A look back at the paradigm shifting miniseries and how Marvel is revisiting it today…
To me, when I think of event books, none top Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Civil War. Blackest Night is cool, Secret Wars was easier to follow than Final Crisis and Infinity was…different. Compared to Civil War though, they all feel kinda small. To understand it completely, you have to examine what preceded it and what resulted from it.
Pre-Civil War, the Marvel U was experiencing (in-story) shakeups here and there. The Hulk (yet again) lost control and destroyed Las Vegas, Nick Fury had recruited several heroes for an unsanctioned invasion into Latveria, the Avengers had disbanded and reformed inspiring a group of (untrained) youngsters to follow in their footsteps and the Illuminati had been retconned into the early days of the Marvel U as guiding members trying to curb the chaos that makes that Universe what it is. By the time a desperate super-villain named Nitro blew up Stamford Connecticut as a result of super negligence, tensions hit a fever pitch.
This brought up the issue of responsibility and control in regards to the Superhuman Community, which had thus far done whatever it wanted with little repercussion. Iron Man, himself having his own mini crisis with the technology he puts out into the World, wanted to do something to prevent another Stanford from happening. Captain America seemed to think this was the price of doing business, and an isolated incident.
If any of this sounds familiar, it should. Its the debate of security vs freedom, something that American and most of the World have been discussing since 9/11. Which would you rather have, safety for your live/family/property or freedom from Government control/monitoring/oversight? Civil War asks this question, and shows the advantages and trade offs for both sides.
Asked to hunt down and arrest any superhero that violates the new Superhuman Registration Act (S.H.R.A), Captain America refuses SHEILD and goes on the run. Fearing a figurehead that will escalate the issue, the President asks Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, and Hank Pym to swiftly end the conflict. The rest of Marvel’s heroes choose sides based on their own personal feelings, and battle lines are drawn.
People on Cap’s side are in favor of maintaining their privacy and autonomy from Government control and regulation of people’s powers, while Iron Man’s side argues that total security and protection of life are paramount to an individual’s feelings or freedoms. As the conflict grows, Iron Man’s side gradually employs more drastic measures to gain the upper hand like cloning the God of Thunder and recruiting Super-Villains to hunt down the Anti-SHRA heroes. As the conflict draws out further, heroes switch sides disgusted with their respective actions in the war.
As the final battle occurs, virtually every hero is fighting against their former friends and teammates in the heart of New York City. Cap’s side, seemingly gaining the upper hand, is stunned by his sudden surrender. Captain America had argued the entire time that they were fighting for the protection of the people and for individual liberty. Instead, his side was unintentionally recreating the events of Stanford to win a meaningless argument. With him conceding to the arrest for violating the S.H.R.A, the heroes that sided with him went underground to avoid the same fate, still protesting but no longer willing to openly fight the Government sanctioned heroes.
For about 3 years, the events of Civil War echoed through the Marvel U as new teams were formed and heroes had to trend lightly if unwilling to submit to Government regulations. These events were a keynote for World War Hulk, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, and the battle for Asgard in Siege. After Siege, the S.H.R.A was repeal and mostly forgotten until the new Captain America movie was announced.
A movie adaptation of this storyline is problematic for a few reasons: One, it is a huge story to tell, possibly even bigger than Watchmen. The main complaint of the miniseries was how hyper compressed it was and how much supplemental material there was to follow in order to understand the main book. Two, the Marvel U of the comics had a long history with huge storylines preceding Civil War to draw upon. Three, Marvel studios has yet to establish enough of their current unfilmed properties to include them in a movie. The trailers show the conflict between maybe a dozen heroes, compared to the hundreds in the comics. The comparison should be noted, there were enough people to dissent with the S.H.R.A to fight it and make its presence important.
In fairness to Marvel Studios, the conflict between Tony and Steve is logical. Since his film introduction, Tony Stark has been a man obsessively desiring control over his technology, his health, his life, even the Avengers. He’s a rich kid whose never been told “no”, and he keeps chasing bigger and bigger goals. Steve Rogers on the other hand, is a soldier without a war, which is the same as a man without a purpose. Something to fight against is all Steve really needs, as long as he believes the conflict is just. When the two arrive to different goals other than saving the World from a great threat, it’s natural for them to come to blows.
Oddly enough, Marvel Comics is doing a sequel event to coincide with the movie. Other than the fact that since Civil War, Marvel’s heroes fighting each other has lost its novelty with stories like Avengers vs X-Men, Fear Itself, etc, there’s also the question of ‘Why’? As far as I know, no event since Civil War has been as critically or financially successful. Churning out event after event with little consequences will do that. Simply put, no sequel could have the same impact that the first story did. It took alot for Marvel to undue what that storyline did to the Universe, and Marvel’s heroes should be able to remember how it turned out last time. Still, comics are comics.
Civil War‘s debate of freedom vs security is as important today as it was in 2007, especially in how World events follow the book’s ending of Security winning over personal liberties. It’s a necessary evil to protect lives, and the fact that Marvel is still having the conversation in both their movies and comics is laudable.
Like I said before though, nothing could top that 6 issue mini from 2007…