Spider-Man 2006:
Civil War

The original 2006 Year in Review was so mammoth - I cut it into two parts - the first focusing on Civil War, and the second on the rest of the year. Let's start with the Civil War titles, the pre-cursers and the aftermath, beginning with one of the most visible elements of that storyline...

Iron Spidey
Actually, the true title of the story arc was "Mr. Parker Goes to Washington," (a nod to the 1939 Jimmy Stewart film classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) but "Iron Spidey" just sounds cooler, and sums up what was really the pre-eminent feature of this story, Spider-Man's new costume. The story ran from Amazing Spider-Man #529-531.

Naturally, most of Spidey fandom greeted the new duds with the usual amount of skepticism, which wasn't helped by the release of the first drawing, where the thing looked hideous. But, that was just a preliminary sketch, and it looked much better in the comics. Due to its red and yellow color scheme, as well as its creator, Tony Stark, it was quickly dubbed "Iron Spidey." Stark developed the costume to replace the one that had been destroyed in Spider-Man's fatal thrashing at the hands of Morlun II during The Other. The costume had way too many features for me to list here (including the ability to glide modest distances, as well as project difference appearances, somewhat like the old symbiote costume, tracking systems, the ability to take a bullet, filters to keep out nasty gasses and other particles, etc.), but it was a serious upgrade to Spider-Man's arsenal, and frankly, one that was long overdue. I didn't really care for the color scheme, and I thought that the mechanical arms were a bit silly and nonfunctional, but I was glad to see Spidey get a new, albeit temporary look, which nicely coincided with his becoming a full fledged Avenger.

Of course, Stark didn't give Peter the snazzy new suit because he was a fashion disaster, and we soon find out that something so ominous is in the air, that Tony feels he can trust no one, not even Captain America, whom of course, he has only fought beside as an Avenger for oh, more than a decade Marvel time. But, he does feel that he can trust Peter Parker, whom he has spent relatively little time with, and at best, has always been wary of his wall crawling alter ego, his hot temper, disrespect for authority, you name it. However, in issue #529, he tells him that because he feels such a bond with Peter, he wants to make him his protege, both in his civilian and extra curricular lives. Uh yeah, sure…

After this ambiguous and suspicious exchange, Stark and Peter fly to Washington DC, where Tony will testify on the proposed Superhuman Registration Act, which would require that all super humans register their powers and real identities with the government. Peter's first reaction is predictable, but honest - he thinks it's a crazy idea. Stark seems to agree, at first, and claims that he is going to speak against it. When Tony faces the self-important, self-righteous, and corrupt scumbags euphemistically called congressmen, he (and Peter) speak out on behalf of the superheroes who ply their trade anonymously, out of fear for their loved ones, and also so that they can work outside the constraints of society, since the bad guys don't always want to play by society's rules.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, the self-righteous, self-important, and corrupt scumbags actually have some good points - that there are numerous other agents of society such as police, judges, and prosecutors who perform their duties without the anonymity offered by masks, and wouldn't superheroes be able to function better as sanctioned and compensated agents of the government?

As if to punctuate Stark's points, the Titanium Man appears and threatens to kill Stark, ostensibly to keep him from speaking out against the Registration Act. Surprise, surprise, Spidey appears (no coincidence, of course, with Peter Parker also in town, along with Tony Stark, long suspected of being Iron Man),and after the requisite battle, drives the Titanium Man away. However, this was a set-up, as later we see Iron Man give Titanium Man a briefcase full of money on behalf of "Mr. Stark." It just so happened that during his battle with Spider-Man, Titanium Man conveniently gave up some juicy sound bites about how with Stark dead, there will be no one left to speak for the superheroes. Tony's stated objective to Peter (although he flagrantly lies about setting up the Titanium Man situation - so much for taking Peter into his confidence) was to muddy the waters just enough to slow the momentum for the Registration Act down, and wait for Congress' attention to be diverted elsewhere, as it inevitably would.

However, tragic events in Stamford, Connecticut thwart those objectives.

Civil War
Now, before I begin my discussion of Civil War, there are going to be two answers that are automatic "fails" to any questions I pose:

  1. Because (insert name here) was a Skrull!

  2. That was covered in Civil War: Whatever the Hell .

Civil War got underway in 2006 and ended, belatedly, in early 2007. It was a 7 part miniseries, supplemented by the 11-part Frontline that was supposed to tell a complete, coherent story. To find out in 2008 that certain plot points were because either Skrulls were impersonating someone or acting behind the scenes is a deus ex machina to explain away bad writing or plot or character inconsistencies. Also, I already plopped down over $50 for all of Civil War and Civil War: Frontline. I should have all of my questions answered in those stories and not have to keep shelling out cash because "oh - that was covered in Civil War: Insert Name of One Shot Designed to Bleed the Customer Dry Here.

Fair enough? Let's continue.

Civil War actually had a prologue, the New Avengers one-shot, simply called The Illuminati (the name of course, is taken from the "real" Illuminati, a secret society which supposedly controls the events on planet Earth cloak and dagger style, along with the Freemasons, the Trilateral Commission, or the Council on Foreign Relations, depending on what kind of conspiracy nut you are). This is actually a pretty good opener for the Civil War debate, because as written by Brian Bendis, it presents both the pros and cons of an organized superhuman force.

In the wake of the Kree-Skrull War (which took place in The Avengers in the early 1970's), Iron Man believes that the fractured nature of the superhuman community made the Earth vulnerable to both races, whereas if they were united under one umbrella, any invader would have to think twice before taking them on and attacking the planet. However, Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner, although usually a dick, sees just what a disaster this could be, as does the Black Panther, whose country Wakanda is hosting this covert meeting, and eventually Mr. Fantastic. Who runs this superhuman army? Who controls it? To whom is it accountable? And who polices disputes when the super humans fight amongst themselves? Interestingly enough, that's one of the reasons that Norman Osborn and his cronies in the Businessmens' Secret Cabal (BSC) began a program of creating supervillains to match wits with the heroes, to keep the good guys occupied fighting costumed bad guys so that they would remain splintered, and not band together and begin setting themselves in positions of authority over the rest of humanity (see the first twelve issues of Marvel Knights Spider-Man).

Years later, after the Hulk goes on a deadly rampage in Las Vegas, the Illuminati gather to concoct a plan to trick the Hulk and send him into the depths of space, ostensibly for the good of himself, humanity, and the rest of the super powered race - which we know will have very nasty repercussions later on (in yet another event – World War Hulk – where the Hulk destroys New York, but the event goes unnoticed in the rest of the Marvel titles). However, a troubled Iron Man still foresees a time when the world will turn on its heroes, and he cites Spider-Man as an example of a hero whose life could be wrecked by a the swift change in the country’s attitude.

And that time comes during Civil War #1. The New Warriors, a team comprised of third and fourth string superheroes, led by the ridiculous Speedball, while looking to juice their reality show ratings, raid a group of supervillains hiding out in the ‘burbs. However, the battle goes horribly wrong when Namorita (the Sub Mariner's cousin) goes after Nitro near a schoolyard. Unfortunately, the arrogance of youth results in a disastrous underestimation of just how dangerous this old man really is. True to his moniker, he explodes, incinerating Namorita and hundreds of people, including children. The world is horrified, and led by a not even thinly disguised Cindy Sheehan clone who lost her son in Nitro's explosion, America begins to ask if something should be done to exercise control over the hordes of super beings in its midst.

As was laid out in earlier months through relentless promotion (“Whose Side are you on?” which to be honest, had its fun moments in the proliferation of photo shopped “I’m With-“ banners, some of which were hysterical), Tony Stark and Reed Richards are for Registration, while Captain America is not, believing it to be a violation of the heroes' rights, and a serious hindrance to their work. Ostensibly, SHIELD Commander Maria Hill meets with Captain America to discuss a compromise to the situation, but Hill decides to flash some testosterone and threaten Cap with dire consequences if he doesn't help bring in the uncooperative heroes. The accompanying SHIELD Guard takes aim at Cap and begins an assault, but he escapes and starts a movement of heroes opposed to Registration, which soon becomes law.

