.

Don’t be fooled by the trade paperback’s terrible decision to use the Iron Man: Director of SHIELD Annual issue as its cover – neither the art nor tone is reflective of the darkened styling and patient pace of the story, and it’s a completely separate, one-shot issue. “Haunted” begins like an episode of a murder-of-the-week TV show, as a pair of registered heroes in Omaha Nebraska are exploring a disturbance in an abandoned building. They stumble upon a minor villain named Gravitron, he says some cryptic stuff, and one of them is killed while the other lands in the hospital. Stark visits the hospitalized hero and villain to try and get some answers, and it’s there that he starts seeing dead people from his past like Happy Hogan, Sal, and Steve Rogers.

iron man #25Stark begins to piece the puzzle together and the comic takes on a forensics and investigative format, which is both familiar and yet a fun way to approach a comic book story. The art also compliments the tone perfectly with a dark, painted look that somehow achieves consistency despite three different artists being used throughout the run. Dialogue scenes and faces look especially fantastic, while the few action scenes suffer somewhat as colors and characters blend together a bit too much.

Stark’s investigations are stymied by his own Superhero Initiative. As he’s been displaying erratic and questionable behavior, including leaving his suit on for days at a time, psychologist and perennial guest-star Doc Samson is called in to treat him. Stark is forced to wear a power-inhibiting ankle bracelet and about to be put under house arrest until he proves to Samson that there is in fact a major cover-up going on. Dr. Maya Henson, the woman from the “Extremis” story line that created the virus (and later administered it to Stark), had faked her suicide and gone to work for a pharmaceutical company to continue Extremis’ research and development.

Unfortunately for everyone, the company is run by The Mandarin, Iron Man’s old nemesis. The Mandarin’s return was teased in Iron Man’s previous story arc, and in a classic comic book clash only Stark believed that he was back. The Mandarin is a fun villain in how he manipulates Dr. Henson, and in the end his desire is to unleash Extremis upon the world, forcing humanity to evolve with it even if ninety-seven point five percent of the world will die in the process.

With a massive eight issues to explore a fairly simple story, “Haunted” really takes its time diving into Stark’s stressful investigation, as well as the political ramifications of being the Director of SHIELD. When they finally discover The Mandarin and his plan, Stark battles him in an older, non Extremis-powered armor and has SHIELD deploy a special self-contained nuke on the entire research facility.

iron man #27

It’s an effective measure (though Mandarin escapes, it’s only issue #26!) but I liked that Stark has to then answer for dropping a nuclear weapon on American soil. The government is not pleased and just as he’s rendered guilty, his SHIELD supporting cast of Maria Hill and Tim Dugan bail him out, letting him escape to hunt down the Mandarin and prove that he’s still out there with a biological weapon.

iron man #26The end wraps up rather quickly in the final two issues as Stark is able to pinpoint Mandarin’s location relatively quickly to the exact company he happens to be at in China, then flies right through the building and begins the final melee showdown that lasts several brutalizing pages. It’s a violent final battle that ends when Iron Man rips Mandarin’s trademark rings that were embedded in his spine right out, and taps into the Extremis-filled missiles to make them harmlessly detonate up in the stratosphere where the cold kills the virus.

Tony Stark saves the day and is vindicated of all charges. For a long story arc containing a minimum of supporting cast, “Haunted,” captured my attention throughout each issue. My only complaint is that Maya Henson is reduced to a manipulated damsel in distress, and in the end is rescued by Stark with a kiss (so she believes it’s really him), which is a cheesy cliché that the comic had otherwise managed to avoid.

If Iron Man were an ongoing TV show this story would’ve made a great half-season or mini-series, and the writing sensibilities definitely reflect a television format. I especially enjoy that it integrated Stark’s past characters and stories into a strong culmination that includes his oldest and greatest foe, even if he defeats him a bit too easily.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Mighty Avengers (2007), Vol. 1-2

Iron Man’s officially government-sanctioned Avengers team is born from the ashes of the Civil War, and it’s mostly stupid fun.

