Civil War


If our country’s police officers and soldiers need proper education and training before we let them go out and defend our nation or police our streets to keep them safe from danger, why should super heroes be any different? A man with the ability to stick to walls and shoot webs can do so unsupervised? What about someone who can grow to the size of a small building? Or someone who wears a suit of armor with capabilities rivaling a nuclear warship? Why should they be allowed to go about their business in total anonymity without any rules or regulations or consequences? That’s the question raised in Civil War. The answer merely tears the Marvel Universe apart.

The mini-series opens with a group of young, attention-grabbing heroes launching their own raid on a house where a team of super villains is hiding. In order to gain maximum publicity for their captures, the heroes have enlisted a reality television team to capture every moment. Unfortunately, the villains were more than capable of holding their own against the heroes and one of them, Nitro, blows up the city of Stamford, CT, killing hundreds of innocent people.

The violent action sparks swift movement in Congress to pass the Super-Hero Registration Act, which will call for every super hero in the country to register their powers and identity with the government. Those in violation of the act will be seen as criminals and treated as such.

Needless to say, the super-hero community is split. The pro-registration heroes are led by Iron Man, founder of The Avengers. Iron Man is a futurist who believes that the only way heroes can continue to do good is to give in, register and do things the correct way, in accordance with the law. The anti-registration side is led by Captain America, who believes that a true patriot won’t blindly follow their government, if that government is ruling based on the wrong principles.

So Captain America, the idol to pretty much everyone in the Marvel Universe, has gone underground and is leading a team of “secret” Avengers who also are opposed to the registration act. Iron Man and his band of heroes have teamed with SHIELD (the Marvel Universe’s super spy organization) to hunt down and arrest anyone using their powers who has not registered with the government. In many instances, the unregistered heroes are lucky to get away with their lives after an altercation with the Pro-Reg forces.

In a move that seemingly tipped the balance of power to the Pro-Reg side, and also caused the greatest controversy yet over Pro Reg methods, Iron Man’s team has enlisted the help of super villains to hunt down heroes who haven’t registered. These mass murderers have been promised money and amnesty, provided they play by the rules (capture, don’t kill, the heroes). They’ve also been given implants that will paralyze them (or worse) if they decide to go out on their own. The problem remains, though, if you’re going to team up with some of the deadliest criminals in the world, or use violent means that sometimes end in death, simply to enforce the act, is there anything that the Pro-Reg side won’t do to achieve their goals?

And what of Captain America and his secret team of heroes opposed to the act? Each time they go out to “protect” the streets or stop a crime from happening, it seems they’re met with opposition from Pro-Reg forces … which results in more fighting in the streets, destruction and risk to innocent lives. By trying to stand up for their principles, are the Anti-Reg heroes just making the world a more dangerous place and washing out any good work they could be doing?

You can look at Civil War in two ways. A cynical person would tell you that this type of “event” story is everything that’s wrong with mainstream comics: massive tie-ins, delays that caused other Marvel books tied into it to also be delayed, numerous spin-offs, and a focus on hyperbole rather than true characterization. You could also look at Civil War as an opportunity for Marvel on a par with what DC had decades ago with their “Crisis on Infinite Earths”: a chance to wipe the slate clean and jump-start pretty much all of their books, only without resorting to creative team changes (for the most part) or relaunches/renumberings.

Although retailers are reporting the return to their shops of people who haven’t been there for years—and new faces in general—I think Civil War is a more rewarding read for long-term Marvel fans. While you can enjoy the mini-series on its own, choosing to pick up the other tie-ins just enhances the experience. For instance, in Civil War #2, Spider-Man reveals his identity to the world. Civil War #3 makes a small reference to that action, but then continues to move the story forward. But if you were reading the Amazing Spider-Man, you would get the full impact of what went into Peter Parker’s decision to take off the mask and what the ramifications of that decision meant to him and his supporting cast in subsequent issues of the series.

The Fantastic Four books are shedding more light on the reasons behind Reed Richards’ (Mr. Fantastic) decision to side with the Pro-Registration side and alienate his wife and family. Captain America’s title shows the lead character as a man determined to make his country and his former team members aware of the mistakes they’ve made.

Unless there is a “reset” button pushed by some mystical or cosmic character at the end of the story, the Marvel Universe post-Civil War will be vastly different from the one readers had last year before the “Stamford Incident.” The greatest heroes have been divided into two camps and regardless of which “side” wins, there is sure to be bad blood and harsh feelings between them. Spider-Man has voluntarily revealed his identity, and now he and his family are in more danger than ever, no longer protected from Iron Man and his resources. The first family of Marvel, the Fantastic Four, have split up. Captain America, once the ideal to all others, has pretty much been branded a traitor and is on the run.

These are things that aren’t going to be swept under the rug later this month when Civil War comes to an end. The war may be coming to an end, but the ramifications of the actions of all involved are going to haunt these characters for months and possibly years to come. The creative teams of these books are going to be given an opportunity to take these characters in new and exciting directions in a Marvel Universe playing field that is quite different from what people are used to, and I’m eager to see what writers like Mark Millar, Brian Bendis, Ed Brubaker and Warren Ellis are able to do next.