It’s not good.
2016 is quickly becoming a year where titans face off against each other in big, bombastic spectacle. March kicked this off with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where its titular heroes meet each other and punch one another into pieces (rather, that was mostly Bats doing the punching). Earlier this month saw the animated version of the Justice League go up against the Teen Titans. But next weekend (or this weekend, if you live in the UK) is the superhero beatdown to end all superhero beatdowns, the release of Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War.
Whereas BvS and JLvTT staged their titular conflicts as both sides being manipulated by a sinister third party, Civil War’s conflict is one both sides are fully aware of. Captain America and Iron Man are both in their proper states of mind here, solving their debate of accountability through face punches and explosions.
Civil War the film is based off the 2007 comic under the same name. The comic, drawn by Steve McNiven and written by Mark Millar (who had written for Marvel years prior with The Ultimates, a comic that later became the foundation for their Cinematic Universe), puts the heroes of the Marvel Universe in a moral quandary. A team of teenage superheroes called the New Warriors get into a fight with some villains while being filmed for a reality show in Stamford, Conneticut, which ends with one of their enemies exploding in close proximity to a school.
The incident left over 600 people dead, 60 of them being children. Afterwards, the US government passes a Superhero Registration Act, wherein superheroes have to reveal their identities as part of the registration and undergo training. Like in the film itself, the battle lines are drawn on Team Iron Man and Team Cap; Tony being all about the registration, while Steve is very much against it. This sounds like a really great setting for a conflict, right? Well, it is, the problem is that the comic itself isn’t all that great and doesn’t do a whole lot with this concept.
You can easily see how this is a good idea and a smart inversion of what people think of if they know the basics of Captain America and Iron Man. The guy who literally wears the American flag as his uniform becoming an enemy to the country he’s named after versus the billionaire playboy who isn’t exactly the model of responsibility to begin with. Having both of them forcing friends they’ve fought beside time and time again to pick a side? Sounds like fun, and the book definitely has its moments that are certainly memorable. Daredevil giving Iron Man a silver dollar as he’s carted off to prison and calling him Judas? Spider-Man unmasking himself on live TV? The crumbling marriage of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman? Hell yeah, those moments, as individual pieces, are definitely worth a read.
Problem is, much like Batman v Superman, there’s no legitimate reason for anyone to be doing what they do. There are other circumstances that led to the creation of the SHRA, like the Hulk going postal in Vegas, but the ultimate catalyst is the Stamford Incident. The adult superheroes, quite frankly, have no reason to be caught up in what’s ultimately a tragedy of teenagers being stupid just for some screen time, something that the Human Torch points out before he’s beaten unconscious at a nightclub. Were this a story that divided the teenage heroes of the Marvel Universe on how to go forward, it’d be great, but as it involves the adults (aside from the X-Men, who take neutrality over either side), it’s just baffling when they at least make active efforts to minimize civilian involvement.
Anyone who’s read more than a handful of superhero comics can tell you that being able to continue saving lives at the cost of revealing your identity is a bad idea for several high profile heroes. But the government doesn’t really care about how this could blow up in the faces of the heroes who save them on a constant basis, nor do they seem to offer any protection to the families or friends of those that could be affected. Anyone who registers basically has to figure out how to keep their loved ones safe from personal harm by themselves, which is what we see with Spider-Man and his family, even before he defects to the Anti-Reg side. Conversely, Cap’s team uses disguises to blend in and be with the public until the time comes for them to do some hero work.