Millar, Mark. Civil War.

NY: Marvel Publishing, 2007.

Like nearly every other American kid in the ’50s, I read a lot of comic books, but even then I wasn’t really into the superhero thing. (My mother tried to steer me towards the Disney mags, but I much preferred Weird Tales and Tales of the Crypt.)

I remember the great Marvel revolution in the 1970s, too, but Spiderman and the Fantastic Four didn’t do any more for me than Superman and Batman.

Still, having been a reference librarian for so long, I’ve always tried to stay culturally current, so I’m aware of who most of the newer crop of superheroes are and what their talents and foibles are. And when, in the past decade or two, a revisionist trend cropped up, trying to fit the whole superhero idea into a modern realistic setting, I began paying more attention. Well, “realistic” for a given world in which super-abilities are possible in the first place, right?

Millar has been at the forefront of this new revisionist approach and here he produces what turns out to be an interesting plotline. A spate of amateurs has been moving in on the Good Guys’ territory, and one day a group of wannabes from a TV reality show screw up big-time, with hundreds of innocent bystander casualties. In reaction, the mother of one of the young victims starts a loud campaign to get all American superheroes unmasked, registered, and working for the federal government. Some of the “post-humans” (Marvel’s rationalization for super abilities) agree, led by Mr. Fantastic /Reed Richards and Iron Man/Tony Stark, the corporatist billionaire — naturally. But many others have no interest in becoming government employees and being told who the feds think qualifies as a “bad guy.” They’re led by the libertarian-ist Captain America/ Steve Rogers. And S.H.I.E.L.D. (who were always federal cops) are out to arrest and incarcerate anyone who doesn’t toe the line. Naturally, when the two superhero factions square off, you get the civil war of the title.

The interesting part of the story is that neither side is wholly right or wholly wrong. And when a couple of their colleagues die, some of the less convinced begin changing sides — in both directions. Especially Spiderman, who has kept his real identity closer than most.

While the story is generally well written, I was a bit put off by the hyper-moralist “Oh no! What have I done?!” ending. It wasn’t really in keeping with the realism of the rest of the plot. But I’m also happy to say that the art is well above the usual. (Comics usually have great writing and mediocre art, or vice versa.) If you’ve been reading the various Marvel comic lines all your life, you’ll enjoy this one a lot — but even if, like me, you’re not a Marvel junkie, there’s still a lot here to like.

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