“What’s so Civil about War, Anyway?” Looking Back on Marvel’s 2006 Mega-Event (Prologue Segment, Part 1)

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Portrait of the Marvel Universe, circa 2006. (Cover to Civil War Files, a Handbook-style one-shot, published September, 2006. Art and colors by Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines and Morry Hollowell)

Off the top, a few basics: Civil War (the comic) is a seven issue series, originally seeing publication from May, 2006 until February, 2007. It’s written by Mark Millar and features the respective art, ink and color work of Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines and Morry Hollowell. The “big Marvel event” wherein that story plays the centerpiece blows out into well over 100 tie-in issues, incorporating a remarkable near-linewide lockstep with contributions from a litany of creators.

In fact, it’s this high level of interconnectivity that is Civil War (the event)’s most enduring quality. Sure, Millar and company are squarely in the center ring but it is clearly an ensemble affair all the way, as many of the more personal yet no-less-high-impact moments occur in the peripheral titles. Who knew Marvel’d get such sustained lightning-in-a-bottle from a fundamental desire to return their heroes to uneasy rock ’em, sock ’em robots?

Certainly none of it happened overnight, though. The following is a progressive list of occurrences affirming that the road to Marvel’s Civil War has building precedent…

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“One of These Avengers Will Die!” (…but don’t worry, it’s comics- they’ll get better…) (Avengers #502, cover-dated November, 2004. Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki and Frank D’Armata)

AVENGERS: DISASSEMBLED

Avengers #500 – 503 (2004): Writer of the upcoming Civil War II main event, Brian Michael Bendis decidedly rides more in the “shotgun” position during the Millar original but he’s arguably the Ultimate Universe alum responsible for initiating the Civil War landscape. His opening salvo? Utilizing a milestone anniversary issue to blow up Earth’s Mightiest but good!

Coming off an extended period seeing Geoff Johns’ better-fit-for-DC re-imagining of the Avengers as a Supefriends-style literal global superpower/sovereign nation-state and a thankfully fast-tracked and better-forgotten stint from Chuck Austen, the franchise was a bit… off-track. Compounding the situation, Millar’s own Ultimate adaptation of the original(ish) Lee/Kirby team (the eponymous Ultimates) kinda made all of fandom, creators and editorial collectively re-examine the “classic” book. Yeah, things needed to get back to formula.

More than that, the formula needed something… “New”. Getting there, though, would take some maneuvering…

Enter, Bendis: acclaimed for his work on Ultimate Spider-Man, the solo vigilante exploits of Daredevil and his mature-title MAX imprint creation Alias (aka Marvel’s Jessica Jones). A self-identifying fan from back in the heady Bronze/Copper Ages, this story is his first big nod into “mainstream/traditional” super-team books.

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“You ever listen to K-Billy’s “Super Sounds of the Seventies” weekend?” (Avengers #500, cover-dated September, 2004. Words by Brian Michael Bendis. Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki and Frank D’Armata)

Indeed, Bendis wields a vast appreciation for the voluminous material the “grand Avengers story tapestry” commands. However, just as quickly from the word “go”, he demonstrates that he’s not the least bit precious about any of it- certainly not in the name of servicing Plot 101 (ie, chasing your protagonist up a tree and throwing rocks at ’em).

In this case, the “rocks” just happen to be a devastating one-two in the form of the zombified corpse of a (then-) recently deceased member suddenly energy-splodin’ in the backyard of Avengers Mansion and one of their Quinjet planes being crash-landed onto the house itself!

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“We’ve been here literally the entire time you have…” (Avengers #501, cover-dated October, 2004. Interior art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki and Frank D’Armata)

…And from there, the hits just keep on coming- threats unimaginably escalating. By day’s end, the body count and devastation are horrific, crippling both the Avengers’ operations and morale.

The “grand architect” of this worst day ever scenario? None other than one of their own long-standing members: Wanda Maximoff, the improbable hex-wielding Scarlet Witch. Apparently she becomes mentally unhitched by unfolding realizations about her own screwy continuity and seeks to exact revenge against those who should’ve been looking out for her best interests (ie, her teammates).

