“Civil War”: The Secret Identity Crisis–What You Need to Know

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**Spoiler Alert!**

It’s no secret that Marvel’s big opener to Phase Three is Captain America: Civil War. It’s gearing up to be one of the biggest films of next year, and features a star-studded list of both actors and characters. However, as Marvel fans brace for the next big flick, there is a lot of consternation within the fan base regarding this film. Quite frankly, people are as divided over Civil War as the characters within the film. But why? Maybe because the subject matter is controversial and making it a biased film feels wrong. Maybe because with so many cast members, people fear the characters in this film will feel as out of character as certain members of the Age of Ultron team. Or maybe because the “Civil War” comics arc was a dividing storyline on its own. No matter how you slice it, this film is going to inspire a lot of discussion within the fandom. To help clear the dust, I will simultaneously be reviewing the comics arc as well as laying out several basic plot details that need to occur in order for this film to work and not leave fans disappointed.

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Take a seat, not a side, people. This is Marvel’s “Civil War”.

To get started, I’d like to establish that Civil War is not my favorite arc. A solid story, an interesting concept, a great topic to discuss–yes. Just not my favorite arc. The plot is very fast paced, and is told over a series of seven issues incorporating large jumps in time, which leaves very little room for in-depth character development. Quite frankly, all my favorite characters are jerks at points in this arc. Jerks with complex opinions on the subject matter, but jerks none the less. Tony spends certain points of this issue flirting with a mom who lost her son in a brutal accident, who for some reason flirts back, and Steve actually has to be restrained by civilians in order to NOT kill Tony…

What the heck, guys?

However, the lack of character moments is more than made up for by the complex content of this story.

Like most Marvel story arcs (the good ones, anyway), the core of the story is easy enough to understand: the Marvel Universe has reached critical mass when it comes to superheroes and a decision needs to be made about how they operate around civilians. While most of my non-comics reading friends find the subject matter a little confusing to grasp, I prefer to look at it like the gun control argument:

If a person who had access to you, whose intentions and motivations you had no way of gauging,  also had access to a gun, would you feel safe? Yes, as a citizen, they have a right to bear arms, but I’m not asking about their rights. Would you, as an individual with your own opinion, feel safe?

Now, take out “gun” and replace it with “laser eyes,” “super strength,” the “ability to fly”….

…”explosive powers equal to that of a small nuke.”

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That is the problem that Issue One establishes. A small team of up and coming superheroes, trying to get better ratings for their reality TV show, take on some FBI most wanted super villains….and accidentally incinerate a small elementary school in the process. Though characters like Tony Stark and Steve Rogers feel deep remorse for what happened, ultimately the blame for the event falls squarely on their shoulders for cultivating a culture where vigilantism is acceptable.

Immediately, public outcry follows and both the superheros of the world and the United States government are forced to react to the situation. The reaction comes in the form of a Superhuman Registration Act.

Tony Stark, naturally, swings towards the side that calls for more accountability on the heroes’ part. Tony’s origin story is heavily blanketed in accountability for his own mistakes, so his support of a registration act, requiring others to uphold certain expectations and responsibilities, makes sense. The Superhuman Registration Act, as it is called, would require super powered individuals to register with the government in order to legally use their powers to help people. However, while this law has good intentions, it also means an end of the secret identity concept. Everyone would know who you were under the mask. For many superheroes, anonymity is the only thing keeping them and their loved ones safe from vengeful baddies. Their right to privacy is supported by Captain America. Of course, in stark (no pun intended) contrast to Tony, Steve Rogers’ origin story is steeped in the desire to gain and maintain personal freedom and autonomy in choices. So naturally, he becomes the leader of an underground resistance to try to stop the Registration Act (after a very dramatic exit from the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier and stealing a jet in mid-air).

“Civil War” is the best name for this arc, as it literally splits the Marvel Universe right down the middle over this issue. It even breaks up the Fantastic Four, after Johnny is beat to a pulp by an angry mob over the elementary school incident and he and Sue leave to join the resistance.

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However, there is one massive issue surrounding “Civil War” that most fans seem to forget when it comes to “choosing sides”….

…there are no sides.

On one hand, the right to privacy and anonymity allows superheroes the ability to safely take on the super villains of the world without (hopefully) endangering their true identities or loved ones. However, by registering, superheroes would be better trained to respond to serious  situations and would be held accountable for their actions. Mistakes, like basically nuking a school on accident, would be a thing of the past as everyone would know what everyone else is capable of and how to properly respond with minimal casualty.