In the middle is our torn and conflicted hero Spider-Man, who readily joins Stark's side due to the gratitude that he feels to him for taking his family in after their Forest Hills residence burned down. However, things begin to go sour...not only for him, but for the reader as well, as a thought provoking story goes awry with writers distorting characters (and not even able to write them consistently amongst themselves) and situations to reflect their own politics. But before we critique the story further, let's address the primary question raised:

To Register or not to Register?
In a conversation with Iron Man, SHIELD Commander Hill uses the example of Spider-Man and the Green Goblin to frame the debate going on about the actions the superhuman community should take against those who threaten society. The question is - how many times does Norman Osborn have to kill someone before Spider-Man exacts the ultimate price from him? And for every time that he fails to do so, when does the death toll start to become Spider-Man's fault (actually, this time Hill is arguing on the side of common sense – it’s not Spider-Man’s fault that Norman Osborn is a lunatic)?

Of course, that's a flawed argument, because society couldn't allow Spider-Man to kill Norman Osborn without consequences anymore than it could allow police to shoot criminals on sight, or let US Army invade the projects and start eradicating gang members - no trial, no reports to file. Emotionally, I believe that's the solution to crime. If you kill all the criminals, you have no crime. Intellectually, however, that's a terrible idea. Human beings are far too flawed, far too susceptible to corruption, to be given that kind of power indiscriminately, and inevitably when they are, they turn on not just the criminal element, but everyone that disagrees with them. Even Dirty Harry Callahan realized that while the law sucks at times, we can’t live without it and the boundaries that it sets (what movie is that from folks? It came out before a lot of you were even born, which sadly dates me).

Plus, all vigilantes are criminals in the eyes of the law, no matter how much good they do. And I’m not talking about just the Punisher types who put the punks 6 feet under. None of us can simply walk the streets looking for trouble and routinely beat up the bad guys. We can’t kick the door down of a released child molester and kill him or beat the hell out of him, no matter how much we might like to do it or feel justified (or how much he deserves it). We’re not too far from mob rule and the Baldknobbers when that starts happening. We might be able to get away with it once, particularly when our own may be in jeopardy. It's one thing if you kill a punk who's about to rape your wife, but quite another when you start looking for punks to kill. And, besides, in real life, just how many of the crooks that Spider-Man captured would have their cases thrown out of court because of the zillion technicalities that his actions would cause?

Think about the above referenced Scarlet Witch - who has the power to alter reality. Civil rights aside, would you and I really want someone with this kind of power to be walking around without a leash (that's a metaphorical question you perverts)? A lot of us are simply scared if we see a gathering of THOSE PEOPLE (insert whatever ethnic or religious group you fear here – and you know you do, don’t lie to me) in a single place.

Of course, this presents a problem inherent in our beloved superhero mythology. In the Marvel Universe historically, superheroes were just something that you dealt with (particularly if you lived in New York) like traffic jams, polluted air, and the capriciousness of the weather. But, it isn't real, and couldn't possibly be real, which is one reasons I have always believed that the infamous September 11 inspired Amazing Spider-Man volume 2 #36doesn't really work, except maybe as a pure allegory, because the real world destruction of the twin towers would probably be just "another one of those days" in the Marvel Universe. Trying to impose our reality on the Marvel Universe is a very tricky thing, and takes a certain skill to bring it off - and even then - how long could it truly be sustained before you take events to their logical conclusions?

Also, superhero comics historically didn't deal with the collateral damage caused by superhero/villain battles. There was a brief miniseries during the 1980's called Damage Control which focused on a group whose job was to clean up after these donnybrooks. However, that was a humorous look at the problem - and the collateral damage almost never included scores of accidental deaths of innocent bystanders.

But of course, you couldn't tell those types of stories when the comic reading audience, and the target market, was largely children. It would be hard to portray the Incredible Hulk as a hero when every time Banner flipped out and became his rampaging alter ego, people died (which I suppose is why a lot of his early adventures took place in the sparsely populated desert Southwest). And, super villains never really got what was coming to them, either life long incarceration or the death penalty (which has had an erratic history in New York anyway, and if I am correct is currently not allowed). Prison became a revolving door, because after all, Doc Ock is just too cool of a bad guy to stay on the sidelines too long.

Sometimes this willful denial became ridiculous. I can't speak for other comic series, which I'm sure have more egregious examples, but I'm reminded of one of the greatest shit fests in Spider-Man history, Maximum Carnage, where symbiotic serial killer Carnage and his personal goon squad went on a horrific rampage in New York that resulted in a massacre. And amazingly, no one much really cared. The Federal Government didn't get involved and send in the military, the Governor of New York didn't send in the National Guard, and no one was evacuated. Even the world's super teams just shrugged it off, as neither the Fantastic Four, nor the Avengers, nor the X-Men could really be bothered to pull themselves from where ever they were and help with the situation ("out of town" "out in space," whatever). Just a bunch of damn crazy New Yorkers acting like, well, New Yorkers.

And the day after it's all over, the denizens of Manhattan Island just went about their daily business, and the subject of registering super powered people, or a better and more permanent means of incarcerating super villains, never came up.

Magically, that is, until now.

All of a sudden, when Banner "hulks out," now people die, now major cities are in ruins (this time Las Vegas) and now the elite of the superhero core actually begin to think amongst themselves "gee, this really doesn't look good for the rest of us and we'd better do something."

Which of course, would have happened a long time ago. The Illuminati (although I don't think they referred to themselves as such) manage to trick the Hulk and shoot him into deep space, which of course is the genesis of both Planet Hulk and World War Hulk, when an enraged Hulk comes back to earth, two more "events" that I have chosen to ignore. Although I've never liked the Sub Mariner as a character, this is an interesting portrayal as the arrogant, insufferable monarch passionately defends the Hulk, to no avail.

But there are larger issues here, and I can't adequately discuss them all. The reasons that the superhero mythology worked in the past was because both the writers, and the audience, essentially, chose to ignore the reality of what our world would be like if these beings existed. After all, if you don't ignore it, you have no stories. But all of a sudden, now, we're going for "realism." Well, how much do we go for? Are we going to stop right here - with the idea of Superhuman Registration - or are we going to go the whole nine yards, and describe the impacts upon our culture, our political and social institutions, our religions, that would undoubtedly occur if not only superheroes existed, but we were completely aware of all of these marauding aliens out there who want to conquer the earth? Do we want to examine what this world would really be like if we had super brains like Reed Richards and Tony Stark inventing all kinds of gizmos and gadgets (at the very least - there would no longer be the internal combustion engine!). Marvel Earth would be as unrecognizable and alien as any place the Starship Enterprise (no bloody A, B, C, or D) would visit.

So, we're already treading thin on just how far to go with “realism,” because usually what happens is that the writers prefer to focus on some kinds of realism while blatantly ignoring others.

And the other aspect of registration has a darker side - first it's people with super powers who have to register and work for the government. Then who's next? Members of MENSA - because they're allegedly so smart that we need their services to be pledged to our well being and security? Do we take everyone with a nuclear engineering degree and force them to develop bombs for us? After all, if we don't have them all working for the US, and know where each of them are at any one time, they might go over to the terrorists or the Iranians or the Chinese if they pay them enough money.

But what if you have super powers and don't want to work for the government or even be a freelance superhero? What is you just want to be an accountant who happens to have superpowers? What if you just want to be a circus act or have a TV variety show singing with Wayne Brady? But since you have superpowers - you have to be a card carrying SHIELD agent and go punch out bad guys? And even if you do - what happens when you're 40 years old, starting to slip a little - or just get tired of the whole rate race and want to quit? Are you just given a gold watch and a pension - or does the government think you're too dangerous to be walking around and exile you to an island to hang out with other old, retired superheroes (which allegedly happens to spies who retire) and Patrick McGoohan?

These are compelling issues that could make for great, dramatic stories - in the right hands and pulled off with the requisite skill. Unfortunately, without careful treading, the power of these issues can easily be marginalized because of the political agendas of the writers.

And before I continue bitching, I want you to know that I really wanted to like this series. Really, I did.

Why? Well, for one, our fanboy wailing gets old - to the point that I fear that no one will listen when we have legitimate gripes because we seem to whine about EVERYTHING. Marvel can't do anything right in our eyes and based on the phenomenal sales of this event, we internet regulars do appear to be a small, embittered, whiny minority that is out of touch with the comic buying public (what little of one there is left). Or, we could simply be a bunch of whiners who no matter what will buy the comics anyway. So, why would Marvel have to listen to us since no matter what they do, we will faithfully stand in line at the comics shop (metaphorically) and had over our dollars like mindless junkies in order to get our latest fix.

