I have a confession to make. Please don’t judge me for this, but before I saw The Avengers I didn’t know anything about Marvel Comics. I hadn’t seen any of the other movies yet. I’d heard about them, of course, but they never interested me enough to really make the effort to see them. After The Avengers, though, I made a point to watch them all and now own most of them. I eagerly read each piece of news about the new movies as they come up, tracking to see what characters might pop up. As is my way, once I latch on to something, I want to know all about it. I figured out pretty soon that the Marvel Universe was vast and populated with heroes and villains I had never dreamed could exist. I was never into comics growing up, so now at 30 I felt like my world was expanding.
I wanted to know more about them, but I didn’t know how or where to start. There were all these different series and arcs, massive backlogs of information to work through. Topping that off, I didn’t know anything about the local comic book store. What I did know were the stories of women and girls who were belittled and laughed at and questioned about their true motives. Honestly, that put me off of actually going out and trying to buy comics. I still haven’t made it to a comic book store yet, but I did discover Comixology and a good friend who would point me to good places to start. That same friend is the one who gifted me the seven-volume Civil War series a couple weeks ago. I’d read about it before while clicking around on the internet and as soon as I saw it, I knew I would devour it happily.
For someone who’s mostly familiar with Marvel via the movies, the collection in this book is a pretty good kick to the head. Essentially, it boils down to Iron Man vs. Captain America. Two superpowered Superheros on two very different sides of the battle. A group of young, untrained superheroes trying to get the jump on a villain hide out ends in hundreds of people, a lot of them children, dead. A call to action goes out and the government quickly passes a law that all superheros must become federal employees. They must reveal their true identities, unmasking themselves not only for their new employer, but the world as a whole. Tony Stark helps craft the plan, working with the government to try and right a wrong he sees himself a large part of. Steve Rodgers thinks that things should continue as they are, that numbering and naming all the heros will only lead to the horrible things he’s seen before. The two clash verbally and physically, underground groups try and continue to fight for freedom, and a once united group becomes terribly divided.
The art in this collection is beautiful. That’s the first thing I noticed upon flipping through. It gives you so much to explore, enhancing the richness of the story. Most comics I’ve read before have been virtual, so getting to actually physically hold and pour over this graphic novel was an incredible experience. The story, though, hit me to the core. While the main focus of the story is on Stark/Rodgers, I found myself most affected by Peter Parker’s story. This is a guy who’s been a part of this world since he was 15. At this point, he’s married and trying to make a life for himself. He’s guarded his identity so fiercely over the years in an effort to protect his aunt and wife. He’s seen one love destroyed because of who he was and that’s something he couldn’t let happen again. Yet, in this novel, he chose to side with Stark. He stood up and exposed himself because of something he so strongly believed in…and then it all flipped on him. How many times have we, just as regular humans, been so committed to something, so sure of it’s rightness, that we’re ready to risk everything? And then to call into question those believes and be left wondering if we’re even doing the right thing? It’s such a human element in this story of fantasy. There are more, of course, things that one can easily relate to in this day and age. Legislation, registration, training, security. Even down to who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, who can we really trust. How far and how low will we go to get our side to win? In the end, though, it’s Peter’s story that sticks with me. The vulnerability and humanness of his story is something that will leave me thinking a lot about my own believes for some time to come.