With 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!

mighty avengers 2007 coverWriter: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Frank Cho, Mark Bagley

Issues: Mighty Avengers (2007) #1-11

At the end of the superhero Civil War the rebellious New Avengers were defeated and went into hiding, spurring new SHIELD Director Tony Stark to sanction his own official Avengers team. He dubbed them the Mighty Avengers – inadvertently coined by Ms. Marvel.

Stark of course joins the team making him a bit of a Wolverine in this era in terms of how spread out he is: here in Mighty Avengers, his own solo Iron Man series, as a major character in Captain America, etc. He chooses Ms. Marvel to actually lead the team (given her military background and experience), and together the two pick and choose the best of the best.

In New Avengers the team came together organically over a major crisis – a supervillain prison breakout, and the heroes that showed up and worked together ended up forming a team amidst the chaos. None of that happens in Mighty Avengers; instead it goes the Armageddon route and simply goes around recruiting people in a page by page montage (with flashbacks to their recruitment throughout the first few issues). Carol and Tony discuss people like they’re trading cards (“we need a Wolverine”) and then go recruit them. It’s all a bit silly and not terribly interesting, but at least they select a fairly varied team in terms of power level and background.

The initial team that joins Ms. Marvel and Iron Man are The Wasp, The Sentry, Wonder Man, Black Widow and Ares (“He’s a Wolverine and a Thor!” Ugh). Before they can even get an official Welcome to the Group meeting, Iron Man is suddenly melted and transformed into a weird, naked lady version of Ultron after a seemingly random attack by Mole-man. In the “Ultron Initiative” (#1-6) Fem-Ultron hijacks some weather satellites and tries to wreck havoc on the whole planet, while our heroes unsuccessfully hurl themselves at it.

As a side note, I completely hate the Sentry. What started off as an interesting take on a Superman-level powerful hero with severe mental issues has devolved into a Get Out of Situation Free card for comic writers. He has the power of a thousand exploding suns! Great.

Mighty Avengers #1b

The story is incredibly dumb and I detest the way Bendis writes each panel. He includes the inner thought bubble of all our heroes, sometimes in the middle of them talking. This makes every page have an insane amount of words and often makes just trying to suss out a single dialogue session a confusing mess. I generally like Bendis’ dialogue and writing but this method just fails spectacularly. Trying to do the inner monologue thing (normally reserved for solo books or single character focuses) for half a dozen characters is a nightmare and doesn’t add anything to the story.

I’m also not a fan of Frank Cho’s art work. It’s not terrible but it’s just slightly worse than what I consider base-line brightly colored action-adventure comic fair, and includes a hefty does of constant T&A from the women heroes that I wasn’t a big fan of.

To put a cherry on this ill-conceived return of Ultron (who mostly just stands there for five issues and occasionally throws a charging hero to the ground), they enlist the help of Hank Pym, Wasp’s ex-husband, to create a computer virus and introduce it to Ultron.

Yep, they Independence Day Ultron. Good job guys.

mighty avengers #2

 

As a side note I really enjoy how Bendis writes Hank and his dialogue with Janet is especially delicious, but even his enjoyable guest-starring isn’t enough to save this train-wreck of an opening story.

Volume 2, “Venom Bomb” (#7-11) is a massive improvement, picking up right after the last panel of New Avengers #31. Issue #7 has Spider-Woman showing up at Stark’s bedside with the glaring body of Skrull-Elektra. The titling of the issue has the Secret Invasion stamp on it, acting as an early prologue to the upcoming event. The entire issue is mostly just Stark and Jessica Drew talking about the ramifications of a possible secret Skrull invasion, and it’s actually pretty great.

Their talks end with Spider-Woman officially joining the Mighty Avengers, effectively switching sides, and Stark grants her a slot much to many of the team’s chagrin. Before anyone can really voice a complaint, something suspicious falls to earth from the wreckage of Stark’s weather satellites from the previous story arc. It’s a venom-style symbiote! Only this one acts like a virus and beings mutating everyone in New York City into Venom/Carnage monsters.

The Mighty Avengers are on the scene, and finally we get some action-packed scenes of our heroes kicking ass. Granted they soon have to pull up once they realize that all the monsters are really just possessed people. To create more chaos the New Avengers show up also as venom symbiote monsters (save Luke Cage), and there’s a funny bit where Wolverine’s healing factor keeps trying to push out the symbiote. Poor Wolverine.