Also, Marvel is in the business to sell comic books (well, technically, I suppose it's really in the business to license characters to toy companies and movie studios). Lots of comic books. They are supposed to stoke the fires and play coy and elusive with where a story is going because they want you to READ IT first. And the personal attacks on Marvel EIC Joe Quesada by the lunatic fringe are embarrassing. The fact that Joe is overweight (although he's recently lost a bunch), for example, doesn't have a damn thing to do with the price of tea in China or the quality (or lack thereof) of Marvel Comics' products. Whether or not his parents were married doesn't either. And besides, if hype were illegal, Stan Lee would have been officially an Enemy of the State.

But, the problem is - when you hype something - you have to deliver - not just in terms of a quality story - but you actually have to deliver the product itself! And Marvel couldn't even do the latter in a timely fashion.

But that's for later.

Spider-Man's perspective on this story was largely told in the seven-part "The War at Home," which ran from Amazing Spider-Man #532-538.

Much like Civil War itself, the first three parts of “The War at Home” were riveting, intense, and you couldn't wait until the next issue. In fact, I dare say it was shaping up to be one of the best Spider-Man stories written during JMS’ tour of duty. Peter Parker is real in these issues, terribly conflicted, as Stark gives him the option of unmasking - or leaving. Of course, as I mention in Secret Identity, the whole concept of Spidey simply unmasking to the Government and not the public, since SHIELD already knows who he is, is never discussed, but I don't want to revisit those arguments. He's so sick with his decision that he vomits in the toilet after his public announcement, and the Daily Bugle sues him for selling pictures of himself all of these years. Even in this tense time, there is humor. Reed Richards calls Peter to congratulate him on coming out at the same time that Pete is talking to Mary Jane, who is sharing the conversation with Aunt May. They are soon joined by Sue Richards and before long everyone is talking EXCEPT Peter, who just webs the phones together and suffers silently. Slowly and surely, you can feel his pain at watching his life as he has known it slowly slip from his grasp. We don't see the reactions of too many of his supporting cast yet, but we see Jonah's and Flash's. Flash, of course, simply doesn't believe it (since he knows Peter has "faked" being Spidey before), and Jonah - well, Jonah's reaction is interesting and right on the money. Rather than going over the top and having him rant and rave, which would have been easy to do, JMS paints Jonah as terribly wounded and betrayed, because, as all of us knew, regardless of his churlish behavior at times, he really does care about Peter Parker. The only thing that rings hollow about this (and this isn't JMS' fault due to how the character has been portrayed over the years) is that Jonah comes across as so incredibly naïve that it really is hard to feel any kind of pity for him. How could he not know?

However, in part 2, issue #533, we already get our first hints that things are going to go very poorly, as Tony announces that Spider-Man will be part of a strike force rounding up the rebellious heroes and tossing them in the can. Aunt May is particularly aghast that Peter may wind up fighting Captain America, a hero to her generation. Spidey later confronts Stark about telling the world before running it by him, and while Tony apologizes, you know that this just the beginning of the inevitable split.

In issue #534, we get another instance of the past simply being ignored to make a biased story point, as when Iron Man references Peter’s spider-sense, Pete gets a case of the heebie jeebies because “I never told Tony about my spider sense – only Aunt May and MJ.” And of course, we’re supposed to go “ooooh nooooo, Tony’s probably monitoring Peter through the suit, what a scumbag!" But come on – EVERYONE knows about Spidey’s spider sense! Everyone who has fought him knows! Cripes, how many times has he made reference to his "spider sense tingling" in the presence of others? Norman Osborn first figured out how to neuter his spider sense waaaaaaaaaaay back in Amazing Spider-Man #39, which is how he discovered his secret identity. Frankly, this is just a dishonest way to plant the seed of doubt that everything is not on the up and up. And there is the inevitable confrontation between Spidey and Captain America, which ends inconclusively, but with Peter questioning whether or not he's doing the right thing. Hey, it's only natural that he be conflicted at this point and iy's completely in character. Unfortunately, where he goes from here is so far out of character that ever since I feel like I've been reading about some other character, NOT the Spider-Man I've read about for more than 30 years.

Yeah, I know. Grow the hell up, move out of your mama's basement, and stop reading the comic books.

When I originally read Civil War, I thought the first three parts were engrossing and well done, but upon re-reading, they do not hold up under scrutiny because the story it tells is simply not one that can be believed.

My first wretch was when the superheroes are participating in the rescue operation in Stamford, we see the Sentinels of X-Men fame keeping a close eye on the X-Men, with a mother telling her frightened child "The Sentinels are only here to keep an eye on the X-Men for us. They're the good guys." Regular readers of my essays know how stupid I think the whole "X-Men as persecuted and feared minority" is. It presumes that the public would ever make the distinction between super powered beings who obtain their powers by birth or by accident, and decide to embrace one group and shun the other. Under that logic, Franklin Richards, for example, would have been a mutant when he had his superpowers, and Reed and Sue should have had protestors at their door demanding that something be done about their "mutie" child, or have a Sentinel as a nanny - right?

Another misfire is patterning a character after that nutjob Cindy Sheehan, who turned her legitimate grief over her son's death in Iraq into a platform to put herself in the national spotlight and get her picture taken with that cuddly teddy bear of democracy Hugo Chavez. Now, if I lost either of my babies for any reason, I'd probably have to be committed, if I didn't just crawl into a hole and die. But seeing poorly disguised Cindy clone Miriam Sharpe almost takes one out of the story immediately.

But that's nothing compared to the far more egregious matter when Shield Commander Hill confronts Captain America about the Registration Act and tries to solicit his cooperation. Of course instead of having a conversation, she sets down the ground rules in the most threatening and demonic manner possible with a squad of itchy trigger fingered SHIELD goons ready to take Cap down if he so much as lifts the wrong eyebrow. And of course, while Hill has never been a fan of the Avengers or of the super powered crowd, here she is presented as barely concealing her moustache twirling, threatening Cap and giving him no wiggle room at all. Is this a bad character - or a character just badly written? Cap immediately senses that this is going down wrong and busts out of the SHIELD carrier, hijacking a military plane along the way.

This is too stupid to be believed. First of all, this is Captain F*****g America, the hero of World War II - a war that the current President's father (and make no mistake, the President here is clearly meant to be Bush 43) fought in - and a hero of his father's generation. If you want to enlist Cap's help on a potentially dangerous and divisive issue - then the President of the United States himself meets with Captain America and explains the situation. No President would send it a short-haired, overcompensating dyke (and for those who think I'm denigrating lesbians - you have to remember than in my day, "dyke" referred to a masculine acting woman, not a homosexual, and masculine is what Hill is going for here) - to threaten one of the country's greatest heroes, whose moral and social foundation is rooted in the events of the Great Depression and WWII. If I'm the President, I also ask my old man to sit in on the meeting since he, a fellow veteran and member of that generation, would be better able to relate to someone like Cap.

Also, if I'm the President, and stupid enough to let that aforementioned abortion of a meeting take place, I then call Ms. Hill into my office and demand to know why she felt it was necessary to threaten Captain F*****g America at gunpoint. Then I find myself another Director of SHIELD.

And if I'm Captain America and still don't like what's happening, I tell the President "I am going to walk out of the White House, meet with the reporters, take my mask off and announce my own candidacy for President of the United States." After all, didn't Cap once seriously consider running for the job? (Captain America #250 (October, 1980)). I certainly believe so, as this cover indicates. And then let Tony Stark or anyone try to arrest him when he's a legitimate candidate for President of the United States.

So, this whole thing is wrong, wrong, wrong right off the bat. Is this because the writer crafting the story is not an American citizen - and doesn't understand how the American political system really works? This isn't Great Britain, where the people do not directly elect their Prime Minister, who is chosen from amongst Parliament by the majority party. In America, an individual unconnected with the political machinery CAN run for President (remember Ross Perot from 1992 and 1996 - I do - because I voted for him both times instead of the hacks the two main political parties foisted on us). Cap would have been on TV 24 hours a day - CSPAN, CNN, Fox, MSNBC presenting his case to the people. Hell, if we can get wall to wall quotations from Newt (force out the old Speaker of the House on a flimsy ethics charge and then do the same thing yourself years later) Gingrich, then surely we would get that and more of Captain F*****g America.

