Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Axis Of Evil (Marvel)
Where: Ultimates 2 #10 When: March 2006
Why: Mark Millar How: Bryan Hitch

Quick Fix...
Credit where credit's due, sure, but if you're an avid follower of the Infinite Wars, you'll probably have sussed by now that I'm really more of a character, story and leg man. Sure, creative teams are a part of the equation, but for me, a comic doesn't live or die by a writer, artist, or sychophantic obsession.

Well, okay, that last part isn't true. Maybe you get an extra look in if you've got some solid Sub-Mariner or Super-Skrull action going on -- but even then, I'm not about to sell the house to fund my comics obsessions. (Venting!)

Still, given the nature of the medium and it's intent on milking anyone or anything for all they're worth, certain creators are recurring factors in mainstream superhero comics. Then you break it down to the common denomonator of our big action smackdown format, and you refine those commonalities down to this man -- Mark "Yarrrrrrrrr!" Millar.

These two fixes do not contain individual "name" characters doing combat, and yet, they have been among the most recommended entries for the Infinite Wars.
When you consider our current most popular battles are things like Thor/Captain Marvel, Hulk/Superman, and Batman/Superman, that's no mean feat!

So, what is it about Mark Millar that makes him so enduring?
Well, it might be something he's managed to do that even his British predecessors haven't, and that's truly indulge and revel in superheroes as a summer blockbuster opportunity to go all-out action and fun!

His brief, usually year-long runs on titles, provide those books with an exciting injection of energy, often complimented and well earned by the pencillers involved. Men like Bryan Hitch, Steve McNiven, Terry Dodson, John Romita Jr; they've all been featured in the Infinite Wars delivering solid, widescreen performances in each of their unique styles.

Here, Hitch delivers a Millar script that continues the hardcore military adventures of the Ultimates. Divided and set upon by evil variations, the Ultimates are taken apart from the inside-out by their allied Communist rivals.

Already taken hostage, the embattled Hawkeye finds himself strapped to a chair in a tiny interrogation room, where one of the victims of his tour in Croatia eagerly awaits the opportunity to extract a little payback for the brutal scarring he sustained at Clint Barton's hand. The soldier of the Axis of Evil taunts the helpless Ultimate with requisites that involve keeping him alive, and with one functioning eye -- a scenario that leaves plenty of latitude for their torturous desires.

Dragomir, the interrogating soldier, grabs at his throat with a gurgle, signifying a turn of fortunes in the tiny interrogation room. Though disarmed, restrained and injured, the mercenaries soon realise they have still underestimated the supremely trained marksman that is Clint "Hawkeye" Barton.

Awkwardly ripping the fingernails from his own hands, Hawkeye systematically takes apart the cell put together to hold him. He forces the weakest of the men to free him from his shackles, before learning of the certainty of Dragomir's involvement in the murder of his family. With that, Hawkeye snaps his neck.

Alerted to the development, more heavily armed soldiers are ordered to the tiny containment cell, where Hawkeye has already claimed no less than five scalps.

The soldiers charge in to take the US Ultimate soldier's back, finding him squatting unarmed beside one of the deceased's weapons.

Despite a considerable position of leverage held against him, Hawkeye coldly refers to the scared soldiers as idiots, somehow avoiding their fire in the contained space to mow them down with much the same ease exibited previously against their comrades.

The Ultimates remains one of the most enduring of the Ultimate titles, holding on to a vision that set it apart and justified this unique take on the characters featured. Hawkeye; seen here unleashing his far more broad skills as a marksman; finishes up with ten soldiers to his belt in a fashion one would never imagine the purple-garbed, wise cracking, Secret Avenger would use.

It's easy to see why this brief exchange between a costumeless character and ten relatively faceless drones was so revered. Allowed to push the boundaries beyond the norm, Millar writes an action scene that serves the story well.
His books are now almost universally late, and his layouts often quite liberal with the use of space, but it's always that singular fact that the story is served first that separates him from his much maligned 1990's Image-cut peers.

Presented with lavish splashes of inks and colours, these artists take full advantage of a story that doesn't necessarily contain nuanced layers, but benefits greatly from the attention to detail.

The Fix: 5 The Issue: 5.5
Winner: Hawkeye

[I read recently a quote from John Byrne, decrying those who would remove the gaudy, colourful costumes of superheroes. I can see where he's coming from, but the Ultimates is a prime example of how both sides of the coin can work. Not a particularly dense read, but as is often the case, Millar delivers exactly on what he promises!]

Civil War Part One of Seven (Marvel)
Where: Civil War #1 When: July 2006
Why: Mark Millar How: Steve McNiven

Quick Fix...
Gee, am I sensing a theme here?
So, in the last double feature [Longshots] we were kinda clutching with the whole 'both involve gunshots' tie, but I think we might have some fun with themes in the next few. Things broader than just a writer.

Not that there's anything wrong with "just" a writer.
Hey, I happen to think writers are pretty important. Gee whiz, have I mentioned? I have a comic book currently onsale, and you can pick it up online right now from Nite Lite Theatre by following info on the main page to ComixPress, super online distributors extraordinaire! (If a little bit slow. Patience is a virtue!)

So, we already used up a lot of the discussive material about Monsieur Millar and what makes him such a big ape in the world of crime-fighting comics writers.
Without dredging up unnecessary medical references, I'm directed the only logical course of action: Discussing Civil War.

