It’s a rare day I speak highly of a crossover event in the comic industry. When I pick up a comic, I do so with the hope of just reading the one character’s/team’s (mis)adventures and going on my merry way. Team-ups are fun, of course, and have gotten me into other comic lines (and often inspire the purchase of at least the related issues, if not more), but events are another picture.
I’ve actually stopped reading comics seriously because of events. When I got into DCs New 52, the events of the Trinity War really put a damper on reading it. There were few lines that didn’t have anything to do with this arc (as you had to read all four of the Justice League storylines as well as some individual comic lines), and this didn’t include some of the crossover events in various individual lines (a crossover event for the various Lantern Corps and the Talon storyline for all of the Bat family). It just became too much, and I just phased myself out.
The one event that I really can’t gripe about is the Civil War arc from 2006-2007. At first, it seemed like a cash grab, as this is something that will change EVERY character that resides on Earth-616. Once I started reading it, though, things became much different, and I can openly state it is one of my favorite crossovers.
A decade later, we see the Marvel Cinematic Universe taking this storyline to heart eight years after beginning with the first Iron Man film. While the cinematic universe doesn’t have the same plethora of heroes that we have in the comics, there’s a strong collection to pull from, and with top-notch writers and directors, may actually churn out a good story.
So now the real question: how does the new cinematic version stack up to the original? Well, let’s take a look, shall we?
NOTE: SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen Captain America: Civil War, you may see a few spoilers that might impact your enjoyment of the film. You have been warned.
You’ll also notice I’m not doing a standard film review. You’ll find plenty of those out there. Here, you’ll see some review but plenty of comparisons. If that’s not your thing, then you may want to look elsewhere or read another one of our posts that we have in store for you.
Side note (yeah, lots of notes): I’m not talking about Civil War II which is firing up now. I’m too far behind in comics to really even consider this, especially since I haven’t even touched Secret War/Battleworld event yet. If I get around to it, I’ll talk about it, but for now, let’s talk with the big deal: the movie.
Both comic and movie shared a theme with regards to getting the ball rolling. A team of heroes is doing heroic things and civilians are injured. What makes this different from any other round of collateral damage was the nature of the civilians killed, which forces action.
While minor, the differences do impact their respective universes. In the comics, Nitro and a few other villains are attacked by a group of young heroes in Stamford, CT. Nitro uses his powers (which are augmented by drugs), and takes six hundred lives, many of them children and only a small number of them being the heroes he was fighting.
This becomes a rallying cry from the populace that has been trying to get superhumans to be responsible for years. (Note: in the comics we’ve had a Secret War, a rampaging Hulk, and Wanda Maximoff wiping out 90% of the mutant population; all of these lead up to Civil War). With this recent event and the loss of so much life, the Registration Act passes.
The film does things slightly differently. After the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Captain America: Winter Soldier, Rumlow (a HYDRA agent) was scarred but evaded justice. He now goes by the codename Crossbones and has been making appearances to get Captain America’s attention, his most recent appearance being in Lagos, Nigeria, and his target being a biological weapon.
During the fight, Crossbones distracts Captain America by talking about Bucky, and he attempts to kill everyone around by detonating a bomb hidden in his vest. Scarlet Witch contains the blast long enough to get Crossbones out of the crowd, but the blast detonates alongside a building, killing sixteen Wakandan Ambassadors (but saving dozens of other civilians in the process). This event, combined with the events at New York (Avengers), Washington (Winter Soldier), and Sokovia (Age of Ultron) lead to the Sokovia Accords, a treaty that will be signed by over 130 countries in the UN (out of 193 in the real world) and that will give the UN oversight and control over the Avengers and similar costumed heroes. Anyone who doesn’t sign the Accords will be considered a criminal and arrested.
Human beings love to have lines in the sand. There’s just something about that “Us vs Them” mentality, and we see this often in comics and other bits of pop culture, only that the villain takes the place of “them.”
Civil War throws all of that away. In both comic and film variants, the world is not threatened by aliens, monsters, or a madman. The entire event consists of people fighting for what they believe in, even if it means fighting other heroes. This puts a major spin on what we consider a “normal” event; we don’t get good guys fighting bad guys, or the universe about to be consumed by zombies. This event is unique, as it brings things down to a personal level, as everyone can relate to bad politics or the feeling of being told “what’s good for you.”
