Braving Marvel – Civil War
Every journey starts with a single step. It doesn’t matter if it is a small step or a huge leap, it is still a beginning. The first step is also often the hardest one. The same is true for my journey into the Marvel Comic Universe. As I mentioned in my introductory post, the most difficult thing about starting to read comics is to find a starting point. I eventually decided on the Civil War event. Choosing to start with an event that involves most of Marvel’s characters might seem a bit ambitious. Did I land on my feet or am I as lost in the Marvel jungle as before?
Comics Read: The Road To Civil War and Civil War (2006-2007)
Synopsis: The US government has had enough of masked heroes going about their business without any regulations. They have secret identities and do not answer to anyone. As a measure to better control the situation, the US government suggests a Superhero Registration Act. If it passes, it will require every masked hero to reveal their identities and act under official regulation. In other words, they will become glorified police officers acting under orders. Those who refuse to register will be hunted and prosecuted as criminals. The superhero community is split down the middle. Iron Man becomes the leader of the faction supporting the passing of the Act, while Captain America goes underground as the leader of the rebels. Friend is pitted against friend as the opposing sides fight for their convictions. How far will it go before an all-out war starts? And who will be victorious in the end?
Why Civil War?
I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of comics is pretty limited. From the characters and stories that I am familiar with, Civil War always stood out to me. This is where you’d expect a typical comic books focus on heroes banding together to stop an evil villain, Civil War instead focuses on a battle of ideologies. There is no clear cut good or evil, only difference of opinion. There are friends fighting friends, enemies becoming allies. But the stakes don’t feel any smaller than if Thanos once again threatened to destroy the known universe. The outcome of the war will decide the future of the lives of every masked hero, and the future of the world. I was also intrigued by the concept that superheroes had become a political matter, and that the general population of the world had different opinions on them.
I knew before I started reading Civil War that I was going to encounter many characters that I had never heard of before. It is an event that affects every hero on earth, and they all have to choose sides. That is why I decided to read The Road To Civil War first. The book is a collection of issues that show the build up to the conflict in the main story arc. While the Marvel universe is too vast to include every issue that has shown the escalation of the conflict, RTCW collects the most relevant ones and introduces most of the central players. I got introduced to characters that I knew little to nothing about, like Black Bolt and Prince Namor. I found it very interesting to see how the conflict had been brewing for such a long time, and Iron Man’s personal involvement. Having read RTCW I felt like I had a good understanding of the opposing factions, why this conflict had started in the first place, and why some characters would choose to not get involved. RTCW also feeds very well into the main event with its last pages leading directly into the first pages of CW. It is not an essential read for you to understand the story in CW, but it is highly recommended if you are a beginner like me.
Civil War starts off with a bang. Literally since the build up to the conflict has happened in separate issues, there is no time wasted in covering those bases again. If you start reading Civil War without having read The Road To… you might find the beginning a bit fast paced. However, Civil War does manage to stand on its own legs. In the first few pages a devastating incident occurs that claims the lives of hundreds of civilians. This time it is not caused by an evil villain, but by a gang of youngsters trying to get fame by playing masked heroes. Society has lost faith in superheroes, and this incident is the final straw. The writers do a great job of presenting a situation where the demand for a Registration Act seems like a good solution. But is the easy way necessarily the right way?
As I read the rest of the story I encountered a large number of characters I had never seen before. Many only appeared in a few frames and weren’t even referred to by name. I assume that the writers had them appear as a way of showing readers that these characters were fighting for one of the sides. While I am sure that long time readers appreciated seeing their favorite heroes, I didn’t get as much out of these appearances as I’d hoped. I guess that I had hoped that I would get to know a few more characters, not just see them stand in the background. Still, I understand that Civil War is a big story and that writers only have a limited amount of frames to tell it. Despite this, a few characters did stand out to me and I hope to see more of them later.
Speaking of characters showing up: I was surprised to see both Daredevil and The Punisher make appearances. I was under the impression that these two vigilantes mostly stuck to themselves. I haven’t really seen any crossover stories that had either of them team up with Avengers, for example. But my impression is probably wrong, and I’m glad that I’m already having my understanding of the comic universe challenged. It was cool to see that Daredevil and Punisher have their place in the crossover and are well known by other characters. Oh, and at first I didn’t understand why no one seemed very happy about seeing Punisher. I realized why pretty quickly.
My gripe with Civil War is that it felt a bit rushed. It might just be that I’m not used to the pacing of superhero comic books, as comics I have read before have been in other genres. I also know that the Civil War event is not isolated to the 7 issues in the collection. There are several tie-ins that flesh out the story and let you see the views and experiences of different characters during the conflict. If you did read CW and other Marvel series as they came out during the event, you must have had a very different experience. However, I did enjoy the story and I want to read some of the tie-ins to learn more. The two Spider-man collections are on the top of my list as his character development was the most interesting one for me. The character was caught in the middle of the two factions, so I would love to read more of his experiences as he sees the conflict from a unique perspective. I have also heard about the Front Lines tie-in that focuses on the media coverage of the war, and on society’s reaction to it. That seems like a very interesting and different way to explore how the world saw the different players in the conflict.
My issues with the pacing also covers the very abrupt ending. I was left with a feeling that there should have been more to it than what we got. Maybe something a bit more heavy hitting. I won’t go into any detail as I don’t want to spoil anything. I understand that despite it being a big event, Civil War can’t end every storyline. They will feed into the storylines of each character involved, and you will have to read their respective stories to see how the conflict has affected them and the universe as a whole. Still, I would have liked to see a bit more of a payoff after everything that happened. I guess I will learn more about the aftermath as I continue reading.
As this is a crossover event, it really depends on your previous experience with the Marvel Universe. If you are up to date on the Marvel movies you should have a good understanding of some of the main players, and that should make your experience easier. If you haven’t seen the films, then Civil War might not be the best place to start as it does very little to introduce characters or the state of the world they live in. I would highly recommend to read The Road To Civil War first regardless of having seen the films or not, but even with that background info Civil War might be a big bite to chew for the absolute beginner.
The Road From Here
As I mentioned, I am interested in reading some of the tie-ins for Civil War to get a better understanding of the event. While Spider-man is on the top of that list, I’m not very interested in all the tie-ins. Fantastic Four has never been a team that has appealed a lot to me, so I won’t be rushing to read their Civil War collection. I might not read it at all.
Outside of Civil War, I would like to break into the Avengers and X-Men comics, but I am finding it very hard to find a good starting point. There are so many different storylines and versions of the teams to make sense of. The House of M event has been referenced a few times, so I’m very curious about that one. Maybe I could start with some issues leading up to that event and take it from there?
Next month, however, I will be reading about one of my favorite Marvel heroes: She-Hulk!