What is Civil War? Is it allegory? Are Stark and SHIELD supposed to be Bush's America, trampling civil liberties with the willful glee of a herd of wildebeest cantering over the Serengeti? What does that make the other side, then? Al Qaida? But, utterly obviously, they're supposed to be the good guys, right? As the advertising says, which side are you on? Let me just think for a minute... should it be the cool ones in leather jackets who have secret hideouts and make tediously self-righteous speeches about liberty? Or should I root for the stormtroopers who laboratory-grow murderous Thor-clones and swoop in on innocents at four in the morning, beat them senseless and then cuff them and stuff them and push them without benefit of lawyers into a hellish extra-dimensional prison-fortress?
I don't know about you, but I'm with the fascists on this one. You can't mollycoddle these lawbreakers.
Obviously, even in the best of comic stories, you have to suspend a mound of disbelief to cope with the spandex and unfeasible powers, but the character changes in Civil War are so extreme it's as if Mark Millar is personally jabbing you up the nose with a drumstick yelling, "it's only a story, you fool, I just couldn't get it to fly without jimmying everything around".
Witness Reed Richards, who only a few months ago was knocking over a foreign country on moral grounds in the teeth of US government opposition, but is now happy to use the Negative Zone as an extrajudicial robot-manned dungeon. The Negative Zone, for God's sake, backyard of Annihilus - didn't you used to die if you hung out there too long? What if there's a power outage? What if Blastaar takes out the security bots and recruits half the world's superpowered individuals as his personal minions?
Yes I know it's a cypher for Guantanamo, but it's a ludicrous one. Richards has mutated into Josef Mengele, feverishly inventing ways to subvert human-rights while muttering non sequiturs. I should get your head seen to, mate. It's no wonder your wife left you.
Meanwhile Peter Parker is obviously wondering if becoming Tony Stark's mini-me was a wise career move as all the other superheroes are starting to bully him in the playground. When Civil War ends (if it ever does - perhaps these production delays are out of pure embarrassment?), if the resolution involves Parker having a fit of conscience and at the last moment betraying Stark then I shall gibber uncontrollably for a fortnight while watching 100 Funniest Comedy Double Entendres on looped feedback in a darkened room.
And there's so many of the damn books. Ninety-six. Dark Phoenix lasted nine. If you added up every single Howard the Duck Steve Gerber ever wrote you probably wouldn't get past forty, but any given page would have more thought and insight than the entire monstrous Civil War collection.
Some of the ninety-six are nonsensically flabby. Civil War Files is just typed reports about Marvel characters. Like I give a shiny shite who (to open a page a random) Falcon and Sally Floyd are supporting.
Front Line is probably the best of a bad job, since much of it is written by Paul Jenkins, a good writer who has somehow managed to avoid becoming a great one. But it is here that we find the most dreggy and absurd story. Put artists impressions of the Vietnam war on one side of the panels and superheroes on the other and then include excerpts from Goodnight Saigon, a Billy Joel song about Vietnam.
A bit of advice for you, Paul: superheroes aren't real. They're made up. Put them anywhere near real events and the result is not only in bad taste but glib and superficial. And horribly, squirmingly, buttock-clenchingly embarrassing. I went and hid under my duvet until the nasty comic went away.
Civil War is pompous and portentous and utterly without humour. It's this decade's Onslaught.