Yes, you might be sick of it, but consider for a moment - the options!
We can talk more about the storyline that was (and could have been) Civil War, or I can make more obscure puns based on detective primates. The choice is yours!... [Pause]... You want chimp references, don't you?...

If you somehow missed out on the media frenzy surrounding Peter Parker's canonical reveal to the world press that he is, and since age fifteen has almost always been, Spider-man: congratulations! The real world coverage of that event [featured in the second issue of the Civil War mini-series] garnered as much press as the fictional story within the Marvel universe. That deserves a crikey!

If you pick up a Marvel comic today, you'll see the repercussions of the Civil War event, that not only tore the Marvel heroes apart, but also led up to such major tangents as, the death of Captain America [Captain America #25] and the formation of the Secret Avengers, whose operations remain seperate to the SHIELD sponsored team run by pro-registrant, Tony Stark aka Iron Man.

Ultimately tensions between registered and unregistered characters have settled down. Seasoned street-level veterans like Daredevil and Moon Knight have been granted amnesty from pursuit in a time where the majority of opposing heroes have already been registered, or incarcerated. For the most part, this is a world post-sensation, where the disaster that sparked the event - an explosive accident at a school - is a forgotten catalyst for world change.

Though described as something of a bullpen story, with notable contributions from then-DC exclusive writer, Jeph Loeb; Civil War is another example of Millar blurring the lines between militant, politically charged psuedo-realism, and openly indulgent, four-colour superhero action.

The fear-driven reactionism of the superhero registration movement, and the harsh measures afforded by the political atmosphere, all closely commentate on developments in our own security-obssessed world. Even so, essentially these reference points facilitate one of the biggest superhero smackdown clashes of recent years, following in the vein of classic superhero rifts presented in stories like; Secret Wars, Infinity War, and Infinity Crusade.

During this event of broad strokes, Captain America becomes the almost zealous representation of the free-rights movement. He staunchly supports those heroes that would wish to protect their identities for reasons of their own, beginning his crusade when first approached by Maria Hill aboard the SHIELD helicarrier.

Asked by the recently appointed commander to turn on his fellows, the Captain stands his ground, driven to distain by the implication of fighting those who have done so much good for their country.

Showing brazen opposition to the impending movement for registration, Captain America finds the SHIELD soldiers present willing to enforce their rule preemptively. With their guns drawn, Captain America is forced to make a decision then and there. Like he has so many times against assembled groups of AIM or Hydra agents, he explodes like a one-man army -- against his men.

Using both armoured-soldier and adamantium alloy to deflected the tranquilizers fired by the SHIELD agents, the Captain makes his stand for the rights of his fellows. With devestating precision he strikes, using shield, fist, and expert training to shatter protective helmets of would-be oppressors.

With the writing on the wall, Captain America has no choice but to make a break for the helicarrier external windows, charging shield-first through the glass.
Hill orders the immediate capture of the super-patriot as he defends against gunfire in mid-air, making an uncontrolled descent from the SHIELD aircraft.

A maneuvering bomber provides convenient salvation for the American icon.
Taking advantage of the lack of progression on the registration movement, he plays on the uncertainties of the pilot, ordering safe passage to the ground.
Once there, he will go into hiding, beginning the rebellion against the registration act that will tear the superhero community apart.

Before I segue neatly into our conclusion I must mention the stealth bomber surfing scene (following the above panel), which closely resembles what eventually turned up in the recent Die Hard 4.0, where John McClane [Bruce Willis] beautifully recreates the scene under his own conditions.

It isn't always the most popular opinion, but off the strength of performances like Unbreakable [a movie Mr. Millar just happens to tote as a favourite!], I find it hard to go past Willis for a big screen Captain America!

Sure, you've got your whippersnapper punks who want to see a pretty boy twenty-something, or a Brad Pitt in the role, and yeah, there's that argument.
I get that Cap is supposed to have been borne into the army at a tender age, and I get that the super-soldier serum has prevented him from aging, but damn it! It's characterization like this in Civil War that just highlights the grizzled and senior quality the character holds. Something only an actor of the calibre and familiar standing of Willis can pull-off.

I also, going back to his role in Unbreakable, like to think of the possibilities presented by the 'man lost in time' angle. Something that affords the character a very basic sense of humanity, that I believe Willis could convey beautifully.
Picture Willis -- in conservative slacks and shirt -- staring solemnly into the window of a store that, forty years ago, was his favourite place to buy novels.

A man who looks everywhere and sees not the sea adverts for iPods and Playstations, but rather the ghosts of what used to be there, and all the people and places he fought for. Things he knew he probably would have had to have given up even if he hadn't found himself frozen and thawed into a modern age.

So, that's about it for the double-feature.
You might have gathered that it's 'the new toy' and there'll be a handful of doubles coming up over the next month. I'm already chomping at the bit for the opportunity to weasel in some more diverse entries, and ranking statistics.

No doubt this isn't the last we'll see of Civil War, but for now, adieu!

The Fix: 5 The Issue: 5.5
Winner: Captain America

[Lasting repercussions have made Civil War one of the most memorable event comics to come from Marvel this decade. Though it resulted in a hefty hangover, particularly in light of a weak ending, it remains a positive mark on the Marvel map. Well worth further investigation now that it's finished, if you missed out!]

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