Amazing Reviews: “Civil War” (Amazing Spider-Man 532-538)
With Great Comics Comes Great Blogging
A number of years ago, I received a CD/DVD package that had all the issues of Amazing Spider-Man from its inception in 1962 to issue 531 in 2006. And, yes, I’ve read them all, except for the annuals and the first 40 issues, which I already had in hardback format. Since I received that gift, I had amassed a bunch of other ASM issues through gifts and purchases, many of which were seemingly random and only based on if my dad or I thought I’d like the storyline. At some point, it hit me that I had 531 electronic issues as well as a bunch of other physical issues, and current ASM-writer Dan Slott had changed the book with issue 700 over to The Superior Spider-Man. So I asked the question: what if I collected the rest?
That is what I have endeavored to do. And this past Christmas, I received a few volumes as gifts and spent gift money on the rest I didn’t have. So, as of this past January, my mission is finished. I have all 700 issues. Granted, considering that I received the majority of these issues through the CD gift, it doesn’t seem like that much of a quest. I know other people have hunted down every issue of ASM, but I know I personally don’t have the time or the money to take on such a Herculean task. Hence, I’m happy with my own little mission and how it’s turned out.
One thing I recently thought would be cool, now that I have the whole ASM collection, would be to write on my thoughts about the physical volumes I have bought and received. I don’t buy comics to “collect” them, in a manner of speaking. I buy comics to read them. Instead of seeing my ASM collection as simply that, a collection for displaying, I see it as a grand story that stretches across over 50 years of Spider-Man. Now that I own the entire saga, why not go through and talk about what I think regarding sections of the story I’ve gotten?
ASM's J. Michael Straczynski's Civil War
The first volume that continues the story where my CD/DVD ends is “The Amazing Spider-Man: Civil War,” by writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Ron Garney, collecting ASM 532 through 538. Up until this volume, Straczynski had been mainly working with John Romita Jr.—son of fellow Spider-Man artist John Romita—and his art had been incredible and brought a lot of the series, accentuating Straczynski's writing.
Straczynski brought a lot to the series during his run—creating conflict between Peter Parker and Mary Jane, having Aunt May discover Peter's identity as Spider-Man, having Peter join the Avengers, introducing new villains—and this story, in a sense, represents the culmination of his work. For a while, Straczynski's Spidey had been through a lot, such as discovering his powers were derived from magic and his girlfriend Gwen Stacy had children by Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, Spidey's greatest foe. Now, Straczynski brings one of Spidey's largest challenges and really puts him through the wringer.
My CD/DVD ends right before the Civil War event begins, meaning this volume kicks it off into high gear. Working for Iron Man/Tony Stark, Spider-Man finds himself is an incredibly compromising decision after a superhuman incident leads to the passing of the Superhuman Registration Act, a law that commands all heroes to register themselves with the government or face imprisonment. While there’s a main Civil War storyline, this volume delves deeper into Spider-Man’s involvement as he struggles between his loyalty to Tony and his conscience. Interestingly, Straczynski really glosses over some of the larger battles between heroes, choosing to really dig into Peter’s mind and show his thoughts. It shows the struggle between Peter and Tony as they debate, and eventually come to blows, over how best to handle this situation. Whereas the main Civil War story covers a lot of characters, we just see Spidey here and his reaction to it all, the struggles, the fighting, the heartbreak.
Perhaps the largest revelation of the storyline—as depicted in both this volume and the main Civil War volume—is how Peter reveals his identity to the entire public as a show of devotion to the Act and Tony. This catapults the story really nicely as Straczynski allows much of the story to deal with the fallout of this reveal—as a hero who, perhaps out of everyone save Daredevil, has fought the hardest to keep his identity secret over the years, Spider-Man is now faced with his darkest fears. Villains know who he is, heroes refer to him by name like they're friends when they're just allies, and complications arise with the safety of his family. This, paired with his decision to leave Iron Man’s side and join Captain America’s, adds more conflict into the mix.
I think this story’s greatest strength is how Straczynski really makes Peter an “everyman” sort of character, allows him to connect to the audience. Sure, there’s a larger conflict brewing, but Peter’s concerns lie with his family and the impact his actions have on his wife Mary Jane and his Aunt May. Peter’s interactions with characters such as Tony, Captain America, and Reed Richards typically have this “fish out of water” feel, like after all this time, he still feels like this kid granted with superpowers in a world of incredibly strong adults and scientists. But, even so, Peter is able to stand side-by-side with them or even against them. Straczynski is one of the few writers—among others such as Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, Jeph Loeb, Mark Millar, Grant Morrison, and Mark Waid—who really understand dialogue and can make Peter sound like an actual person. His Spider-Man is funny, but human. Where I think guys like Dan Slott and Brian Michael Bendis can get the funny parts across, their Spider-Man is also often overdramatic in a really corny fashion that comes across as over-the-top and silly. Straczynski weaves his words together well.
What Price War?
The story ends on a massive cliffhanger as Aunt May is shot by a sniper hired by the Kingpin, an enemy of Spider-Man’s. This, of course, is how Straczynski shows Peter’s darkest fears becoming reality, and it leads into Straczynski's final run that culminates with the much-derided One More Day storyline, which I will be focusing on soon.
I am constantly stuck in the Civil War/post-Civil War era of Marvel comics. I like reading anything up until Secret Wars, and then it becomes really jumbled and characters get altered and stuff like that. Civil War and the rest of Straczynski's run really have consequences for Spidey that last for years, hence a reason it’s such an important era for Peter. As usual, I’m a fan of Straczynski's take on the character of Spider-Man, and Garney’s art fits a style I enjoy: it’s fun and colorful, without sliding off into ridiculous or cartoony. It reminds me a bit of John Romita Jr., who worked with Straczynski on ASM for a few years.
Overall, this volume is a snapshot of the war the heroes are embroiled in, told from the perspective of a hero who is altered more than most by the end of the climactic showdown. Unfortunately, the biggest downside is that the tension can be hollow at moments, as Aunt May’s life will eventually be saved by the pact Peter and Mary Jane make with Mephisto. However, this could be said about a bunch of other comic book stories as well, so it’s a small flaw in an otherwise very fun volume to read.