One of the more highly anticipated movies of the year (now that Deadpool is out…) is the next Marvel movie, and the beginning of their Phase 3: Captain America: Civil War.
And there’s a lot of reasons to be excited: not only a bunch of returning characters from throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe (like most of the newly-expanded roster of Avengers), but also the first appearances of Black Panther, Spider-Man (who hasn’t shown up in any trailers yet!), and maybe more.
Add to that the fact that Civil War was a big deal in the comics, showing up regularly as a top storyline for Marvel. It ran as a massive crossover (hitting pretty much every title) from 2006-2007. So, before I got back into comics – not one that I got into when it was first out. Indeed, I only got to it for the LitFlix for Winter Soldier – and after seeing that movie, and reading the comics, I knew that Civil War was coming next.
But Marvel’s Civil War was by no means the first time that this storyline was seen – the decision that superheroes had gone too far, that they had too much free reign. Indeed, not the second time. Not the third. I would say at least the fourth – so let’s look through these titles before we get back to Civil War!
The Dark Knight Returns
In the spring of 1986, apparently, Frank Miller wrote the first of his now trilogy of Dark Knight stories. Set in the dystopian future of the DC universe, The Dark Knight Returns tells the story of Old Batman, returned to try to clean up the streets of Gotham – and take down the Joker – once more.
And when things get out of hand, it’s the story of Superman showing up to stop him. In other words, the basis for the upcoming Batman versus Superman movie… which is sneaking into theaters a month and a half earlier.
The backstory that we find out, though, from the time before The Dark Knight Returns, is that superheroes were made illegal. Or else, like Superman, joined the government. Or just leave the Earth altogether. But overall, it’s a world no longer home to superhero and supervillain slugfests.
Superman shows up because the government wants him – needs him – to stop Batman’s activities. To stop superhero activity once more. And Batman recruits help as well to take out Superman… so anyway, yes, the first comics Civil War. For more reading on this comic, we have a few great posts on Comparative Geeks (especially the two-parter by Sourcerer, who got me to read the comic).
- Batman, retired? Are you kidding me? Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Part 1 of 2.
- The Dark Knight v. The Man of Steel: The Dark Knight Returns, part 2
- The Dark Knight Returns and Moral Relativism
Later in the year in 1986, Alan Moore began the release of his longer graphic novel story, Watchmen. Also printed by DC, this comic nonetheless happened more in its own world. A world like ours. A world, minutes from midnight in terms of the Cold War apocalypse.
It is a world of masked heroes… until a true, super-powered being is created. Then it’s all different. Suddenly, he is the ultimate power on Earth, and destabilizes international relations and everything else.
And oh by the way, meanwhile, all the non-government-sanctioned heroes are illegal.
Some of the flashback scenes, of Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian over winning the Vietnam War, for instance, give us a taste of what that government superhero life is like – something we don’t necessarily see in The Dark Knight Returns, with its Batman focus.
I wrote a series on comic book adaptations over on Sourcerer – and concluded by saying that Watchmen, generally considered one of the greatest of all comic stories, breaks all of those movie rules. You can read that post here.
And here’s the first of all of these stories I experienced – and maybe the best of them. The Incredibles. This 2004 Pixar film is an amazing commentary on the superhero story, while itself being a superhero story. Very meta. Very good.
It’s simple enough that anyone can enjoy it. By not being known characters, they have to introduce them to us, but there’s no feeling that we’re missing something. But – even more than Watchmen – it’s not an origin story. Because we don’t need an origin story. This is the story of how, after things get destroyed so many times by superheroes and all their saving people, society says “enough.”
It kind of seems like they were already working, or at least approved, by the government. But still, the liability of all of their activities… it’s too much. Too mighty a response to problems. And it ties in with the whole idea that the hero creates the villain – a villain of equal power, who can cause just as much or more mayhem.
I love this movie, and I’m really excited that they’re making a sequel. It’s long enough ago that we haven’t written a whole lot about it – so I’m looking forward to the excuse to do that as well!
So when Civil War was out in 2006-2007, the DC universe, an independent universe, and even a Pixar movie, had all tread this territory before. Society and the government decide that heroes have been uncontrolled too long.
It opens with an awful event – a school is blown up. Pretty awful stuff for the Marvel universe, where it does somewhat seem like the fighting is contained to the ranks of the heroes and villains. But it was time for the realistic consequences of their actions, it seems…
So while this idea had clearly been bouncing around for decades, there are some differences. The Dark Knight Returns shows us the consequences of long-after. Watchmen shows us a world with fewer super-powered individuals, and the time when most heroes have hung up their capes. The Incredibles shows us the domestic life after the life of the hero.
But Civil War? It takes us right through the middle of it. Right through the hard times. Not the years later, not the dystopian world wherein no one has faith in heroes. Wherein no one is special. Nope, in a world with tons of heroes, they take sides. They fight it out.
It seems like the movie won’t quite follow the thread from the comics. In the comics, it’s about whether heroes should have to register with the government – their identity, their powers. And the thought then is that they will be government agents. SHIELD agents.
And not everyone likes that.
In the movies, SHIELD is gone, and we don’t have quite as many heroes… so they’re making it a bit smaller. Bucky, the Winter Soldier. Should he be given to the government? He is an assassin. He is also recovering from mind control…
I guess we’ll see how much it’s like the comics! Civil War hits theaters between April 27 and May 6 worldwide – with America getting it last so no spoilers please!