OCG OPINION: Marvel’s CIVIL WAR – Comic vs. Movie
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has adapted a great many stories to film and television, many of which were stories that were mashed together to create something new, or have had iconic moments lifted from them to fit within a new story. Some examples include Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and Avengers: Age of Ultron just to name a few. However, one that was dead-set on adapting one particular story, while also dealing with the consequences that have still lingered from the previous installment, was Captain America: Civil War, which — you guessed it — adapted Marvel’s massive Civil War storyline that lasted from 2006 to 2007. With its effects still technically being felt to this day (thank you Marvel and One More Day for that), this event has lived in both infamy and adoration, being arguably one of the most controversial storylines in Marvel’s history. When the MCU decided to adapt it for the third Captain America film for the start of Phase Three, although it was widely acclaimed by critics and audiences, many comic fans complained about inaccuracies and a lack of certain moments being lifted, with some noting that the storyline was less adapted and more so used as an inspiration. Also, in my opinion, I found it quite odd considering that a majority of the time, it seemed like nearly everyone agreed that the original comic wasn’t the best. However, it does have its fans, just like the movie does, and people have often debated which one is the better version. Normally, most people would say the comic, but to be quite honest, I find this situation to be unique. For starters, I do agree that the movie isn’t really a full-on adaptation of the storyline, as it mainly uses the initial concept and makes it fit within the established universe. However, in their differences, there are similarities found, and I want to take a deep dive into these two versions to find out which one is truly superior. However, comparing every single moment and element will take all day, so I’ll narrow it down to three things: the Cause, the Conflict, and the Winner.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR CIVIL WAR AND CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR!
In the Civil War comic, everything that happens is caused by a group of reality-star superheroes, the New Warriors, biting off more than they can chew by attacking a group of supervillains in hiding within the city of Stamford, Connecticut. Their fight spills next to a school, where the supervillain Nitro proceeds to cause a massive explosion, killing hundreds of people, many of them children. Not only does it proceed to make this a US-based issue rather than a global one, but one that reflects on all superheroes, especially the ones who wear masks and/or have secret identities. On one hand, this is a strong and very timely opener, especially for a comic releasing within a post-9/11 America. It sets down the gravity of the situation, while also stressing that this reflects on everyone within the superhero community. From the Avengers, to the X-Men, to the Fantastic Four, this involves every single one of them, as they have set the precedent for something like this to happen through their actions. However, what weakens it is the fact that, within the main storyline, the New Warriors play no large role, despite being the direct cause of the whole event, due to most of them being killed by Nitro. Although Speedball survived, he plays no role, and the former New Warriors who are in the story sit in the background on Cap’s side. Although, as I said, their actions are a solid foundation for the story, mainly in terms of what principle masked superheroes set for the world, they themselves are not in the heart of the story, and that creates a disconnect between what they’ve done and what the other heroes have done that have led to this, at least in my opinion. Everyone at the start keeps talking about it being “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” but it’s not really mentioned what other catastrophic events have caused this one to be the last straw. While it’s a strong start, it’s one that feels disconnected from the main players of the event.
In Captain America: Civil War, the main conflict is caused by the end of an Avengers mission in Lagos, Nigeria. When Crossbones distracts Cap long enough to activate his explosive vest, with the intention of killing the both of them and everyone surrounding them, Wanda attempts to contain the blast just to Crossbones and tries to raise it in the air away from civilians. However, she loses control of it, causing the explosion to go off within a nearby building, resulting in the deaths and severe injuries of many, many people. Because of this, plus Tony Stark being confronted by the mother of a boy who was killed by the explosion of the Sokovian city in the events of Age of Ultron, the Sokovia Accords are put into effect, and the lines are drawn. I do think this catalyst works in a variety of ways, namely the facts that it’s outside of the US, and that it’s caused by the Avengers themselves. In terms of this being outside of the US, it paints a picture that shows that, from a different perspective, the heroes have been allowed to operate in any and all countries despite being based in America, causing problems and catastrophes that are international, and potentially global, both expanding the scale of how drastic and dire the accident was. Strangely enough, however, it’s the smaller scale of this issue involving only the Avengers that makes the lines in the sand feel more personal and connected. Unlike the comic, this accident was caused by them, and they’re the ones who see the fallout and consequences. Not to mention, in the later scene within the compound, Ross shows footage from the catastrophic events of The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Not only is this catalyst personal and caused by them, but it truly is the straw that broke the camel’s back.
