Lifetime reader of comics and fan of Planet of the Apes. When the two combine I can barely contain myself. Image, Boom and Titan comics fight for shelf space with Doctor Who DVDs.
The Captain America: Civil War movie has been out for less than a year but it’s been 10 years since the original Marvel comic was released. Our contributor Darryll Robson takes an epic look at what it was all about.
Marvel's Civil War (2006) Revisited: Part 1
This year saw the release of Captain America: Civil War from Marvel/Disney which was great news for me because it inspired me to re-read the original Civil War comic and all the tie ins.
You read that right, All Of The Tie Ins!
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When it was originally released it was at a time in my life when I bought comics on a much larger scale than I do today, the result was that any comic that had the words ‘Civil War’ written on them ended up in my pull list. There were well over 100 single comics that spread over nearly two years of publishing, longer if you include the Road to Civil War and Spider-Man titles that followed. The later I include for reasons that will become clear.
The story was a favourite of mine at the time and I enjoyed getting to know the entire Marvel Universe, because that’s what you had to do to read all of the titles. It was the first time I read Fantastic Four and Black Panther comics on a monthly basis and I saw story lines that had been building in other comics suddenly come to a head. It is an epic read. I do have one small confession to make but I’ll keep that for the end, I don’t want to start off on the wrong foot.
Civil War has its seeds sown deep into the Marvel Universe and was building for a number of years before the actual event kicks off in 2006 but the beginning, especially for my reading, is with the Road to Civil War bannered issues of Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider-Man.
The little tale in issues 536 and 537 of Fantastic Four is a fun adventure for the fab four with an added army of Doom-bots but really it’s a set up for the return of another character to the Marvel Universe and is the basis for the first Thor movie, minus the Marvel first family obviously. It’s in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man #529 where the real meat of the story is.
And there is a very good reason for this. Civil War is about many things: the responsibility of Super heroes; the control of those who are ‘different’; public safety and accountability; massive superhero smack downs. All are important and examined throughout the many, many tie ins but the central character is Peter Parker and the journey he takes from the first story ‘Mr Parker Goes to Washington’ right through to the infamous ‘One More Day’. So it’s fitting that the story starts in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man, at the time being brilliantly written by J. Michael Straczynski. The ‘Mr Parker..’ story is important because it develops the relationship between Peter and Tony Stark. Note that I am using their non de plumes, this is because the relationship is very personal, just as the journey Peter takes is personal. In essence Civil War is about what happens when you strip the hero persona away, how does the woman/man beneath the mask survive?
Peter Parker is the lead in this as he is exposed to the world when he, at Stark’s behest, unmasks.
Should have warned you, there will be some spoilers for the Civil War story if you haven’t read it. But to be fair it’s a story that’s 10 years old, so technically they are not spoilers, they are history.
Tony Stark offers Parker and his family a place to live, he offers security and comfort, he even offers Spider-Man a brand new techno suit as awful as it is (why only three extra arms?
Is Stark trying to emulate that famous 7 legged species of spider?). Stark offers Parker everything he wanted for his family, in short Stark managed to buy Parkers friendship and loyalty. So, when a bunch of young superheroes make a mess of everything and Nitro does what he does best by blowing a hole in the centre of a bustling city, the Superhuman Registration Act is pushed through by the Government and Stark attempts to control the fallout with Parker firmly by his side.
It's about this point that Peter unmasks. In public. For everyone to see.
The unmasking was a shock. This changed the entire game. Suddenly Spider-Man’s secret was known throughout the world. To readers this was jaw dropping. How would this affect things?
Back then there was some commitment to continuity and a massive moment like Spider-Man taking his mask off would definitely lead to some major consequences. Marvel 10 years ago weren’t the type of publisher to simply brush off these types of stories. No reset buttons loomed in the distance. Parker's secret was out and it was out for good.
And by now the first 2 issues of Civil War was on the stands unleashing Mark Millar's macho smack downs on the MU. Something big had happened and we’re less than 20 comics in.*
From this point the narrative travels throughout the Marvel Universe, including most of the recognizable characters and swathes of the lesser known heroes and villains. Each title has a different emphasis and there are a number of different takes on the whole registration argument. Reading some comics, such as She Hulk #8 or the Frontline series, will have you believing that the Registration Act is a much needed law while others will have you clearly on the side of the ‘resistance’ led by Captain America.
The 2 things that are clear throughout the entire run of the story is a) Peter Parker wants to do the right thing, it just takes time for him to realise what that is and b) Tony Stark is a dick. Unlike the movie universe where Stark does some questionable things but at heart he’s a good man, in this period of his comic book life he acts like he knows what is best for everyone while at the same time trying to control them. You simple have to look at how he manipulates Peter to see that. He pushes him into a position where he sees Stark as a father figure then abuses that position. He spies on his friend and even builds in safe words into the new (and awful) Iron Spider suit so that he can take over control.
It is a difficult burden that Stark has but this is shared with other characters like Reed Richards. Unlike Reed, who loses so much during the story, Stark only gains from the conflict and the War. For all intents and purposes he is a war profiteer. It isn’t until the very final few issues of the tie ins, especially The Confession, that the full effect on Stark becomes apparent but by then it is too late. He won; he got everything from vast amounts of money to a brand new job as head of SHIELD and all it cost were a few lives and the destruction of his so called friend Peter Parker.
The friendship and then conflict between Stark and Parker helps to highlight the political commentary hidden within the Civil War story line. Obviously there is the surface tensions regarding registration and the control of ‘a people’. This is a subject that is close to many people’s hearts and is something that anyone can relate to. But there is something else going on and the difference between Stark and Parker is the best example of what it is. Civil War is as much about ‘class’ as it is superheroes fighting. It highlights the control that the upper class, the rich and powerful, have over the working class. Those in favour of the registration act are linked by their wealth and abilities to protect themselves and their families. Tony Stark is sealed within his technological palace, above the people that he protects. Reed Richards has everything at his disposal to seal him into a protective environment. They work with the Government because they already have everything they need to keep them apart from the general population.
Spider-Man on the other hand is the very example of the working class. He struggles day in day out to barely get by and still risks what he has each and every day to protect those that are easily turned against him by the media. When Tony Stark comes out as Iron Man, no-one can touch him. Peter Parker however suddenly finds himself the target of everyone and he walks with those people at the street level.
Civil War is a class war. It is the street heroes against the privileged. It is money against struggle. It is about the rights of the people to live their lives and not be told what to do by the select few who sit on top of the world. This is why the majority of readers will side with Captain America, Luke Cage and Spider-Man. It is also the reason that in the end there can only be one winner. Iron Man and the registration act is fuelled by money and power which means the rest don’t stand a chance.
Okay, that got a bit serious there but then so does the narrative which is something I think people forget. They remember the fighting and the arguing but not always remember the message behind it all.
Anyway, that’s it for Part 1.
Join me next time when I take a look at some of the major players in the War and what I think of the story as a whole.
Whose side were you on?
Why not let us know in the comments below.
Darryll Robson is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Occasionally he might use his Twitter account: @DarryllRobson
*It’s worth noting there is a number of ways you can read Civil War. If you’ve only got an hour, you can just read the main Civil War title. Or you can read the trades, whole chunks of each character’s story at a time. I have all the monthlies and for this task I read them all in an almost chronological order. There are lists online that give you reading orders, these can be useful but it’s difficult to fit everything together, especially if like me you’ve included all of the Spider-Man titles that don’t relate directly to the main story.
Source: Marvel Comics