What’s So Civil About War, Anyway

September 27th, 2006 by | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Civil War is really fucking stupid.

I think I could fix it.

Let’s see if you agree.

Let’s start from the original premise. The New Warriors–which, as of the recent limited series by Zeb Wells, were a bunch of twits on a reality show for kicks, rather than a legitimate superhero group–go after a bunch of villains and make a terrible mistake. They do not know that Robert “Nitro” Hunter has gotten a power-up, so their attempts to keep the fight away from civilians are more or less doomed to failure before they started.

Stamford, Connecticut is destroyed; hundreds of innocent people die. There is an immediate and furious backlash against superhumans, particularly the ones who have set themselves up as a de facto, unanswerable-to-anyone task force. Stark Tower acquires a near-constant crowd of picketers, anti-mutant sentiment somehow manages to go up a notch, Captain America’s “champion license” is revoked, and new legislation is introduced to make it mandatory for American superhumans to register themselves with the government.

So far, so good. Marvel has consistently depicted its civilian populace as being uneasy with the existence of superheroes for at least the last twenty years. Spider-Man is a pariah despite what, in Marvel Time, has to be a decade or more of heroism; anti-mutant sentiment persists; Reed Richards deep-sixed the Fantastic Four’s reputation during the recent Waid/Weiringo run on the book; and the New Avengers contain a number of people who the average guy on the street isn’t likely to trust, as per J. Jonah Jameson’s editorial on the subject in New Avengers (Cage is an accused murderer and heroin dealer; Spidey is Spidey; Spider-Woman is documentably a former agent of HYDRA; the Sentry is a fucking nutbar who’s so powerful that anyone in their right mind would be wary of him; and Wolverine isn’t even willing to tell the press he’s on the team).

Naturally, as several characters have pointed out, the Stamford incident is the kind of flashpoint that people would’ve been waiting for. The registration act, while dubiously constitutional (various comparisons to the civil-rights movements aren’t wholly baseless), would probably pass without a problem in this sort of political climate.

Here’s where things are going to start to change. In my version of Civil War, it’s not the pro-reg vs. the anti-reg, because frankly, it’s a bullshit distinction. It’s the abruptly fascist vs. the abruptly lacking in common sense; it’s not that both sides have valid points, it’s that both sides are ignoring the obvious counterargument.

That said, these are funnybooks, obviously, so you need to have the fight scenes. We’ll deal with it thusly.

Most of the “old guard” superheroes are going to be tentatively for registration, because they’d have to be idiots not to be. They’re superheroes because they want to help people, not because of some kind of Jesus power trip.

Registration represents a chance to train the next generation of superheroes with federal oversight and actual funding; it helps them deal with the issue of rampant property damage that they’d ordinarily either run away from or stick Tony Stark with the bill for; and for some of them, it gives them an air of legitimacy they’ve always wanted. It’d be an invitation to step up to the big leagues and take their game to the next level.

The training process would let writers pull a ton of old characters out of obscurity and give them a near-total redesign; it’d even allow a few villains to achieve a sort of wary redemption. There would be a ton of stories inherent within the premise.

The X-Men and the 198 would naturally be, for the most part, exempt from the process. Emma Frost is one of the few characters in the core Civil War book who has a sensible perspective, in that the people outside the X-Mansion don’t get to decide on a whim when mutants do and do not “count.” Thus, most of the X-Men get to stay inside their little O*N*E storyline bubble, with the possible exceptions of Wolverine (who’s out hunting Nitro and ignoring Cyclops’s demands that he stop) and a couple of X-Men or the 198 who might jump the fence and opt to register. (Perhaps they’re double agents of a sort for Emma or just for the X-Men as a whole, to see what the situation’s like outside the walls and to give a couple of their people a method of moving around outside the O*N*E’s jurisdiction.)

That said, there’s going to be a sort of dark underbelly to the entire registration process. Supervillains, for the most part, aren’t going to bother registering, but as part of the political situation of the moment, there’ll be a systematic effort to hunt them down, using SHIELD backing, specialized anti-metahuman technology from Tony Stark and Reed Richards, and specialized squads of well-trained superhumans.