The core event of the second issue, of course, is Spider-Man publicly revealing himself as Peter Parker - an event, of course, while probably one of the most significant events in his career, didn't take place in his own magazine. No, the unmasking was in Civil War #2 in order to promote that book. It was also blown by Marvel a week early by releasing a Thunderbolts issue in which an unmasked Peter was giving his press conference. Marvel's disingenuous behavior was compounded by releasing the event to the press before the comic shops even opened the day that Civil War #2 was released!

As far as Peter's motives and rationale for unmasking - I have examined the event at length in Secret Identity, so it would be of little use to tread over that ground again here. But to summarize quickly, while there were indeed many logical reasons for Peter to unmask, the haste in which the decision was made, and the total trust he placed in Tony Stark, were illogical and poorly executed.

Civil War #2 also gives us the passing of the Registration Act and the beginning of the hunting down of unregistered combatants. We also see Stark's anguish about the affair, begging God that it be the right thing to do. That's important, because as we see when we compare Civil War and Amazing Spider-Man, it becomes the Tale of Two Tonys, Tortured Tony and Fascist Tony and Marvel editorial asleep at the switch when it came to ensuring that the character was consistently written. In issue #3, for example, before the first superhero battle between the forces for and against Registration, Stark desperately tries to reach out to Captain America, asking for five minutes to explain his position. It is Cap, however, who breaks the peace, deactivates Tony’s armor and starts the fight. And Spider-Man sees this, which is important for the points I'll make later.

Another little observation I want to make. In Civil War #3, Spidey tells Cap that the only ones who win when superheroes fight are the bad guys - and that Cap's actions go against every principle he believed in. Cap then proceeds to tell Spider-Man "Don't talk to me about principles! I saw that little stunt you pulled on TV. Is Mary Jane happy about the Sandman having her zip code now?"

Hmmm - that jogged a memory. So, I reached back into the MadGoblin's Comic Vault and pulled out Marvel Knights Spider-Man #2 (July 2004). Spider-Man breaks into Avengers Mansion looking for help because Aunt May was kidnapped by someone who found out his secret identity (this was before New Avengers). In the midst of the turmoil, Captain America tells him "Going public didn't affect me, either (Iron Man had just commented how archaic the whole secret identity thing was). In fact, not having to maintain two separate lives has actually been very liberating."

My, that seems contradictory. Well, the stories must have been written by two different authors. Let's see, we know that Civil War was written by Mark Millar, so Marvel Knights Spider-Man #2 must have been written by…oh…what a surprise…Mark Millar (this is why Marvel hates aging fanboys - we have long memories).

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Civil War really starts to go off the tracks in issue #4, as it does in Amazing Spider-Man #535, the 4th part of "The War at Home." Of course, it should also be noted that issue #4 was the first of the mind boggling delays incurred by Marvel, who apparently gave no thought to granting the artist enough lead time to get significant parts of the story in the can before beginning the releases. No, they were already crapping in their pants over DC's Infintite Crisis and the approaching 52 and had to rush their mega blockbuster onto the stands to compete with it - whether it was ready or not. When Marvel EIC Joe Quesada was questioned about the delays, one of the things he used as a defense was that Daredevil #1 was months late.

Daredevil #1? The April 1964 issue?

Please.

Back to the story - the first battle at the end of issue #3 between the pro and anti registration forces comes to a shocking standstill when in the midst of a raging thunderstorm, the Mighty Thor, thought dead, makes a dramatic appearance. However, it becomes quickly apparent that this isn't the Thor of Yore - because this Thunder God, though possessing the bombastic arrogance and flair for Shakespearean speechmaking - clearly lacks the decency and humanity of his namesake. Rather than subduing Giant Man, for example, he uses his hammer to blast a hole clean through his chest, killing him. Turns out that this Thor is a combination clone (from hair sample Stark swiped many years ago) and cyborg - and a damned defective one at that. He was promptly dubbed "Clor" by the internet faithful, much to the chagrin of certain Marvel staffers, which naturally, of course, just made us want to use the moniker more!

Clor, Clor, Clor, Clor, Clor.

And having watched this horror unfold, the reactions of the pro-registration forces, particularly Spider-Man, are inexplicably muted. Spidey's sole reaction is a somber "I thought you said you knew what you were doing, Tony." Now, while I can see some of the other heroes having more measured responses - this wouldn't have been the case with our hot-tempered superhero. After all, if ANYONE in the Marvel Universe knows about the dangers of defective clones - it's Spider-Man. The Spider-Man we all know would have been in Stark's face immediately, with memories of Kaine and Spidercide painfully brought to the forefront. On the other hand, maybe it is for the best that Spidercide be forgotten.

Both Stark and Hank Pym are shattered by this event, particularly the latter. Tony pays for Giant-Man's funeral (and all 38 burial plots), and Pym in particular agonizes over why Clor malfunctioned. However, we never get an answer. During the funeral, Reed Richards notes that Peter Parker is beginning to act very, very suspiciously. Although how he comes to that assessment is dubious, considering that all we see is Peter talking under his breath to Mary Jane and Aunt May, which could be anything from "we leave at midnight" to "does this rain coat make me look fat?" Oh well - we have to start telegraphing where the rest of the story is going to go.

Although I have real problems with the inconsistent manner in which Tony Stark is portrayed between various storylines, I must confess that I'm not too surprised at Reed Richard's perspective on the whole matter. I believe that many intellectuals from both sides of the political spectrum have something of a fascist streak in them, but not always a deliberately malevolent one. Intellectuals tend to want order, not chaos, and sometimes seem to prefer the certainty of authoritarianism over the uncertainty of democracy. And yes, I do realize that rationale is a generalization and you will be able to provide numerous examples of how it isn't true. However, in Reed Richard's case, I think it is. Still, while I can see Reed being guilty of such clueless and naivete, but not Stark. I find it difficult to believe that Stark didn't realize how bad things could get. A man who is doomed to forever be a recovering alcoholic (no one is ever cured of alcoholism - recovery takes a lifetime) should know that anything that can WILL go wrong, particularly when dealing with people with super powers, super intellects, and super egos.

We can't really talk about Civil War #4 without talking about Sue's infamous letter to Reed, where she essentially tells him he's a fascist pig and she's leaving him. However, she cooked dinner for him, brought wine, gave him some sheet action, and left the kids with him. Many female readers (well, what few of them there are in our little fraternity I suppose) were really upset about this, and called Millar a misogynist. I suspect that it was the sex part that mostly got their knickers in an uproar. If Sue had got drunk, cooked dinner and left it on the table for him next to a note with a big F*** You, I doubt they would have been too upset.

I hate to make judgments on how every woman would behave in a similar situation, because I don't know how every woman would behave. I can't even consistently guess how my own wife will behave, and I've been married to her just shy of 20 years. And regardless of the invective of some of the critics of my Mary Jane and Gwen articles, they don't know how every woman would act, either. But I do know what would happen in my household:

  1. No dinner,
  2. No wine,
  3. No sex; and
  4. No kids.

And we won't even talk about the language in the letter she would write. She would say my parents were ever married, call my mother a dog, imply that I had an Oedipus Complex - and those would just be the nice parts. If there's one thing I can see contradicting the above is that if my wife were to live as a fugitive, with a chance of being killed (not the usual custodial disappearance), she might decide that no matter how pissed she was at me, she wouldn't want to put the kids through that. Sue quite correctly deduced that they would be safest right where they were.

I don't know anything about Millar's personal life - but if he's married - then his wife must be a saint, because neither my wife, nor any spouse I know, would have given Reed (1)(2)and especially (3) if they were that pissed at him.

Anyway, during the battle, Iron Man must have literally beaten Captain America senseless, because Cap becomes even more stubborn and intractable. He begins to sound like a demagogue too obsessed and preoccupied to realize that he just might not be in the right of the matter, even though Iron Man is trying to give him every chance in the world to change his mind. As a result, some of his recruits begin to defect.