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But it’s only just the beginning, Doc… (Avengers #503, cover-dated December, 2004. Words by Brian Michael Bendis. Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki and Frank D’Armata)

Years later, it’ll be explained away that Wanda is being manipulated by some Doctor Doom-orchestrated black magic (2010’s Avengers: The Children’s Crusade) but in the moment, Dr. Strange luckily shows up and does his best to put a pin in the situation before it goes truly nuclear.

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Magneto’s pitch for a Lifetime “Movie of the Week” seemed like an odd fit at first and yet undeniably compelling…. (Avengers #503, cover-dated December, 2004. Words by Brian Michael Bendis. Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki and Frank D’Armata)

Then, for some reason, the Avengers hand the comatose body of the Scarlet Witch over to the also-arriving career-supervillain Magneto without really questioning it all that much. (Let’s remember, this is also during a long-standing point in continuity wherein the Mutant Master of Magnetism believes that Wanda and her twin brother, the speedster Quicksilver, are his long-lost children.) The ensuing awkward silence pretty much implies that the team just wants the nightmare to end. That, and are there really words after all that??

Anyhoo, turns out Mags is trying another turn at righting his reputation and currently in the process of building a sanctuary with Professor Xavier out of the destroyed remains of the island of Gensoha when Charles becomes aware of Wanda’s sitch. Sending the Scarlet Witch to sleep it off in such a place seems like a nice option at face value that will at no point come back to bite the heroes in the collective ass. Not at all unlike that whole Carol Danvers/Marcus Immortus debacle from back in the day. Nope. No come-uppance (or irony), here…

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Silent outro. (Avengers #503, cover-dated December, 2004. Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki and Frank D’Armata)

Unspoken, the Avengers all disperse the ruined Mansion grounds- a network of independently withdrawn shadows silhouetted against the darkest night sky. Some time later, a select gathering reconvenes. It is within this meeting that Tony Stark announces that he doesn’t have the wherewithal to foot the rebuilding of the Avengers. Amid a mass candlelight vigil, they end their final get-together with an official press conference that the team is disbanding.

What this means in terms of the bigger Civil War picture is that a team of self-appointed world-savers didn’t see that they had a ticking time bomb under their nose. For years. And never thought twice about it. (And evidently didn’t learn all that much from this lack of accountability…)  [MORE→]

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One thought on ““What’s so Civil about War, Anyway?” Looking Back on Marvel’s 2006 Mega-Event (Prologue Segment, Part 1)

  1. Ah, the mid-2000s. As a young Robert Plant sang while fronting Led Zeppelin, “Good times, bad times…”

    On the one hand, I was glad that Marvel’s edgier shadow-self from the publisher more left-of-center offerings on the early 2000s finally spilled over into the one-time flagship books, which had become mired in mediocrity, nostalgia, and nostalgic mediocrity. My problem is with the execution — “Avengers Disassembled” is so effin’ ham-fisted and mean-spirited, and pinning the blame on Wanda echoes the inadvertent misogynistic overtones of the Uncanny X-Men’s otherwise grand “Dark Phoenix Saga” (FYI, guys, in the real world, women *can* handle power as good or better than men.) Also, I *hated* the way Bendis wrote Clint Barton throughout his Avengers run, turning the rough-edged but highly moral and good-hearted sexy man’s man of his previous incarnations into a bloodthirsty arrested adolescent who stabs his supposed friends in the back and acts like his hormones are in permanent overdrive, going so far as to manipulate the amnesiac Wanda into having sex with him. BARF!

    But then there were the superlative (pre-Civil War) issues of Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting’s Captain America run. Talk about a tonic for the troops! Cap hadn’t been so…Cap-like…since he unmasked Richard-Nixon-in-all-but-name as the leader of the Secret Empire back in the mid-70s. And thanks to Epting, it was the best-looking Captain America comic book since John Byrne & Joe Rubinstein drew it for less than a year in the early 80s (sorry, Mike Zeck fans, but I think Jim Shooter micro-managed all the energy out of Zeck’s sequential art; compare Zeck’s 80s inner-art output to his awesome late 70s work on “Master of Kung Fu”, especially when Gene Day inked Zeck, and there’s a world of difference.)

    Like

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