Book Review – Civil War by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven

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After a superhero team inadvertently causes a massacre of schoolchildren, the world calls for the costumed vigilantes to be regulated. At the forefront of this is Iron Man, who rallies support. However, a number of heroes, including Captain America, are against the proposal,  and a war breaks out between the two sides.

Civil War is going to be used as the foundation for the next Captain America film and I hope it turns out better than this graphic novel. I was sorely underwhelmed by this. As I understand it the event was a sprawling one, encompassing many different comics. Here we just get the main story, but it feels like we’re missing out on a lot of context. For example, when Spider-Man appears he unmasks. Okay. So, I imagine in his actual comic we saw him struggling with the decision and could actually understand why. All we’re given in Civil War is a reference to a conversation with Tony Stark, but we never actually see it. And then you turn a few pages and Spider-Man has changed his mind. All of these things happen very quickly and there’s a lot of ‘telling’ and not much ‘showing’. Like, Tony keeps making reference to the fact that crime is down and his new teams are doing well, but we never actually see it happen.

It feels like this whole event was done just to shake things up rather than actually discuss what it means to be a hero and whether having all these super-powered vigilantes is a good thing or not. Another problem is that it’s pretty clear that Stark is going to extremes, and again we’re not given any context behind his decisions. Did he really think that creating a cyborg Thor was a good idea? Or recruiting supervillains to be on his team? The balance of morality is in Cap’s favour all the way, and this is a shame because there was enough meat here for a true philosophical exploration of these concepts but instead things happen and people fight each other and that’s about it. I don’t get the sense that anyone actually learned anything here.

The book also keeps mentioning about how the public hate heroes, but I find it hard to believe every single person turned on the heroes so easily. All we see are some mobs protesting but we don’t get any scenes with people defending the heroes. Those are the two big problems I had with it. Another is that the covers keep depicting Wolverine but he barely appears in the story.

There are some good moments, but overall I don’t think it properly explored the issue of superhero registration. There’s not enough context to the events or the various characters’ motivations and given Stark’s extreme actions the question ‘Whose side are you on?’ becomes moot. Perhaps it would be more understandable if I had read all the tie-ins as well, but as it stands this volume feels like a highlights reel.

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