Written by the incomparable Mark Millar, Civil War was the culmination of years of destruction and chaos caused by the superhero community. The attack on New York during Secret War, the events of M-Day, the Hulk’s constant string of devastation, and countless other events were raising public sentiment that these “heroes” had to be brought under control.
The anti-hero sentiment had been building for a while, Earth’s heroes feeling it growing day by day, but leaving it alone, thinking that given enough time, it would pass over. Sadly, it did not, coming to a head when the New Warriors failed to stop a villain team while on camera, a battle which ended with villain Nitro destroying several city blocks and the deaths of over six hundred civilians. This was the final straw, and in response the US Government created the Superhero Registration Act, an act that would require any and all heroes acting within the United States to register themselves. This divided the superhero community like never before, some staunchly opposing the measure, while others whole-heartedly supported it, drawing a line in the sand that if crossed could mean a conflict that once started, there would be no turning back.
On the pro-registration side stood Iron Man, who although he had tried to stop the act initially, saw the good it could do, and threw his weight behind it. Opposing him was Captain America, one of his closest friends and along with Thor, the two men that had led the Avengers together for over forty years. Tony and his allies argued that with the present being what it was, resisting the authorities was counterproductive, and that potential heroes needed training and oversight in order to make sure collateral damage could be avoided. Cap and his allies however countered this argument, stating that the secret identities heroes maintain protected aspects of their “normal” lives, such as family and friends. They also argued that by acting without government oversight or control, they could act quickly and without hesitation against threats normal emergency services weren’t prepared for.
Despite this opposition, the Act went through, and SHIELD was put to the task of enforcing it. This didn’t deter the anti-registration side, who went on tear, defeating numerous villains and leaving them for the authorities to find, proving that they don’t need oversight to operate safely and efficiently. The pro-registration side however won several victories of their own, tracking down super-powered individuals and arresting them to great public approval. The two sides had yet to come into direct conflict with one another though, Iron Man and Cap’s forces staying out of each other’s way. Neither wanted an incident, friends on both sides still hoping that a peaceful solution could be found. But as with most wars, all that was needed was a spark to light the flame.
That spark came from an unlikely source. Somehow, Tony managed to convince Spider-Man to reveal his secret identity, an identity that Peter Parker had worked very hard to keep. This action lead Captain America to form the Secret Avengers with the goal of working against the Registration Act, raising the tensions between the two sides even further than before.
Everything came to a head when Cap lead the Secret Avengers into an ambush by pro-registration forces. Cap argued with Tony, telling him how wrong this whole thing was, and that he should wake up to what he was doing. Tony, despite his own doubts towards his actions, stood firm however, justifying his position despite the logic of Cap’s argument. By the end, both me realized they were never going to see eye to eye, but wanted to avoid a fight. They went to shake hands, seemingly coming to some kind of agreement, but as their hands touched Cap activated a device that disabled Iron Man’s armour, rendering him helpless to stop Cap from levelling him. An all out brawl erupted between the two sides leaving the public in shock at the actions of their heroes. During the battle, a clone of Thor was ordered to help arrest the anti-registration heroes, but instead kills Goliath. While Iron Man’s forces try to get the clone under control, the Secret Avengers escape.
As big as it was, that battle was just the warm up. Spider-Man discovers that Iron Man and Mr Fantastic had constructed a prison to hold the super powered persons that refused to register. Disgusted by how far Stark had gone, Spidey switches sides, telling Cap about what Iron Man and his allies had planned. This all leads to the final battle between the two sides in New York, friends fighting friends in a fight to the finish. By the end, Captain America had Iron Man beaten, but just as he was about to deliver the final blow, New York’s emergency services arrived to intervene, protecting Iron Man from the now wanted criminal. In that moment, Cap realizes what he and Tony’s actions had brought them to, and unwilling to let it go any further, he surrenders himself, ending the Civil War.
Sadly, it wasn’t the end. Within weeks of his arrest, Captain America was assassinated while being escorted to his trial. The superhero community was stunned, the cost of the conflict far greater than they ever could have thought, and every hero on both sides finding themselves questioning what had lead them to this. As for Iron Man, Tony was inconsolable. In a heartbreaking scene, Iron Man is scene talking to Cap’s body, explaining his actions and regrets before declaring tearfully, “It wasn’t worth it.”
The ramifications of this storyline were both immediate and far-reaching. Cap’s death lead to Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier, taking up his former mentor’s mantle, as well as becoming the leader of the Secret Avengers. Tony on the other hand became head of SHIELD, while Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman left the Fantastic Four. In addition, the New Avengers went underground, leaving Iron Man to form a new team to replace them with Ms Marvel leading. There was peace however, though if you’ve learned anything by reading this series, is that peace in Marvel doesn’t last long.