Saturday, June 16, 2007

Civil War V. Infinite Crisis

The question long on people's minds: "What was the better crossover event book, Infinite Crisis or Civil War?" Well, I have read both in their collected forms and am here to tell you once and for all.


Civil War: A bunch of kids die when Nitro the human bomb blows up near a school while fighting the New Warriors. As a result, the US congress passes legislation making it illegal to operate as a superpowered individual without government consent. Some heroes agree, some don't, so they fight each other.

Infinite Crisis: Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman all kind of hate each other. Things have gone to shit in the DCU, so the four survivors of the original Crisis return with the plan to restore the old Earth-2 as it was better. Plus, about a billion other things happen.

Winner: Civil War. The basic idea is very interesting and has a lot of possibilities--and is general enough for anyone to jump in on. IC's plot is very continuity-driven and asks that you know a lot about the DCU. Although, I do enjoy the metafictional aspect that discusses the direction of plots over the past decade.


Civil War: Here, we have Mark Millar and he does his best, but it falls short in a lot of places, I find. The pacing of the series feels rushed most of the time, like he was trying to cram too much in. Instead of telling a strong story, I get the sense that hitting various plot points was the goal--or, rather, including "cool scenes." A major plot point, like the Thing returning in the final chapter falls flat, because we're never told that he went anywhere. Or, when the Punisher shows up and mentions following them around in a ski mask--that would work much better if we had seen that more than once. There are a lot of cool ideas here, it's just they're flung together without a lot to hold them together.

One thing that bothered me is the "THINGS TURN UGLY:" overlay in the first issue. That's just an issue of consistency as those overlays are used throughout the rest of the series for locations or character names. It seems out of place and took me out of what I was reading. Same with the use of letters at times. They work to provide information, but the letter by Reed at the end has that "crappy movie wrap up" feel.

Millar's characters did nothing for me, for the most part. I would have liked to have seen a bigger discussion amongst pro-registration heroes who refused to fght against anti-registration heroes. I mean, come on, are you telling me more of them wouldn't have said "While I agree with this law, I'm not fighting Captain fucking America, Tony! Are you insane?" The viewpoints were too black-and-white with little talk in between the extreme positions. And while I agree with Spider-Man revealing his identity (in that it does make sense), I'm not sure his automatically fighting against Iron Man works. Again, it belies the extreme nature of the characters that would have worked years ago, but a lot of these characters know each other far too well to go from working together one day to beating the shit out of each other the next.

Infinite Crisis: Geoff Johns does the same thing as Millar, except it actually works in this series. Johns often gives flashes of different scenes for brief periods of time, but that adds to the idea that everything is falling apart at the same time. The premise of the series is that everything is going to shit at once, so piling fights and scenes of destruction on top of one another works in a way that it doesn't in Civil War, because that is much more of a character piece. Like Millar, though, I do think Johns relies on story points that are fully explored outside of the series. Especially in setting up the story. To understand what was going on, you needed to know about the four lead-in mini-series, the "Countdown" special and that Superman/Wonder Woman story. Millar does reference previous stories in Civil War, but only briefly and just in that "here are a couple of other examples of heroes fucking up" where knowing WHAT happened isn't as important as knowing that something bad happened--the details aren't necessary to grasp the meaning.

Johns' style is also much denser, which works well here. It allows him to tell such a big story without seeming like he's always rushing through it like Millar's writing sometimes feels like it is. Although, some plot points are jumped right over, like Superboy-Prime and the Flashes. When he comes back, it does little because he was barely gone.

Johns also has a few narrative problems, especially with Earth-2 Superman's voice-over narration, which comes and goes throughout the series depending on when it's convenient. Changing up how information is delivered to the reader works in ongoing series and sometimes in limited series if done in a consistent manner, but here it's just done willy-nilly with no reason. It's the sort of thing that's not as noticeable when reading the book monthly, but it shows in the collection.

