Last night I was talking with a couple friends about Aaron Sorkin. They’re older then me by about six to nine years and were at a formidable age when the West Wing was airing on television where as I’d only seen episodes of the show in a media studies high school class. The question I posed was from the conversation was; what did they think of Sorkin penned films after the West Wing? We all found common ground in the shared observation that his style of writing going forward from the seminal television series never really worked within the limitations of a standard movie format after his then unprecedented television success. This doesn’t make his post West Wing writing good or bad per say; just that it didn’t fit into the narrative constraints of a film much the same way text from a Cormac McCarthy novel wouldn’t sound good sung aloud to a 90’s country music backing band. It’s a question of form & function within a medium, it’s why you can’t just make a creative team work on a comic and it’s why Civil War #0 is inessential.
There is a thought process that Hollywood no longer makes the “adult movie” because the market has tipped towards genre or films designed specifically to appeal to the awards season zeitgeist. This isn’t true but people say it because “adult movies” don’t have the cultural cache they once did, mostly because prestige television is a better format for those type of stories. When David Chase makes a television show, it was The Sopranos. When he made a movie, it’s Not Fade Away. Complex themes require context and eight to twelve hours of television is a better means by which to layer that context within a story that is addressing said complex themes then a three hour movie. Civil War #0 reminds me of the modern platonic ideal of an “adult movie” It’s a series of conversations from the stories main characters meant to set up the reasoning behind the conflicts for the rest of the series. Besides the fact that there is absolutely no need to make an entire comic with story beats that could easily have been done just as well or better in less then nine pages; it’s also a poor use of the expanded universe continuity of the books setting, the creative talent on the comic or the medium in and of itself. While I’m sure Civil War #0 is the type of comic that Brian Michael Bendis want’s to write and I suppose that Oliver Copiel probably enjoys the challenge of making a superhero comic that plays out like the first ten minutes of A Few Good Men; it doesn’t mean that it works. This is an underrated problem of work for hire comics, the idea that one great writer and one great artist will produce a great comic regardless of context, because it doesn’t. Using She-Hulk, Captain Marvel & War Machine as serious actors in a parable about the debate on security vs the liberty of private citizens in the context of a criminal trial or an informal therapy session is, as a best case scenario, silly. But Civil War #0 takes itself incredibly seriously; which in turn makes it feel even more ludicrous. In that way, Civil War #0 is almost comics completely through the looking glass of The Watchmen, where Moore & Gibbons proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that superhero comics were capable of being on the level of mature film or literature. Civil War #0 is starting from that point without taking into context that this is a comic about superhero’s and unless your irrationally emotionally invested in the characters, there’s no reason to care about what’s happening in the comic. It’s cashing in on the idea of “important people talking about important things” without actually having reasonable proof that any of these things are important or that these are the people that have important thoughts about the important things and then it undercuts all that by not taking into account that She Hulk, before anything else, is a giant green women with super strength. It’s like the reverse of those bad lip reading youtube videos, where what your looking at deviates so strongly from the intended tone that it almost feels like this was a script from aTV political courtroom drama that was tweaked just enough to be drawn as a superhero comic.
The question isn’t so much why does this exist but more why does it exist as a superhero comic? Because as we’ve seen over the last seventy eight years of superhero comics; the genre is perfectly capable of approaching serious and adult themes on it’s own terms. To dress it up as an adult drama is to take away everything that makes a superhero comic special. I’m not above a corny middlebrow Good Wife debate over the implications of the NSA peering into our private lives on the principles of freedom that we’ve established in the United States, but superheros as a genre and comics as a medium have the potential to approach that question in a way that is far more interesting and exciting then what’d you see on a network TV show because the parameters are so much wider and by proxy, the genre and medium allows for much larger existential questions then the type of idea’s being approached in a Time magazine article or Anderson Cooper segment. That doesn’t mean the Civil War can’t disregard all that and approach this very common and well worn subject matter in a very common way that been utilized in fiction countless times prior but the debut issues fails to give a sufficient reason as to why they would.