On May 6th 2016 Marvel Studios will embark on maybe its most ambitious and perhaps riskiest film yet in the form of Captain America: Civil War. A film that will pit two of the companies most iconic Superheroes: Captain America and Iron Man in an ideological battle to the death. Heroes fighting heroes is something that many comics readers have become numb to, since the release of the original Civil War comic in 2006 we have had Avengers Vs. X-men on the page and Batman Vs. Superman on the big screen. However when Marvel chose to go this direction in the form of Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s original story, that is now arguably the greatest crossover event in Marvel comic’s history, it was a risk at the time as well. But not just the hero vs. hero element, it was also the choice to debate an issue as serious on the comic book pages as the Patriot Act or the choice to make the primary story thread a debate between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.
The decision of Mark Millar to put Iron Man and Captain America at the center of the Civil War conflict is one that had many comics readers were shaking their head’s at in 2006. At a time when Marvel was driven by the sales of Wolverine and Spider-man related books, not many of us could figure out why these two old timers were at the center of the conflict. Sure they were the founding members of the Avengers, and Brian Michael Bendis had recently revitalized the duo in his recent New Avengers run, it just seemed the average comic reader at the time didn’t care about these Marvel Icon’s of yesteryear any longer.
I will never forget an exchange I had with a very close friend at the time Marvel’s House of M event was taking place in the summer of 2005. At the time I was just getting into single issues and was only reading Batman, Spider-man and X-men titles, but wanted to pick up an Iron Man House of M tie in story. So I asked my friend who had been an avid comics reader for longer than I had what he thought of the character. My friend’s reply: “Oh you don’t won’t to read about him (Iron Man), he is just a stupid drunk.” So I Immediately put the title down, but when Civil War #1 came out in June 2006 everything changed, and nothing has been the same ever since!
I will never forget that horrific opening scene in Stamford Connecticut that gave us a washed up superhero named Speedball trying to make his own reality television show, and accidentally causing the super-villain Nitro to detonate too close to a nearby elementary school. An interesting choice due to the reality television boom of that time, but it was what came next that sucked me into the Marvel Universe that I still remained vested in until this very day. A funeral scene that saw Tony Stark visiting one of the children’s parents who had just lost their child during the Stamford tragedy, and the sheer emotional reaction and exchange between Stark and that grieving mother. Suddenly a comic book felt more real than it ever had before, thanks in big part to McNiven’s realistic but crafty art. This Marvel Universe that had always been a place to feature real world locations rather than the fictional one’s of DC, felt like a place where the actions of its heroes mattered.
The thread of the Superhero Registration Act that followed after the tragedy in Stamford, that divided the Marvel universe between team Iron Man and team Captain America was as equally gripping. Asking the question for the first time among our Superhero’s: Is security more important than liberty? At a time when the whole country was debating the same issue after the implementation of the Patriot ACT following the September 11th terrorist attacks, that allowed the federal government to use enhanced surveillance techniques on private citizens to fight the war on terror. While the security versus liberty thread has been played out across all mediums today, it was shocking to see a comic take such a polarizing national issue and deconstruct the hot button political issue within the superhero genre.
By the time the seven part epic that was Civil War was finished, icons had been assassinated, loving marriages had been torn apart, and the Superhero landscape would never be the same. Captain America and Iron Man had matched Spider-man and Wolverine if not as the most popular Marvel characters, at least the most talked about and debated. It also truly ushered in the era of event driven storytelling for the publisher. While events like House of M and Age of Apocalypse had been big for the company, nothing had reached the political and societal zeitgeist of America from the comic’s medium the way that Civil War had. Even more impressive, the story did it by putting every mainstream Marvel character and their title book into the fold while not just focusing on the heavy hitters of the 90’s like Spidey and the X-men to move the book. Rather re-ordering the Marvel hierarchy in way it hadn’t been structured since the founding of the Avengers in the silver age behind Steve Rogers and Tony Stark.
Personally, Civil War meant a lot because it was the beginning of an epic friendship between podcasting partner (Andrew Stokes) and I. We met in a college computer class, and just happened to randomly sit beside one another in the Spring of 2007, a question about the Spider-man 3 shirt I was wearing at the time lead to another one about my interest in comics. Civil War had just wrapped up, Captain America was dead, Peter Parker had been outed to the world as Spider-man, so naturally our conversation went there and a lifelong friendship was born while another iconic one had been torn apart on the comic pages.
Please let me know your thoughts on the original Civil War comic’s series, you excitement for the upcoming film adaptation or just your over all thoughts on the article in the comments below or tweet me @thereelbradbell