At the same time, there’ll be superheroes who cannot or will not register for whatever reason. Matt Murdock would be on this list; he’d be a fugitive twice over. So would Jessica Drew, since half the characters around her have basically been waiting for a reason to overtly distrust her. Other characters would include the Ghost Rider, the guys at X-Factor Investigations, the Runaways, Cloak, Dagger, and probably Iron Fist, since he’s standing in for Daredevil at the moment. I also kind of want to throw in the Livewires, because they need to show up again.

They’d be forced into a bizarre moral gray zone, where their supposed allies are now enemies, and vice versa; they’d have to move within that bizarre supervillain subculture that several stories have only hinted at up until now.

At the same time, though, the registration act isn’t all sunshine and roses. Maria Hill would show up occasionally on the sidelines, quietly recruiting some heroes to run missions that no one else knows about. Basically, she’d be sending some of the newly-registered heroes on black ops.

As the heroes round up the villains, they’d also find that several of the villains have inexplicably gotten massive power-ups, the way Nitro did. It wouldn’t be just anyone, either; it’d be the kinds of villains whose powers, when boosted, would lead to disasters on the same scale as Stamford. Imagine a powered-up Electro, behaving like he did in Millar’s run in Marvel Knights Spider-Man, or someone like the Abomination hopped up on MGH. Someone has planned this.

Eventually, someone would unravel the mystery. The same conspiracy that’s been working within SHIELD, as per New Avengers, provided the supervillains with MGH in hopes that exactly this would happen: predictable superheroes shackled by federal oversight, incredibly manipulable and exploitable.

What the rest of the world sees, then, is America suddenly violating an international agreement and using its enormous array of superhumans to eliminate military targets. Perhaps one of Hill’s black ops goes bad and some luckless bastard is caught on tape destroying WMDs. As a direct result, the international superhuman community begins to gird itself for what they see as an act of aggression, if not a preparation for war.

The United Nations gets to throw together a team of superhumans from the rest of the world, which again, allows writers to drag old characters out of mothballs or design new ones. T’Challa would probably get involved here, at least peripherally. So would Doctor Doom and Namor.

Eventually, the superheroes would have to take action to dismantle this rogue faction within their own government. To the average person on the street, it’d look like the American superhumans abruptly started attacking SHIELD… and that rogue faction would react by releasing all the supervillains at once.

When the smoke clears, the registration act is viewed as a colossal failure due to corruption within the government. As factions within that government try frantically to clean house, the superheroes are essentially cut off and left to clean up the mess, but there’d still be enough of a command structure left for the “Illuminati”–Xavier, Richards, Stark, Strange, and Namor–to step in.

Broken down by issues, it’d look like this.


The Stamford disaster occurs, resulting in widespread outcry against the superhuman community. The heroes who are legitimately concerned with the situation would have no choice but to register; the rest go underground.


Captain America puts the first wave of registrants through superhero boot camp. The X-Men weigh in on the issue. A squad of veteran superheroes begin rounding up unregistered heroes and villains.

Tie-ins: Spider-Man reveals his secret identity. Wolverine hunts down Nitro. Other heroes are shown battling villains alongside a host of unusual guest stars. The Runaways and Cloak and Dagger get a miniseries where they’re forced into the supervillain underground, drawing on the Runaways’ reputation as the children of the Pride.


Public opinion slowly begins to favor these new squads of trained, smart-looking superhumans. More villain-smashing ensues. Maria Hill begins quietly recruiting “morally adaptable” superhumans.

Tie-ins: several heroes are approached by Maria Hill for missions that aren’t all they appear to be. T’Challa meets with Namor and Doom to discuss this unfortunate issue. Wolverine finds Nitro and gets the name of the guy who supplied him with MGH.


A comparison of stealthy black ops with flashy superheroics in public.

Tie-ins: Spider-Man uses the revelation of his secret identity to draw a who’s-who of his villain gallery out of hiding so he and a bunch of guest-stars can take them all on at once. The Runaways wind up as the unwitting leaders of the supervillain community, and find themselves working towards the same conclusion at Wolverine, albeit from the other side.


