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Friday, 20 February 2015

Comics Explained: Marvel Civil War

The Marvel cinematic universe has announced that Captain America 3 will focus on the Civil War storyline from 2006 but more importantly Spider-Man could be in it! Besides that the Civil War storyline was a major event in the Marvel universe with it being one of the major crossover events in the 2000s with World War Hulk, Secret War and the House of M. However people who are just getting into comics or have been introduced to comics thanks to the Marvel films may not know this story arc. This week we'll talk about the Marvel Civil War although as so many characters had their own spin-off from the story arc we'll talk about the main publication and some interesting tidbits from the others. Warning: this contains spoilers.

The origins of the Civil War
Unlike the Days of Future Past storyline Civil War kept in key with other Marvel crossovers starting a whole new publication with Civil War #1. The issue starts out with a group called the New Warriors, a superhero team comprising of young adults similar to the New Avengers, being followed by television crew in Stamford, Connecticut.

The New Warriors have a TV show based around them similar to cop shows but ratings for that series had been going down. The almost de facto leader of the New Warriors Speedball argues that since Nova left, (to go fight Annihlus in the Annihilation event), that they need to make the show exciting again and that leads us to this issue. The group find a group of supervillains hiding in Stamford but they are largely minor Marvel villains such as Cobalt Man and Coldheart but they are still powerful villains with one, Speedfreak, managing to take down the Hulk. Speedball convinces them to attack despite opposition from other members that the villains are too powerful. They attack and seem to get the upper hand against the villains until Namorita, (Namor the Sub-Mariner's cousin), pins a villain called Nitro against a school bus. Nitro tells Namorita that they are out of their depth and that they are playing 'with the big boys now'. Nitro has the power to turn into a living explosion which he then does.
It is later revealed that the New Warriors, (except Speedball), the three villains accompanying Nitro and 612 people including 60 children were killed in the blast. We then pick up with the X-Men and the Avengers who are helping look for survivors and generally clearing up the wreckage of the explosion but they are all debating whether the New Warriors should have contacted someone like the Avengers or the Fantastic Four as well as them saying that the public most likely would have lost support in superheros. Following the Hulk's rampage in Las Vegas just before the Planet Hulk storyline, Lucretia Von Bardas destroying a sizable region of Manhattan after Nick Fury tried to kill her and Scarlet Witch depowering 90% of Earth's mutants the public had become increasingly anti-superhero and Goliath even suggests that 'this was the straw that broke the camel's back'. When Tony Stark visits a funeral for the children killed in the explosion a mother of one of the dead spits at him and says that he is irresponsible with him funding heroes who then cause so much damage. People start talking about some reform to make heroes responsible of their actions as anti-hero violence starts with a gang smashing a bottle over the Human Torch's head before kicking him.

Sides form
The US President proposes a Congress Act called the Superhuman Registration Act which would get superheroes to register their secret identities with the government and effectively make them like police officers. Something like this has happened before in the Marvel universe but with Mutants with the Mutant Registration Act but in other comics as well most notably in Watchmen with the Keene Act. Just before the Civil War storyline there was a proposed act which Iron Man opposed even getting Titanium Man to attack him to prove that superheroes have to be independent but following the Stamford explosion he changed his mind. Tony Stark at the end of issue one goes to Washington to argue for the act while at the same time multiple heroes meet at the Baxter Building to discuss whether to register with divides emerging. The Fantastic Four, She-Hulk, Yellowjacket and Wasp are all in favor of the act while Luke Cage, Daredevil, the Young Avengers and Wolverine are against it with Spider-Man unsure. Meanwhile the head of SHIELD Maria Hill summons Captain America to the SHIELD Helicarrier to get him to be the poster child for the act and asks him who is planning to resist registration. He makes a good point that those who plan to resist stick to the streets plan to resist like Daredevil as well as people who had been let down by society such as Falcon. However a curious piece of character development happens when Hill asks Captain America to take down those who resist which Captain America refuses to do so. Hill calls him a traitor and tries to have him arrested but Cap uses his shield to block the SHIELD agents' tranquilizers before beating them up, jumping from the Helicarrier and getting a SHIELD pilot to land him safely, (masterfully adapted in Captain America 2).
What is curious about this is that it expands Captain America as a character. In the past he had just been a simple patriotic, USA all the way type of character but as he is resisting it paints a new image of him. That he may love the country but not the government and ironically fits into his original design. A character designed to resist Nazi tyranny and oppression but this time he is resisting a new form of oppression. Meanwhile at the Baxter Building meeting Uatu the Watcher appears which Dr Strange states is an ominous sign...

