Today I read Civil War by Stuart Moore, the novelization of Marvel Comic’s storyline by the same name.
People are angry, and afraid. A green superhero team called the New Warriors were fighting supervillains way out of their league, and they all died. And a school full of children died with them.
A new law is proposed–the Superhero Registration Act. All superpowered individuals must have public identities and submit to training and licensing by the federal government. Otherwise they will be deemed criminals and will be captured and incarcerated for an indefinite period of time. Tony Stark, the genius billionaire CEO of Stark Enterprises, has been publicly known as Iron Man for a long time. He hears things from his contacts in Washington–the SHRA could be worse. It will be worse if he doesn’t throw all of his support into it, and try to protect all of his superhero friends as best he can. Tony will be the public face of the SHRA and try to keep control during these dangerous and unstable times.
Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, the super soldier from the second world war, has seen this before. They always start by saying “we just want to know who you are.” And he feels sick that his government, the one he has served so loyally for so long, is willing to do such a terrible thing. Captain America doesn’t compromise with evil. He fights it. Even if it means fighting against one of his best friends.
In this Civil War, hero will fight against hero, wife against husband, and friend against friend, both side doing terrible things in the name of what is right.
I was aware of the Civil War event that happened some time ago, but I hadn’t read the actual comics. I like it when they release novelizations like this–it lets me get the story without having to track down multiple issues. And I’ve been on a bit of an Avengers kick since Marvel’s Phase One, especially The Avengers last year.
The novel is necessarily briefer than the comics, since it all has to be crammed into one book instead of multiple issues of multiple titles. It chiefly follows Captain America and Iron Man as the leaders of the two different sides, but it does delve into other heroes’ points of view, particularly Spider-Man, who has always held tightly to his secret identity in the name of protecting his family. He lets himself be persuaded by Tony Stark to register and be a legal hero, to publicly unmask himself during a frenzied press conference. At first it’s nice to have people’s good opinions, but the public is a fickle beast, and villains never go away. His family is threatened, the exact thing that Tony promised him would not happen. And Tony is losing control, working with Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four to find technological ways to contain the problem instead of remembering that he is fighting against his friends–his family. The heroes are not meant to be the villains. The book ends with Captain America surrendering after realizing that he was about to murder Iron Man, and awaiting his punishment in jail. Iron Man becomes the Director of SHIELD, still trying to support the SHRA and protect his friends. And Spider-Man is one again the friendly neighbourhood wallcrawler, or public menace number one if you listen to J. Jonah Jameson. The storylines continue in the comics, but get cut short in the book. Hopefully they’ll release another novelization to show what happens next.
This book is good for superhero fans who prefer the words over the art, or for fans who like to get the story all at once instead of waiting a month for each issue to come out. I don’t think I’d recommend it to anyone unfamiliar with the Marvel universe, or with superhero stories in general–while it does do a good job of setting up the characters and situations, I think it might still lose something for the comics newcomer.
“FIRST of all, I’d like to thank you all for coming. It means a lot…to me, and most of all to your friends, neighbors, and family who lost loved ones in yesterday’sutterly avoidable tragedy.”
Subject: Henry Pym
Aliases: ANT-MAN, GIANT-MAN, YELLOWJACKET
Group Affiliation: Avengers (former)
Powers: assorted size-changing abilities, flight, stinger-weapons
Power Type: artificial
Current Location: New York, NY
Tony Stark called up the iPhone’s onscreen keyboard, jotted a note: Retired. Harmless.
“At times like this, it’s crucial that a community come together. We cannot allow ourselves to descend into hatred and bitterness. Judgment belongs to the Lord, not to us.”
Subject: Robert Reynolds
Group Affiliation: Avengers (occasional)
Powers: extreme strength, invulnerability, and unknown other capabilities
Power Type: inborn
Current Location: unknown
Tony frowned, wrote: Potential trouble. Find and recruit.
“That said…” The minister looked down, removed his glasses. “…in our grief, we must not forget the causes of this tragedy, nor forgive its perpetrators. Forgiveness, too, is reserved for the Lord.”
Subject: Robert Bruce Banner
Aliases: THE HULK
Group Affiliation: none
Powers: anger-fueled strength—no measurable limit
Power Type: inborn
Current Location: exiled to deep space
The church was huge, with several hundred pews; but every one of them was filled today. Old people and young, men and women, every one of them dressed in mourning black.
Tony sat five rows from the front, his mind racing. He hadn’t slept last night. Since the incident he’d slipped into overdrive, the way he did when confronted by a sticky engineering problem. His subconscious whirled around and around, tackling the situation from a thousand different angles.
“…and so we ask you, Lord, for your mercy.”
So many heroes. Hundreds of them, and who knew how many villains besides. Tony already kept dossiers on most of them, but now he found himself compulsively updating the entries.
There’s a lot of power here, he thought. A lot of potential Nitros.
“Mercy. Not only for the souls of the children who perished…” The minister paused, looked out over the crowd. “…but also for the so-called super-people whose carelessness led us to this sad place.”
A news-alert icon flashed in the corner of Tony’s phone. He slipped on his earbuds, casting a brief, guilty glance around. A bald man appeared on the phone screen behind a cable-news logo, his voice tinny in Tony’s ears.
