Marvel's Civil War: a comic that should be a movie

Feature Rob Leane 18 Nov 2013 - 06:09

Written by Mark Millar, Marvel's Civil War was a fan favourite. Rob looks at how it could translate to the big screen...

NB: there are spoilers ahead for the Civil War comic book series.

First published in 2006, Marvel's Civil War was and remains an enormously popular comic book cross-over series, and it kicks off in dramatic style.

As the New Warriors - a group of young superheroes at the centre of a reality show - seriously screw up a super villain battle, their battle with Nitro incinerates a whole block, including an elementary school, causes 600 casualties, and rips the Marvel Universe in half.

It's cinematic stuff, and these events could act as an outstanding opening sequence in a movie adaptation - it's perfect for the kind of elongated intro that studios seem to love these days.

Within the make-believe world of comics, the world's negativity towards superheroes can sometimes seem a bit farfetched, but a blown-up school is a pretty legitimate reason for such distrust, and this opening sequence could provide a way to emotionally engage the audience from the word go.

Following this incident, the government begins to push out the Superhuman Registration Act, a bill which outlaws all superheroes who won’t accept official training and reveal their identities.

Tony Stark, whose identity has been known publically for years, becomes the figurehead for the pro-registration campaign, whereas Steve Rogers (Captain America), all in favour of protecting people’s rights, leads the anti-registration team, supporting the heroes who don’t wish to reveal their identities or expose themselves and their loved ones to all their super-enemies.

If handled right, the battles between the two super teams would surely result in some of the most epic screen fights of all time. With S.H.I.E.L.D. agents supporting the pro-registration team as they hunt down the now illegal heroes, it becomes increasingly difficult to work out who the villains are, which could be a really interesting moral dilemma to depict on screen.

Pitting S.H.I.E.L.D. against such much-loved heroes would also be a fitting climax to the ongoing ‘you can’t trust S.H.I.E.L.D.’ arc established by the Phase 2 weapons project, and the attempted nuclear destruction of Manhattan in Avengers Assemble - a theme which will be built on in Captain America: The Winter Soldier if the trailer is anything to go by.

This isn’t the only time you would question S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Civil War movie, either. In an attempt to defeat, and eventually replace, the outlaw anti-registration heroes, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top scientists experiment with cloning their lost members. This isn’t even too outlandish for the MCU, seeing as Life Model Decoys (LMDs) - carbon copies of characters from the comic book universe - are name-dropped by Tony Stark in Avengers Assemble. It also looks increasingly likely that, in the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, Coulson is a LMD or some kind of clone, which could tie him into the narrative nicely. 

Back in Civil War, a robot version of Thor is put into action too early and kills Goliath, a friend to many of the heroes. As well as motivating more people to join the anti-registration team, this makes the grey area between the goodies and baddies even harder to spot.

There are several other huge emotional beats in the comic which could add more engaging elements to the film. Notably, Tony Stark convinces Peter Parker to publically unmask, which pretty much ruins his life. Soon after, his beloved Aunt May is shot, putting Spidey on a desperate mission to save her. This involves begging everyone in the universe for help, only to end up deleting his marriage to Mary Jane Watson from history in a deal with the devil (well, Mephisto, which is close enough).

Rights wrangles

Before Spider-Man could even appear in a Civil War movie, Sony and Disney would have to come to a Mephisto-like deal of their own. Indeed, it would be a huge achievement if Marvel Studios managed to obtain the rights to all the characters in the original version of the story. The comic itself contains pretty much every major Marvel character ever, which would mean making deals with Sony for Spider-Man and the X-Men and Fox for the Fantastic Four.

Without these rights, Marvel would have a lot of legwork to do to fill in the gaps. With the absence of the recognisable mutant characters like Wolverine and Storm, Marvel would either need to dedicate an expensive film to introducing The Inhumans, another big group of powerful beings, or find a way to get all the super-powered aliens from the wider MCU stranded on earth. Otherwise, the epic Civil War of the comics could end up more like a beefed-up five-a-side brawl.

