What Were They Thinking?: What is it good for?

There are some storylines that are good despite having some really stupid things in, we covered that last week. And we've covered on numerous occassions storylines that are just bad here on What Were They Thinking, because we tend to look at the stupidest, most ill-advised things in comic book history. But what about storylines that could have actually been good, but the stupid things dragged it down too much? Well, let's take a look at the big one shall we...

Civil War. A storyline many people would have you believe is the worst thing Marvel have ever done. Well it isn't, have you seen what they've been doing lately? Civil War isn't actually all that bad. It's not all that good either, but it does present a very good case study in how a company can screw up a potential classic storyline.

So what makes me say that Civil War had the potential to be a classic storyline? Well, the superhero registration plot device has been used before. It has been the basis for Marvel's very own "No More Mutants" arc in the X-Men comics, a storyline that would have been considered the best of its decade for the series if that decade hadn't also included the Dark Phoenix Saga and Days Of Future Past. DC have also used the idea, most famously as the backdrop for The Watchmen, which is widely regarded as the greatest achievement of the medium. And if we look outside the realm of comics, you have The Increadibles using the exact same plot device for one of Pixar's best movies. And hey, if you want more proof, just look what Marvel did with the concept when they went to make a movie about it. So the foundation was solid. And Marvel have previous on making amazing stories out of superheroes being persecuted by government forces, both Cap and Iron Man have done it in storylines such as the original "Secret Empire" storyline of the 70's and "Captain America No More" and "The Armoury Wars" storyline of the 80's.

So with these two ideas as a foundation, they could have layered some wonderfully deep characterisation over the top to show the deep effects that this battle of ideologies had on the people who fought it. And to be fair, they did, provided you read all of the tie-ins, because the main Civil War comic skimped out on all of that stuff. The best moments where Marvel examined the reasoning behind supporting either side were tucked away in Spider-Man, with Reed Richards giving a brilliant speech about his uncle opposing the McCarthy trials and how bad laws will always be repealled so it is better to comply with the law, whilst Captain America gives his speech on not lying down in the face of what you feel is wrong and always fighting for what you think is right (a speech so good that they put it word for word into the Civil War film). And if you want to see the effect the fighting had on the people fighting it, you had to read the Fantastic Four or Iron Man or Frontline, which was the only place you gota look at how non-superheroes felt about the conflict. I'm not saying all of this had to be put into the main series, but it could have done with being in there at least partially. We've spoken before about how annoying it is to have to pick up multiple different comics a week to understand what is going on in an event and this is a prime example of that.

So, other than the problem of carving up their storytelling materials, what else did this series do wrong? Well, for a storyline that pitted heroes against other heroes over an ideological arguement on how best to keep the keep the public safe and trusting the people protecting them, whilst also protecting themselves and their loved ones from harm, Marvel sure did make it easy to tell whose side you were meant to be on. It makes a lot of sense to have a way of regulating Superheroes, people who have powers that are incomparable to any normal human being. It would be like not regulating the nuclear arsenal. But then that arguement becomes more complicated when you factor in mutants. And I'm not talking about the X-Men, I'm talking about people born with superpowers who just wanted to live normal lives (now at the time, mutants were near extinction and all based on the Xavier Institute, and the Civil War main series did touch on this point very briefly, whilst the Civil War X-Men min series saw a madman trying to kill all remaining mutants with Cyclops trying to solve the problem himself and Bishop turning to Iron Man for help). And then you have the point that made up much of Captain America's motivation in the film, what happens when the government starts telling heroes who the bad guys are (Which gets two panels in the comic). You can see how complicated an issue this could and should have been to decide who was right and who was wrong. So how did Marvel screw this up?

Well, you see, basically everything Iron Man does in the series is bad. He has Hank Pym and Reed Richards clone Thor. They then can't control the clone and it kills Bill Foster, Black Goliath. Now, this is a major turning point in the comic as it sees a lot of people switch sides in both directions and provides some character development for those involved. However, it makes the people who made the clone look pretty incompetant. Next up, the pro-registration side starts recruiting imprisoned supervillains, you know such lovely people as The Green Goblin (a murderer), Venom (a psychopath) and Bullseye (a serial killer). And this is basically where Iron Man loses any and all moral high ground. Yes, the other side is breaking the law, but he just recruited people who were much worse. When Cap's side get approached by supervillains, well, they get gunned down by Punisher, who'd only just joined Cap's team and he was immediately given a huge beating and got thrown out. And lets not forget the fact that Iron Man built a prison in the Negative Zone, where he would hold captured unregistered superheroes without trail indefinately, in what was an obvious allegory for Guantanemo only the people being held in this prison weren't suspected terrorists but people who risked their lives to protect people (oh, and this was only really explored in detail in the Spider-Man tie-in). Is it any wonder that people say that Iron Man acted like a facist in this story?

So, there were a lot of problems that this storyline had, but what about what came out of it. At the end of Civil War, Captain America was dead (having been assassinated by Red Skull's operatives), Spider-Man was publicly unmasked and on the run whilst his Aunt May was in a coma after a failed hit on the web-slinger ordered by Kingpin and there were two Avengers teams, one led by Iron Man that was registered and the other led by Luke Cage which was not. With all of those brilliant storyline threads, Marvel had tons of story opportunities. Obviously, the dual Avenger teams would never last, but it says something about how badly Marvel bottled the aftermath of Civil War that the two Avengers teams coming back together as one was the last thing they did. Within 4 years Marvel had undone everything they did in Civil War, with the exception of Bill Foster's death, and that says it all really. As I said when we covered Marvel's addiction to doing huge events that change the status quo and then going back to the old status quo immediately afterwards, the Civil War storyline was a victim of Marvel. It had problems and could have been better, but it would have been regarded as badly as it was if Marvel hadn't made the call to undermine it before the new status quo had even begun to feel like a satus quo. It came in the middle of a time when Marvel just couldn't stop its self and came off the worst for it.

So yeah, Civil War. To sum up, Marvel had the recipe to create one of the best storylines they'd ever published, but they didn't follow the recipe properly, brought some of the wrong ingrediants and then gave up whilst it was still salvagable. Shame.

And with that

JR out.

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