Mighty avengers #8

The whole thing is over in a single issue as Stark simply goes to his lab and synthesizes a cure, then blasts it over New York. Very anti-climactic and short, but it leads to the team discovering the “Venom Bomb” belonged to Dr. Doom, so it’s off to Latveria! As if battling hundreds of symbiotes weren’t enough our heroes throw down with hundreds of doom bots after Ares crashes a plane right into Doom’s castle.

No less than three full two-page spreads of the team fighting off doombots jump out as a lovely feast for the eyes. Mark Bagley is an improvement in the art department, and it’s very much that classic modern comic book feel that is very appropriate to the tone and feel of the series.

The attack on Doom (whom quickly becomes one of my favorite villains and I adore Bendis’ treatment of him) leads to he, Iron Man and Sentry being thrust back in time to the 60s via Doom’s time-travel device. While an opportunity for some funny and cheesy moments are mostly wasted, I did love the old Jack Kirby, Silver Age style in which the time-travel issue is drawn.

Like all their problems it’s solved with a combination of Stark’s ideas and Sentry’s insane power level and they quickly return to their time an issue later. The entire story arc of Volume 2 is a rapid fire of big events happening every single issue. If the idea was to make up for the lackluster and boring “Ultron Initiative” it definitely succeeds.

mighty avengers #9

Dr. Doom is finally apprehended as Iron Man gets his Respect Mah Authority moment. I’m annoyed that throughout these two first volumes the focus centers on Iron Man more than anyone else. I get that he’s obviously the most popular hero (although Ms. Marvel was also gaining popularity at this time with her own solo series) but as I mentioned before, Iron Man is damn near everywhere. As stupid as heroes like Ares and Wonder Man are (answer = very, very stupid) I wouldn’t mind seeing at least a bit more team dynamic, drama, in-fighting and characterization that’s in every other successful team-up book.

With too much focus on Iron Man, a silly team and a terrible first outing, Mighty Avengers is off to a very shaky start. It definitely feels like the Michael Bay of comic stories – some fun action if you can mostly shut your brain down. I did like the way that it incorporates the greater continuity and the nonstop action in the second volume is an admittedly fun ride. But, come on Tony, let the rest of the team do something every once in awhile.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Iron Man: Director of SHIELD

The new era of the Initiative stems from the world-changing results of the superhero Civil War: namely that Tony Stark is the new Director of SHIELD and pushing forward with his grand plans of a government sanctioned superhero squad in all fifty states.

With 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!

iron man director of shield #15 coverWriters: Charlie Knauf, Daniel Knauf

Artist: Robert De La Torre

Issues: Iron Man: Director of Shield #15-18

The primary solo Iron Man series at the time of the mid to late 2000s was a wee bit confusing, changing names from The Invincible Iron Man to Iron Man, then Iron Man: Director of SHIELD until War Machine takes over to end the run and begin a new one. Thus although the volume is titled Iron Man: Director of SHIELD, it uses the same numbering that first started with the excellent Iron Man: Extremis back in late 2004.

I don’t usually write my Final Thoughts after a single short story arc, but seeing as the next two Iron Man issues are World War Hulk tie-ins, I’d better tackle these now. The new era of the Initiative stems from the world-changing results of the superhero Civil War: namely that Tony Stark is the new Director of SHIELD and pushing forward with his grand plans of a government sanctioned superhero squad in all fifty states.

While various Avengers titles have cropped up or changed to suit the still split superhero community at the time, Iron Man’s solo series focuses solely on his dealings with SHIELD, and works as a great continuation of his previous storylines. I actually skipped the story arc after Extremis, then dropped back in for his Civil War tie-ins – which were pretty meh (like most of them). Director of Shield brings back genetic researcher Maya Henson as Stark’s former colleague and ex-lover, and co-creator of the Extremis formula (which now runs through Tony, allowing him to shed and gather his suit at will).

iron man director of shield #16Maya and Tony are concerned about the increased level of attack and sophistication level of various random terrorist cells, just the thing that SHIELD deals with on a fairly constant basis. Former SHIELD director Dugan has concerns about Stark’s ability to run SHIELD, accusing him of running it like a company and micromanaging at every level. Indeed Stark feels the need to jump in and save the day as Iron Man in just about every situation they find themselves in.