Several of the New Warriors were mutants, too, so Marvel would need some fresh characters to fill out the young team who kick the narrative into action. Additionally, it’s worth noting that without Spidey, the MCU, with its current Avengers roster, wouldn’t have any established heroes who actually go to much effort to keep their identity secret.  More new introductions would be needed, or there would be no one on Cap’s team, making it a five-on-one fight instead.

Thankfully, though, since the news broke that Disney have signed a deal with Netflix (not Mephisto) to bring Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and recent rights acquisition Daredevil together in an interweaving live-action adventure, it’s fairly likely that Marvel will be able to take the new online live-action versions of these characters to the big screen - assuming that Marvel haven’t been silly enough to give exclusive rights to Netflix.

Punisher is another recent re-acquisition for Marvel, and an appearance is likely considering his presence in the comic. We could also expect Falcon, War Machine and any other sidekicks established by this point to be drafted in to bulk out the numbers.

Additionally, between Stark, Banner and the soon-to-be introduced Hank Pym (as well as Fitz and Simmons from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. if it’s really necessary), it’s possible that the lack of Reed Richards' genius wouldn’t leave too big a hole in the movie, despite Mr Fantastic’s significant role working with S.H.I.E.L.D. in the comic.

Will it ever happen?

As one of the most popular comics of recent years, it seems fairly likely that Marvel Studios will have a Civil War feature planned for Phase 3 or 4.

The recent news of the Netflix Defenders saga could make plans for an epic super-crossover like this even more likely. Luke Cage and Daredevil facing off against the Avengers - who wouldn’t want to put that project into the works? These new-live action heroes are just the boost that the MCU needs in lieu of Spider-Man and the X-Men. With the big screen MCU, the ABC continuity and the Netflix series established, some kind of huge team-up or versus event is surely inevitable. My minimal money is on a release in 2018.

Without the rights to some key characters, though, expect some Age Of Ultron/Mandarin-style rewrites, where Marvel uses the Civil War name and some themes, and produces an edited version of the original material.

Do you think we'll see a Civil War movie soon? Which other comics do you think would make great movies? Let us know in the comments below...

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Civil War seems to be the popular choice amongst fans but Id rather see Secret Invasion with the Skrulls kidnapping and replacing Heroes and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents before launching a brutal attack on Earth, they wouldn't need to directly adapt he comic but could go with the overall theme the paranoia of not knowing whos really on your side it could bring in all their characters.
Also World War Hulk, nuff said.

The Thunderbolts arc of Civil War got me back into Marvel, loved it

Planet Hulk, then World war hulk!

Read Civil War a few years ago and, like everything else written by Mark Millar, it was very underwhelming.

Is it just me, or does pretty much every single superhero 'story' equate to 'a big fight'? Because to me, that's not very interesting and is probably why I've always preferred non-superhero comics.

Secret Wars! Do Secret Wars!!!

The most recent episodes of Agents of SHIELD make me think Civil War is already in the works. In-particular, the latest episode (about the Hub) and the trailer for Cap America 2 both seem to urge caution about SHIELD's influence. Maybe they're setting the groundwork?

Let's hope so!

Knightfall. 'Nuff said.

In the first episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D they used the term registered powers. A hint that the superhero registration act is already underway?

Sony have also said in the past that they would be open to a deal where Spiderman was allowed to appear in an Avengers film.

First, the right of Spider-Man and Ghostrider are with Sony (still hoping for MCU easter eggs in Amazing 2), the rights of X-men and the Fantastic Four are with FOX. But I really hope at least Spidy and the Fab 4 are getting home some day.
Second, nog 2018 but something like 2020 is more likely for an The Avengers: Civil War movie. With Thor: The Dark World we are clearly heading for an Infinity Gauntlet Avenger movie in 2018. With the movies in between now and 2018 giving up the stones for the Gauntlet.
Hopefully this Civil War movie is getting made!

