The Marvel Universe has always had problems with masked identities. From the Sentinels and the Mutant Registration Act to Jonah Jameson and his tirades against Spider-Man, masked heroes and villains are usually the object of scorn. However, when a group of heroes inadvertently destroy a small town, the scales of tolerance are tipped and the civilians call for the cataloguing of the super-hero community. The mini-series, "Civil War", details with the inevitable factions that arise and the effects is has on some of the greatest heroes in the Marvel Universe. Caution: Possible spoilers ahead.
Things start off with a bang as the Human Torch and Invisible Woman successfully elude a gaggle of SHIELD agents. As they literally disappear, Nighthawk and Stature arrive at Stark Tower after leaving Captain America's "Secret Avengers". However, Tony Stark is late to meet them. The reason? Our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
Tony, as Iron Man, confronts Spider-Man. Spider-Man quits the New Avengers and debates with Tony about what supposed super-heroes who support the Registration Act have done (namely imprisoning other heroes and the death of Goliath). Then, Spider-Man throws Iron Man through a wall and tries to escape to the outside. However, the windows are too thick and Spider-Man just sort of cracks the glass. Stark calls in another gaggle of SHIELD agents who shoot the window apart, freeing Spider-Man and leaving Iron Man feeling silly.
Maria Hill contacts Iron Man and tells him that she's sending out more agents after Spider-Man. Iron Man tries to tell her that he just needs to talk with Spidey, but Hill ignores him and sends the agents out anyway. The agents she chooses, however, are part of the Thunderbolts: a team of not-so-reformed super-villains. Maria then remarks that she never trusted Spider-Man.
Speaking of the wall-crawler, we cut to him running through the sewers. He's waylaid by an exploding water-skiing doll sent by the Jester. The Jester mocks Spider-Man until Jack O'Lantern throws an explosive at Spider-Man, numbing his senses. The pair of villains keep up the attack until SHIELD orders them not to kill Spider-Man. However, the cavalry arrives and the Jester and Jack O'Lantern are brutally, if not fatally, taken down. Spider-Man does not recognize his savior, being drugged up by Jack O'Lantern.
Elsewhere, we meet the Human Torch and Invisible Woman in their new civilian identities returning to the Secret Avengers HQ. We learn that Cloak and Dagger have been captured, which means a planned raid of the Baxter Building needs to be revised. Invisible Woman and the shape-shifter Hulkling have more important assignments elsewhere, and so their talents cannot be used in the raid. Hulkling questions what could be more important than stealing the plans for the prison in the Negative Zone, to which someone else questions why the prison is called "Number Forty-Two".
No further questions are asked, as the Punisher comes in holding a wounded Spider-Man. Medical attention is summoned, and the Punisher lets everyone know that Spidey has switched sides. The Punisher also reveals that SHIELD has enlisted known thieves and killers, and that he has been aiding the Secret Avengers. When the Secret Avengers begin to question why they would want the Punisher on their side, he responds by saying that his black ops training will get them into the Baxter Building. All of this is supposedly reported to the pro-registration heroes by Tigra.
In Hell's Kitchen, a Daredevil is being loaded up and taken to the Negative Zone Prison. Reed Richards and She-Hulk are on the scene, and Reed is sulking about all that has gone on. She-Hulk tries to make him feel better by telling him that Reed and Tony Stark gave the superheroes a future. Later, Daredevil is being escorted into the Negative Zone Prison. On the way, Tony Stark tells him what the "Fifty State Initiative" is: a plan to establish a federal superhero team in every state. He even offers Daredevil a super-team of his own. One of Daredevil's escorts tells Stark that Daredevil has barely said a word, only that he had a silver dollar for Stark. Stark does not understand the silver dollar's symbolism, and Daredevil responds by saying, "Guess that's thirty-one pieces of silver you've got now, huh? Sleep well, Judas."
As we all knew would happen, this issue showcases Spider-Man's defection from the New Avengers and Iron Man. This is done fairly well, though Spider-Man's spider-sense seems to be on the fritz. There's no way someone like the Jester could get the drop on him, unless Jack O'Lantern was helping him. If this was the case, I wish Millar would have clarified things. Another development is the Punisher's arrival to the Secret Avengers, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out. I, for one, think that Captain America will welcome Punisher to the team despite the obvious clash of ethics. The reason for this is that this is a war, and the Punisher is a soldier.
Also, the Jester? This was the first I've ever seen of the character. I understand they couldn't use the most popular villains for the segment, considering how the Punisher killed them, but you could have easily brought in someone who has a bit more recognition.
The art is superb, as always. The writing seemed to be a bit sloppier this time around, however. I have no idea what happened with the SHIELD agents and Spider-Man, however. Did they actually hit him with some of their bullets? What kind of bullets were they? Was Spider-Man wounded or drugged going into the battle with Jester and Jack O'Lantern? If not, then why were they able to defeat him so easily? These are things that could have been explained a bit better.
Note to the Secret Avengers: BURN SPIDER-MAN'S COSTUME.