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Comic Critic: Infinite Crisis vs. Civil War

Chi Kong Lui's picture

I'm not a big fan of superhero comics. While I love the imagination and creativity that goes into them (the tight outfits and big boobs don't hurt either), the thing that always kills me is how commercial demands of the genre stifle and impede significant physical and/or emotional growth in the characters, which to me is the meat and potatoes of any good story. Peter Parker is more or less the same person he was when he was bitten by a radioactive spider and Superman still represents truth, justice and American way like he did since way back when.

The only time we see significant wholesale changes in super heroes is usually in epic-scale crossover events like the mother of all comic book conflicts, Crisis on Infinite Earths. I always find myself drawn to these stories because not only is there potential major character development during these earth-shattering events, but I also think it takes bravery to shake-up these pop-culture icons. The setup is intoxicating. 

This past year saw both Marvel and DC both launch epic events-driven series: Civil War with Marvel and Infinite Crisis with DC. Now that the cosmic dust has settled and the trade-paperbacks are in, it's a good time to examine both series as a whole and see if they lived up to the hype.

The short answer for me is that both series have fantastic art, moments of good storytelling and bring a lot of cool ideas to the table, but both come up short in their own ways and as a reader, I wasn't satisfied.

Being the sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis had a lot to live up to and while I enjoyed some of the quality lead up stories like Identity Crisis and The OMAC Project, Infinite Crisis ended up feeling a lot less epic, not in terms of scale, but in emotion. <SPOILER ALERT BEGINS> No one significant dies through out the series. Golden Age Superman barely existed to begin with prior to the series and who is Conner Kent anyway? The shake-up between the big three of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman leads to some interesting drama, but nothing is forever altered in a big way and these were elements already explored in Kingdom Come. The big reveal that Alexander Luthor and Superboy Prime were pulling the strings is a bit of a letdown.<SPOILER ALERT ENDS>

The conflict and motivation feels too petty and selfish for an epic drama of this sort where no character should be greater than the sum of its parts. Characters should feel like spokes on a wheel and not the wheel themselves. That's not the case here and things don't feel as imperative as they should. Infinite Crisis ends up feeling more like a side story where we revisit some old friends, but it's not the grander sequel that I hoped for. If anything it's a big step back from the developments that took place in the original Crisis.

Lack of consequence is not a trap that Civil War falls into. This is where I give Joe Quesada and the creative team at Marvel the most credit. After the first chapter, it really dawned on me that the effect of the Registration Act on the overall Marvel continuity was huge and the type of change that usually takes place in alternate what-if universes by independent creators. Except in this case, we weren't talking about analog universes. We are talking about THE Marvel universe and realizing that the creators were willing to raise the stakes and go all-in on this hand really thrilled me.

So it's unfortunate that the sparse seven issues of the series hardly has time to devote more than single word balloon or a page to any single thought or dramatic scene in order to keep the story moving. Marvel elected instead to leave all the character drama and exploration in the crossover series issues. I respect that event driven series are suppose increase sales of its regular series, but the maxi-series should be a respectably self-contained story in its own right and this is where Civil War disappoints. I may have even more motivated to seek out the crossover issues had Civil War given me more to wet my appetite, but the event story itself is so sparse and streamlined, it felt more like I was reading abridged Cliff Notes on the story.

As a side note, I find it ironic that while the smaller scale setup series of Identity Crisis is in essence everything that I hoped Infinite Crisis and Civil War would be. The characters were emotionally deeper, there seemed to be more at stake and the ramifications in relationships were far more significant than what we saw in either Infinite Crisis or Civil War.

What makes these epic stories compelling isn't just the concept of scale, but also depth of growth and compelling drama that can come with events. Unfortunately Infinite Crisis lacked any consequential change and Civil War needed much more drama. Neither event series achieves the right balance for commercial success and good storytelling.

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