“…like Speedball, for example. Nobody likes to speak ill of the dead, but here was a boy who, by all accounts, couldn’t even name the president of the United States. Shouldn’t a kid like that be tested before he’s allowed to work in our communities?”
Tony frowned, clicked to another channel. The phone screen filled with a close-up of Johnny Storm’s bloody, unconscious face as he was loaded into an ambulance. Blinding lights flashed in the Manhattan night.
“—details in the brutal assault on Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, last evening. This, the latest in a series of attacks on New York’s super-community. More on the hour, plus the growing pressure on the president as the people of Stamford ask: What are his proposals for super hero reform?”
“A ban on super heroes?” She-Hulk leaned forward and removed her glasses, rattling the talk-show host.“Well, in a world full of super villains that’s obviously impossible, Piers. But training them and making them carry badges? Hell yes, I think that’s a reasonable response.”
Tony felt a prickling on his neck, looked up suddenly. The two women next to him were glaring at him through their veils. He flashed them a sheepish smile.
Then he noticed the other set of eyes boring into him, from the end of the row. Captain America.
Tony yanked off the earbuds, slipped the phone into his pocket.
When the service ended, Tony beelined for the door. People were already gathering together, weeping and comforting each other. He had no desire to intrude on their grief. Several other Avengers, including Tigra and Ms. Marvel, had wanted to come, but they’d all agreed it was best to keep the superhuman contingent as small as possible. No one wanted to turn the people of Stamford’s grief into a media circus.
Tony strode quickly out of the church. He didn’t really feel like arguing with Cap right now, either.
Just outside the door, Tony felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Peter Parker, smiling sheepishly. “Boss,” Peter said.
“Peter. I thought we agreed Cap and I were going to represent the Avengers.”
Peter shrugged. “Who’s an Avenger? You’re looking at a humble photojournalist from the Daily Bugle.”
Tony smiled despite himself, eyed Peter up and down. The rented tux looked good on Peter, but those shoes were scuffed. And brown.
Baby steps, Tony thought. This one’s a project.
“Besides,” Peter continued. “I just wanted to be here.”
The church’s driveway was small and curved, on the edge of an open field. Cars clogged its full length, pulling up one at a time to pick up the oldest mourners. Down the line, Tony spotted Happy Hogan leaning against the limo.
“Walk with me, Peter.”
Peter fell in beside Tony. They passed the minister, who stood comforting a pair of grieving widows. A very old woman was with them, weeping uncontrollably into a lace kerchief.
Captain America stood off to the side, solemnly shaking hands with a pair of firemen.
The minister raised his head, locked eyes briefly with Tony. Tony looked away.
“I feel like I should be snapping pics,” Peter said.
“That part of your life is over,” Tony replied. “No more scrambling for rent money.”
“You mean I’m part of the one percent now?”
Tony stopped, touched the boy’s shoulder. “Things are about to happen fast, Peter. I’m glad you’re with me.”
“Things. Like the Superhuman Registration Act.”
Tony raised an eyebrow. “Not many people have heard that phrase yet.”
“But it’s why you’re going to Washington next week, right?”
“Tonight, actually. The Committee has moved up their timetable, in light of…” He gestured around, taking in the church and the mourners. “The president has asked to meet with me this evening, and the hearings take place tomorrow.”
“What would it mean? This Act?”
“All metahumans would be required to undergo registration and training in order to practice their…their gifts in public. It also gives the government extremely broad powers of enforcement. Broader, even, than anything the Senate was considering before.”
“And you support it?”
“It’s a tricky piece of legislation.” Tony frowned. “If it’s enacted into law, it would have to be administered with great wisdom. Great care.”
Tony whirled around—just in time for a stream of spittle to strike him in the face.
“You filthy piece of crap!”
The woman was crying openly, tears streaming down her cheeks. Peter moved to restrain her, but Tony held out a hand.
Happy Hogan was already behind the woman. “Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” He laid a meaty hand on her shoulder.
“Leave what? My own son’s funeral?” She shrugged him off angrily, turned to point at Tony. “He’s the one you should be dragging away.”
Tony grimaced, wiped his face dry. “Ma’am, I appreciate that you’re upset. But the New Warriors’…tragic actions…had nothing to do with me.”
“Oh yeah? Who finances the Avengers? Who’s been telling kids for years that they can live outside the law, as long as they’re wearing tights?”
Peter Parker cleared his throat. “I, uh, don’t think Mister Stark says that.”
“Cops have to train and carry badges,” the woman continued, “but that’s too boring for Tony Stark. All you need are some powers and a badass attitude, and bang! You’ve got a place in Joe Billionaire’s private super-gang.”
Tony opened his mouth to speak, and then something happened that had only happened once before. His mind went utterly, completely blank.
She’s right, he realized.
Happy reached for the woman again. She shrank away from him, doubling over with a piercing wail of sorrow. A crowd was gathering now, watching with hostile eyes.
“Jerome left me,” the woman sobbed. “When they took away his pension, he just…he couldn’t take the pressure. All I had left was my little Damien. And now…and now…”
“Hap,” Tony said, “Let’s go.”
“You, Stark.” The woman straightened, stabbed a finger out at Tony’s retreating form. “You fund this sickness. With your billions. My Damien’s blood is—it’s on your hands. Now, now and forever.”