However, Reed and Tony decide to do something REALLY stupid, which I honestly can't see them doing, particularly since the death of Bill Foster was turning the tide of public opinion against them. And that's signing up with these goons to hunt the non-compliant heroes down. Let's see, you're already taking it on the chin in the public arena because your robot monster Clor incinerated the heart of a fellow superhero, so now you're REALLY going to risk public wrath as well as the wrath of members of your own team. Wasn't Tony was a Secretary of Defense? Don't you think he would be a little more politically astute than what he's showing? Yeah, that's Venom, one of the deadliest enemies of "I want you to stand by my side as my #2" Peter Parker. That'll shore up his wavering loyalties. And oh yeah, that's Bullseye, who only killed two of Matt Murdock's women (although one got better - it's a mystical ninja thing), and attempted, but failed, to get the trifecta. And the hits just keep on coming.

And that doesn't even count what Tony's got cooking with Norman Osborn.

Earlier, I argued that the first half of the Spider-Man arc was well written and among the best of JMS' run. Peter was legitimately conflicted about the choices he made, even more so as he witnessed Goliath's murder and the increasing intransigence of Captain America and the anti-registration forces, who didn't appear willing to compromise their position without bloodshed.

However, rather than continue to have Peter's turmoil unfold in a legitimate way, part 4 of "The War at Home" in Amazing Spider-Man #535, stacks the deck in every conceivable way. The purpose of this deliberate slant is that we will have no choice but to accept the decision that Peter makes - but that tactic failed because Peter's actions ultimately make no sense.

First, Peter finds out via the network news that Stark Enterprises and Fantastic Four Incorporated received no-bid contracts to build a superhuman gulag, to the cumulative tune of $2 billion. Of course, Pete confronts Stark with legitimate questions (though he does come across as a smart-ass, but then again, Spider-Man IS a smart-ass), but rather than come clean, Stark acts belligerent regarding his inquiries. Again, as in tune politically as Stark supposedly is - he would have already known and anticipated that there would be questions about the propriety of the contract. Peter grows even more disturbed when he finds out that the gulag is in the Negative Zone. During a visit, when Peter peers into the cells, he sees the most pathetic prisoners possible – begging for help, or under heavy restraint. Of course, he doesn't happen to see someone like Bullseye or Cletus Kassady babbling about how much joy they take in killing people. He doesn’t see any taunting or creepy supervillains, or villains so whacked out of their skulls that they're running into the walls, giggling maniacally, or playing with themselves. No, he just sees the poor, helpless, sympathetic ones.

And continuing this slanted theme, Stark responds to every question Peter has in the nastiest way possible, while twirling his moustache:

And then, incredulously, Tony makes this not-so-veiled threat aimed at Peter himself: “It would be a terrible thing. To be here. For the rest of one’s life. Wouldn’t it?” In other words - you either stop asking so many questions or your ass is going to be here?

Given that Tony is stressed and exhausted, he can be excused for being a little edgy. It seems that the entire weight of this massive cultural and political shift in the way America perceives its heroes has come crashing down on him, not to mention watching the violent death of a friend at the hands of a weapon that he sanctioned. He can be forgiven for being less than diplomatic to a younger man who can be immature and has a tendency to speak before he thinks. However, again, Stark knows exactly who he's dealing with here. This was a man that he wanted to stand with him as his protégé, a man who gave up his greatest source of protection, his secret identity, in order to be at his side. Tony has given him a lot, but Peter has also sacrificed a lot, and so has his family, and if things continue (barring a retcon - whoops), everyone who has known him will pay. May and Mary Jane are walking around with big targets on their backs, and even the students that Peter teaches are vulnerable (see concurrent issues of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man which will be discussed later). He knows how skittish Peter is about his decisions. He knows from his historic dealings with Spider-Man just how emotional and volatile he can be. He owes Peter answers. And yet, he does nothing, nothing to make Peter comfortable with the choices that have been made. In fact, he even starts threatening him! But, you see this is Fascist Tony.

And here we have one of the greatest incongruities about Civil War, which is the portrayal of Tony Stark during this whole crisis. Not being a regular Iron Man reader, I can't tell you how Tony Stark would really behave but I do have an idea how a tortured recovering alcoholic might react, but that's another story. Millar portrays Stark as still in touch with his core values and doing what he believes is right, but unable to completely control the forces that have been set in motion. JMS, on the other hand, preferred to portray Stark as a conniving fascist with blood dripping from his fangs and a swastika tattooed on his armor. Instead of trying to talk to his so-called "protege" on a level he can relate to, to bring him to his side, Fascist Tony is working overtime determined to alienate him.

And then there's the "Uncle Ted" story that Mr. Fantastic tells Peter, about how his Uncle, a creative type, was jailed and ruined because he refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee in ratting out anyone that he suspected of being a Communist. How this relates to the events of Civil War is a bit odd. One reason it's odd is that it implies that Mr. Fantastic is in his 60's, as Reed tells Peter that Ted personally took him for walks and ice cream. Yet it was 1947 that the Committee (HUAC) held their first hearings on Communist influence in the motion picture industry. The contempt of Congress citations against "The Hollywood Ten" (Ted received a contempt of Congress citation) were handed down in 1948. A second round of hearings was held in 1951 and 1952, although the Hollywood Blacklist was not broken until 1960, and sadly, destroyed many lives, careers, and families when legitimate concerns about Communist infiltration were abused by power seeking demagogues. It's curious that this particularly aspect of the story was allowed to stand by Joe Quesada, since he is fanatical about Marvel characters appearing to be "young." And as a point of clarification, Reed mentions Joe McCarthy and HUAC in the same sentence. While they did coexist in the same period of history, it should be clarified that HUAC was a House committee, and had nothing to do with McCarthy. "Tail Gunner Joe" was a US Senator, and died in 1957, years after being censured by the Senate, revealed for the nut-job that he was, and drinking himself to death. Just so you have all of the facts.

It's hard to take up a side in the debate that Reed frames - obey an unjust law and be safe and snug in your warm little bed, or disobey it and go to jail. I don't have any answer, because there really isn't any. The American colonists refused to obey the law in the 1770's and we have the USA as a result. And while Hitler and the Nazis were the legitimate political authority in Germany in the 1930's and '40's - I don't think anyone is going to argue that they were "right" and those who would argue so frighten me. But he is also right that the law keeps us from tearing each other to pieces in a survival of the fittest game, and that the stability of society depends on us obeying it even when we don't like it, and using nonviolent means to change what we don't like. Although JMS portrays Stark as a fascist, he does show Reed to be somewhat conflicted and tortured, knowing from personal experience that while the law protects, it can also ruthlessly crush. Still, I'm a little confused as to the point that Peter is making when he tells Reed "I would have liked him but you - you loved him," in reference to Ted. If someone can shed some light on this for me, please do so.

I'll deal with Pete's reaction to the Negative Zone Gulag a little later. Soon after his field trip there, he sneaks into May's and MJ's bedrooms, and tells them they have to get out of Avengers Tower, that he's made a "terrible, terrible" (must be channeling Charles Barkley) mistake and that he's been on the wrong side and has to set things right. O.K. - let's take a moment here. In the beginning of this story arc three issues ago, Peter asks MJ and May for their advice and counsel on whether or not to reveal his secret identity - because - as he states - it affects them too. Yet, when he decides to go on the run - he doesn't solicit their opinion or feedback, or frame his angst and doubts for them. Nope - he's made up both his mind and THEIR minds for them and they are going to go on the run and live like fugitives and face the risk of imprisonment! That's looking out for your family. That's being "responsible." It’s one thing to go on the lam on "principle" when it’s just you that you have to worry about and fend for – but when you drag your wife and your septuagenarian mother figure along with you – you turn from principled to stupid. When you have a family, life isn't just about you anymore. And make no mistake, Peter Parker is acting stupid.

As I was writing this – I wondered if that kind of thinking on my part was exactly where Marvel and I part company, why they want to write their characters “Young! Young!” and don’t want old people like me reading their comics (but they do want old people buying those overpriced statues and coffee table books. $50 for a Spider-Man coffee table book. Indeed. What 8-12 year old, which is the ideal age market that Marvel craves - is going to fork over the money for that when they could buy the hottest video game or two on sale at Wal-Mart?)