Fighting Begins
The following issue the act is passed.However to bolster each sides popularity they fight crime with anti-registration forces tying Vulture and Grim Reaper to a pole while pro-registration forces including Iron Man, Tigra and She-Hulk take down a giant robot in New York. As Iron Man says 'people are starting to believe in superheroes again' She-Hulk challenges him saying that will they still be heroes or just glorified SHIELD Agents while Tigra asks do people like Captain America and Falcon who have resisted registration still count as heroes. It raises a good debate and makes the audience challenge their view on what constitutes a hero as pro-registration heroes are accepting the law but are accepting a possibly unjust law while anti-registration heroes are still fighting for their morals but are breaking a law at the same time which was supposed to protect the public. We then cut to the Baxter Building where Reed Richards has become so distant in his work that he is neglecting to inform Susan Storm about a disk with 42 written on it and not joining her to visit Johnny Storm in hospital. Quite importantly though he says that the act is exciting him due to how revolutionary it is which puts him at odds with Susan Storm who makes a point that he is being excited about half their friends going to jail. In the Illuminati tie in Reed Richards joins with Tony Stark in accidentally disbanding the Illuminati with most members wanting to stay neutral.
Meanwhile we cut to the Young Avengers member the Patriot who is running across the New York skyline before being arrested by SHIELD Agents. It then shows that the entire group has been arrested but before they can go to prison, most likely Ryker's Island, an undercover Captain America and Luke Cage free them and get them to join the resistance. At the base we get a better scope of who has joined the resistance with Cloak, Dagger and Cable being there. Although attention is quickly diverted to the screen where people at the resistance base, pro-registration base, X-Mansion and the Daily Bugle watch the news. Spider-Man has become pro-registration and with Aunt May and Mary Jane in a safe house has decided to reveal his identity. When he takes of his mask and shows the world that he is Peter Parker J.Jonah Jameson quite comically faints.
Following this propaganda boost the pro-registration forces try to win more people over with Mr Fantastic going to Wakanda to convince Storm and the Black Panther to join him but T'Challa refuses but says 'One word of advice Reed. Call Susan' which is quite powerful as it shows that Mr Fantastic has been ignoring his family which would put future strain on the Fantastic Four. It is also revealed that Dr Strange has gone into stasis to decide whether the war is just as Tony Stark goes to the X-Mansion to convince Emma Frost to make the X-Men to join. However she rebuffs him saying that registration is too similar to the Mutant Registration Act and that where was the Avengers and Iron Man when mutants needed them most when Sentinels destroyed the mutant haven of Genosha and why should they support a government that put the remaining mutants in a virtual reservation being guarded by the machines built to destroy them.
Although I doubt this was intended this point really stands out as being allegorical to Native American civil rights with a major event, (disease for Native Americans and Decimation for mutants), wiping out most of the population with the remaining people forced onto reservations guarded by the very people who reduced their rights, (Indian Agents for Native Americans and Sentinels for mutants), as the government wonders why they are reluctant to help them. As Stark leaves he ominously says that he wants them 'neutralized' when the 50 State Initiate takes place but Bishop approaches him saying that he wants in; the X-Men were now being divided. The main four anti-registration members, (Daredevil,Captain America, Goliath and Hercules), adopt new secret identities, including my favorite part where Goliath complains that he is a community out-reach worker.