Johns' use of characters, though, is quite well done. Each of the main characters has their own unique motivations and traits. As the story goes on, we learn more and more and care about them more.

Winner: Geoff Johns. Overall, I think Johns did a better job of telling a complete story with stronger characters--but not by much. It's more like Johns lost the least, honestly. Both series suffer greatly from not telling the story completely within its own pages, relying far too much on tie-in books to pick up the slack, when really those tie-in books should work around the main series.


Winner: Rather than argue for each, I'm just going to come out and say I like the art in Infinite Crisis more. Yes, it takes four pencillers to do it, so it's not as consistent, but when those pencillers including Phil Jiminez, George Perez, and Jerry Ordway, it works because of similar styles. Ivan Reis's art does stand out as breaking the flow at points, I must admit. Steve McNiven's art on Civil War is solid, if you like that sort of thing. Personally, I can't stand the whole plastic-look of every character. They remind me of the plastic people in Grant Morrison's Mister Miracle series and it creeps me out! It's a pseudo-realistic style that TOO close because it's off just enough to remind you that it's not quite realistic, which is more jarring than a cartoony style.


Civil War: Steve McNiven on main covers with Michael Turner variants. I don't really like either artist, but McNiven's covers do have very good designs, plus the added bonus of the "Civil War" trade dress, which was probably one of the better designs used company-wide in a long time.

Infinite Crisis: George Perez and Jim Lee each do one cover each. I hate Lee's art about as much as I hate Turner's, so they cancel one another out. While I like Perez more than McNiven, the only Perez cover I actually like is the two Supermen fighting. The rest just fall flat.

Winner: Civil War.

Big Moments

Civil War: The registration act, Captain America and his rebels, Spider-Man reveals identity, Thor returns (seemingly), the death of Goliath, the Negative Zone prison, the new Thunderbolts, Spider-Man quits, the 50-state initiative, the final showdown with Captain America's surrender, and Tony Stark takes over S.H.I.E.L.D.

Infinite Crisis: The return of the four pre-Crisis characters, Paradise Island disappears, Superboy-Prime becomes a lunatic, the return of multiple earths, the death of Superboy, the creation of one earth, the final showdown with Superboy-Prime, a earth without the big three.

Winner: Civil War. It was a series built on big moments strung together.


Civil War: Bare bones. We get the series and covers. It's on better paper, but that makes it cost as much as the Infinite Crisis hardcover, except in Canada where it's somehow six bucks more. Expect more bonus material in the upcoming script book.

Infinite Crisis: actually, not a whole lot better. There's a new cover for the collection by Perez, which is good. There's also a round table discussion of the series with some of the people involved and touched-up art.

Winner: Infinite Crisis. Some bonus material is better than none. Plus, not price-gouging assholes.

Which One Did I Just Enjoy More

Okay, this is the only one that REALLY matters. Having read both, which did I enjoy more? Infinite Crisis. Because I am a person who looks for writing, the fact that IC read better, to me, made it more enjoyable. I really did feel that Johns structured his book better than Millar. Both had many of the same problems, but Johns had more go right for him. While Millar built in more "big moments," there wasn't much beyond them. Johns told a stronger story. I will admit, though, that Civil War made me want to see what comes next more than Infinite Crisis, but that's also because the end of Infinite Crisis was more definitive. Sure, there were a couple of loose threads, but that was much more in the "never-ending battle" nature of superheroes than Tony Stark's promise that the best is yet to come, which pretty much says "BUY WHAT COMES NEXT, BITCHES!" Civil War read too much like a set-up for a new status quo than a story unto itself, while Infinite Crisis was also a set-up for a new status quo, but did tell a complete story better.

That said, I wasn't actually that impressed with either. They both kind of read for shit when I tried to forget all of the details I knew because of what came next or what happened in other books. I pity anyone who tried to read either on their own, not knowing the histories of these characters or what was going on in other books. Both books should have been written as if they were the only ones telling the story, which neither did. Sure, as far as sales go, they were successes, but as stories? I'm not so sure.