So yesterday I stated that the Marvel Comics mini-series “Civil War” — the one that inspired the new Captain America movie — was a waste of the paper it was printed on. Now I will make my case for why I believe this to be true.
To be fair, “Civil War” probably wouldn’t be a bad story if you accept that it takes place on an alternate-universe Earth where half the Marvel superheroes are really evil.
Top 6 Reasons Why ‘Civil War’ (the comic) Was A Disaster
This story takes place during a period of time when Thor, God of Thunder, Son of Odin, was missing and presumed dead. So it was quite surprising at the end of issue 3 when Thor shows up. Even more surprising, he shows up on Tony Stark’s side (If there’s anyone who wouldn’t be taking orders from the U.S. government — it’s Thor). But even more surprising is when Thor blows a hole through Giant-Man’s chest.
Yep, Thor kills Giant-Man. Oh, but don’t worry — it’s not really Thor. It’s a clone of Thor. You see, at some point Tony Stark secretly took a DNA sample from his good friend and hid it away until his friend died, then he and Reed Richards used Thor’s DNA to create a clone that they thought they could control. But then it turns out he couldn’t really control him and Clor turns out to be a kill-crazy monster.
2. Hunt Them Down …
In the real world, superheroes are a reactive bunch. They sit in their mansions and towers and caves and wait for the Trouble-Alert to go off and then deal with whatever villain is causing trouble at the moment. You’ll never see an issue of “Iron Man” in which Tony Stark is actively trying to track down members of the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
But in the Civil War world... as soon as Superhero Registration is the law of the land, Stark and his team are setting traps to catch the rebels and generally scouring the cityscape trying to find them. And when that doesn’t work, they actually bring in super-villains — crazy, violent killers like Bullseye and Lady Deathstrike — to go hunt down their friends.
3. … and Lock Them Up
In the real world, superheroes aren’t too concerned with incarceration. They catch the bad guys, turn them over to the authorities, and go back to their mansions, their towers, their caves. The authorities lock up the villains but eventually they escape. And the circle of life continues.
But in the Civil War world… Stark and Reed Richards personally supervise the building of a super-prison to put their friends in. And to make doubly sure their friends don’t escape, they put the prison in the Negative Zone. It’s like for years they didn’t give a damn about keeping bad guys in prison, but as soon as it’s their former partners they’re locking away, they want to make damn sure they can’t escape. After all, if Captain America escapes from prison he might — you know — help people.
4. Your Friendly Neighborhood Peter Parker
Every big-event mini-series has to have at least one unexpected, mind-blowing, internet-breaking moment. A moment that will be spoiled for the reader because it will be breathlessly announced days in advance by USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, or whatever media outlet Marvel (or DC) is in bed with at the moment. Usually these big moments involve death. Somebody dies, the media make a big deal out of it, Marvel sells lots of comics, then a few months or maybe a few years (depending on how popular the dead character was) later, the person comes back to life. Until the next big event. And the circle of life/death/resurrection continues.
In “Civil War,” the BIG EVENT was the public unmasking of Spider-Man (Giant-Man’s death just wasn’t big enough). Despite being the superhero who most zealously guards his secret identity, for some reason Peter joins Tony Stark’s side and in a gesture to show his support for superhero registration — Pete unmasks at a press conference.
Now you may be saying, “that’s weird. Isn’t Spider-Man’s secret identity still a secret in the movies and the cartoons?” Yes. Yes it is. It is in the comics as well. You see, about 10 minutes after the unveiling, Marvel realized what a screwed-up idea this was and once all the money was raked in and the media had moved on, they quietly reinstated his secret identity. I don’t remember how they did it. Probably magic. Or Mephisto.
While he joins Tony in the beginning, by issue 5 Pete has realized that Tony has lost it and leaves to join the resistance. This is one of the few areas in which the story makes sense, aside from the fact that Pete never should’ve joined Tony in the first place.
5. Whose Side Are You On: Punisher Edition
It won’t come as a surprise that The Punisher was against government control of superheroes. But then, he’s not a superhero; he’s a guy who hunts down and kills criminals. What is surprising is that Captain America would allow him to join the rebel alliance. In the real world, Captain America frowns on people who kill criminals.
Still, it did lead to one of the best, actual in-character bits in the series. Late in the game a couple of supervillains show up at Cap’s hideout, offering their assistance. Castle shoots them both in the head, because that’s what he does. Cap realizes the mistake he’s made and Frank is kicked out.
6. Oh, We Need To End This Thing, Don’t We
So far I’ve been picking pretty mercilessly on the pro-reg side, but it’s not like Cap was without flaws. In the real world, when the government passes legislation you don’t like you either (a) sue and hope the courts overturn it; (b) protest and hope to change public opinion so the government will change the law; (c) defy the law with the understanding that you’ll go to jail.
I don’t know what Steve was thinking with his “lets go underground and do good deeds and avoid our friends and eventually this will blow over.” The law doesn’t blow over.
At any rate, after 6 issues of cat-and-mouse, things needed to come to a conclusion. This happens when both sides collide in a major donnybrook on the streets of Manhattan. Cap has Iron Man down and is about to put him out when the good people of New York — who often play a major role in Marvel stories — gang-pile on Captain America and chide him for defying the law. At which point Steve has a moment of clarity and ceases hostilities. He’s arrested, all the other rebels I think are given amnesty and Tony becomes head of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Superhero Registration remains the law of the land for the next few years. Cap is shot dead on the courthouse steps shortly after his arrest. He gets better.
Everyone conveniently forgets Peter Parker is Spider-Man. I covered that silliness earlier.
Some of the rebels continue to fight the good fight while staying underground. Hawkeye, who had been MIA throughout the series (thankfully – I hate to think what would’ve happened to him had he been part of the story), returns to New York and naturally joins the underground Avengers.
Thor returns from the dead and sets up Asgard over Oklahoma. When he finds out what Iron Man did in his absence, he beats the crap out of him. This was probably my favorite post-Civil War comic.
Things get even worse for Tony when Norman Osborn (aka The Green Goblin) weasles his way in high government service. Tony self-lobotomizes to keep Norman from getting the names of all the superheroes who have registered. Eventually Norman overplays his hand and the Superhero Registration Act is repealed. It turns out the government realizes that the government is less trustworthy than the superhero community.
I’m sure the movie is much better.