In the comic universe, Stark was originally against the idea of a Superhero Registration Act, but after the events at Stamford, and after having his heartstrings pulled by those who had lost members of their families (a lone mother stands at the forefront), Tony Stark promotes the idea of registration as a means to record capabilities, promote training those capabilities, and ensure that another event like Stamford never happens again. Steve Rogers, on the other hand, disagrees, as he feels that this violates personal privacy (as all heroes must register, and records can be stolen), and it would weaponize heroes for use by their respective governments.
From there, the sides get wonky. Some characters change sides (Spider-Man starts with Stark and ends with Captain America), some characters leave the country (the Thing moves to France), and villains play on both sides of the fence (the Thunderbolts become a police force for pro-Registration forces, Gladiatrix joined various other villains in joining Captain America). Tensions rise and the battle rages on as the anti-Registration forces stay underground and strike only when necessary (mostly rescue ops) while Registration forces are on the prowl for anyone who didn’t register.
There isn’t an easy way to track who is on which side in the Civil War comic. Some characters are being double agents, some change sides, and entire teams are split in the process. I think you need to make your own chart to keep track of it all, because it is simply massive.
In the film, things are a little more simple in comparison. After the events in Lagos, the Sokovia Accords are introduced as a way of monitoring and controlling the Avengers. Tony Stark immediately signs it due to guilt (a lone mother reminds him of what was lost during the battle), Black Widow follows suit as she feels the rules can change if they agree for now, War Machine signs due to his trust in the government, and Vision signs as he believes it is for the best to earn the trust of those that fear them. Hawkeye is “retired” and exempt, Scarlet Witch is uncertain of what to do, and Captain America plants his feet and says no, which causes Falcon to truly stand against it for more than his own reasoning. After the follow-up bombing in Vienna (an event that kills King T’chaka, father of T’challa, the Black Panther), the Avengers quickly split even further, as Bucky is assumed to have planted the bomb.
Captain America believes that Bucky is innocent and should be treated fairly, while Iron Man believes Bucky is a criminal (especially since he is the Winter Soldier) and should be brought to justice. Both sides realize the trouble they are in and who they are up against, and reach out for additional allies. Hawkeye comes out of retirement to help Captain America, and Falcon plays up on the events of Ant-Man to bring Scott Lang with a new Ant-Man suit into play. Black Widow and Stark both have ideas of who to bring in, which lead to Black Panther and Spider Man joining the fray.
In the end, the sides were cut and dry. Pro-Accords consisted of Iron Man, Black Widow, Black Panther, War Machine, Vision, and Spider Man. Anti-Accords consisted of Captain America, Falcon, Winter Soldier, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and Ant-Man.
==The Major Theme==
While there are many similarities in theme (heroes need to be accountable for their actions), the biggest differences are not just a matter of scale.
In the comics, we see heroes taking sides, changing sides, and in one major case, even die (Goliath was killed by Ragnarok, a Thor-clone; other characters were also killed over the events but I’ll leave them unnamed should you want to pick them up). We also see how far some heroes are willing to go for their goals; Reed Richards and Tony Stark not only clone Thor and were instrumental to launching Bruce Banner/The Hulk into space to never return, but they also set up a prison in the Negative Zone to keep powered individuals locked away. It gets pretty dark, especially when you see what it is doing to various teams, from the Avengers to the Fantastic Four and even the X-Men.
The entire comic line revolves around a core point with some side plots. Yes, we see villains doing their thing (Dr. Doom taking back Latveria and attempting to lift Mjolnir to aid in his cause, for example), but we see a few people taking advantage of these events. Specifically, some villains use this as an opportunity to “become legit” and get paid for doing what they love. . .and still do their villainous activities in the background. Baron Zemo, for example, was actually recruiting an army of villains long before Stark asked him to, and he shows signs of having ulterior motives for his own gains during the event.
I do not think I am capable of summing up every major point of the comic event. There’s just so much going so, so many political agendas (Atlantis, Latveria, Europe, America, and Wakanda are all involved), and just so many showdowns (with potential reconciliations) that it would just be better for me to tell you to read the comics (trust me, you won’t regret it). Believe me when I say it: it is a game of escalation that gets dark rather quickly.
While the film lacks the immense casting available to the comics, there’s more than enough characters to work with. Black Panther is introduced as a vessel of vengeance for his father’s death in Vienna at the hands of Bucky, while Spider Man is introduced by Tony Stark’s innate talent of tracking trends and throwing money at potential hurdles. Ant-Man is brought in by Falcon’s interaction with him, and the rest of our cast is familiar from the previous Avengers films. This leaves us with twelve (!) characters to track over the course of the entire film.