Working within the system to try to effect change is an old person strategy. Sucking it up and making the best of it because it isn’t just about you any more, but your family, is old people thinking. Young people are more likely to do something for principle, more likely to make rash, irresponsible decisions – and we accept that because they’re young and don’t know any better (I’m generalizing here, folks). Young people take those exciting chances that let us tell these kinds of stories. That’s why Marvel wants Spidey at 25 or less and single – because then he can do those things and be forgiven. At 30 and married, he comes across as foolish and irresponsible. I honestly believe that this is a primary reason why the whole Reboot of 2008 - One More Day travesty happened. Certain elements of Marvel probably realized that Peter was too old to be making such a foolish decision, and therefore wanted to return him to a time when he wasn't.

So let's just eliminate that problem by having Spider-Man make a deal with the devil and do away with his marriage.

Whoops - I'm getting ahead of myself.

What's also interesting is that Tony is clearly eavesdropping on the conversation, because after Peter tells May and MJ what a terrible mistake he's made - Iron Man comes crashing through the walls and tackles him! He doesn't wait for Spidey to actually leave the premises, which, for example is Shoplifting Crimebusting 101 when you think someone is stealing - you wait for them to actually leave the store with their loot. How does Tony know, for example, that May or MJ won't talk him down? He doesn't even give either one of them the opportunity! Peter has committed no crime yet. But, Stark attacks him when all Peter has done thus far is voice that he thinks he's on the wrong side. Which, of course, if you're trying to make Tony Stark look like a fascist and make the pro-registration forces look like goose stepping Nazis in order to support your perspective, that's what you do. And don't even start with the arguments that there wasn't time for this because the story needed to move along - this is a 7-part story that had already been padded from an originally planned 6 parts and features two whole pages of a sniper falling asleep. "There wasn't time" will not work as an answer here.

In Civil War #5, after the initial tackling, Iron Man tries to reason with Spider-Man. Spidey even brings up Bill Foster's death, and Stark shows the proper remorse, stating that something like that would not happen again. He also tells Peter that there were forces within SHIELD and the Government that wanted to outlaw all superhuman activities, and that registration is a compromise. And here's the kicker - Iron Man tells Spidey that locking people up in the Negative Zone is only a temporary measure, because if you put them in Ryker's - they'll be out in five minutes. This conflicts with Tony's "F**k the Constitution" attitude in Amazing Spider-Man. At the end, he's begging Peter to come to his senses, but Spidey clocks him anyway. Amazing Spider-Man #536 then follows the battle onto the streets, and Spidey eventually finds his way into the sewers on the run.

Back to Civil War which picks up the action in the sewers, and things get worse for Spider-Man, not the least because he winds up getting his ass handed to him by Z-List supervillains Jack O’Lantern and the Jester. WTF? These losers have no business lasting five seconds with Spider-Man, regardless of how much hallucinogens they shove up his snoot, which then makes him say stupid things like "did you know my girlfriend died of a broken neck?" What the hell? Spidey's been gassed by experts (namely a multitude of Goblins and Mysterios – hey, that’s like a cereal) – so this is just stupid. And like some helpless little schoolgirl he has to be rescued by the Punisher. But I confess, Jack O'Lantern's pumpkin head exploding after taking a shot by the Punisher WAS cool.


In an irritating bit of misdirection, the cover of Civil War #5 shows Spidey under attack from the Green Goblin, Venom, and Bullseye. Not bad, eh? Might be fun, eh? Until we open the covers and find out that it's just Jack O’Lantern and the Jester. Suckered again.

By this time, the Iron Spidey suit has been destroyed and Peter is back in his traditional red and blues, courtesy of Aunt May grabbing an old costume along with her Polident as she vacated Avengers Tower. He finds Captain America and the rebel forces, but figures that the night isn't complete until he makes a sanctimonious speech on the nightly news. In Amazing Spider-Man #536, he pops into the news studio and takes center stage. This is his chance to state his case before the world, to tell everyone what is wrong with the Superhuman Registration Act and the direction that the country is going. And what does he talk about?

These are all tangible arguments, things that people can grab onto and debate, clear examples of the apparent abuse and misuse of power. But what is Spidey really upset about? The violation of supervillain civil rights, which is probably the weakest argument of all the ones he could have chosen to talk about largely because it's the least persuasive of the ones to use on the American people!

Spidey's speech is nonstarter. For one, over and over and over again, we have read Spider-Man comics where he has railed at the futility of fighting supervillains only to have them keep coming back time and time again. And is his memory so short that he forgot how and why the New Avengers were formed in the first place? It was because of a massive prison break in which nearly 50 supervillains escaped and he got the crap beat out of him and his arm broken like a little pussy! For the sake of argument – if the Gulag worked, then that takes care of one of his biggest gripes, doesn’t it? And if his colorful foes are all holed up in the Negative Zone, then he can dedicate both of his identities working on projects that will benefit the whole of humanity, rather than punching out the same band of lunatics over and over again. Oddly enough, that's something the late Ezekiel Sims (a JMS creation, by the way) made reference to when he told Spider-Man that he had a long way to go before becoming a true guardian of the people.

And not only that, but this whole mess with registration started because of a supervillain on the run. Yes, Speedball and the New Warriors screwed up big time and got in over their heads - but Stamford wouldn't have happened if Nitro and the other supervillains had remained locked up in prison where they belonged. Spidey's argument is completely disingenuous because he's jettisoning all of the strong arguments that would support his position with the American people for the one that they're not going to give a rat's ass about!

And here's something else to put in your pipe and smoke. If anyone would have been emotionally impacted by unchecked and unrestrained mutant (or superhero) power – wouldn’t it have been Spider-Man? Remember, he wanted to kill Magneto and the Witch with his bare hands in House of M when he found out that his celebrity life was all a fantasy and believed they were responsible for that altered universe. He wouldn’t have agreed, at least on principle, that there really is a disadvantage to having people with that sheer amount of power walking around unchecked? But no – he never mentions it, because the writers want to lead you into an already pre-determined direction, and not one indigenous to either the characters or the situation.

This speech gets at the core of my problems with this story arc in Amazing Spider-Man. It isn't that the comics are telling a story that tackles controversial modern day issues, because that is something that literature and entertainment has always done. Gullivers Travels, for example, was a commentary reflecting Jonathan Swift's perspective on the Europe of his time. Spider-Man has always in some fashion reflected the times in which the stories were written. And Spidey, as the superhero "everyman" is the logical character to find himself smack dab in the middle of two warring ideologies. It isn't even the fact that Spider-Man makes a decision totally opposite of the one I would have made (because as I admitted - I'm old, and not the kind of reader Marvel wants) that really grates me. It's that the rationale for that decision is very, very poorly written in such a way that it is out of character. His decision, which negatively impacts the lives of the people he loves the most, is totally irresponsible and out of character for someone for whom "with great power there must also come great responsibility" is his mantra. And if you think that's bad - wait till he makes a deal with the devil (damn, I just can't help myself).

No, Spider-Man goes rogue because most of Marvel, and JMS in particular don't like George Bush and don't approve of the "War on Terror" the way it is being fought. News flash - I DON'T particularly care for the current administration either and I am NOT a Republican. I don't like to discuss politics, but just so my readers don't get the idea that my problems with this story are politically motivated - they aren't. Why else is Spidey's speech comprised of all sorts of thinly veiled references to the holding of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay - but nothing else? Is he saying that everyone who believes in law and order is a goose-stepping fascist who's willing to sell his freedom for the promise of "security"? During Spider-Man's speech he says “Some people say the most important thing in the world is that we should be safe. But I was brought up to believe that some things are worthy dying for. “ First of all, who says that the most important thing in the world is that we should be safe? Just who is saying that? Either in these comics or in the real world? I don’t recall reading or hearing that out of the lips of anyone and I consider myself fairly well informed. And if someone IS saying that - it sure as hell isn't someone I'm interested in listening to any further! Safety is not guaranteed – we all know that, except for the naïve and the opportunistic looking to make a buck. Even if you never leave your house, you can slip in the bathtub, fall down the stairs, or wind up holding the wrong end of a live electrical connection (which I nearly did once - ouch!). You're more likely to get killed behind the wheel of your own friggin' car than by a fundamentalist Islamic terrorist, and WE KNOW THAT. Maybe Spidey should be on TV denouncing predatory lawyers and their class action lawsuits!

