Captain America: Civil War is just days away and while the recent test screening garnered an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the audience I am still left with an unfounded sense of trepidation. Having deliberately avoided all trailers, images and potential spoilers, I have only one thing on which to base my expectations; the graphic novel.
This will seem obvious until you remember that Civil War will be the first direct adaptation of a Marvel story line in the MCU and that is not without good reason. Fans have been clamoring for a Civil War movie since the book’s release and it is fondly remembered as the crowning jewel in Marvel‘s move towards a more ‘Hollywoodized’ form of story telling.
But at a decade old how does Civil War hold up against the major events of the modern day? Is it still thematically relevant enough to deserve such a major release?
The short answer is yes. Now more than ever western society is gripped by the same kind of fear that runs throughout Civil War. This is Mark Miller at his most empathetic, playing off both the American zeitgeist of the early 2000s and the half a century of established history that Marvel gave him to shatter. The brotherhood of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, the Fantastic family, Peter Parker‘s secret identity and his ability to protect his loved ones, all destroyed in a way that seems not only plausible, but inevitable. Civil War is not a story about heroes being heroic, it is about human beings fighting for what they feel is right. The characters being meta-humans takes a back seat until the third act when the powder keg of broken trust and lines too far crossed, ignites in a climactic battle that shakes not just New York but the extra-dimensional Negative Zone too.
That is not to say that Civil War is the perfect book. Miller makes no genuine attempt to write a morally balanced narrative after the first issue, instead leaving the ‘gray’ to the various tie-in comics. The divide between the morally ‘good’ street heroes led by Captain America and the ‘bad’ super-intelligent cosmic heroes led by Iron Man is remarkably on the nose for such prominent and complex characters. Civil War‘s greatest strength comes from the preexisting relationships that it calls upon but these are forgotten about quickly enough when there is a quip to be made or punch to be thrown.
Steve McNiven‘s penciling helps ground the story in a way that more traditional comic art could not. His attention to detail and near photographic style show why Miller was so keen to work with him again on other projects. If Miller’s writing brings Hollywood to comic books then McNiven’s panels are the silver screen, giving cinematic angles to not just the dynamic set pieces but also to the personal moments; scenes so beautifully colored you can almost hear the soundtrack.
Civil War is not a timeless story in the same vein as the The Night Gwen Stacey Died but neither is it relevant only so long as we choose to live in fear. It stands as one of the few cross-over events to have lasting repercussions across all of the Marvel universe and to completely re-define characters as well as their fan bases. It is also the only limited series of the last decade to have not just a movie based on its plot, but video games and subsequent events too. Civil War may not be perfect, but as a choice for adaptation, it doesn’t get much better than this.