Others and Death
We find out that Speedball did survive the blast but full of remorse adopts a new persona, Penance. He creates a new suit to where to activate his powers 612 spikes dig into him with 60 digging deeper to remind him of the 612 people, including 60 children, who died in Stamford. Wolverine starts to track down Nitro but finds out that Atlantean sleeper agents have kidnapped him. He gets to Atlantis and after fighting back the sleeper agents he cuts of Nitro's arm. We also learn that Nitro had been taking the drug MGH, (Mutant Growth Hormone), which amplified his powers. Namor arrives and Wolverine argues with Namor as Wolverine wants to take him to the surface to stand trial. Namor argues in turn that Nitro has committed a massive crime against Atlantis for killing his beloved cousin Namorita and that the principle of 'an eye for an eye' must happen which Wolverine then accepts. Blade the vampire hunter registers but only to get at vampires in the government while Howard the Duck finds out that technically he doesn't exist so doesn't have to register. Spider Man starts to doubt as well his decision after Tony Stark gets him to use his powers to track heroes in the sewers and debates whether arresting heroes is right. The anti-registration forces then arrive at the Geffen-Meyer Chemical Plant where there was supposed to be an explosion trapping hundreds but Cable quickly deduced that it is owned by Stark Industries as pro-registration forces arrive. Iron Man asks for a ceasefire with Captain America but as they shake hands Cap places an EMP on the suit of armor which causes a new fight.
During the fight Thor arrives to the amazement of his friends but he doesn't recognize anyone and out of the blue kills Goliath. It is then revealed that Thor is actually a cyborg clone which enrages Susan Storm who knows that her husband is behind it. She allows the anti-registration forces to escape as new divides emerge in the war. Hank Pym devastated over his friends death starts taking anti-depressants and people start switching sides. Tearing their feelings apart Susan and Johnny Storm switch to anti-registration with Tigra while Giganta, Cable and a few others turn to pro-registration. The Thing feeling divided moves to join a group in Paris. The fight again changes when under request from SHIELD supervillains including Lady Deathstrike, Venom and the Green Goblin join the Thunderbolts.

The war starts to come to an end
In a change of heart Spider-Man joins the anti-registration force in Civil War #5 after a fight with Iron Man. He goes into the sewers to track down Captain America but is caught off guard by two minor villains, Trickster and Jack O'Lantern, working for the Thunderbolts. Before they could do any damage to him someone shoots them both in the head. We only learn the identity of Spider-Man's savior later on: the Punisher. For those who don't know the Punisher, (Frank Castle), is a vigilante who kills criminals and supervillains and ironically in his first appearance The Amazing Spider-Man #129 he tried to kill Spider-Man who was accused of murder. Castle takes an injured Spider-Man to Captain America's headquarters and joins his group with him angry that the government has employed villains like Venom and Taskmaster to fight for them.
This decision had become apparent in Punisher War Journal: Civil War #1 who killed Stilt-Man, (yes there was a Stilt-Man), despite the villain saying he was a member of the Thunderbolts. Even the Thunderbolts were against the new villains with them arguing that the new villains do not want redemption like the group set out to achieve but instead are only joining to get out of jail. The Punisher turns out to be a handy member helping anti-registration forces to escape Molten Man and sneak into the Baxter Building where we finally find out what 42 is. Plan 42 is a prison in the Negative Zone designed to hold superheroes. The anti-registration forces plan to free their forces from the Negative Zone but in #6 when two villains ask to join Captain American the Punisher kills them. In anger Captain America almost cripples Castle and forces him to leave. At the end of the issue the anti-registration forces with Storm and the Black Panther breaking neutrality and joining stage an assault on the prison. We then find out that Tigra had been a double agent but Captain America had his own with the shapeshifter Hulking taking Yellowjacket's appearance. In the final issue Cloak transports the heroes to New York where the fighting continues. Captain America however sees that paramedics, firefighters and police are actually against what he is doing and realizes that he is doing more damage than good. He surrenders and the Civil War ends.

Following the war two Avengers sprang up; the Mighty Avengers led by pro-registration heroes and the Secret Avengers led by anti-registration forces. However it spelled the end for Captain America who on his way up the court steps to await trial was assassinated by Crossbones. Norman Osborn, (a.k.a the Green Goblin), quickly became head of the Thunderbolts which would lead to trouble ahead...

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