What's sad is that a major reason that Peter would have realistically turned on Stark is not even touched upon in this story, because there's no indication that Peter even knows about it at the time. That's Tony making deals with some of Peter's worst enemies, specifically Norman Osborn and the Mac Gargan Venom. It is never satisfactorily explained why the pro-registration forces are resorting to alliances with some of the worst scumbags in the Marvel Universe. Talk about a public relations disaster. The world is not a very nice place, and sometimes, as the forces of law and order and diplomacy have found out over the centuries, you do have to make deals with monsters to achieve a greater good, even if you have to scrub the filth off you later. But again, this isn't really so much a logical story development as it is to pound us over the head again with just how bad and misguided the pro-registration forces are, that they would enlist the assistance of such jackals.

Can you imagine how dramatic the confrontation would have been between Peter and Stark if Spidey found out that Norman Osborn was now on the same side of the law that he was - that Osborn had received a pardon for his crimes? After all, Tony knows exactly how personal the matter of Norman Osborn is to Peter Parker. "My god, Tony! Osborn of all people! You know what he's done to me over the years? He murdered Gwen! He destroyed his own son - my best friend! Stripped my own life from me and made me believe that I was a clone – and then he murdered a man whom I considered a brother! He may have even had something to do with the stillborn death of my daughter! I know that you may have to make some deals - but why Osborn?" This isn’t a vague, philosophical, or political disagreement – Stark is making compromises with the most hated man in Peter’s life. Even Aunt May and Mary Jane, having both known Gwen and Harry, and how much they meant to Peter, would line up on his side and condemn Tony for this action. This is a rational reason for Peter to switch sides. But, it's ignored. Spider-Man loses faith in Stark not because of Bill Foster's death, not because of the monsters he and Richards are cooking up in their labs, and not because of an alliance entered into with his greatest enemy and the man he hates most in the world. The straw that breaks the camel's back is the violation of supervillain civil rights.

O.K. I think I've made my point.

Issue #537 introduces a new element of the Kingpin, while in prison, putting out a hit on Spider-Man and whoever is with him. Now, the Kingpin has known Spider-Man for a long time - he's known that Spider-Man has survived uncounted attempts on his life from foes far more potent than a sniper. What in the world makes him believe this attempt would be any more successful than the others? This just seems like a waste of Fisk's time and money. Also, Fisk orders the takeout of Peter's loved ones as well. Now, you Daredevil fans are going to have to help me on this one - is this in or out of character for the Kingpin to do? Particularly since his own wife has been used against him before by his enemies. Wouldn't he consider murdering an old woman and another man's wife beneath him? But then again, the idea that mobsters have a sense of honor is largely a Hollywood fiction.

But we get another speech in issue #537, this one by Captain America, who recites an 8th grade lesson on Mark Twain, and Peter swoons like a schoolgirl in love – as if he has a passionate man crush on Cap. All of a sudden “it feels good to be on the right side again.”

But really – what is the “right” side? Well, JMS is making up our mind for us. Of course, it’s the side of the rebels.

Ultimately, all good and bad things must come to an end, and Civil War #7 features the final battle between the pro and anti registration forces, beginning at the Negative Zone Gulag, and ending on the streets of New York. Frankly, the ending, with Captain America giving up and ordering his troops to stand down, while it was controversial among fans, is actually, and much to my surprise, one of the things I have the least problem with. When you think about it - it's the only logical way for the story to have ended, at least if you wanted the Marvel Universe to still be intact. The anti and pro registration forces have lined up in a dramatic free for all, and then the arrival of Prince Namor and his Atlantean Army seem to have turned the tide in favor of the anti registration forces. Of course, it is never adequately explained just why Namor comes to Cap's aid, since as a sovereign of a foreign nation, his entrance into the conflict could be seen as an act of war. Oh well, why let that get in the way of a good fight scene. Still, since the two have a history going back to World War II, it really isn't a leap of faith to assume that Namor would side with Cap over the US Government any day.

Anyway, just when Captain America has Iron Man at his mercy, civilians weary of New York being regularly demolished during superpowered grudge matches attack him. As he surveys the devastation around him, he has a moment of clarity, and realizes that winning this battle is irrelevant. Spidey notes that they were winning, and I'm sure with Namor and the Atlanteans on their side, as well as Iron Man and Clor taken down, that their victory was assured.

But then what?

They were still fugitives, still committing illegal acts. Taking down Stark and the rest of the pro-registration forces wouldn't have resulted in the government repealing the registration act and letting them go back to the days of freewheeling vigilantism. In fact, they would have proven themselves even more dangerous - and the next time, it wouldn't be fellow superheroes with conflicted feelings about taking on their friends - it would be SHIELD agents and the US military with no particular loyalties or feelings.

In other words, the war had already been lost, regardless of the outcome of the battle.

Although, how do we reconcile the conclusion of Captain America's speech about "standing by the river of truth" in Amazing Spider-Man #537, with him throwing in the towel in Civil War #7?

So, the problem was not Civil War's ending - it was the fact that it even began in the first place.

Stark proves himself to be magnanimous by convincing the government to offer amnesty to the rebelling superheroes (Reed Richards was also working at accomplishing the same - refusing to cooperate further with the government unless they gave his wife and brother-in-law immunity). However, inexplicably, and like a damn fool, simply because the writers deemed it so, Spidey refuses to take it. For all of the talk about power and responsibility, he has behaved like a spoiled little child who takes his toys and goes home when he finds out that the world isn't perfect. This is bad, bad writing and shows a complete lack of respect for the character.

In Amazing Spider-Man #538, "The War at Home" limps to its flaccid so-called conclusion. Stretched to 7 parts - and still ends on a f*****g cliffhanger of Aunt May getting shot! The fact that this thing was padded was so painfully obvious - did we really need two whole pages of the sniper going to sleep - including a full page panel of just him sleeping? Or all of the reaction shots during the last two issues?

We can't talk about Civil War without talking about the botched scheduling and delays. Unfortunately, it seems to be a trend among us fanboys to judge a title not entirely by the quality, but by the politics and/or business practices involved. Of course, unlike your typical late book, Marvel really screwed the pooch tying its entire line to this thing - so that when it went late, the whole publishing line was affected. Although Marvel will certainly crow about how successful Civil War was and how much money it made - how much money was lost by Marvel, and continues to be lost, as a result of several books not coming out on time? That is simply not very good business.

But it's all Steve McNiven's fault?

Civil War: Frontline
I feel so wiped out after analyzing Civil War that I don't have much left in the tank this week. But, I still have some space to fill (gotta give you your money's worth - wait a minute - I ain't making any money off this! Maybe I'm the one with poor business sense), so let's go ahead and knock out Frontline.

FrontLine started out very promising, as a sub series of the original, promising to fill in all of those annoying little gaps and behind the scenes stories of the Superhero Civil War. Written by Paul Jenkins, who had a good run on Peter Parker a few years back, this series was packed with something you don't often see in comic books anymore - dialogue! And lots of it, rather than panel after panel of reaction shots. Unfortunately, the series failed to satisfactorily address many questions, made things even more confusing, and collapsed under its own weight and self-importance. I've always thought Jenkins was a good writer, but a weak plotter, sharp on dialogue, but not so good at creating satisfying conclusions to his strong set-ups. Not only that, but Frontline was originally a 10 part series that got stretched to 11 parts because of - what else - the delays in the main series.

