Mark Millar’s Civil War is a failure on multiple levels. An ambitious failure, but a failure.
The story in Civil War — which, if you care, you already know — is that some bad stuff happens (a villain blows up a school and some other blocks of a city with a big explosion, due to incompetent heroes bungling the situation), and there’s such an outcry against vigilante-ism that an act is passed, forcing heroes to register with the government and operate as government employees, or be treated as villains themselves. This proves to be divisive, and a pro-registration faction (led by Iron Man) ends up fighting aginst an anti-registration faction (led by Captain America).
On the premise level, this is a failure because it just doesn’t fit in the Marvel Universe. Bad shit happens all the time there; one explosion more or less couldn’t possibly make the kind of attitudinal difference that it makes here. Like the Avengers: Disassembled storyline, the writers have to take an event that’s exactly like stuff that’s happened in the past and imbue it with significance that it’s never had before, to drive massive world-changing plot events. It’s hard to swallow.
On the characterization level, it’s a failure because it forces people to do things that they don’t seem likely to do. Tony Stark may be a bit of a prick, but he’s not that big of an asshole; and as socially oblivious as Reed Richards can be, he’s more decent than that.
And on an editorial level, it’s a failure because the Civil War thing is a big tie-in event with major plot happenings in multiple comic books, and all we’re seeing is the mainline comics that have the skeleton of the plot. This ends up reading like a plot outline rather than an actual story, with little time devoted to character development and even significant events occurring off screen. This is a small fraction of the overall story, and if you want to read the whole thing you need to buy a bunch of other volumes.
Even then, though, it still won’t work well, because you’d have to interleave them and read a chapter of each book, then go through the cycle again for the next chapter, and who reads books like that? Collecting a crossover like this is a challenge, to be sure, but this approach is, I’m afraid, unsuccessful.
And speaking of the tie-in novels, J. Michael Straczynski’s The Amazing Spider-Man: Civil War ends up being substantially better than the mainline stuff. It benefits from being able to focus on a single storyline, and therefore to be able to put flesh on the plot bones instead of racing maniacally through plot points; it benefits further from Spider-Man being perhaps the most well-drawn and plausible character in the Civil War storyline; and most of all, it benefits from Straczynski continuing to be a great writer of Spider-Man comics.
It’d be hard to read the Spider-Man volume without understanding the broader Civil War storyline, and some of the key events for Spider-Man only occur in the mainline Civil War book, so this can’t really be separated out, which is a bit of a pity. But for those who’ve been reading and enjoying Straczynski’s run, it’s probably worth it to suck it up and read the Civil War stuff so you can enjoy this — and, presumably, the upcoming volumes, because there’ve been some big changes made to Parker’s life in this series, and it’ll be interesting to see where Spider-Man goes from here.