Eventually their research and investigation leads to one of Iron Man’s oldest foes – the Mandarin. The Mandarin strikes at Tony and SHIELD by cleverly planting an organic bomb in the body of their lead, and when the dead terrorist is brought up to the helicarrier for autopsy, it explodes in a suitably creepy Alien-style moment, attacking and infecting everyone on board. Meanwhile Iron Man is down at the prison facility fighting off waves of cyber-modified zombie creatures and has to race up the helicarrier to save the day again.

All of issue 18 is one big battle, and it’s pretty damn fun. The tentacled organic thing is an exciting and creepy foe that results in the death of a semi-major character in Tony’s life, his aging hippie friend Sal. There’s a neat moment where Tony briefly flashes to the other recent deaths in his life, namely his bodyguard and friend Happy and of course Steve Rogers. Stark is only able to defeat the creature by learning that Maya’s Extremis virus (which he forbade her from researching further) would be able to cure it. He sheds his suit, gives his best Come at Me Bro line, and lets it infect him.

About a third of the helicarrier is destroyed and Stark and SHIELD have been built a huge blow, but Stark’s plan works and the dangerous creature melts off of him. He correctly surmises that the attack was a simple diversion as they never did find Mandarin, nor I believe even learn of his involvement in the plot. Dr. Maya Henson is shown at the end going to a previously offered research facility so she can further her work – away from Stark – and it’s run by Mandarin! Dun Dun DUNNNN!

iron man director of shield #18

Despite Stark coming off like a complete asshole from Civil War, I really enjoyed his first outing as SHIELD Director. The father and son writers effectively layer in the politics and implication of how SHIELD’s run in this new era under Stark while also providing a fun and decidedly comic book-y villain and climax. The heavily shaded artwork is quite a bit darker than artist Torre’s other work on Ms. Marvel; I really dug the very Earth-y tones of brown and red, interestingly making Iron Man blend in rather than stand out and giving the sci-fi plot and elements a very dark feel. Director of SHIELD isn’t quite yet required reading for what’s going on during the Initiative time frame (aka the year between Civil War and Secret Invasion), but so far it’s a fun romp starring a very driven and conflicted Tony Stark.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New Avengers (2005), Vol. 4-5

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!

new avengers #16 coverWriter: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Steve McNiven (#16), Mike Deodato (#17-20), Howard Chaykin (#21), Leinil Francis Yu (#22), Olivier Coipel (#23), Adi Granov (#24), Jim Cheung (#25)

Issues: New Avengers (2005) #16-25

If you were looking for a series heavily mired in ongoing Marvel continuity and events, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend anything before New Avengers. Writer Brian Michael Bendis has been instrumental in ushering in the age of events that has dominated Marvel comics for the last decade, and New Avengers was his main ongoing series that picked up after “Avengers Disassembled,” leading through the events of Civil War and Dark Reign and culminating in Siege.

The first three story arcs (see Final Thoughts – New Avengers, Vol. 1-3) set up the reason for the new team and gave them some room to stretch and grow. The next two arcs – Volume Four’s “The Collective” and Volume Five’s “New Avengers Disassembled,” are very reflective of the state of the Marvel universe, and would be incredibly confusing for anyone that wasn’t also keeping up with other trades and series.

Thankfully I’ve been diving into Marvel comics whole-heartedly. “The Collective” finally answers the question that was posed at the end of House of M – If so many mutants lost their powers, where did all that power go? Turns out they were all absorbed by a quiet mutant living in Alaska. Michael Pointer had no idea he was a mutant – his power was to absorb other powers (Like Rogue I suppose) and he had never lived near any other mutants.

