Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Marvel’s Civil War mega-event continues with more heroes vs. heroes action in issues #538 and 539. Which side is Ben on?
One of the interesting things about Civil War is that rather than following the story from issue to issue, events are happening simultaneously across various comics. It’s a fascinating experiment, but it’s also difficult to assemble a timeline of what happened when. Case in point, it’s understood that during Civil War the superhero battles were so extreme and the collateral damage was so severe that this was practically a world-ending threat. But after reading all these comics over the last two weeks, I can not figure out where that started. What was the first big city-leveling battle of Civil War? When did the mega-violence begin? From what I can tell, between the previous issue and these two, the fighting just… happened.
We begin in Johnny’s hospital room, where he’s in a coma following the beating he took from civilians in Civil War #1. A doctor tells Reed, Sue and Ben that familiar voices might help him. Reed says he has important work to do, and Sue bickers with him about him and Iron Man fighting and arresting heroes previously thought of as their friends. They leave, and Ben stays behind him. He tells the sleeping Johnny that Thor’s hammer is still stuck in the ground in Oklahoma, with a line of local hicks trying and failing to pull it out. Sue returns, and she admits to Ben how conflicted she is about superhero registration.
On the way out of the hospital, Ben sees a TV news report about anti-reg protestors fighting police on Yancy Street. “It never ends,” he says. He travels to Yancy Street where pro-reg Ms. Marvel is battling anti-reg Silverclaw. Ben doesn’t interfere, letting them fight. Ben meets with some local cops, who say that they get attacked by the Yancy Street Gang every time the enter the gang’s territory looking for non-registered superhumans. Ben says he’ll take care of it.
All alone on Yancy Street, Ben demands a face-to-face meeting with the gang. Their new leader, Cee, approaches Ben. Another Yancy Streeter named Mouse is also there. They call Ben a “fascist” for being pro-reg. Ben says he’s neither for nor against registration, just that he’s “thinking about it.” He says he doesn’t like the idea of registration, but he doesn’t like the idea of fighting his own government either. Cee says Ben isn’t Switzerland and can’t remain neutral forever.
Later, we see a bald man receiving info about a security convoy for the heroes who’ve already been arrested. The man thanks him and goes inside. Turns out this is the Puppet Master, who is hanging out with the Mad Thinker again. The Thinker says the feuding heroes are the perfect fall guys, and they have the perfect opportunity eliminate a large chunk of the superhero population at once.
In Oklahoma, the line of people wanting to try Thor’s hammer has grown longer. A man whose face we don’t see fights his way to the front of the line and touches the hammer. It explodes with golden light and blasts off into the sky.
Issue #539 begins in Captain America’s secret underground hideout, where he’s meeting with Daredevil, Luke Cage, Cloak and Dagger. Cee and the other Yancy Streeters are granted an audience with Cap. Cee says he has information about a security convoy transferring the arrested superheroes through the city, and when and where it will happen.
We return to Puppet Master and the Mad Thinker, revealing their hideout is an abandoned factory in the middle of nowhere. They talk for a bit about their shared anger management issues (!), and then we see Puppet Master has built a huge scale model of part of Manhattan. They know that Cap’s side will attempt to stop the convoy, while Iron Man’s side will be waiting for them. Puppet Master plans to use puppets to recreate that area, mind-controlling civilians during the convoy. He says it’ll be a slaughter that will eliminate a bunch of their enemies at once.
Ben is eating at a diner when the convoy nears, while Captain America’s team are following the convoy in the sewers under the streets. New York civilian protestors block the streets, stopping the convoy. Puppet Master then mind-controls a military helicopter pilot overhead, making him fire on the convoy. Fighting breaks out between the two sides. Ben rushes in to help the civilians, while both Iron Man and Luke Cage assume he’s on their separate sides.
Puppet Master then mind-controls Mouse, getting him to retrieve a bomb hidden nearby. Mouse throws it toward the crowd. Ben picks up one of the convoy trucks and throws it atop the bomb, partially containing the explosion. It isn’t enough, as Cee dies in the blast.
Ben gets everyone to stop fighting for a sec. He shows them Cee’s body, saying this is what their violence has wrought. Iron Man and Captain America both try to get Ben to join their side. Ben says registration is wrong, yet he will not fight his own people. His only choice, then, is to leave the country. “I may not come back,” he says.
To be continued!
Wait, what about the convoy fight? This same battle is depicted in two other comics, letting us know what happened next. In Amazing Spider-Man #534, Cap’s team made a run for it, leading to an excellent Cap/Spidey fight scene. Then, in the Civil War: Choosing Sides one-shot, the Irredeemable Ant-Man got involved in the fight to do some jokey shtick. Afterwards, we learn Cap’s team successfully escaped, and Iron Man’s team stayed behind to help the surviving civilians.
Okay, NOW it’s to be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed says that because the FF have no secret identities, they have nothing to fear about superhero registration. Sue and Ben disagree with him. Reed talks about rounding up other heroes, but he’s not present during the convoy fight. We’ll learn what he’s been up to later in the crossover.
Fade out: Although the big break-up won’t be until later in Civil War, Sue is already anti-reg, criticizing Reed’s choices during their scene.
Clobberin’ time: Ben tries to cheer up the comatose Johnny by singing the “YMCA” song, claiming it’s a song he learned at temple.
Flame on: Again, I must ask how ordinary humans could beat Johnny so badly that he ended up in a coma. Even if he let them attack him so he wouldn’t accidentally burn anyone, you’d think he’d find an escape before it got this bad. The necessities of plot, I suppose.
Fantastic fifth wheel: She-Hulk and Tigra are both at the convoy battle on the pro-reg side, but they have no interaction with Ben.
Trivia time: Who were the arrested superheroes aboard the convoy? Did they escape with Cap’s team or are they still arrested? Was this all a big set-up by Iron Man? Or the Mad Thinker, even? Neither the comics nor the Marvel Wiki has any answers.
The Mad Thinker will show up again in Civil War, but not Puppet Master. It’ll later be revealed he fled the US and ended up Chile, where he created humanoid puppets for a gross human trafficking scheme.
Daredevil in this issue isn’t Daredevil! It’s Iron Fist wearing the DD uniform while attorney Matt Murdock fights the Civil War from within the legal system. In the Amazing Spider-Man issue, Daredevil is seen fighting Dagger, even though they’re both on Captain America’s team. Whose side was Iron Fist really on?
Who is Silverclaw? She’s the adopted niece of the Avengers’ butler Jarvis (!), who used her shape-changing powers mostly to protect her Central American hometown. She had a short-lived membership with the Avengers and was a supporting character in Ms. Marvel for a while.
Who’s the Irredeemable Ant-Man? Eric O’Grady was a low-level S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and all-around troublemaker who stole an Ant-Man suit and used it to get into all kinds of hijinks. Strangely, his Civil War story is his first appearance, hitting the stands before his own miniseries.
The Marvel Wiki says Clark Kent appears in issue #358. Look closely, and that’s definitely him standing in line to lift Thor’s hammer. The epic JLA/Avengers crossover revealed that Superman can indeed lift Thor’s hammer.
Fantastic or frightful? Here we have Marvel characters – Ben, in this case – watching Civil War from the sidelines rather be in the thick of it. Stories like these were the best parts of the crossover, such as the excellent Front Line miniseries. Fantastic Four managed to have a little bit of fun amid all the big drama of Civil War, and we see that here.
Next: The big unmasking.
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