Terrorist explosions kill thousands of innocents while the country watches on television. The incident turns the country against anyone who "might be" or "looks like" a terrorist. Their friends and legal defenders are branded as fellow travelers. Congress panics and rushes through a series of laws to suspend due process and habeas corpus. The president tells the dissidents "you're either with us or against us".
The head of US intelligence tries to recruit prominent Americans to the government cause. When they refuse, the government and the conservative press defame them as traitors who hate America. Former heros, even combat veterans loyal to the Constitution, find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Prisoners are transported thousands of miles away to an improvised prison camp and kept without trial, with no contact with the outside world. Defendants are abused by over-eager guards and interrogators. Intimidated by the government, bullied by their peers, eager to please, old friends sell each other out. Both sides regroup as the violence increases Several former conservatives change sides and join the anti-government dissidents. The law-abiding, pro-government forces become more and more righteous and defensive, desperate enough to enlist sadists and crimnals to attack their former friends. The American government persecutes "enemies within", while a dangerous foreign power activates a sleeper cell...
But hey, it's just a comic book.
For me, "Front Line" is the best (and least publicized) of Marvel's "Civil War" titles. The multiple storylines-- Ben Urich's simple motivation to get to the truth, Speedball as an unpopular defendent being tossed into the prison population-- gets closer to the "messier" aspects than the mainstream titles.
What I object to is Marvel's bad habit under Quesada of trashing well-established characters we've been taught to respect and care about. We're supposed to believe that characters who have (literally, sometimes) gone through Hell to do the right thing will suddenly buckle for anyone waving a flag or a badge? I think this is lazy writing and a failure of imagination; instead of creating new and interesting characters to embody the pro-registration side, we're supposed to believe that Reed? Jan? SPIDEY?!? would sign on for this? And the goofier characters from the '70s and '80s used as cannon fodder?
Heck, even Stan, whose sixties "political" stories might have been naive pleas for tolerance, wasn't afraid to try a new character to embody ideas. Some were Star Trek Silly-- remember Hitler as the Hate-Monger?-- but some, like Bolivar Trask and his heirs, had real staying power. "Front Line" is doing a pretty good job of playing with the archetypes; the two-panel suicide in issue 6 had real pathos.
It's not as if it's a lost skill--Brian K. Vaughn, Alan Moore, the nuts over at "Planet Hulk", all these guys can make us care about a new character in just a few panels. Grant Morrison broke my heart in just three issues with brave little Pirate in "We Three" (and yes, house rabbits really ARE that aggressive and stubborn when they don't want to go where you want them to go.)
The uncharacteristic, un-heroic, "you're either with us or against us" behavior of suddenly right-wing characters at Marvel is unconvincing. It may be that Marvel has brought in too many Hollywood writers trained by Hollywood. The manufactured "conflict between old friends" is reminiscent of an ensemble television show that's running out of steam.
In tawdry reality, the politicians so quick to abandon habeas corpus and their constitutional oath were never our friends, and never our heros; they have been waiting their entire lives to sell out to any bully with a twang. Nine-eleven didn't change a damn thing, it only brought out the smallness and meaness that was always there. Torturers, let your hearts be glad. Let a thousand sadists bloom. If Marvel really wanted to appear even-handed in "Civil War", the pro-registration team would be led by nasty little opportunists giving orders to conflicted characters who do the wrong things for the right reasons, instead of heros selling out heros and trashing their reader's good will.
(Inspired by a review of "Civil War" at Filing Cabinet of the Damned)