Problem is that the Skrulls are embedded in the Fantastic Four movie rights which Fox ownes. But yeah, think about it. The Secret Invasion should make one heck of a storyline in say Agents of SHIELD. Would up the game for it big time.

You should have really enjoyed the political goobledigoe in the Star Wars prequels.

once marvel have all the rights to their heros, then dot it! because this story like the Avengers will need one hell of a set, but if done would be so epic that every geek would cry and the die happy lol

Literally no idea what you're talking about.

With a few exceptions all these super hero flicks are dumbed down embarrassments for people who lack the necessary imagination to connect with the "real" thing.


My best guess would be a failed attempt to insult you.

Personally I think he's talking a load of goobledigoe

the current Infinity crossover would be great. specifically for the 3rd avengers film and the merges guardians with the avengers albeit the netflix heroes wouldn't be good their.

Ghostrider is back in the fold

I would love it if it could lead onto the dark avengers story

They sorta kinda did that. The Chitauri in the Ultimate Universe is the Skrulls in the Marvel 616 universe. (And with today's attitudes, you sort of have the feeling of paranoia with the end of the Avengers movie with the Council and Shield. (Thanks ever so awfully, Council, for nearly nuking trustworthy).

Yes! The end of the Civil War should be Tony winning. Maybe by then we could have Ares! and Sentry! and he could keep them and add the Thunderbolts, which to me made the best use of Bullseye among powered villains that I've ever seen anyway.

It was great. If it were filled with Spinal Tap sort of interviews, it would be classic

Is it me or would a film like this seem too unrealistic with soooo many big names involved. Firstly it would take a lot of time and money to get the rights, then putting it in place would involve a massive star cast which would mean some not getting suitable air time which that would want...unless the film lasted about 10 hours?

Feige said they tried and it was a no-go. Even just trying to include the Oscorp Tower in Avengers was a legal nightmare. I bet Sony just wants more money than Disney wants to pay.

Writing a well balanced ensemble piece is a tricky job indeed.

Maybe it would be best to do a multi-parter with one each year like LOTR or Twilight did

I'm not trying to offend people - I read a very interesting Alan Moore article where he makes the same point - basically, 99% of superhero comics are little more than one superhero fighting another, and they're not really 'about' anything other than simplistic notions of 'Good vs Evil'.

Superhero fans go on about things like 'Planet Hulk' as if they're these amazing stories, but as far as I can tell, the gist of it is 'The Hulk fights a load of other Marvel superheroes, each one more powerful than the last'. To me that just sounds juvenile and boring.

While I enjoyed the whole of Iron Man 3 my favourite bits by far were when he was trying to be Iron Man without the suit - all the stuff infiltrating the baddies hideout armed only what he could build with parts scavenged from an old garage was great. I could have happily lived without the massive assault at the end.

Nope, Planet Hulk is nothing like that at all. World War Hulk maybe but even then that isn't really what it's about at all but it is definitely more like it than Planet Hulk.
Opinions on stuff you haven't even got the gist of never mind read to me is boring but carry on

Not just you. For me pretty much all the major Marvel stories whether it be Secret Invasion, Civil War or any of the rest couldn't be done justice in a single film.

I dunno about "soon", but for sure, yeah. It'll be cool of they spread elements of it through the cinema, TV and netflix in the same way that you can read multiple comics to get a fuller view of the story, you could watch all shows and films to get a fuller view of the cinematic version too. Although, I think one film would not be enough. Perhaps they'd have the balls to drag their Hollywood starts into TV land for a 12-part series. Now that would be amazing.

With Avengers2 being about Ultron and Avengers3 looking like it will be Thanos/Infinity Guantlet I think that instead of Avengers4 we might get Civil War.

