by Matt O’Keefe
It’s difficult to define the “best” of anything. Is Civil War: The Confession one of the hundred most immaculately written and drawn comics ever made? Probably not, but I’m glad it was included in this list due to how beautifully it encapsulates the biggest-ever Marvel Comics event. Beyond that, it gives me a great excuse to write about it!
The Confession deeply moved me when I read it 11 years ago and I’m glad it felt equally impactful in 2019. The one-shot by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev is essentially a one-man play starring Tony Stark/Iron Man, the “victor” of a war in which everyone lost, speaking to the corpse of Steve Rogers/Captain America.
Bendis’ dialogue is at its best here. The influence of playwrights like David Mamet is particularly strong thanks to the issue’s theater-like structure, set almost entirely in one room. The narrative Tony weaves in his “conversation” feels tightly focused, with every sentence contributing to his characterization. Several moments are genuinely heart-wrenching thanks to carefully chosen words by Bendis and the raw emotions Maleev expresses on Tony’s face.
This one-shot does a lot to redeem Iron Man, who was widely portrayed as the villain of Civil War… even though registering walking WMD’s seems like a pretty reasonable suggestion if you think about it. But he’s the one upholding the Registration Act other heroes oppose, helping readers and even writers at Marvel to paint him as the aggressor here, and Captain America as the victim.
In The Confession, Tony is finally able to lay out how, as a futurist, he foresaw catastrophe if superheroes remained unchecked. He doesn’t provide much detail, but I think any reader can understand that a world full of unregistered superhumans is dangerous even if they remain on Captain America’s side. His simple explanation explains why Tony was willing to fight against friends. He considered it his duty to build a better future, even at the expense of the present.
My favorite moment, one that’s stayed with me since 2007, is Tony sharing that since he didn’t have a drink after Steve’s death he probably never would. The easiest route to drama would be to show Tony fall off the wagon. That he maintains his sobriety, however, means so much more. Tony is facing tragedy head on instead of using mood-altering substances to escape from his pain. By fighting off his demons he demonstrates strength instead of weakness, further redeeming the character.
Of course, since the Marvel Universe is a never-ending soap opera, Tony will eventually have another drink. But upon reading this I was convinced he wouldn’t. It’s genuinely challenging for cynical readers like myself to expect any kind of permanence in a continuity as malleable as Marvel’s. If you sell a longtime reader that a 50 year-old character makes a decision he will never turn back from, you’ve made a damn fine comic book.
Interestingly the story doesn’t end on the iconic shot of Iron Man staring down at Captain America’s dead body, but with a scene prior to his assassination. In the last pages of The Confession a captured Steve Rogers becomes enraged upon seeing Tony, whose expression is safely hidden behind his mask. Stark tries to share his side of the story but Steve refuses to listen, explaining why Tony was only able to have that conversation with Steve after his death. Steve asks him angrily if the events of Civil War were “worth it,” neatly tying into Stark’s final confession that it wasn’t.
Perhaps it’s fitting the story ends on such a sour note. What follows Civil War is largely driven by anger, not grief. The two sides become even more divided once Captain America’s supporters go on the run. Only a giant alien invasion begins to set things right. Still, ending The Confession with on a moment of sadness would have been more poignant for those reading the one-shot 11 years divorced from the events surrounding it. But Marvel Comics is a never-ending saga, so it’s hard to blame a comic book for using a few pages to set up what follows. It certainly doesn’t prevent Civil War: The Confession from being one of the best single issues Marvel has ever published
Civil War: The Confession
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Drawn by Alex Maleev
Coloured by Jose Villarrubia
Lettered by Chris Eliopoulos
Matt O’Keefe is a writer who is most often seen over at The Beat, with the long-running “Matt Chats” section of the website one of the places online for interviews with comics creators. For more from Matt, you can find his website here, and on Twitter here!
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