It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve just completed reading the complete Marvel Civil War arc.
For those looking for more details, it was nearly a hundred separate comics, including the main Civil War story, tie-ins from Wolverine, Spiderman, Front Lines, Fantastic Four, and many more. The arc included some of the lead-up issues of Spiderman and Iron Man and ended with a handful of The Initiative storyline. In short, it was most, if not all, of the comics that dealt with the event.
Overall I was impressed, even if I was a little let down by the ending. I’ll avoid specific spoilers here, though.
I’ve already written quite a few pieces on comics, but the journey over the course of the past two years has been really interesting. I’ve had many misconceptions about comics shattered, and it’s been fun to read the comics that inspired the Hollywood juggernaut. I think that Civil War highlights what comics are capable of, while at the same time illustrating the limitations of these massive worlds.
First, a little background for those who haven’t read the comics. Civil War begins when a group of superheroes get in a fight near a school. In the course of the fight, there is an incredible explosion, killing over 600 students and teachers. In the wake of the tragedy, Tony Stark becomes the face of a movement to register all superheroes. Those who don’t register, led by Captain America, become fugitives who are sent out of our dimension when they are arrested. From that premise the whole situation develops into the eponymous Civil War.
What I loved most about Civil War is that it tackles a complex problem from dozens of different viewpoints. It deals with dark events and themes, and for the most part, it’s easy to see why superhero registration would be such a divisive issue in the Marvel world. It’s easy to sympathize with characters on both sides of the issue, and in the thousands of pages of illustrations that create the entire story, we see the registration act from all sides.
I think what makes Civil War particularly poignant is that the debate within these pages echoes a debate that I see in much of our civil discourse today. Those who register believe that while superhero registration may cost them some liberties, that sacrifice will help keep the communities they serve safer. Those who oppose registration have concerns about the erosion of their liberties, and whether or not any government or agency has the ability to manage superheroes well.
We see this debate pop up in our political discussions all the time. We struggle to find the balance between government oversight and liberty, and it’s a hard, hard question. I think our society’s answer to that question is a balance that will constantly shift as the years go on. I appreciate that Marvel doesn’t simplify the issue into something black or white. The heroes on both sides have fantastic reasons to believe in what they do.
Marvel created an enormous crossover event that mirrors the challenges we face in our daily life and gives us the opportunity to see the issue from so many different angles. The discussions and the actions they lead to (with life-altering consequences for many of our favorite Marvel heroes) ring with authenticity. It creates a powerful storytelling environment.
And I think to me, this is one of the reasons why the whole enterprise fell a little flat in its final act for me. For one, after so much buildup, it’s hard to create a satisfying conclusion. But it also shows the limitations of the medium. Marvel built a complex, challenging story, but the arc still ended with a fistfight and a surprisingly sudden conclusion.
In fairness, I’m not sure, had I been at the helm, I would have thought of anything better. It’s a nearly impossible story to close. But I know that I wanted more.
Still, I’m very glad that I read the series. It’s probably my favorite overall comics story.
The real question is, what Marvel comics event or series should I read next?