So often when you think of superhero battles, you think of good versus evil, hero versus villain. However, when superhero stories really start getting interesting is when the definition of good and evil become more blurred. Both Marvel and DC have played with this to an extent but while DC still relied on villains as the motivators for heroes to turn against each other, Marvel went all out in an event in 2006 called Civil War. Civil War has long been one of those stories which fascinated me. Who wouldn’t be fascinated by the idea of superheroes who have long fought side by side suddenly being torn apart by an issue that divides the community? I first experienced this dilemma when I picked up a video game called Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. In this game, you control a team of Marvel superheroes and are forced to choose sides in a world in which the value of superheroes comes into question after a group of superheroes accidentally causes an explosion that kills hundreds, including children. In the game, you are given a choice between siding with Iron Man, who supports a law that requires that all superheroes register with the government, and Captain America, who believes that registration is an infringement of civil liberties and can only lead to further evil. It’s a fantastic game that is fun not only because of the large number of superheroes that you get to play with but also because it captures that brother against brother feel. Given that the newest Marvel movie (officially out tomorrow!) will tackle this tough story in live action, it seemed the perfect time to take a look at the comics which started it all. I’ve always been more of a Team Cap kinda girl but on the recommendation of a few Team Iron Man friends, I chose to read the main Civil War arc (Mark Millar/Steve McNiven), Civil War: Iron Man/Captain America (various creators) and Fallen Son (Ed Brubaker/Steve Epting). This excludes many of the Civil War tie-ins but given the vast number, I have left them for another time.
In the Civil War event, a group of untrained young superheroes known as the New Warriors are filming an episode of their reality TV show and track down a group of villains. Due to their inexperience, they attack the villains in the small town of Stamford, CT without thinking of the potential collateral damage. In the course of the fight, a villain known as Nitro (known for his ability to create explosions), creates a massive explosion, killing most of the New Warriors along with hundreds of innocent bystanders, including over sixty school children. In the uproar that followed, the public began to push for the passage of a Superhero Registration Act, which had been building for some time due to frustration with the collateral damage caused by fights between superheroes and villains. This push for the Superhero Registration Act splits the superhero community in half, with Iron Man supporting the pro-registration side and Captain America supporting the anti-registration side. The two sides go head to head with heroes being forced to either register with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Iron Man or join Cap and the other rebels and face jail time if caught. The war escalated to almost unbearable levels before the winner of the Iron Man vs Cap fight was finally decided in an event known as one of the most shocking in the Marvel universe.
Since playing Ultimate Alliance 2, there has never been a question in my mind about who to side with in Civil War. Iron Man just always seemed like kind of jerk, I mean who was he to dictate what all the other super heroes should be doing? It was easy to side with Cap as he fought for civil liberty and the protection of the identities of superheroes whose families might pay the ultimate price if anyone ever gained access to the government’s registration list. After talking to my friends who sided with Iron Man however, I was told that only by reading Civil War would I understand why Tony Stark (Iron Man) chooses to support the pro-registration forces. And I have to say, they were right. Not necessarily that I would side with Iron Man. But I don’t think you can really understand the nuances of the situation without seeing both sides. Civil War does a much better job than Ultimate Alliance 2 ever did of showing that Tony isn’t just a pro-government fascist. He can see the anti-superhero sentiment building over the years and only he is willing to delve into politics well enough to try to slow or control the momentum towards registration. It becomes much easier to understand why Tony makes the choices he does, even as his actions become more and more questionable as the war progresses.
I think the reason that I still count myself Team Cap is largely because I can’t follow some of the choices that Stark makes in his support of registration and because I am as skeptical of security as Cap is. Given our history (Japanese internment, 9/11, etc), it’s difficult for me to believe that any registration list is going to be protected well enough that superheroes aren’t putting themselves and, more importantly, their loved ones in serious danger by signing up. I’m not sure that there is a clear answer in the struggle between Cap and Iron Man and I think that’s part of what makes the Civil War event so compelling. Where you fall in the spectrum of Cap and Iron Man depends largely on whether you consider law and order more important or civil liberty. Iron Man may make questionable choices but they’re in the goal of making sure that the greater good is maintained for both the superhero community and the larger community of citizens. It seems fair to say that they should be regulated like cops or the military are regulated but forcing them to do so is where I struggle with the issue and where I think the greyness of the issue is to Marvel’s credit. This kind of nuanced discussion of superheroes is what makes Marvel so brilliant and between Millar, Brubaker and the other creators, it is pulled off nearly perfectly. The ending is heart rending and the ensuing fallout made the tears in the superhero community that much more apparent. If there’s a single superhero event that I love more than any other and would consider must-read territory, it’s Civil War.
Whatever your thoughts on the upcoming Marvel Civil War movie, I would highly recommend that anyone interested even remotely in superheroes pick up these volumes on the event. You can read just the Civil War arc and understand the basic story but it helps immensely getting to see the issues in Civil War: Iron Man/Captain America which show you the perspective of the two leaders of the conflict. Without that, you’re missing some of the nuances that make the story so great. And Ed Brubaker’s Fallen Son run ties together the events of Civil War in a heart-breaking conclusion that plays exactly to Brubaker’s strengths as a writer. It’s brutal and compelling and everything a reader could ask for. If you haven’t read Civil War yet, now is the time!