The resulting influx of millions of mutant powers makes him an energy being of god-like power, and he destroys his poor hometown and everyone in it in a sudden rampage. Alpha Flight is called in to stop him as he travels through Canada to America, and he promptly wipes them out (Which begets a new team called Omega Flight at the end of Civil War). The Avengers are called in to deal with them, as well as some guest stars like Ms. Marvel. Most of the story is spent simply keeping him at bay (mainly using Sentry’s equally god-like powers) while they figure out just who the hell he is, and the mystery and reveal is quite cool.

new avengers #18

The combined mutant powers eventually leave Pointer’s body and enter’s Magneto, now powerless and writing his memoirs in the ruins of Genosha. I’ve mentioned previously that I’ve enjoyed Magneto’s older post-war attitude, so it’s fitting that he fights the possession every step of the way. It all ties back into Xorn, which is the overly confusing and frankly terrible plot web that tangled up the X-Men just before the era I returned to in Marvel continuity (circa 2004).

Thankfully it’s handled much better here – Magneto/Xorn raises the dead bodies of mutants while our New Avengers battle them in an epic climax. Agent Daisy Johnson (whom is apparently Skye in the Agents of SHIELD TV show) is brought in by SHIELD to cause a localized quake in Magneto’s mind, ripping Xorn from his body. Sentry then hurls the energy ball into the sun. Does this effectively destroy the last vestiges of all those lost mutant powers? Either way it was a fun, action-packed story and neat way to tie into a dangling thread from House of M.

new avengers #23On the other hand the “New Avengers Disassembled” story arc is nothing more than a series of single issue tie-ins that attempts to shed some background light on some of the team members during the events of Civil War. Each issue is drawn by different artists with very different art styles, so it’s a bit jarring to read them one after the other. The five issues serve as one-offs for Captain America, Luke Cage, Spider-Woman, Sentry and Iron Man. Luke Cage and Spider-Woman were the best; Cage and Iron Man have a deliciously tense discussion over the Superhuman Registration Act (Luke Cage would go on to join Captain America’s resistance team), while Spider-Woman’s personal arc with Hydra fits nicely for a one-off adventure where they try to openly recruit her – and her answer involves driving a speedboat away from an explosion.

The Civil War stories are a good example of when an event completely stalls another series. While the event itself is fantastic, New Avengers definitely suffered and was hamstrung into doing side stories with little to no actual plot development. In my perusal of more than half the Civil War tie-ins, it was definitely one of the worst.

However, I do look forward to the new world order that’s created after that massive event as Tony Stark creates his own officially government sanctioned Avengers team in Mighty Avengers, while New Avengers continues on as an underground resistance still fighting the good fight.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Civil War

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!

Civil War #1Writer: Mark Millar

Artist: Steve McNiven

Issues: Civil War #1-7*

*I also cover the following tie-ins: Iron Man: Civil War, Civil War: Thunderbolts, The Amazing Spider-Man: Civil War, Civil War: Choosing Sides, Civil War: The Confession

 

“Was it worth it?”

In the excellent one-shot issue Civil War: The Confession, written a few months after the main events of Civil War, Tony Stark visits Captain America on the helicarrier and spends about a dozen pages trying to justify why he did what he did, eventually breaking down crying. The last panel reveals that Stark had been talking to the body of the murdered Steve Rogers, and he quietly sobbed the reply that Cap had asked him when he was first arrested – “It wasn’t worth it.”

Civil War marked a huge turning point in Marvel comics production. While House of M successfully pulled together many of Marvel’s heroes and included numerous tie-ins, it had the distinct advantage of taking place in an entirely different reality (though it did have long-lasting consequences).

The events of Civil War built upon the longstanding X-Men plot hook of the Mutant Registration Act, only this time applying it to all costumed superheroes (and oddly enough leaving the X-Men pretty much out of it). A young group of reality TV starring superheroes attack a villain hideout, only to get in over their head when they try to apprehend Nitro near a school. Nitro unleashes his explosive attack, killing hundreds of innocent people, including dozens of kids.

The public is understandably outraged in the wake of this tragedy and the Superhuman Registration Act, which requires all super-powered people to officially register with the government (divulging their secret identity among other things) swiftly passes through Congress. Tony Stark had seen this coming in his crossover with Amazing Spider-Man (see The Road to Civil War) and tried to fight it, but with public and political opinion so strongly swayed he immediately decides to switch gears and become the leader and figurehead for registration in an attempt to make the transition as easy as possible.

