In 2006, Marvel Comics took a huge risk, pitting hero against hero in an event they called “Civil War.” Normally, these sorts of fights are fanboy pandering, as in DC comics at this time… heroes fought heroes constantly. It was a rare thing to see a hero fight a villain. So when I say Marvel took a risk, I mean it. This wasn’t a mere fanboy wank-fest where Supergirl beat up another superhero to prove how tough she is. This felt serious.
The heroes butted heads over a civil rights issue: registration. Do superheroes need to disclose their secret identity and register with the federal government? Is there a difference between doing what’s right and following the law? Should people follow laws that are unjust? Does patriotism mean blinding following the government or standing up for what one believes in?
The Marvel Universe (known as the 616 to the Marvel zombies in the know) was going to hell around that time. The mutant population was decimated. Hulk went on a huge rampage that destroyed a good portion of Las Vegas. Things were spinning out of control. What set it over the top was a tragedy in Stamford, Connecticut where hundreds of children were killed. The New Warriors were filming a reality show and a fight against a cadre of villains got out of hand. As it turns out, when fighting bad guys… one has to be careful not to knock the guy who’s superpower is exploding into a school.
I won’t lie. I loved Civil War. Iron Man took the side of pro-registration. He knew if the heroes didn’t register, the consequences would be horrible. The federal government would be forced to turn on all the superheroes. The resulting deaths on both sides would be catastrophic. Captain America took the anti-registration side. He knew if the heroes registered, they would no longer have the freedom to do what’s right. Their identities would be compromised, putting their friends and families in danger. There would also be the real danger of the federal government using the superheroes as weapons against other countries.
I picked Captain America’s side. The results of that?
Ignoring how Marvel dropped the ball with Cap’s resurrection, this was a powerful moment. It made sense. Captain America surrendered when he realized that the fight against the law was destroying the thing he was trying to protect. He wanted to take the fight to the courts and appeal to the people. Some supported him. Some declared him a traitor. His enemy, Red Skull, took advantage of it and had Captain America assassinated.
Iron Man won. Registration became law. The status quo in the Marvel Universe changed for a bit. It was all thanks to Joss Whedon.
Before every major event, or sometimes just once a year, Marvel writers heads off on a retreat to brainstorm. During the brainstorming on Civil War, they were torn on it. A lot of the writers and editors were trying to figure out what to do. They seemed to want to go for the status quo, or let the end result to be unresolved. That was until Joss came in. Told them that Iron Man’s side would win because it would change the status quo.
In comic books, changing the status quo is dangerous. Readers are comfortable with things that are familiar to them. When things get shaken up, it tends to get bad results. Fanboys revolt. Sometimes readership drops. So really, this was a huge gamble that Marvel took.
I think it led to interesting stories! It led to the 50 State Initiative, the Skrull Invasion, Dark Reign, and a bunch of other great adventures in every Marvel comic. Sure, there were some misses… but more often than not, wow! It gave Marvel one hell of a fun ride.
(Note: All images owned by Marvel)