One of my favorite video games as of late has been LEGO Marvel Superheroes. In a typical LEGO fashion, you have access to just about every major hero and villain in the Marvel universe, with each playing a role in an overarching story. It’s childhood bliss at its fullest when you have Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, The Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Daredevil and more fighting alongside villains from every corner of the universe such as Venom, Doctor Octopus, Magneto and Doctor Doom.
Team-ups are just fun, flat out, and it’s fan service at its finest. Luckily, Marvel, DC and their respective film and TV partners have caught on to this strategy with fantastic results. The Avengers paved the way with its teaming of the core four of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America; Deadpool was joined by X-Men member Colossus in his film outing, and, with somewhat mixed results, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman all teamed up for Dawn of Justice earlier this year.
The latest cinematic team-up comes in the form of Captain America: Civil War, which feels more like Avengers 2.5 with its inclusion of Iron Man, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Ant-Man and more in Cap’s third “solo” outing. I haven’t seen the film yet, but the early reviews say that while these inclusions enact the aforementioned feelings of elation, the real joy of the film is deeper than surface level interactions and action, it’s the substance underneath. This sentiment holds true in the film’s source material, Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s 2006 arc Civil War.
The plot of Civil War, which is now collected in trade paperback form, revolves around a catastrophe and the government’s reaction to it, just as we’ll see in the film version. A group of amateur superheroes cause a devastating explosion while filming a reality show. Heroes from across the Marvel Universe band together to help America recover, but they soon disagree on where they should go from there. Two sides form: one under Iron Man, who thinks heroes should register with the government, and one under Captain America, who believes things should carry on like nothing happened. Things come to a head when a registration act becomes law, and Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic and Hank Pym lead the charge to round-up any heroes who refuse to register. Cap, alongside heroes like Daredevil, Falcon and Luke Cage, resist the new law and go underground as the Secret Avengers.
When I was first reading Civil War, it was easy to get excited about the scope of the cast. On the first spread, you see Iron Man, Cap, The Thing, Luke Cage, Ice Man, Goliath and more aiding first responders to the explosion. In the following pages Wolverine, Cyclops, and She-Hulk pop up, and later on, we see Spider-Man, Human Torch, Doctor Strange and others. Later, Thor, Punisher, Black Panther, Namor, Venom all make for nice surprise additions. It’s so easy to get caught up in this aspect of the comic. As a kid, you smash your hero action figures together and imagine what would happen if they fought. Heroes taking on heroes, especially on this scale, are just as captivating. However, as I mentioned, the underlying content is what makes this story a modern classic.
Millar (Kick-Ass, The Secret Service) pens a strong, streamlined story with just the right amount of twists and turns to keep you hooked. The devastation of the explosion is conveyed through scenes with victims’ families and the sheer body count, a reality that hits especially hard when compared to the mass shootings plaguing the country in recent years. Millar focuses on the theme of safety vs. freedom, a theme the U.S. has debated since Eric Snowden leaked the NSA surveillance programs.
On a contained level, we see the emotional struggle played out in these heroes, who are forced to fight some of their longest allies and question their each and every decision as friends and foes fall during battle. Captain America, arguably the brightest spot in the Marvel Universe, is taken to his lowest point, often feeling more like a battered Dark Knight from Frank Miller’s works.
The glee of seeing the characters all on page is balanced with the political and emotional heaviness of these heroes doing battle for what they each think is the greater good. Civil War is a devastating, universe-altering epic, and it deserves the praise it’s received since its release.