It's the SUPERHUMAN REGISTRATION ACT and not the "Super-Hero Registration Act" as I keep writing in my reviews of Marvel's CIVIL WAR comics. I wanted to apologize for and correct the error before I started in on the July-released issues.
Unless there's a surprise shift coming up, the CIVIL WAR story does seem to be slanted in favor of the anti-registration heroes. But, despite that, I think writer Paul Jenkins adds some balance to the debate with CIVIL WAR: FRONT LINE #3 [$2.99].
In "Embedded," the first of the issue's four stories, we get a dramatic example of a superhuman who should not be allowed to use his powers without proper supervision and training. We also get to listen as Sally Floyd meets with anti-registration rebels and Ben Urich meets with Reed Richards and finds a flaw in Mr. Fantastic's logic. It's another thoughtful chapter in this serial.
In "The Accused," Jennifer (She-Hulk) Walters brings Speedball a plea bargain offer from the government. He turns it down, this despite the certainty that he is a marked man at the prison where he's being held. The kid doesn't believe he's guilty of anything. I disagree. Heck, I bet non-lawyer me could get him convicted for reckless endangerment and maybe depraved indifference.
A new serial titled "Sleeper Cell" joins FRONT LINE this issue with art by Lee Weeks and Rob Campanella. I don't want to reveal too much about it, but this first chapter ends on a neat twist and has me eager to see where the story goes from there.
Each issue of FRONT LINE ends with a vignette that refers to a key event in one of the preceding serials. This one seemed a bit labored to me, but it didn't diminish my high regard for the issue and this title.
CIVIL WAR: FRONT LINE #3 earns the full five Tonys.
Something has been nagging me about the growing role of Baron Zemo and his reformed/reforming super-villains in CIVIL WAR and, after reading THUNDERBOLTS #104 [$2.99], I finally figured out what it is. A good many pages of that issue are devoted to the T-Bolts battling and capturing villains who are then recruited to capture other villains to recruit to capture yet other...you get the point. Getting captured by the T-Bolts gets you an instant deal and keeps you out of prison. Does this not concern, oh, I don't know, any of the victims of these villains or any of the law enforcement folks, include prosecutors, who are watching them get a free pass on past crimes? What's up with that?
Yes, we do see one government guy express concern over Zemo's growing army, but he gets blown off by the Commission on Superhuman Activity. It's like a right-wing fantasy of criminal coddling come to life and it's making some serious dents in my willing suspension of disbelief. Unless and until this is addressed, it's gonna cost THUNDERBOLTS points with me.
Surprise endings are pretty much a given from THUNDERBOLTS and writer Fabian Nicieza, and this issue's is a good one. Just not so good that I can give the issue more than three Tonys.
There's not an uninteresting scene in CIVIL WAR #3 [$2.99]. In Wakanda, Reed Richards tries to recruit the Black Panther to the pro-registration side and we see, with horror, how thoroughly the Fantastic Four leader has embraced Tony Stark's vision. While the "secret Avengers" are saving lives at great risk to their freedom, Stark's tries to sign up the X-Men to hunt them down. Meanwhile, Doctor Strange is reported to have left the country and gone into seclusion.
We see Cap and others trying out their new secret identities. An accident at a petrochemical plant turns out to be an ambush for the heroes and that's when something becomes crystal clear to me: Stark has become a fanatic. His naturally addictive personality is now turned towards "staying the course" no matter how brutal, how vicious, how villainous that course requires him to me. There's no real difference between him and the Communist zealots he fought in the early years of his Iron Man career. It's a chilling moment and it's followed by as dramatic a surprise ending as we've seen in any of the CIVIL WAR comics to date.
I wish we didn't have to wait another month for CIVIL WAR #4 and the consequences of that surprise ending, but I can't fault the creative team of writer Mark Millar and penciler Steve McNiven, or the Marvel Comics brass, for their commitment to the quality of the series. This issue earns another five Tonys.
CIVIL WAR: X-MEN #1 [$2.99] brings the fight to the X-Men as former X-Force members Domino and Shatterstar break into the Xavier Institute and free about half the mutants held there by the Office of National Emergency. The X-Men had stated their neutrality, but Stark sees this as an opportunity to bring mutants into his fold. One of the X-Men accepts, four others go undercover to try to help the escapees, and the last page makes it clear the O*N*E guardians surround the Institute are no longer a benign force, if they ever truly were.
Written by David Hine and drawn by Yanick Paquette, this first issue didn't ring my chimes. Domino and Shatterstar hail from the era when the X-Men books were so awful I couldn't even flip through them and a quick catching-up trip to Wikipedia further convinced me of their mediocrity. Stark's zealotry, as portrayed in this issue, is the comics equivalent of an actor chewing the scenery. The only high point of the issue was seeing some of my all-time favorite X-Men doing the right thing. How much I like the rest of this mini-series will likely depend on how well those heroes are portrayed, but this initial issue only earns two Tonys.
