After many delays, Marvel released the final issue of its Civil War mini-series last week to an absolutely underwhelmed response from fans online. One of the best critiques came from blogger Chris Sims, who derided the comic as “the biggest pile of nothing that I have ever read.” Sure, the artwork from Steve McNiven was amazing, but it was all in the service of lameness: “the most poorly-written and anticlimactic resolution of Mark Millar‘s entire career,” Sims continued, as the final battle between Captain America and Iron Man ended with the former hero “tackled by a group of emergency workers who might as well be carrying a banner reading ‘THE HEROES OF 9/11’ in grand political cartoon fashion” just as he’s about to smash his former best friend in the face with his shield. (And that was after a callback to Lloyd Bentsen’s famous put-down of Dan Quayle…as restaged between Hercules and Thor; the joke wasn’t just lame, it was old.)
Ever since Civil War began last year, Marvel has been trumpeting the fact that Joss Whedon came up with the ending for the series during a story conference…and, given the adverse reaction to the way the final issue played out, Whedon went online to clarify matters. “I think I’ve been given too much credit for all this,” he protested. “If the whole thing rests on Cap and Tony’s conflict, and they’re gonna fight… somebody’s gotta win. I just pitched that Cap got past Tony’s armor and started beating the poo out of him…thus becoming exactly what Tony had called them all: a superpowered guy taking it out on a powerless human. Cap realizes this and lay down his arms. (But he wins. Eat that, Stark.)” Instead, in the final telling, after being tackled by the emergency response workers, Cap looks at the devastation in midtown Manhattan and realizes that the fight is causing more damage than it’s solving, then he surrenders, and then Reed Richards writes a long, boring letter to his wife about the brave, new world in which they’ll all live now.
“Obviously, there’s a certain amount of political allegory in a story where a guy wrapped in the American flag is in chains as the people swap freedom for security,” Millar conceded in a post-series interview with Newsarama. “We all felt Cap was going to win this because he had 70 years of superhero tradition behind him, but as the story moves on you realize he’s fighting the tide of history. He’s a cowboy who’s still out there wearing a mask when all his friends were becoming sheriffs.” But, as fans in a Newsarama comment thread pointed out, few of these subtleties come through in the finished story, and that could possibly be considered a storytelling failure.
And, sure, attentive fans could have intuited from the various announcements of upcoming series that Iron Man’s side was going to prevail in the conflict, but—and I’m juggling my reportorial and critical hats here—the payoff could have been handled so much better, with stuff, you know, actually happening. Heck, on the very same day this comic was released, Marvel put out the fourth issue of Punisher War Journal (in which the ultraviolent vigilante is fighting his way through Marvel’s supervillain roster), and Matt Fraction pulled together a story that was filled with rich characterization, subtle humor, and a solid narrative. Likewise, the writing team behind DC Comics‘ 52 crafted an awe-inspiring resolution to one of that series’ main storylines that managed to surprise even the readers who saw quite a few of its plot twists coming… Not that any of this matters, of course, because the sales figures on Civil War #7 will be high enough to keep Marvel happy, and they’ve already moved on to the next big thing anyway. (I’ll tell you the gist: the Hulk was forcibly exiled into outer space a year ago, and he’s not going to be happy when he gets back.)