In the comic, the lines that are drawn are mainly between Iron Man and Captain America, with some switching sides such as Spider-Man, Sue Storm, and more. Captain America immediately goes on the run and forms the Secret Avengers, while Iron Man and the registered heroes are tasked with tracking them down and bringing them in, by seemingly any means necessary. The situation escalates, with Thor’s clone murdering Goliath, Tony building a supermax prison in the Negative Zone alongside Reed and Hank, and them even enlisting supervillains to help track down the defected heroes. Many characters have their own sub-plots going on throughout the event, mainly with the ones who flip-flop across the line, but the focus is generally on the story of the Superhero Registration Act, and the Civil War it causes amongst heroes. What I do have to commend the book for is that it sticks to its concept all the way to the end, and every character’s sub-plot is based around the concept. While other things may be at play, it’s generally about the act, and about the Civil War. However, where I think the conflict starts to fail is when it becomes increasingly obvious which side is in the right and which side is in the wrong. On one hand, the registered heroes, at least in the main story, find themselves only changed by the fact that their identities are public. There’s not a scenario where they aren’t allowed to intervene in something or a nightmare scenario where they’re forced to commit an atrocity. They, quite literally, have full government support in what they do, and the only consequences for them are the ones caused by the Civil War. Additionally, and more obviously, they are very clearly becoming comfortable with doing villainous things and working with villainous people. Not only building the horrifying prison in the Negative Zone but enlisting known mass-murderers to hunt down the other side. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for moral ambiguity in a story, especially one such as this, but the problem is that it’s so clear that Iron Man and others are in the wrong that it cheapens the story and makes it feel less like a conflict asking tough questions in a post-9/11 superhero world, and more about “let’s do crazy and shocking things to get these guys to fight.” It’s more of the plot driving the characters, rather than the characters driving the plot.
In the movie, the sides are pretty clearly defined, with Iron Man and Captain America obviously still at the forefront of both, with little flip-flopping of sides save for a change of heart by Black Widow at the end of the second act. While the conflict starts off with being about the Accords, it also starts to center around the Winter Soldier, Zemo, other Winter Soldiers, and finally, the fact that Bucky killed Tony’s parents, which Steve kept from him. For starters, it’s a very unfocused line drawn in the sand plot-wise, as the movie shifts between several different issues that Tony, Steve, and their sides disagree on and battle over. The main cause of the situation is still the Accords, but what progresses it is the involvement of Bucky and Zemo, the latter of which has his own agenda outside of the Accords. It’s valid and safe to say that the foundations of this house aren’t exactly stable, which in many other movies or stories would present an enormous issue. However, in this one, it still works, because it all comes down to one thing: the faltering friendship of Tony and Steve. This dynamic and conflict has been building ever since The Avengers, with Age of Ultron giving a taste of what was to come between them. Their different personalities, ideologies, and actions led them to this point and every issue that the movie presents only further drives a wedge between them. Even when they found the will to work together to find Zemo, the trust was fully shattered by him revealing the truth of what happened to Tony’s parents, not only justifying why Bucky’s story is still in the movie about Civil War, but fully showing that the true one wasn’t about the Accords, but rather about Tony and Steve’s dissolving partnership. Additionally, it’s very clear that outside of the battle with the other side, Tony and his team have consequences for signing the accords and being at the behest of government leaders. Despite coming to them in a display of goodwill and thanking them for what they’ve done, Secretary Ross seemingly does everything he can to push against Tony trying to do what he signed on for, as well as disregarding Zemo being the culprit behind Vienna’s bombing in favor of bringing in Steve. Both sides are in the right and in the wrong, both have valid points for what they believe and what they do as well as scenarios and possibilities that they overlook. And the main reason an agreement can’t be reached is that the leaders are Steve and Tony. While the plot may not be entirely centered on one problem for there to be conflict over, it is centered on the shattering relationship between these two heroes. Unlike the comic, the characters themselves are driving the story and plot.