X-FACTOR #9 [$2.99] brings the conflict between Madrox's team and the X-Men to a head. Cyclops defends his team's actions post M-Day, Quicksilver quotes Martin Niemoller, and the resolution-for-now of their differences is a delightful surprise. The future of Mutant Town is uncertain - I'm thinking Kristallnacht - but promises to be no less intense than whatever happens in the Civil War tie-ins. I'm looking forward to it.
Kudos to writer Peter David and the rest of the X-Factor crew. This issue earns four out of five Tonys.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #534 [$2.99] takes place after the "police action" that began in CIVIL WAR #3 and does a terrific job of not giving away whatever surprises may await us when CIVIL WAR #4 hits the comics shops next month. It features the first extended battle between Captain America and Spidey, two of my three favorite Marvel super-heroes. Whereas I have nothing but contempt for Tony Stark, who is pursuing his personal power-fantasy much as he once pursued his booze, I sympathize with Peter Parker, who is honestly trying to do the right thing. That he's doing the wrong thing makes him as tragic a hero as he's ever been.
J. Michael Straczynski writes an immensely satisfying script here and penciller Ron Garney gets to cut loose with the dramatic and dynamic action sequences. This issue earns the full five out of five Tonys.
Look for more CIVIL WAR reviews on Monday. And, oh, yeah, my third favorite Marvel super-hero is Luke Cage, the Thing, or Tigra, depending on what day it is. And the Falcon can be real cool, too. And the Black Panther. And She-Hulk. And the Human Torch. Can't forget Storm or the Angel or Kitty Pryde or the Iceman or...geez, somebody stop me already!
Much as I respect Marvel's decision to put the quality of the CIVIL WAR comics first, I recognize that delaying several of their top-selling titles for a month does considerable disservice to the retailers. Certainly a savvy comics seller would have stocked his or her store or online catalogue with other fine comics and graphic novels, but not all the customers who come looking for CIVIL WAR or AMAZING SPIDER-MAN are going to be interested in anything but what they came to buy. It's a fact of retailing life and no amount of praise for alternative titles or manga books or even DC super-hero titles will change that. Many retailers are going to be taking a hit this month because of the CW delays.
It's been about 17 years since I've owned a comic-book shop or worked in distribution. I don't have *the* answer to what Marvel can or can't do to make amends with the retailers. I just believe it should be a priority for the company to do *something* to make things as right as it can under the circumstances. Maybe hand out some variant comics. Or some gratis Essentials or Masterworks. Or some other items the stores can sell to make up for the short fall on this month's bottom line.
In recent years, I think Marvel Comics has shown a good deal of respect for its readers and the retailers. I think that's been a good thing all around. Now would be a good time to kick that up another notch.
This week's most frequently asked question is...how do I feel about Black Lightning being in the Justice League? Having not yet read the issue where he joins, I can't speak to the actual event. But I can direct you to the response I gave when asked the question on my message board:
Doubtless I'll have more to say when I actually get and read the issue in a couple weeks. For now, let's just say I'm guardedly optimistic.
COMICS IN THE COMICS
Our COMICS IN THE COMICS file, containing comic strips which are self-referential or which have comics character "guest stars", is filled with wondrous panels and strips. Here's a selection of Marvel super-hero appearances.
The Hulk was the star of Todd Clark and Scott Nickel's TRIPLE TAKE from February 24:
If you were wondering whose side NANCY was on, check out this April 5 strip by Guy and Brad Gilchrist:
In FOX TROT, Bill Amend often features comic-book characters. The X-Men's Cyclops appears in this dream sequence from the April 6 strip:
Though I've been focusing on Marvel's CIVIL WAR event, I plan to catch up with DC as well. Look for my review of their weekly 52 series next week, followed by other reader-requested reviews of DC and especially DCU titles.
Alas, I'm still playing catch-up with our TONY POLLS results. Here's how you voted on the questions you were asked the last week of May...
During the past season, which of these TV networks did you watch the most?
Once again, I find myself well out of sync with the majority of the voters. The various police shows - CSI, Cold Case, Criminal Minds - and shows like Two and a Half Men and The Unit made CBS my most-watched network last year.
THE NEW YORK COMIC-CON is doubling its exhibit space at the Jacob Javits Convention Center for its February 23-25, 2007 event. Are you *considering* attending the convention?
I'd loved to attend this show, but doing so without any kind of convention or professional sponsorship (hotel, travel expenses) would make it difficult for me. So, yes, I am considering going to the show and, no, I don't know how I can make it happen.
In the 1980s, Marvel published ROM, based on a Parker Brothers toy. If the 75-issue series was reprinted in Marvel's ESSENTIAL format, would you buy it?
I'd buy these ESSENTIAL volumes in a heartbeat. ROM was one heck of a series.
Aren't you impressed Tony Polls is the only comics website not asking you to vote on X-MEN: THE LAST STAND?
I'm incredibly impressed with your individuality...25%
You're asking us about it next week, aren't you?...75%
Ah, you know me so well. Those TONY POLLS results should be coming your way on Monday.
The current TONY POLLS questions are on Civil War, Spider-Man revealing his identity to the world, DC's weekly 52 series, and the new DCU series or mini-series released in the wake of the company's INFINITE CRISIS event. They'll remain active until sometime after midnight on Monday, August 28.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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