One of the black ops goes very, very badly, and an American superhero is caught on film in the Middle East. The United Nations instantly censures the U.S. and begins to recruit its own international team of superhumans, with the aid of T’Challa, Namor, and Doom.

Tie-ins: Iron Man, Captain America, and Mr. Fantastic confront the United Nations’ superteam, in one or more of the relevant books. The black op gone bad is seen from the angle of one of the participants, such as Carol Danvers or Frank Castle.


Wolverine and the Runaways compare notes and discover what’s really been going on. Word spreads quickly, and the superheroes wind up fighting amongst each other; it’s the old guard vs. the more morally adaptable, “modern heroes.” It’s sort of Kingdom Come-esque, really.

Tie-ins: It’s hero vs. hero this month, as superheroes battle mercenaries and not-as-reformed-as-you-thought villains.


The architect of the entire plot is revealed, and he plays his hand, creating worldwide disasters to cover his escape. A very few superheroes pursue him as the world burns.

Tie-ins: Virtually every book in the Marvel line has to deal with the fallout.

The titular “Civil War,” then, would be the superheroes vs. their own government, following the realization that they’re being manipulated and controlled instead of employed and utilized. A crude sort of status quo would be restored at the end of the series, but tons of new characters could be introduced and old characters could be revitalized along the way. It also leaves the option open for future registration storylines, as some characters may voluntarily return to government service; others may begin to distrust the government entirely, setting up future storylines where superheroes could secede from the union or leave the United States.

It’d beat the hell out of this clusterfuck.

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11 comments to “What’s So Civil About War, Anyway”

  1. This is an interesting tack.

    I’d go one step farther, though. T’Challa is a strict isolationist. The US has already tried to “invade” Wakanda once before, in the last couple issues of “Who Is The Black Panther?”

    Instead of getting caught in the Middle East, a metahuman with stealth-type powers (phasing, shadow walking, mild mental control/masking/chaff) gets caught in Wakanda, digging up secrets on Wakandan vibranium.

    Go one step more again. He gets caught by T’Challa’s sister, Shuri, who has shown an interest in both science and heroism and like that. They fight and the meta either ends up injured/dead or injures Shuri, and now, you’ve got Wakanda spearheading a UN charge to bust up this meta team.

  2. The United Nations instantly censures the U.S. and begins to recruit its own international team of superhumans, with the aid of T’Challa, Namor, and Doom.”

    In there somewhere the phrase “but of course the measure is instantly vetoed by the United Nations, throwing international relations further on edge” certainly belongs.

    In addition, what you proposed is certainly better than the clusterfuck strawmanning that Marvel is delivering us. I can barely imagine that Reed and Tony are human, much less that they were ever heroes, at this point. I’m a goddamned Iron Man fan, too.

  3. I entirely agree. Bravo on making this into a concept that’d actually work.

  4. Good show sir. I see the old fanfic storyline scrub is strong within you. Definitely an improvement on the current clusterfuck.

    However, I’m not sure if the title “Civil War” woud really still apply. While it’s a total sledgehammer of plot, “superheroes vs. superheroes” will strike the average reader more as a civil war scenario. “Superheroes vs. the US Government” doesn’t really strike me as a civil war, since it’s not as though the majority of the superheroes are directly associated with the US government. And how many foreign superheroes are working on US soil anyway? That said, I can’t think of a suitable replacement title at the moment. :p

  5. Good show sir. I see the old fanfic storyline scrub is strong within you. Definitely an improvement on the current clusterfuck.

    However, I’m not sure if the title “Civil War” woud really still apply. While it’s a total sledgehammer of plot, “superheroes vs. superheroes” will strike the average reader more as a civil war scenario. “Superheroes vs. the US Government” doesn’t really strike me as a civil war, since it’s not as though the majority of the superheroes are directly associated with the US government. And how many foreign superheroes are working on US soil anyway? That said, I can’t think of a suitable replacement title at the moment. :p

    *Waves at Raph*

  6. And my apologies for the double, no triple posts. 🙁

  7. Hey, Wandy!! Long time no speak! 😉

    Good article. I argee on all of it, though I really can’t see using the Runaways in such a key/valid role. They just don’t have the experience for something like this. Luke Cage would be a better choice than them. He is almost underused in this storyline.

