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What on Infinite Earths is: Marvel's Civil War

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on November 5, 2015

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This article was updated on December 3, 2015

With the new Captain America film looming on the horizon a lot of Marvel Cinematic Universe fans who aren't willing to slog through the years of back story and crisis-crossovers are probably wondering what this whole “Civil War” thing is all about. Civil War was the big crossover event in Marvel's main comic universe back in 2006 and people have been complaining about it ever since. If you want to watch it unfold for yourself then you can pick up a trade-paperback of the core books of the event for a reasonable price. Of course the “core books” were 7 issues of a 105 comic book event. It will give you the gist of what Civil War was about, show you the major conflicts, but completely gloss over the details that made it so interesting.

“The Pro-Registration camp that the editors favoured began down a slippery ethical slope early in the story.”

One of the most fascinating things about Civil War happened off of the pages and in the company's offices. To have a conflict among the superheroes it was necessary to fabricate a conflict centred on an issue that “good” people could take both sides on. I will get into the philosophical debate later but the funny thing about super hero writers is that they tend to think in black and white too. The writers and editorial staff took opposing sides with the resolution eventually having to be forced even though the winning side were portrayed in a very negative light throughout the conflict.

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“In the early stages of the Registration Act we see that Captain America is willing to go along with the will of the people until it becomes clear exactly what that will entail.”

Civil War was Marvel's interpretation of the 9/11 terrorist attack. There is no question about that. Political ideology played a major factor in the way that it was written with one side of the conflict favouring personal freedom and the other side favouring security. The story begins with a group of badly trained young superheroes clashing with a group of b-list supervillains. There is catastrophic destruction, resulting in widespread civilian death and a very serious change in the way that the public saw superheroes. Suddenly there is a demand for accountability. For heroes to make their secret identities known to the government so that they can be kept under control.

Many of the heroes are naturally in favour of this, especially the ones who come from privileged backgrounds, the ones that already have publicly known identities and the ones who have never experienced any form of oppression. At the head of this group we find Iron Man, the white billionaire genius who has already served in positions in the upper echelons of government. On the opposite side we have Captain America, a common soldier who grew up poor, weak and unhealthy before his transformation. In the early stages of the Registration Act we see that Captain America is willing to go along with the will of the people until it becomes clear exactly what that will entail. All of the country's superheroes functioning as an extension of the military with involuntary lifelong enlistment for anyone unfortunate enough to possess powers.

Several major players in the Marvel Universe, all of the ones with enough individual power to end the conflict themselves, are kept out of the fighting for various reasons:

Thor is off in his own realm trying to deal with an apocalypse that is tearing the cosmos apart.

The Hulk is on another planet for reasons that are inevitably tied to the central conflict; it was decided by an elite cabal of the most intelligent and powerful superheroes that the world would be safer without the Hulk so they launched him into space. He was off having his own Mad Max style adventures out in the cosmos for the duration.

The X-Men have been dealing with being on the wrong side of public opinion since their conception and would almost inevitably have joined the anti-registration side in droves if it were not for the fact that they were already under government control, trapped in a mutant reservation, following the House of M and Extinction events where the majority of the mutant population were stripped of their powers.

Doctor Strange, representing the more mystical aspects of the Marvel Universe, assumed a platform of non-involvement for the duration. Supposedly meditating on the best solution but ultimately just behaving as an omnipotent conscientious objector to instil the idea that both sides of the conflict had valid points.

The only other conscientious objector in the story is in fact the Fantastic Four's Thing. Early on in the conflict the interpersonal squabbles of Marvel's first family developed into a political rift with the Invisible Woman and Human Torch splitting off to join Captain America out of loyalty to their friends and thanks in no small part to the emotional distance that Mr Fantastic is creating to allow himself to engage in the behaviour he believes necessary to create a safe environment. Meanwhile, The Thing, unwilling or unable to take a side, left the country to partake in some “good old days” super-heroics in France.

The Pro-Registration camp that the editors favoured began down a slippery ethical slope early in the story. First they created an extra-dimensional Guantanamo Bay where captured enemies of the new regime could be detained indefinitely. Then they began using nano-technology leashed villains to hunt down their former comrades in arms. The moral event horizon that most people believed that they crossed was the creation of a clone of Thor, possessed of all of his godlike powers and none of his human morality. The clone almost immediately began murdering the superheroes that opposed his masters, starting with Bill Foster a superhero previously known as “Black Goliath.”