Breaking Down Marvel's Secret Wars: Civil War

In the weeks following the announcement of the Secret Wars mega-event at New York Comic-Con, Marvel released 15 teaser images for event comics. Perhaps more interesting was that most of those teasers were for events that have already happened.

Last week, we discovered what the teasers were all about. These were the worlds that would come together during the events of Secret Wars to form Battleworld, the battleground planet where the event will take place.

To get you up to speed and excited for Secret Wars, we’ve prepared a series of articles breaking down the events that were teased so that you’ll be ready to revisit them next summer. We’re kicking the series off the same way Marvel kicked their teasers of, with:

Civil War

What Was It? Civil War was Marvel’s big “action movie” style event that pitted superhero against superhero over the issue of superhuman civil rights. Following an explosion that wiped out an elementary school during a battle between the New Warriors and Nitro, the United States government enacted the Superhuman Registration Act. The law required all superhumans and vigilantes to register their secret identities with the government and become licensed government employees. In return, they would receive training, a paycheck, and S.H.I.E.L.D. support.

Iron Man backed the government, along with Hank Pym, Reed Richards, and most of the superheroes who were either already on the government’s payroll or didn’t have much of a secret identity to protect. The big exception here was Spider-Man, who publicly revealed himself to be Peter Parker.

Captain America saw the law as the government’s attempt to control the superhuman community and dictate who they fight. Fearing that the government might begin trying to use superheroes as tools to solve political problems, and that being forced to reveal their secret identities may have dire consequences for his friends, Captain America went underground and formed a team of “Secret Avengers,” including Hercules, Luke Cage, Cable, and several other young and street level heroes.

The two factions battled until Captain America chose to surrender.

Was It Any Good? Civil War is easily one of the most polarizing events that Marvel has published. Many fans criticize it for codifying the event comics cycle, for beginning the trend of superheroes fighting each other more often than they fight villains, for being too dark and serious, and for not following through on its lofty political themes.

In a way, the experience of Civil War may have been better than the comic itself. If you were reading Marvel Comics at the time, it was hard not to get caught up in the “Whose side are you on?” marketing of the event, and it was exciting to see the tide of the battle turn back and forth.

Separate from the experience, Civil War is still a pretty fun, big budget style superhero slugfest. It doesn’t deliver the goods in the political philosophy department (in his defense, writer Mark Millar maintained in several interviews that a superhero slugfest is all he ever envisioned this series to be, that The Ultimates was his political superhero book, and the rest was all Marvel marketing), but Steve McNiven’s art provides plenty of gravitas and drama to the book to make it an entertaining diversion.

Significant Deaths: Black Goliath. Bill Foster was killed by a clone of Thor created by Tony, Hank, and Reed (the clone would later be renamed renamed Ragnarok) who possessed all of the God of Thunder’s power and none of his morality. This was a huge turning point for the series, as heroes on both sides of the conflict reconsidered their stance. Several of Cap’s Secret Avengers abandoned the cause and/or registered, and several of Iron Man’s allies went rogue – most notably Spider-Man.

(If you’re wondering, the actual Thor was still dead following the actual Ragnarok while the events of Civil War were taking place. Upon his return, Thor gave Iron Man a pretty mighty beat down for killing a friend in his name).

Lasting Consequences: For an event that centered on a conflict between Iron Man and Captain America, no hero felt that effects of Civil War and the Superhero Registration Act more than Spider-Man. Spidey revealed his secret identity, letting his entire rogue’s gallery know who he is and where to find him. When his conscience got the better of him and he swapped sides in the conflict, he lost the protection of S.H.I.E.L.D. A hitman found and shot Aunt May, leading to Peter putting on his Black Costume and becoming much more ruthless willing to break the law, as depicted in the Back in Black storyline. With May on death’s door, Peter makes a deal with Mephisto to sacrifice his marriage to Mary Jane in order to save May’s life, as depicted in One More Day. The result is the dissolution of the couple’s long lasting marriage, and the beginning of the Brand New Day storyline that set the stage for Spider-Man comics continuity as it continues to be today.

Even after Cap’s surrender, the Avengers would remain split on the issue of registration. Iron Man formed a new team of government sponsored Avengers that featured many classic Avengers that had left the team after the events of Avengers Disassembled. Meanwhile, Luke Cage took up leadership of Cap’s Secret Avengers team, which consisted of many of the members introduced by Brian Michael Bendis in Breakout – Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Spider-Woman – as well as some first time Avengers like Doctor Strange and Iron Fist.

This split would remain intact until the Superhuman Registration Act was repealed following the events of Siege.

The death of Captain America is often associated with Civil War, but that’s a fuzzier measure. Yes, it occurred in Captain America #25, which was labelled a Civil War epilogue, and yes, the assassination occurs while Steve Rogers is standing on the courthouse steps, waiting to stand trial for his actions during Civil War. However, the assassin and his motivation have nothing to do with Civil War. The association is, more or less, coincidental.

The Teaser: The teaser by Adi Granov seems to focus squarely on the tug of war for Spider-Man’s allegiance between Captain America and Iron Man. If I had to guess, I would think Civil War #1 will be told from Peter Parker’s perspective, as a universe still in the middle of its own Superhero Civil War suddenly finds itself part of the Battleworld and the Secret Wars.

Civil War #1 is set for release summer 2015. Secret Wars begins May 2015.