One major difference in plot is the way things ended up falling. Most of the comic event was simply caused by general superheroics falling apart spectacularly. In the film, we see Zemo, reimagined as a a Sokovian Special Forces member, pulling strings from behind the scenes with the end goal of forcing the Avengers to fall apart.
At first, Zemo plants the seeds of dissent by framing Bucky for the bombing at Vienna. Things quickly take a spin when you learn that this was a ploy to get to Bucky, which was a key to his end goal: a group of super soldiers…and a tape that proves Bucky killed Stark’s parents.
Yes, we do have a villain in Civil War, but when you look at it, there’s much more tension here. Vision’s love for Scarlet Witch begins to show, which adds a number of complications by the end of the film. Steve Rogers still hopes to bring out the best in Bucky, and does everything in his power to keep him safe, while being emotionally driven by the death of Peggy Carter (a possible shaking of his moral compass) and growing emotions for Sharon Carter, Peggy’s niece (and Steve’s old neighbor).
Probably the biggest emotional pull here revolves around Tony Stark, and these are pulls that are almost to the same level of the comics. We see that Tony and Pepper had a falling out due to Tony’s inability to stop being Iron Man. Tony Stark is approached by a mourning mother that lost her son, a young man that recently graduated and was volunteering to build sustainable houses in Sokovia. We then see everything Tony worked for in the Avengers fall apart as his friend, Steve Rogers, turns against him to assist someone who is clearly a criminal. Finally, we see a breaking point when Tony watches the video footage of his parents being killed by Bucky…and Steve admitting that he knew all along.
The film plays on major heartstrings of loss, probably moreso than the comics. Yes, a number of innocent lives were lost in the comics, but outside of a few faces, they are just numbers. Here, we see personal attacks being made. A man holds his father while he dies. Another man is forced to watch the recording of his parents’ murder while being in the same room as that murderer. You see loved ones fighting over an ideal. The losses of the film just seem more personal in comparison to the comic, which relied on sheer numbers and news footage that instilled fear in the populace, and I think it makes the film a strong story in the end.
==The Comic Nods==
I would be remiss if I neglected some of the biggest nods to the comics. In fact, there was one particular nod that would simply be wrong to ignore.
In the comic, there’s a discussion between Captain America and Spider Man, during which Captain America explains why he is fighting the idea of registration, which brings Spider Man over to his side.
While many fans are angry about it, Captain America doesn’t get to use this speech in the film. Instead, Sharon Carter summarizes it during her speech at Peggy’s funeral. It is clear that this has a profound effect on Steve, and it galvanized his decision to stand against the Accords.
The other nods we see are a bit more subtle. In the comics, Thor is unavailable to the Avengers due to stopping Ragnarok (the event, not the clone) and goes into the Odinsleep to recover, while the film has him attending to his business on Asgard after the visions he witnessed in the pool during the events leading to the defeat of Ultron (and with the new movie title being “Ragnarok,” we can guess what’s going to happen).
The Hulk has a similar fate. In the film, the Hulk steals a jet and flies away to hide due to the belief that everyone would be safer without him. In the comics, it’s a bit more dastardly, as a group of heroes (Iron Man, Reed Richards, Namor, Charles Xavier, Doctor Strange, and Black Bolt) tricked the Hulk into a space ship and launched him to another planet to remove the threat he posed.
After this, the similarities do begin to fade. We see a few nods in the cinematic events , but overall they became two distinct entities.
As someone who loved the events of the Civil War comic event, I thoroughly enjoyed Captain America: Civil War. Like most films, it had a few plot holes and a few moments that seemed a bit too odd (Zemo’s timing) or too rushed (cramming twelve characters into a film will do that), but we will always see that in this genre, even in the comics themselves.
If you enjoyed the event in comic form and have been enjoying the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you are missing something by not seeing Captain America: Civil War. While I don’t know if I’ll call it the greatest film so far, it does something that none of the others have done: reached a dark, deeply emotional point and still recovered from it in a realistic, plausible way. For that reason alone, I would give it a 4.5 bun rating…if I were rating it, of course.
I’d also like to add one final thought: please stop picking sides. One of the beautiful parts of this film is that neither side is truly right, and I think it came out at a brilliant time considering the way people act during election years (I swear, more people stop being friends during election years than any other time). Both characters are doing what they believe is right, even if they are doing it for the wrong reasons or are approaching it the wrong way. People polarizing the event by picking sides just seems. . .wrong, the more I think about it. It is possible to view both sides, respect both, and not have to insult one because you are at odds with it. Just something for everyone to keep in mind this year, because the message is loud and clear in this movie if you know where to look.