Registering takes the target off the backs of civilians, but puts it right on the backs of heroes.

There are no sides because there is no one right side.

Tony’s pro-registration supporters are not wrong in their idea of more accountability and responsibility on the heroes’ and government’s part. However, Captain America’s anti-registration supporters are also valid in their claims to privacy, anonymity and freedom from government control. It is a no-win situation that inevitably leads to fighting and even casualties as the Marvel heroes duke it out over who is right.

When “Civil War” is boiled down to its core plot, it is a story of human beings, with exceptional powers, trying to solve a problem with no answer.

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There are no sides or victors in an argument of this caliber.

By the end of the “Civil War” arc, many superheroes are injured (emotionally and physically), some are dead, Spider-Man is outed and Captain America surrenders.

However, Cap surrendering does not mean Tony wins. After witnessing all the destruction and collateral damage the actual physical battle over the argument caused, Steve Rogers decides his cause is not worth the loss of life and limb and asks his fellow rebels to give themselves up. Nobody won, they just all decided they didn’t want to fight anymore. Even Iron Man experiences deep remorse over everything that transpires between Issue One and Seven.

At the end of the day, “Civil War,” though told using Captain America and Iron Man as single representatives of each side, is a story about a world looking for an easy fix to a complex problem and suffering the backlash from it in the process. It is not an Iron Man Story or a Captain America story: it is a universal tale.

So, then why is its film adaptation called Captain America: Civil War?

Here lies one of the first points of consternation about this film. There are a lot of fans (myself included) who feel telling this story from the perspective of Captain America will make the film inherently biased and transform Tony Stark into the villain. If the film is inherently biased, it will lose all the controversial and discussion worthy power the comics contained.

On a tangent note, by using this arc as a Captain America film, the cinematic universe denies Steve his own, true third movie. Civil War, if anything, is an Avengers movie. Captain America shouldn’t have to share the third installment of his trilogy with Iron Man (this goes for all superhero sequels to come, as well).

Similarly, most news regarding the film is usually another addition to the cast. By my count we can expect to see Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man (who is being rebooted AGAIN, I guess), Black Widow, Hawkeye, The Vision, Scarlet Witch, Black Panther, the Winter Soldier, Crossbones, War Machine, Falcon, Ant-Man….

We have two hours to make a solid Captain America film, possibly mourn Peggy Carter’s death, establish Bucky’s new role in the modern world, create a new international conflict to split the heroes (because dropping a city on the world wasn’t a BIG enough issue), decide what answer is best to this impossible question, and explore everyone’s reaction and emotions around all that transpires. The movie doesn’t come out until next May and I’m already feeling overwhelmed.

So…what should fans do?

I guess the only thing we as fans CAN do is hope for the best. Ultimately, the film is going to be dramatically different from the comics in plot, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have the same cultural impact the comics did when they first premiered. Really, there are only a handful of things the directors need to preserve from the comics in order to make this film Marvel’s best installment yet.

1. Acknowledge that, although this is a Captain America film, that does not make Steve’s opinion the right one. “Civil War” is famous for not having a villain, only an impossible question with differing opinions on what to do. Much like Schrödinger’s cat, Steve and Tony are both right and wrong simultaneously. Treating their stances as anything else will make the film inherently biased and ruin the controversy established in the comics.

2. Remember that it’s the question that is important and not the sides. Recently, a slew of campaigns (based on the slogan from the comics) have been released asking fans to choose a side. Choosing sides is what people do when they are ill-informed on a certain subject matter. This isn’t Cap vs Tony, this is a highly charged political discussion (that sometimes uses lasers and fists instead of words) that is trying to find a middle ground that does not exist. These characters are all friends behind the politics. They are simply caught at a crossroad with the whole world watching them.

3. Leave the question unanswered. “Civil War” did not end with a winner. It ended with one side yielding because fighting over the topic was doing more harm than good. Personally, I admire Captain America for calling an end to the battle. It spoke more about his character than his stance against registration did. Additionally, the will to fight with one of his closest friends over the subject spoke deeply about Iron Man’s character as well. Despite their status as the poster boys of each side, they really are just victims of the situation… like everyone else.

4. If they’re going to shoehorn Spider-Man in, they better make J. Jonah Jameson faint when the mask comes off. I’m just saying.

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So, as fans I urge you to remember, while this story has a lot of action and throws a lot of punches, it also presents a very serious question concerning the very nature of superheroes themselves. It’s not about one team vs the other. It’s a discussion. Take a seat, not a side, and try to find a compromise, because that’s ultimately what all the heroes are trying to do themselves.

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