Captain America is not so easily convinced it’s a good thing, and believes the Act is a gross infringement on the civil rights of superheroes. In the first issue he escapes the SHIELD helicarrier and becomes a wanted man. Soon he gathers together a resistance formed of many of his allies in the New Avengers and Young Avengers to create an underground rebellion, and the core of Civil War is about the two opposing sides.

Civil War is unique among my Final Thoughts as the one TPB and event that I’d actually read before. The story of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 depicts most of Civil War (albeit with a much different final act) and as someone that’d been out of the comic loop for awhile I was interesting in reading about it. I was fairly lost on many points – why is Thor a robot clone, who are the Young Avengers, where are the X-Men, why is Tony Stark such a dick, etc. But as a single seven issue event, it does tell an epic, heart-wrenching story about friendship, politics and the horrors of war.

Re-reading it this many years later and armed with all the rapid comic knowledge I’ve acquired has been immensely rewarding. I get a better understanding of where Stark’s coming form (though he still comes off as a cocky, manipulative jerk in the main story) and I recognize many of the faces that show up to the big battles.

Civil War #6

There are only two direct battles in the main story; the first has the anti-registration team stumbling into a trap set by Stark, and Goliath is killed by Stark’s and Mr. Fantastic’s secret weapon – a clone of Thor called Ragnarok. Many are horrified by the events of that battle (which spans issues #3 and #4), and Sue Richards suddenly switches sides and protects them with a forefield so they can escape. The Fantastic Four are split down the middle as Sue and Johnny flee to join the resistance, while Reed remains a major player for the pro-registration side, designing a prison in the Negative Zone to house all the captured superheroes and villains.

The biggest side-switcher in the conflict is Spider-Man. In the events leading up to Civil War it’s clear he wants to help Stark fight it, and when Stark decides to join up Parker follows suit with his Stark-built spidey-suit. Tony convinces Peter Parker that unmasking on national television would galvanize both the public and the superpowered community into supporting registration, so Spider-Man finally reveals himself as Peter Parker in a memorable scene at the end of issue #2.

Unfortunately this reveal pretty much ruins his life, which is detailed in the excellent Amazing Spider-Man tie-ins. He and his family (Aunt May and Mary Jane) are attacked by mobs of people (both fans and protesters). J. Jonah Jameson blows a gasket and The Daily Bugle sues him for millions. Aunt May is shot and put in a coma. Parker makes Stark take him to the Negative Zone prison, and he’s horrified to learn that they’re imprisoning people permanently for not registering (plus, Reed and Tony are making billions in government contracts).

civil war spider-man editAll this adds up and Peter Parker switches sides, battling Iron Man (after fighting Cap earlier in a fun one-on-one melee) and going on the run before sneaking onto national television to declare his new intentions. I was originally going to skip the Spider-Man tie-ins, as the Spider-verse has a fairly dense continuity and I’ve honestly never been a big spidey-fan, but Civil War really gives him plenty of room to shine and squirm, and he becomes the defacto protagonist trying to do the right thing during a war with terrible things happening on both sides. Even if you’re not a Spider-Man fan, I would highly recommend reading his Civil War tie-ins (including the issues leading up in Road to Civil War) to get a bigger picture of the whole event.

The main trade ends with the epic final battle between the two sides. Cap and company get inside the Negative Zone prison thanks to Black Panther and Punisher sneaking into Stark and Baxter buildlings. Tigra had been spying on the rebels for Stark, so they were there to meet them, but Cap pulls his own ace in the hole, and Hank Pym (Yellowjacket) reveals that he’s been a shape-shifted Hulkling all day, and was able to free everyone that was imprisoned. The giant slug-fest we’ve been waiting or is unleashed in the final issue, but when Cloak tries to teleport everyone out of the prison, he drops them in the middle of New York City and the resulting battle causes widespread collateral damage – exactly the catastrophe this new registration was working to avoid.

