The previous two big time events from the big two (we’re not talking Amazons Attack or World War Hulk here) both ended in controversy. Both Civil War 7 and Infinite Crisis 7 had to deal with a lot of fan backlash over disappointing endings. I can’t help but agree as concerns Infinite Crisis, but I must say that I loved the ending to Civil War, and I’d like to tell you folks why.
Now, we all know that 99% of the problems that people had with the final issue of Civil War involved the surrender of Captain America. The battle that led to this moment is hard to argue against. It’s a bit by the numbers, with the standard pastiches of “Side X gains the upper hand, Side Y calls in their reserves and regains the upper hand, Side X fires back with their own reinforcements, etc,” but it’s well written and well drawn, featuring a particularly amazing full page splash of Hercules braining Robot Clone Thor with his own hammer. It’s a gorgeous sequence that leads into the climax that most consider an anticlimax. Cap’s beating Tony down with his shield; he’s got him exactly where he wants him. Tony, realizing that there’s nothing he can do, implores Steve to finish him off (at least that’s the way I always read that moment), at which point the local New Yorkers tackle him and he realizes that all this devastation and strife could be stopped by giving in, which is exactly what he does. He drops the mask, which is picked up by the Punisher, and the epilogue begins.
So what else could happen here? It seems like there’s nothing wrong with the lead in to that final scene. So what did everyone want to see? It’s not even a question that Tony would not relent and join Cap’s Anti-Registration forces in an attempt to repeal the law. Tony even practically says that he’s willing to die for his side. So what happens? We can’t exactly have Captain America kill Iron Man by bashing his head in with the shield. So what could they do? Kidnap him? That would paint them as renegade villains even more than they were at the time. He can’t exactly make some vague threats about leaving the secret avengers be to fight crime in their own way when the entire United States would be against them. And that’s what I find so interesting about the way Mark Millar wrote Civil War. Captain America never had a chance. He lost the war the second the Registration Act became a law.
I truly believe that that is the sole reason why Millar and the rest of the tie-in writers decided to make the story so blatantly on Cap’s side. There was no conceivable way for Cap’s side to win due to the internal logic of the story, and the continuing story potential coming out of Civil War would be expanded tenfold, whether that potential would be used or not. We as a society are so used to the underdog story. The Cinderella teams in the NCAA March Madness Tournament every year. All those sports movies. So many other examples. All of it is based on the victory of the underdog that rises up to vanquish the bigger better foe. Even a movie/comic/historical event like 300, where the underdog loses in the end, still follows the archetype in the way that those Spartans are so revered in culture. But you know what? Most of these stories are unrealistic. And I get that that’s the point of entertainment. It’s not always supposed to be realistic. But that’s what I always loved about the Marvel Universe. It’s not realistic in the sense of giant purple cosmic monsters devouring planets and Norse gods throwing hammers at said monsters and such, but overall, these characters are dealing with more real events.
So if you really look at Civil War, which is a story trying to be realistic from the perspective of motivations and the reactions of both the super powered community and the average Joes. Of course everyone would be up in arms if something like the Stamford incident happened. Of course they would call for the heads of the heroes. And of course they would rally behind the law trying to control the supers, and would equally rally behind someone like Iron Man becoming a spokesperson for the law. So all of these things begin happening. The law is passed and Cap and his group go on the run. We see skirmishes, and even with all the mistakes Tony makes throughout the proceedings (Clor was a bit of a misstep, and that new roster of Thunderbolts was just asking for trouble), all that does is serve to further rally the regular people of the world further to his side, because he never would have had to do all this crazy crap if the renegades simply obeyed the law.
And I do still think that the way it was pulled off was perfect. Steve Rogers keeps going until he truly sees that the people are against him. He spends the entire series talking about how Captain America is for the people and thus not automatically for the government, but when the people are with the government in this case, Cap must fall in line. He would not be Cap if he stuck to his beliefs while being against the people. And for the entire Civil War story, he was not acting like Captain America. We were all on his side because his side was truly the only one we as readers was given, and I really believe that this was purposeful. We as readers are unable to pull ourselves out from the perspective to see the way that Captain America is against the will of the people. And this is why he dropped the mask before he turned himself in.
Now, here’s the one thing to consider. I didn’t read Civil War as it came out. I read the trade after the fact. This means that my reading of the story was unaffected by the infamous Civil War delays. Now, I cannot speak to whether the massive delays had something to do with the backlash against Civil War 7, so if that’s the case I could see how people could consider the ending an anticlimax. It did come early in the book, but when you consider that the 22nd story page of the book consisted of Punisher picking up the mask, this means that if they had cut the epilogue, it would have been a normal sized comic. This event, to me, was Marvel’s way of shaking up the universe in a microcosmic way similar to Crisis on Infinite Earths. Everything has changed. The new Marvel Universe looks and feels almost nothing like the pre-Civil War Universe, and the surrender of Captain America was the beginning of that. And the story worked, completely and totally. Maybe Millar and McNiven and the rest of the team didn’t give the people what they wanted, but with the story they crafted, it couldn’t have ended any other way. I can see people hating the entire arc, but with everyone mostly saying that they really enjoyed 1-6 and hated 7, that just rings hollow to me.