So, this is the first half of my Civil War review. A more in-depth look is coming, once I’ve had time to let my feelings congeal. The short of it is that it’s good – with a mighty large asterisk attached. But my entry today is about something bigger than a single movie. It’s something that’s become a bit of a “standard” in comic book flicks, and in fact, action films in general. It’s that big fat final battle that lets the heroes win the day.
One of the biggest issues I face in writing Unlife is the unrelenting temptation to end every story with a jaw dropping “all-or-nothing” action sequence. As long-term readers know, I have already succumbed a few times, specifically at the ends of Chapters 2 and 4. Though I still haven’t seen some of the worst offenders(http://unlifecomic.com/2016/04/05/04052016-he-said-keep-it-safe/), I’ve seen enough of the recent trend of the big climactic movie battle that it’s lost its luster for me. Civil War was, in the end, no exception to this. As a result, I’ve tried to ask more of my writing and resist it all coming down to a dramatic fight to the finish since.
Except here, where we did it anyway.
I can justify it by saying that it’s not the chapter’s end (hell, this is really the beginning), or any other hundreds of reasons, but in the end, it comes down to the agency I wanted James to have. There’s a simple pleasure and success in storytelling when your lead has a single, obvious source of evil that they can take down if they land that one perfect punch. When you want your character to have power and control, there’s nothing better than showing an immediate action leading to an immediate difference.
Why is it so satisfying to see something so impossible? Real life doesn’t often furnish clear-cut, good-versus-evil dilemmas. Instead of a clean fight, our struggles can often feel like we’re blindfolded, pushing a boulder up a hill, with no ability to read how far we’ve come or how far we have to go other than the incline beneath our feet. Instead of the security of certainty that we’re reaching the top, or that our choices have significance, we have to push past the frustration in the hope that we’re getting somewhere. So I can’t really blame people for wanting that Goku-like fantasy moment of absolute success. To stand at the dividing line between success and failure. To conquer through skill, will and dedication. To feel a clear sense of pride in victory. Moments like these are mostly absent from real life.
And yet, when you apply the qualifiers of real life to fictional mediums, it can make the moment of victory feel artificial and hollow. Because stories aren’t about real life, not exactly. They’re about opening it up, taking it apart, twisting it and changing it in order to understand it. That’s the thing about the stories in comic books, and even the point of super heroes in general. The fight is beside the point. The point is that they illustrate our fears and our conflicts and give us a specific face to punch in order to win. They give us the ability, for just a moment, to unequivocally save the day.
Then again, the day isn’t saved yet. The damage of Mercy’s Kill has been done. The fallout awaits as early as the next strip. Still, I envy James’ moment here. That feeling of being a hero for just one moment…
Even though the only one to witness it may be a villain.