Lots of cool little fight scenes break out: Spider-man is faster than Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman fiercely retaliates against Taskmaster when he shoots Reed, Iron Man punches Human Torch in the face, Captain America is beaten up by nanite-controlled supervillains consisting of Lady Deathstrike, Venom and Bullseye, Namor shows up with a bunch of atlanteans to even the odds for the resistance, Vision punches Iron man through the chest while Hercules smashes the Thor clone.

civil war #7It finally ends just as Cap is about to deliver the final blow to a disabled and broken Iron Man. A bunch of civilians tackle Captain America to the ground and beg him to stop. Cap takes a look around at the devastation this war has wrought and weeps, surrendering to nearby authorities and putting an end to the war. In fighting for the values and rights of the people he recognized that it was a costly battle, and he was unwilling to pay the price in innocent lives. It’s a poignant, heart-breaking end as Iron Man’s new Initiative comes to fruition – a registered super team in all fifty states.

Like House of M, Civil War had a massive impact that rippled throughout the Marvel Universe for years to come. The New Avengers series kept going, but centered on the surviving members of the anti-registration resistance who continued to operate in secrecy, while a new official Avengers team was launched in Mighty Avengers. New registered superhero teams would be trained in Avengers: The Initiative. Captain America would be shot and killed a few months after his arrest, though his fantastic solo series would continue on as friends and allies help take up the mantle. The ex-villain Thunderbolts would be gutted and reconstructed as an official supervillians-working-for-superheroes team (with interesting ramifications in the future).

The massive one-shot issue Civil War: Choosing Sides acts similarly to Decimation: The Day After in launching many of the new series in the emerging era, including Irredeemable Ant-Man, Immortal Iron Fist and a new Canadian team to replace Alpha Flight (which was slain during the events of New Avengers Vol. 4) – Omega Flight (which ran for an embarrassing five issues). Oh, and also a randomly funny story involving Howard the Duck trying to register. It was a fun one-shot that was made up of several different stories written and drawn by different people, serving as a nice springboard to multiple new series.

Another massive one-shot issue was written at the end of Civil War, called The Initiative. Like Choosing Sides this comic also included a lot of mini-stories introducing the new teams that emerge from the Superhero Registration Act – namely Omega Flight, Thunderbolts and Mighty Avengers. These one-shot issues helped cement Marvel’s new era of massive events as global game-changers to the status and situations of every character and series.

civil war the initiative omega flight

I really enjoyed the event itself, and many of the tie-in issues cleverly incorporated interesting background information or side-plots. But other series suffer for it as their own plots are sidelined to deal with the events of Civil War, such as the first few issues of The Death of Captain America trade and the official Thunderbolts tie-ins (which centers around Baron Zemo’s team of reformed villains working with Iron Man to capture heroes). Iron Man’s two-issue solo tie-ins are similarly pointless, though they do paint a slightly better picture of Tony as a conflicted man rather than a self-imposing asshole (the TPB also includes The Confession, which is amazing). I also had to skip some tie-ins just for the sake of my own sanity, including Wolverine’s solo series tie-ins (can’t stand that manga/cartoony art style) and a mini-crossover between Young Avengers and Runaways.

Plus, my beloved X-Men aren’t anywhere to be found, other than a single brief scene where Tony Stark visits the X-Mansion and tries to get them to help (there is a mini-series tie-in that shoehorns them in involving Bishop, which I skipped). Being used to hunted and hated Emma Frost quickly refuses, but agrees to remain neutral in the conflict (and they’re still pretty much licking their wounds from the Decimation). It makes sense for the x-Men to stay out of it, and frankly the war is full of enough superheroes as it is, but as a big X-Men fan it’s still a bummer, and forever makes Civil War just not as interesting to me as other events and stories that star my favorite mutants.

civil war the initiative

Civil War was a massive critical and commercial success. The storyline was recognizable and very human – civil rights and the endless debate between freedom and security. It lasted over half a year beginning in the Summer of 2006 and, according to Marvel Unlimited, including nearly 100 official tie-in issues from nearly every ongoing series at the time. The age of events was here to say, and has continued on in varying degrees of great to horrid in the years since. Civil War is still considered one of the best events they’ve ever done, and clearly important enough to even warrant its own big screen adaptation in the upcoming third Captain America film.

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – The Road to Civil War

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