There were essentially three parallel storylines in Frontline:

I didn't dislike everything. Like I said, it started off promising, and then became hopelessly muddled. Some of the things I did like include:

Jenkins does a much better job of trying to be even handed in the debate than JMS, for example, although it's clear on what side the reporters fall. The conversation between Sally Floyd and Congressman Eugene Sykes in issue #7, for example, where Sykes convinces her of his sincerity in pushing through the Registration Act as a protection measure, not a totalitarian one, which he supports by his describing his experiences in Vietnam, is a rational discussion. Still, there are some inconsistencies and editorial sloppiness. For one, issue #6 takes us into the Negative Zone Gulag, which looks completely opposite of what we saw in Amazing Spider-Man #535. In the latter, the Gulag was a relatively clean place where prisoners were supposedly treated "humanely" with rooms equipped to negate their special powers. However, in Frontline, what we see is something out of a bad prison movie, with inmates denied medical attention, or allowed to kill themselves because they can change parts of their bodies into shotguns and blow their heads off. So, which is it? Editors - where the hell are you? And then there was his labeling of the Daily Bugle as "right-wing toilet rag," which caught me a bit by surprise. Since when in the Marvel Universe did the Bugle go from a great metropolitan newspaper to something of the caliber of The Weekly World News? And right wing? While there's no doubt that old JJJ has always leaned right and had fairly uncompromising positions on law and order - he was also squarely on the side of civil rights in the 1960's. Putting the stories in their original context, he also had an African-American City Editor at a time when black people in the South were still fighting for the right to sit anywhere they chose on a bus and were still fair game for nuts in white sheets. In fact, the presence of Joe Robertson as Jonah's conscience kept the Bugle from becoming a "toilet rag" with the exception of JJJ's almost psychotic hang up about Spider-Man. Yes, I know that technically, as time moves forward, the Marvel Universe really didn't begin until the 1990's - but although Marvel wants us to forget that there were stories told in the decades prior to that - WE remember. And I suppose that the phrasing could simply have been Urich's cynical griping - lord knows he's put up with a lot of crap from Jonah over the years.

Naturally, I can't sign off on this part without discussing a major turning point in the life of Norman Osborn, as he goes from simply being the Green Goblin, to a character more interwoven into the events of the Marvel Universe. I consider this to be a positive development, because those of you who have read my essays know that I have long thought that he needed to develop an agenda and existence beyond that of simply making Peter Parker's life miserable. He was too good of a character to just pop up every three or four years in a silly green and purple costume, throw some pumpkin bombs, hatch some devious scheme, and then get defeated and slink away. And this story is really still being told in the pages of The Thunderbolts, which is beyond this article, so maybe there are some plot points yet to be elaborated upon, but we'll work with what we have.

We first see Norman in SHIELD custody in issue #2 watching the Spider-Man unmasking press conference, and freaking out when Peter talks in no uncertain terms about what a scumbag Osborn is and that he murdered Gwen Stacy as the Green Goblin. In Osborn's mind, talking so freely about him "broke the rules," the two supposedly were following. Now, I was a little surprised to see that Norman had been apprehended off-panel (like in a Howard Mackie story) after he slipped away into the night at the end of Marvel Knights Spider-Man #12. I had hoped he was going to get a well-deserved rest from appearances for awhile since he had been used quite a bit in previous years. Naturally, my first reaction is that Norman would have been a lot more careful after one stint in prison than to let himself get caught again. But, it's also realistic to assume that when he was incarcerated the first time that he was implanted with something to track his movements. Plus, how many people out there do you know with red washboard hair?

We next see him in issues #4 & 5, in full Green Goblin gear, terrorizing Ben Urich, threatening revenge for that expose of many years ago. These scenes are fun, because Norman is clearly nuts as he taunts Urich. The art, while sometimes it makes him look like he's been ingesting too many twinkies during his incarceration, still creates the feeling that this is one totally batshit crazy dude. However, before he makes good on any of his threats, Osborn collapses and starts foaming at the mouth, as if under someone's remote control (or just rabid). And when Urich gets away and tells everyone his story, no one believes him, because SHIELD insists that Osborn never left his cell. So just what was Norman doing out there? Was this just a trial run to test whether or not he was truly under control? That was never explained.

In issue #6, Urich confronts Stark, asking him "was it overwhelming arrogance or stupidity that led you to make a deal with the devil known as the Green Goblin?" Stark, more than forthcoming on the death of Bill Foster, suddenly goes silent. It seems a little presumptuous that Urich would already sense something was up - but maybe this was just his good reporter's instincts. He really didn't know that Stark had made a deal with Osborn, but the fact that he clammed up right away instead of asking where did he come up with that crazy notion told Ben that he was indeed onto something. But then there's more confusion as in issue #7 Joe Robertson tells Urich that his "Osborn story just went through the ceiling," while sitting next to a headline that says "Costumed Killer Amnesty," but this is never mentioned again. Was Norman formally pardoned for his crimes? Was the headline even remotely connected to Osborn - or was it a reference to something else? Later we see Norman back at Oscorp in New Jersey, talking to a mysterious figure who gives him a drink that suppresses the nanites in his bloodstream that are used to track him and make him more "subject to persuasion." That the mysterious figure is Stark is not much of a surprise, since Norman admits to the conundrum of "being grateful to someone I hate so much" and it was established in an issue of Iron Man years ago that the two knew and despised each other. Later, as the Goblin, he attacks a gathering of Atlanteans and Wonder Man, who has them under surveillance, with a cryptic reference to "muddying the waters."

In issue #8, Osborn out of costume, shoots at an Atlantean delegation, but as we find out in issue #11, the gun was altered so that he would miss his target. In #9, he's strapped to a chair (complete with Hannibal Lecter mask) and interrogated by the police, but then dragged out by a mysterious individual who is later identified as Stark, begging for help and promising that he will reveal everything. As you can imagine, I really didn't care for this. Norman with a muzzle because he bit an arresting officer? Somehow I can't see Norman resorting to biting people. And I can't see him showing fear of anyone whether or not he might actually feel such an emotion. But this is probably easily explained. He's already nuts, and with a combination of the nanites in his blood, drugs to counteract the nanites, and then forced to go into frothing fits when he starts to slip his leash, he's probably barely in control of his emotions. And he's back to his nasty, manipulative, and modestly in control self in Thunderbolts (although he's starting to slip because of Moonstone messing with his meds). So, we can probably accept the events of Frontline as not typical of Norman's behavior.

One thing that was nailed was Norman's utter contempt for anyone who crosses his path, as these insults of his interrogators indicates:

It is never really satisfactorily resolved just why Stark needs Osborn for this particular assignment. Anyone could have bombed the Atlantean sleeper cell - and anyone could have taken a potshot at the delegation. Plus, Norman Osborn is a relatively high profile person in the Marvel Universe, if not for his fame as the head of an international business conglomerate, then for his infamy as the Green Goblin. Just his presence at these events would raise questions as to exactly what he was doing there - someone like Osborn just doesn't show up with a cheap handgun trying to shoot someone - unless there was something else going on. This just seems sloppy of Stark - if he wanted to create suspicion that there was something not quite kosher about the whole Atlantis thing - then by using someone like Osborn he certainly accomplished that. Although it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense, I suppose we could theorize that this is a case where Tony, although having carefully planned much of this, might having been letting his ego and his spite get the best of his common sense. It's clear that he probably has a history with Osborn - the two were business rivals, Norman an unethical one who no doubt tried to undermine and sabotage his competitors and Stark just flat out hated his guts. The idea of having Osborn under his control, subject to his whims, carrying out his own dirty work, and being able to bring him to his knees, may have simply been too great a temptation for him to pass up.

However, that still doesn't explain how Osborn goes from Tony's Tool to the new director of the Thunderbolts, which are actually outside of Stark's jurisdiction as the new head of SHIELD. The Thunderbolts are under the auspices of the Committee on Superhuman Activities, a separate organization. When the new Thunderbolts era begins with issue #110 of that magazine, Norman is firmly in control and seems to have a considerable amount of autonomy. And considering that under Warren Ellis, the T-Bolts' mag seems to have slipped to a bi-monthly schedule, any answers that will fill in the gaps seem to be a long time in coming. Still, discussion of the Thunderbolts is beyond what I want to accomplish here - maybe someone in a separate Green Goblin article.

Civil War cut a wide swath through the Marvel Universe, wrecking everything in its path, the Spider-Man Universe being one of its primary victims. No sooner had Peter David finally been able to begin telling his own stories in Friendly Neighborhood (after the debut of the new title was wrecked by “The Other” debacle) or new Sensational writer Roberto Acquirre Sacasa started settling in that they had to deal with the fallout of Civil War. Another interesting new direction for Spider-Man, his membership in the Avengers, was also shit-canned by these events.

For the rest of this article, go to Spider-Man 2006 - and Nothing will Ever be the Same Again!


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