Leading up to the release of Captain America: Civil War, many articles focused on the various bits and pieces of the Marvel: Civil War comics event that couldn’t possibly be duplicated in the film iteration. But now, having seen the film for myself, I took a moment to reread the book to see just what was retained from the original. Because of the subject, there will be SPOILERS ahead for both the film and comic. With that in mind, let’s take a look.
The Inciting Event
In both iterations, we start off our story very quickly with an action-packed battle that results in the deaths of numerous innocents, resulting in the general public questioning the superhuman community and their penchant for collateral damage. In the film, however, we see the professionals causing the massive damage, though viewers can hardly blame Scarlet Witch for taking action to save Captain America’s life. Also, the destruction is caused to a government embassy containing a few Wakandan dignitaries, which results in Black Panther getting involved. Meanwhile in the comic, the New Warriors are filming a reality TV show and, when looking to get better ratings, take on villains that are out of their league, including Nitro, who, in his attempts to get away, blows up a local school and the residents it contained. The results in both cases are the same though, as the heroes in either narrative begin to question which side they should take.
The Weeping Mother
One of the more impactful moments of the comic was when a sobbing woman spits on Tony Stark as she cries over the death of her child, demanding that he do something to make sure no more innocents would die. It’s touching and emotional and reminds readers that these stories aren’t just about the heroes, but the people they’re saving as well. This scene is appropriately replicated in the film and acts as a strong emotional push for Tony to start working with the government towards a more responsible Avengers team.
The Government Involvement
After the respective disasters, it only makes sense that the governments in both universes would spring to action soon afterward to respond. In the comics, Maria Hill, current head of S.H.I.E.L.D., approaches Captain America about what sides some of the prominent heroes might be taking, and is rather disappointed with the results. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, since S.H.I.E.L.D. is no longer active, the duty falls to Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, who hasn’t been seen since the last Hulk film. Ultimately, Tony works closely but reluctantly with both in order to push his own agendas.
The Key Players
While Cap and Tony are clearly the figureheads in both scenarios, the other primary characters are incredibly different, though there are some similar figures to be seen in each. Alongside Iron Man in the comic stands Hank Pym in his Yellowjacket alias and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, two of the most prominent intellectuals and least emotionally stable individuals in the world. Meanwhile, Cap works closely with Falcon, as he does in the film, but Daredevil, Hercules and Goliath are also often at his side. Unsurprisingly, most of these characters are either not established in the MCU or implausible to bring to the big screen. But, interestingly, almost none of the side characters have any part in the comic event, with Black Panther only helping out in the last couple of issues. Bucky Barnes isn’t even present, changing a lot of the context of the comic. The only other character to play a big role in the comic who appears in the film is Spider-Man.
The Spider-Man Conundrum
While the film looks to succinctly introduce Peter Parker and lay some great groundwork for his upcoming solo movie, the comic sees the character face a lot of inner turmoil. At first, he sides with Iron Man, revealing his secret identity to the public for the first time. But after the death of Goliath, Spider-Man is quick to change sides, feeling like the ends didn’t justify the means. This results in him being brutally chased through the sewers by his former adversaries, seeing that Spidey walks through hell and back again, as is his tendency.
Both stories feature big moments with monumental characters, although each retain very different tones and implications. In the comic, Goliath is killed by a cloned Thor, shot through the heart by a bolt of energy. It’s a turning point in the event when a lot of the characters begin to question which side they want to align with. Meanwhile, in the film, Ant-Man takes to the field in his awkward way as Giant-Man in hopes of helping Cap and Bucky get away to take care of things elsewhere. While he becomes one of the least exciting members of the battle, the reveal is invigorating and adds some comedy and intensity to what’s going on.
As I mentioned above, Goliath is killed in the fourth issue of the seven-issue event with little ceremony in the moment, and it changes everything, reminding readers that anyone could potentially die, as is proven shortly after the event ends. In the film, we see one character taken down for the count, as the commercials seem to want to remind us repeatedly. In a very similar fashion to Goliath’s death, War Machine is shot down by a beam of energy out of the sky unintentionally and is crippled. While he doesn’t die, it shows Iron Man some of the consequences of his recent choices and causes him to question the legitimacy of what he’s doing.
In both iterations, those heroes working against the registration who are arrested are sent to Ryker’s Jail. In the film, the jail raises from the middle of the ocean, with intense prison cells that eventually hold some of our main characters. In the comic, however, Ryker’s acts as a portal to the mysterious Prison 42, a temporary holding cell Iron Man employs at the start of his efforts which is seen as inhumane due to its location in the Negative Zone.
So, yes, there are a lot of things different between the two stories, including some key parts of the ending, but there are clearly some elements that were well preserved when conveying the narrative to a more general audience. And those things that were re-utilized worked well and helped strengthen a pretty great film.