Page 45 Review by Stephen
A fiercely written seismic schism between friendships under pressure from a law long overdue, and ignited in a moment of reckless, pre-emptive presumption.
The Super Hero Registration Act was brought forward after a bunch of attention-seeking, vigilante, not-so-super-powered children bit off more than they could chew, causing the devastation of an entire neighbourhood in Stamford and the mass slaughter of its inhabitants. Of course action is demanded, and action is taken (firearms weren't used, so the American gun lobby couldn't intervene and quash things): all so-called superheroes must - in return for professional pay - register with the government, surrender their identities, and accept both instruction and instructions in order to minimise loss of life and the destruction of property whilst maximising a coherent fight against crime. For some, like Captain America, this is an issue of privacy and independence. Those arguments are compellingly made. For others, like Iron Man, it's the only way to preserve their existence as well as the only responsible option under the circumstances. And on a second read through, those arguments are not just compelling but pretty irrefutable.
One reason why this works is that between the eruptions of consequent, catastrophic combat, Millar allows the sharing of perspectives in a spectrum of colours, whilst those eruptions themselves force the combatants' hands. Before they know where they are, it's completely out of control, and already enraged passions give way to blind self-justification, treachery and death. I don't know if any other commentators have remarked on this, but the other main reason this works is the current political climate - in America and Great Britain at least. If we lived in countries where we actually admired, had faith in or remotely trusted our governments and their corporate sponsors to do the right thing with our personal information, our money and our armies, Captain America's arguments would resonate with us not one jot. Look at reasonable people's reactions to Columbine and this latest campus terror: restrict arms sales! If these acts of callous brutality had been committed by psychopaths with frightening abilities, you'd want this legislation too. You'd see it as the safest, most practical and progressive improvement in law enforcement which only a coordinated, professional strike team of superheroes could bring. But we don't trust our governments precisely because they do send their soldiers into illegal wars, they do use them to conquer foreign oil fields, and they do hand over the reconstruction contracts to their business buddies. And they don't half fuck up with their computer systems.
That, I think, is why so many readers including myself instinctively sided with Captain America: not because Millar puts better arguments into his mouth, but because we feel an instinctive disgust and distrust for our current governments, most forms of control, and corporate figure-heads like Tony Stark. Although there's plenty later on to justify our suspicions, including the unnatural cloning and technological enhancement of a missing Marvel character (that's another of our worries: scientists playing God, in this case playing God with a God, and that turns out to be a wretched mistake indeed), and Hank Pym loftily declaring, "The public needs super-people they can count on," whilst popping a pill down his gormless gullet.
Emotive moments include Black Goliath being lowered into his grave, bound in chains because they can't shrink him and so need to use a crane - a visual allusion, I'm sure, to slavery and the struggle for civil rights - and little lines like the Black Panther's: "Word of advice, Reed. Call Susan."
Which brings us to McNiven who doesn't blow those scenes with melodramatic expressions (well, he gets plenty of release throughout the course of this book, don't you worry!). He's softened up considerably since his NEW AVENGERS run: his body language and faces have improved enormously, whilst Morry Hollowell's colouring keeps the pages warm and atmospheric.
It's not perfect, and I would heartily recommend next picking up CAPTAIN AMERICA : THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA volume one so that the story moves on even further for you, but conversely I'd also recommend you shy away from most of the tie-in collections to this tome except for maybe ROAD TO CIVIL WAR and CIVIL WAR: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.
I'm not going to go to do an INHUMANS or an IDENTITY CRISIS, an ALIAS or a SLEEPER, a GOTHAM CENTRAL or an ULTIMATES on you, and claim that this is one of those very rare instances of a superhero book that those who normally distance themselves from this genre should overcome their prejudices to pick up. In spite of the politics, this doesn't have quite that broad an appeal, I don't think. On the other hand, it's not too esoteric, either, and I think Millar was wise not to bother explaining who half these people are on the occasions when it didn't really matter.