Posted by: Garret | April 25, 2010


I can still remember this outrageous “event comic” as if it were just 5 years ago… ; ) Truly, the concept behind Marvel’s CIVIL WAR is a fanboy/girl’s dream: pitting the [pseudo]entire universe of heroic characters against one another in-continuity and for-keeps (i.e., Five-year update: Keep Dreaming!)

Artist Steve McNiven infuses a swath of emotional realism into the superhero personas' dilemma.

In Civil War, a tragic accident triggers into motion the national approval of the Superhuman Registration Act, affectively requiring all costume vigilantes to either cease and desist or legally surrender their secret identity to the government in exchange for a financed career in superheroism. At the heart of this conflict is the Marvel mainstays of a pro-registration Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, and the more-American-than-the-government-could-ever-fathom Steve Rogers, aka Captain America. These two superheroes each view the Superhuman Registration with differing ideological viewpoints, and represent the pillars of leadership in both support and refutation of the Act. Thus, heroes and villains both allied themselves in one camp or another, creating the great divide that begged the question, “Who’s side are you on?”

Spidey (above), the ultimate commoner, is convinced by Iron Man to lead by example.

One of the great accomplishments of Civil War was that it created the kinds of buzz-worthy moments that gave the industry some much-needed excitement and momentum. As comics are traditionally released on a monthly basis, the end of each issue (or chapter in graphic novel form) attempts to end on a cliffhanger that leaves the reader/audience excited and enthused for not only Civil War, but also the characters, side-stories, and general happenings about the Marvel Universe. Mini-series like Civil War are often referred to as event-comics because they represent a large occurrence that effects the entire fantasy world (i.e., the Marvel U). However, they also generate new waves of readership and fan interest, and thus creators and editors attempt to include as many crossover characters and stories as possible to in effect, create reader/consumer crossover. The flip side to the situation is the vast number of tie-in books that are often controversially debated as crucial reading in order to follow the major story. Writer Mark Millar attempted to create a stand-alone 7-issue or chapter story for his version of Civil War, which in some ways succeeded. In other ways, character changes occurred in off-titled issues or conflicts were resolved but not represented in the core Civil War book. These complications lead to reader (but mostly fanboy) dissent, in terms of both clear storytelling and perhaps more importantly consumer prices. There is a big difference in following a story for 7 months at $4 an issue, as opposed to feeling obligated to follow the ENTIRE story of Civil War which spanned some 100+ issues of continuity in establishing and wrapping up Civil War. Thus, books like Civil War are candidates for debate, in terms of their success and failure.

Interpreting this cover art, the superhero divide can literally be translated to, "What is Captain America in a post-9/11 world?"



  1. Questions to consider:

    1.) Last week we focused on the onset tension or perhaps continuum between superhero, super anti-hero, and supervillain. In Civil War, perhaps the first critical question to consider is, who exactly is the villain? Who is the hero? How is this defined? How does answering the question of ‘Who the hero is’ resolve the story for the reader?

    2.) The Superhuman Registration Act carries a strong metaphorical tone to modern American politics. Was this evident upon reading Civil War, or did Civil War in a way help translate political tensions in a postmodern/post-9/11 America?

    3.) In an interesting note, Tony Stark was viewed by many readers to take a villain-like turn in his total support of the SHRA. In contrast, Cap. was seen by some as a villain (or at least poorly characterized/written) for abandoning his Patriotic sensibilities, when he went rogue. Finally, in the middle Spider-Man represents the “American people” in his torn obligation to country and personal conviction. Are each of these heroes justified in their actions? Considering examples we’ve discussed such as Icon, does Civil War help alleviate the sociopolitical problems it reflects, or is it just escapist entertainment?

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