Never underestimate the lure of bitching pointlessly: Graeme's review of two books from 5/3.

I really should be outside and enjoying the sunshine, but there’s so much bile in my heart and two big books to write about, this week… CIVIL WAR #1: I admit it, I think I may be genetically disposed to disliking this book – The pre-release hype advertising it as something “important” beyond a superhero crossover, the subtitle “A Marvel Comics Event In Seven Parts”, my general dislike for Mark Millar’s writing… the idea of me enjoying this was somewhat of a distant hope. And yet, somehow, it still feels like a letdown.

The basic idea behind the series – Regular Americans turn on superheroes after a disaster, and force government to draft legislation requiring heroes to become government agents or else – is sound enough, but the execution doesn’t work for me in this issue. Part of it may have to do with the fact that there are no surprises here; not only has the pre-release publicity told us everything that happens here (including who’s leading the two opposing “sides”, making the last page reveal especially flat), but the first few pages of the book (one of the two action sequences, and arguably the most important pages in the first issue) have seen print in Wizard, Marvel Previews and New Avengers : Illuminati already. How could anything have any real impact with that amount of information available before it appeared? But even if I’d known nothing about the series, there would still be all of my usual problems with Millar’s writing…

For one thing, Millar has this tendency to write stories that only really work if you accept that everyone involved is a bit of a dick. That’s the case here – no-one seems incredibly sympathetic, especially Captain America and Iron Man in the aftermath of the destruction of Stamford. Instead of being horrified by the disaster itself, they’re horrified by what they see as a failure in the New Warriors’ judgement: “The FEMA chief said there could be eight or nine hundred casulaties all dead for a stupid TV reality show.” “They should have called us, Cap. Speedball knew the New Warriors were out of their league.” (Later on, Tony Stark repeats this view of the accident being less an accident than a failure of judgement, telling the greiving mother of one of the dead, “The New Warriors’ recklessness had nothing to do with me.” Mind you, he was just at a funeral where the priest shared his viewpoint: “…And so we ask you, Lord, for Your mercy. Not only for the souls of the children who perished, but for the super-people whose carelessness caused this tragedy.” Apparently, the idea that this was all a terrible accident and that the (dead) New Warriors aren’t to blame for someone else blowing up hundreds of kids is an entirely alien one to everyone in this series. At no point does anyone really attempt to blame the bad guy who actually did the blowing up, interestingly enough.) There are other bits of characterisation that just seem incredibly odd and callous, as well – Why does the Invisible Woman say “The secret identity thing isn’t such a big deal. The Fantastic Four have been public since the very beginning, and it’s never been a serious concern” when, a page earlier, we’re told that her brother is in the hospital as a result of being attacked because his identity was publicly known? Doesn’t she consider that a serious concern? – and the feeling throughout the whole thing is very much that the characters are only acting that way at any given moment to serve the purpose of the plot.

Of course, if Millar’s dialogue was any better, then perhaps the characters wouldn’t seem to be so obviously plot pawns. More than any other big name writer around these days with the potential exception of Bendis, Millar’s dialogue relies on a number of tricks and tics, and those come into play a lot in this first issue (He uses a lot of Scottishisms, which I always find amusing; there’s always at least one character who’ll call another character “big man” in a Millar book at one point). The worst examples are the conversation between Captain America and SHIELD director Maria Hill, with both characters lapsing into generic-Millar-tough-speak and each calling a team of soldiers “boys” within four panels, and the fact that two different characters refer to the destruction of Stamford as “the straw that broke the camels back” because, apparently, there are no other metaphors available to show how important it is in the Marvel Universe.

Not all of the blame can be laid at Mark Millar’s feet, of course; for a script that apparently went through eight drafts, you’d have hoped that editor Tom Brevoort would’ve caught some of the problematic dialogue, or even that there are more than 23 heroes at the Baxter Building despite the dialogue that states that number. The bad feeling that I got from the weak story wasn’t helped by Joe Quesada’s two page hypetastic editorial at the back of the book (“Here at MARVEL, we work very hard to make sure that ALL of our blockbuster events are NEW-reader-accessible, and CIVIL WAR is no exception.” That’s why I’m listing the trade paperbacks you should buy to get introduced to the main characters!), or the four page “There are our crossovers” advert afterwards.

It’s not all bad, of course; Steve McNiven and Dexter Vines art is pretty interesting, especially at points where facial expressions get distorted as if everything is grand opera or silent cinema, and Morry Hollowell’s coloring is pretty great. It’s just mostly bad. Crap.

INFINITE CRISIS #7: Meanwhile, the DC Comics Event in Seven Parts reaches its conclusion, and… it’s not so good. For one thing, I’m glad that it made its (second) shipping date and all, but with eleven artists credited, it’s the weakest issue of the series in terms of visuals, especially Joe Bennett’s pages – that final double page spread of the One Year Later DC Universe has some very, very poor anatomy going on – which make me very nervous about what 52 is going to look like. But, as with the rest of the series, this is Geoff Johns’ baby, and his writing is what dooms this final issue. There’s simply too much going on here, and not enough space for everything to be explained or make sense. When did Alex Luthor come up with this plan B? And, for that matter, how did he and Superboy get to Metropolis from whatever Pole they were at before without anyone noticing? What happened to Doomsday? Continuity gets revised and it only gets a couple of lines? And Alex Luthor’s fate… What was that all about? I mean, okay, I get that it fits in with Superboy’s line from the start of the book about still being unable to tell the heroes and villains apart, and then Batman and Wonder Woman’s “Killing? Hey, heroes don’t dig that!” thing, but still… Why did it have to be the Joker? Wouldn’t it have made more sense, plotwise, for it just to be Lex Luthor? Putting the Joker in, especially with that crappy “You didn’t let the Joker play” line, feels like someone said “Hey, Geoff, can you make sure the Joker’s somewhere in the last issue? The kids love that Joker.”

All of that said, I liked something about this final issue. I liked the resolution of Batman’s midlife crisis (and that it was, essentially, “Okay, I’ll use a gun, y’bastard! Oh, no… wait… Aw, shit.”), and the Supermen/Superboy showdown was fun, as was the fact that Superboy Prime has become the new insane scheming badguy of the DCU, plotting his comeback (It never ends… It is an Infinite Crisis!). Splitting everything that happened here into two issues – or adding some more pages to this one – would’ve helped out here a lot, but there’s about as much good as there is bad about this issue, and overall, it’s been a fun series. But then, I’m a DC Fanboy, so my opinion may be more than a little bit skewed. Eh bordering on Okay, depending on how much I think about the rest of the series…

What with only reviewing two books this week, PICK OF THE WEEK and PICK OF THE WEAK should be kind of obvious… TRADE OF THE WEEK, however, would be Essential Classic X-Men volume 2, which was due out this week (I don’t think I saw it in the store, but I wasn’t really looking). Some of the first comics I ever read, back when Marvel UK had a two color (Black and blue) reprint book called “The Original X-Men,” you know…