Ranking - Fantastic Four: Civil War

Fantastic Four: Civil War
Fantastic Four #538-543 (2006-07)
Written by J. Michael Straczysnki (#538-541), Dwayne McDuffie (#542-543)
Drawn by Mike McKone
Inked by Andy Lanning, Kris Justice, Cam Smith
Colored by Paul Mounts
Lettered by Rus Wooton
Edited by Tom Brevoort

 

In the Marvel Years Rankings, we randomly select one story (anything from a single issue to ??? issues that make up a single story) to look at, with the ultimate goal of ranking every single Marvel comic book story from best to worst. The rankings are subjective and highly unscientific. They’re intended to be a fun way to kick off discussion, and introduce readers to new stories.

 

Backstory

 The Marvel Universe is in the middle of their Civil War over the Super Human Registration Act. Those who oppose the law are branded as a criminals and forced into hiding from those who support the law.

The Fantastic Four are down to three after Johnny Storm was beaten into a coma in Civil War #1. Reed Richards is one of the leaders of the pro-Registration side, casting him in the role of a villain to many Marvel characters and readers alike.   
 

Summary

 The Thing finds himself caught in the middle of Civil War on all fronts, with no idea what to do or who to support. Reed and Sue Richards are at the forefront of this question, with Reed trying to bring Ben over to the pro-registration side and Sue the anti. The couple’s marriage is repeatedly threatened by this growing divide, and they eventually separate. Ben chooses to remain neutral, and sits out the rest of Civil War by having adventures in Paris.

The question of why Reed has taken up such a seemingly villainous position is repeatedly asked with varying unsatisfying answers each time. As Civil War winds down, Reed and Sue agree to talk through their problems and seek marriage counseling. Black Panther and Storm are temporarily brought in to take their places on the Fantastic Four.

 

Review

 I’m going to get this out of the way up front: there is a loud, vocal contingent of comic book fans who hate J. Michael Straczysnki (and I think “hate” might actually be describing it lightly). I am not one of those people. In fact, I LOVE the majority of his Amazing Spider-Man run and thoroughly enjoy his Thor run. I also dislike a lot of his work. There’s certainly a range of feelings there.  

And it’s important to get all that out of the way before I continue, so that you know that this isn’t coming from a hostile place. But…

I HATE almost everything about these six issues of Fantastic Four. On top of that, the few things that I don’t actively hate all come from the two final issues (the ones that Straczysnki did not write).

To be fair to JMS, I don’t think all of the terribleness of this arc is completely his fault. I think he was dealt a losing hand here. Marvel editorial decided that Reed Richards and Iron Man would be the “bad guys” of Civil War, and Straczynski was stuck having to make that story work. As part of that editorial mandate also came the crumbling of the Reed/Sue marriage.

So, JMS was in a no-win situation to start with. But, what the writer does have to take the blame for is the way the story ultimately plays out. He doesn’t make lemonade from these lemons. In fact, he takes a bad situation and makes it just as bad.

There’s a way to write a married couple -strained and divided over a moral quandary- in a manner that does service to both characters. A way that’s both believable and allows for the possibility of reconciliation.

But every scene between Reed and Sue is so harmful to both characters, so mean and vile, that you can’t possibly believe that their relationship would ever recover after this. Reed is written as a brash, angry man. A fool who can’t admit he’s made a mistake, and gets aggressively mad when questioned. Sue isn’t given any agency outside of having one bitter viewpoint – that viewpoint being that REED is wrong, rather than the Registration Act is wrong. Her sole purpose in this story is hating Reed.

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The one saving grace JMS tried to write into the story for the readers was The Thing’s frustration with the whole event (a standpoint, I imagine, the writer himself had – using The Thing to mouth his own grievances). But this thread is almost as frustrating with how morose and melodramatic it’s portrayed.

Characters are overwritten to a ridiculous extent; turning the Yancy Street Gang into Broadway thespians, taxi drivers into poets, villains into self-psychologists, and superheroes into ethicists. At the conclusion of a particularly overemotional scene, Daredevil actually says this line.

There’s nothing to like about these characters in the abstract (they’re all impossible to root for), but when viewed through the lens that these are superheroes with 40+ years of heroic moments – the character work is repugnant.

The late, great Dwayne McDuffie was asked to write the last two chapters of the story after JMS left, and McDuffie does just fine injecting some base level of humanity back into the tale. But even then, the arc is so far gone that you get the feeling that McDuffie is doing nothing more than simple damage control.

Artist Mike McKone illustrates all six issues, and he does well with the characters. His Ben Grimm is a particular standout (though the eyebrows tended to be an overly distracting feature of his face). Paul Mounts’ colors are great when allowed to be bright and colorful, but tend to be overly muddy and dour to mirror the tone of the script (to the book’s further detriment).

J. Michael Straczynski was straddled with a character-breaking status quo to deal with, but that doesn’t excuse him never being able to rise above that. It’s arguable he does more damage than good in that regard. Unfortunately, even his attempts to steer away from those problematic story beats result in a poor story. The Thing’s portion, as well-meaning as it is, draws too much attention to itself as something different. Fantastic Four: Civil War is a story that leaves the Fantastic Four, as both a team and a book, in maybe the worst place they’ve ever been in.

New Reader Friendly?

A basic understanding of the 2006-07 Civil War series is all that's necessary to jump into this story.

 

Ranking

 I’ve found quite a bit to like in even the worst stories in our list so far. I found essentially nothing to like about this story. This story really is that upsetting and damaging. It enters the list at our bottom spot and I can’t even imagine how long it will take before we get to a story that goes beneath it.

1. Spider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin
2. The Punisher by Greg Rucka Volume 1
3. Excalibur: The Sword is Drawn
4. Avengers Undercover
5. Superior Spider-Man: A Troubled Mind
6. Ultimates: The Republic is Burning
7. X-Men: Second Genesis
8. Live Kree or Die!
9.
Iron Man: Sunfall
10. Iron Man: Rasputin’s Revenge!
11. Thor: Peace on Earth
12. Marvel Team-Up: Night of the Dragon
13. Iron Man: Old Soldiers
14. Avengers: 1959
15. She-Hulk: Heroic Proportions
16. Deadpool: Funeral for a Freak
17. Hulk: And Now...the Wolverine!
18. Avengers: In a Strange Land
19. Fantastic Four: Civil War

 

What do you think? Agree or disagree with the ranking? Still need to read it yourself to find out? These issues of Fantastic Four are available digitally free for Marvel Unlimited subscribers and for purchase at Comixology. The story is also available in the trade paperback Fantastic Four: Civil War.