    The main storyline, all I got to see is if you were going the route they went,(Thor Clones. Nazi Det. Camps.), it needed to be at least a 10 to 12 part series and this issues should have been issue 10. This issue was just premature and dumb. It just makes the pro-reg side look insane. The anti-war side really needed to look like they were winning before the Idiotic clones/Stulag appears. Just insane.

  8. That’s a much more interesting, sensible storyline…but you gotta admit, kinda lacks the pro wrestling aspect of top tier superheroes fighting against each other that Civil War does.

    Also: does Marvel even HAVE any “C-listers” that are up for grabs? Luke Cage and Spiderwoman are on the Avengers (were?), there’s a new Alpha Flight with USAgent and Beta Ray Bill, Ms. Marvel has her own book, as does Moon Knight, and all those weirdos in Heroes for Hire…

    I definitely agree about bringing the Livewires back though

  9. Ultima: yeah, the Civil War in question wouldn’t be until the last couple of issues, when it’d start to look like America’s Superheroes vs. America’s Government in the brawl for it all. I’d be in interviews saying things like, “Just wait, you’ll see the damn civil war.”

    Mac: the entire point of using the Runaways in that role is because they’re inexperienced. It’s advertising a critically-lauded but frequently-underselling book while simultaneously using the characters’ histories in the service of the larger story.

    Onimaru: You’d more or less have to delve into the ’70s and ’90s for C-listers at Marvel who Bendis and company haven’t already brought out of retirement (such as the third-string New Warriors, the Slingers, or the international low-budget superheroes from the original Contest of Champions), or else delve into the villain population.

    …or reintroduce the Skull Fucking Kill Krew. God knows they wouldn’t register.

    One of the interesting things about Bendis-era Marvel, and Civil War in particular, is that they’re bringing so damn many characters out of mothballs that I really can’t think of any underused characters in the MU right now. My list used to read something like Dakota North, the Daughters of the Dragon, Shang-Chi, Monica Rambeau, and the Two-Gun Kid, but…

  10. Civil War is just the fact that marvel’s simply saying “we can’t compete with DC anymore and we’ve run out of Ideas since 2002” and I’m saying this because I used to be a marvel zombie,I sometimes read marvel when it’s good but I’m mostly a DC convert

    Don’t get me wrong there’s still a very few good marvel books,but since Quesada took over it’s been downhill since,they changed the established characters into their movie counterparts and also fucking up comic book adaptations (the only acceptable good marvel movies are X2 and Spider-Man 1 & 2 which they had a a good plot that is aceptable to even the most die-hard marvel zombie).

    Also with Spider-Man revealing his identity to the world has -in my opinion- killed the magic and the myth of the super-hero and his/her secret identity,of course the reader knows that clark kent and superman are both the same person,but what makes it believable in the story in how the hero deals with a double life,Spider-Man (depends on the writer who writes the title) always has a dilema of how to deal with it..for those who don’t know what I’m saying or the point I’m trying to make pick up Identity Crisis from DC(best story I’ve ever read) in which explains the reason why heroes wear the mask or pick up a cape and go risk their lives and their loved ones in the process..


    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  11. Like it – the whole Civil War left a dirty feeling in my mouth as it was pretty stupid for them all to fall into those two camps and what you propose makes much more logical sense.

    Also, it has been the case for me the New Avengers: The Initiative is the best Marvel title since Civil War and this pretty much explains why.

    I really hate the way that the New Warriors got crucified for Nitro’s destruction of Stamford too – yes, you heard me right, NITRO’s destruction of Stamford.

    Almost nobody stood up for the New Warriors and Speedball was pretty much expected to accept blame with all that ‘baby-killer’ crap. Made me want to puke after reading it for months on end.