At the end of the Civil War comic, Cap and the Secret Avengers free the heroes trapped in the Negative Zone prison, resulting in a fight between them and Tony’s team, with the villains on the latter side. It sprawls back into New York City, starting to involve Namor and his army, with the situation getting crazier and crazier. Cap has Tony at his mercy, with the latter telling him to “finish it,” before citizens stop him from hurting him any further. Realizing what his actions have caused and that there’s no way to truly win, Steve turns himself in, telling the Secret Avengers to stand down as he’s hauled away. It ends with Tony and his side as the clear victors, with the Secret Avengers still out there enacting their own agenda. I have a lot of mixed feelings about this ending, but to start, it’s very strong how Cap realizes that, while he was caught up in the fight, he blinded himself to the destruction and what’s really been happening in the eyes of the people he swore to protect. It’s a genuine wake-up call that he may have been fighting less for the right thing, but more for himself. If not that, then realizing this path has led to unnecessary pain and destruction. However, the way the ending is framed and written feels explicitly like it’s meant to say that everything Tony’s done was worth getting to this point and that this changed world means a brighter future for people and heroes. It’s not to say readers can’t agree with that, but it’s the fact that it’s framed this way is what makes it head-scratching, especially with the fact that this event pushed him to the absolute precipice of full-on villainy. It also ties into cop comparisons from earlier in the story that, especially today, I find rather unsettling. Judging just from the main story, the ending to me spells out that the ends justify the means, and that isn’t always true. Maybe it’s a commentary on how “official” protection forces are in themselves very unregulated and can do anything with government backing, but the way the ending is framed, I’m not entirely sure that’s the intent. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m missing something, but to me, it’s an ending that doesn’t entirely bode well, with a victor who hasn’t really learned anything.
At the end of the Civil War movie, Tony fights Cap and Bucky with the intention of murdering the latter for killing his parents, to the point of blasting his robotic arm off. Tony nearly has the upper hand, but with a distraction from Bucky, Steve takes down Tony. He nearly expects him to kill him, but Cap uses his shield to destroy the arc reactor in Tony’s suit instead, leaving it inoperable. He takes Bucky and leaves the shield with Tony, who’s left to think about what transpired. After some time, Steve breaks out his allies from the Raft, sending Tony an apology letter and a burner phone should he ever need his help, with the former letting them all go. This ending hasn’t exactly been controversial, but it’s had some fans and critics feeling like the conflict meant nothing, and that somehow Tony and Steve are cool again. I can definitely understand why, as the ending is more hopeful and optimistic about their future, and Tony choosing to let Steve break his allies out. After the climax that transpired, it would be a bit jarring at first. However, I believe it works because Tony in the final fight was blinded by rage, both by the revelation of Bucky killing his parents and by his boiling tension with Steve. It was a situation he wasn’t willing to talk out, and his own belief that Steve would’ve killed him for Bucky resulted in a fully broken friendship. However, alone in Siberia, and later back at the compound, he has time to truly reflect on where his choices led him, especially after his talk with Rhodey. Although, as we see in later films, he still holds resentment towards Steve, he’s actually taken the time to think about what his actions have caused. This ties into how there is no true victor of the conflict, even though Tony and his side aren’t in jail. There are only three of them left at the compound, and they’ve potentially lost all their friends because of their choices. Steve and his allies still have each other, but now they’re on the run and will be for the foreseeable future. The comic’s ending may be about who wins a war, but in my opinion, the movie’s ending is about who truly wins in a destroyed friendship. Sometimes, nobody wins. Or maybe the ones who do lose more in the process than the ones who lost.
It’s been somewhat obvious the whole article that I prefer the movie to the comic, but because of this, I can finally put into words exactly why I do. I know several people who prefer the comic, and they have incredibly valid reasons for doing so. I can see why many people are upset that the movie was less of an adaptation and basically just used the main concept as a stepping stone towards Infinity War and Endgame. However, I feel like some of the best adaptations are the ones that take the core concepts and make them fit within their own world, and not the other way around. Season 3 of Daredevil did something pretty similar, adapting the Born Again storyline without throwing away other things that the show has set up, or committing any kind of character assassination to keep in line with the original. Captain America: Civil War is far from a perfect movie, it has many flaws and could easily be seen as too small-scale to warrant its name. However, I still prefer it because at the end of the day, alongside being a massive event with consequences that quite literally cause the death of half of the universe, it’s a personal story about two flawed and different people finding their friendship crumbling between their fingers, with no way to stop it. I always like any kind of relatability within any story, no matter how big or small, and to be honest, that hits home for me. It’s why the majority of these movies have hit home for me. And honestly, probably why they’ll still do so for many years to come.