At the end of Phase4 we will have Iron Man, Cap, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Ant-Man, SHIELD, plus the secondary characters and the as yet unannounced films (Dr Strange etc). This might be enough to do a Civil War style story justice, and would be an interesting change of pace after Avengers3.

This sounds like an epic idea and to be honest there are already hints towards this as you have stated above.

However this thing with Sony owning the rights to Spider-Man I think is starting to get silly. Would it not be a great investment idea for Sony to do some kind of partnership deal where it allows Marvel to use Spider-Man in it's films and they get a slice of the preverbial pie, although maintaining the rights to the standalone films. Meaning that we could finally see Spider-Man join his rightful place alongside the Avengers.

Think about it, This would make sense as Sony would get a slice of the fastest growing movie franchise right now, but still keep the standalone films.....Which I should point this would make both Avengers and the Spidey movies instantly more popular as we the fans would get exactly what we want and so would Marvel and Sony.

This wouldn't work with Fox as lets face it, the X-Men franchise is huge by itself so fox would never do any kind of deal in that respect. But what has Sony got to lose?......precious little is the answer!

Surely I can't be the only one who thinks something similar.....can i?

That's very good!

Uh, I'm pretty sure he's making a reasonable and perfectly accurate point about how too little 'action' in films and stupidly convuluted/badly thought out plots which are allegedly supposed to be dominated by action (see the Star Wars prequels) can be just as harmful as films which overdo it.

I like Mark Millar but completely agree with you on Civil War.

The concept of Civil War is superb and I loved the start with the reality TV show idea. As you say though, it very quickly descended into big fight after big fight. By the end I was bored senseless to be honest.

Alan Moore is right. Superhero stories have a lot more potential than just a basic, black and white 'good v evil'. More modern writers need to be dissecting Moore's work, in my opinion.

Similarly, my favourite part of the Avengers was the first hour, where we are introduced to the characters one by one. We get some character development and then is actually a story in there somewhere.

Pity the last 45 minutes is basically one massive battle, a 5 minute break to regroup and then an even bigger battle.

I'm glad I'm not the only one bored with this.

However, the battle in Avengers had more character-building, fun and humorous moments than Man of Steel or even IM3.

The final battle in Thor 2 was also more inventive than the usual destruction and very good fun for it.

Yes! He and punisher just might work better in ensembles the way Hulk did in Avengers. I don't mean they have to be on a team, but maybe show up in one of the movies or shows... or have their OWN shows. Blade's back too. He had a show though and it failed.

I think Disney should buy Sony and Fox.

To throw my 2 cents in: I'd love to see a storyline like this play out in the MCU, and as you said, that seems to be a direction The Winter Soldier is heading in. But it shouldn't, and can't, be Civil War. The rights issues are labyrinthine in their own right (no pun intended). But my main problem is Mark Millar, in that I think he is an abysmal writer that actively insults and belittles comic readers, and can't write anything else other than "momentous" events purely for a misguided attempt at shock-value. Both those reasons are why I enjoyed the film versions of Kick-ass 1 & 2 and Wanted a hell of a lot more than the graphic novels.

Don't get me wrong, I think he has good ideas and concepts, but executes (often literally) them horribly. I realise this will get me downvoted to hell, but I simply cannot stand him as a writer. I mean, the end of Wanted practically had him saying "Ha ha, I have the money you spent on this book. F*ck you!" And that is something I will not take from a supposed professional.

Hulk has been my favourite character in comics since I was 5 years old (over 30 years). The World War Hulk (basically Hulk does Gladiator) gave the character a great epic storyline and even justifiable rage to previously unseen levels (in World War Hulk).

Cinematically, I think this would be a great crossover story for the MCU. It can easily involve all of the characters Marvel Studios has the rights to, as well as allowing new characters to be introduced to (like Amadeus Cho, Agent Brand, Black Panther to name a few). Obviously the conclusion would need to be rewritten to be more inline with the MCU, but that's not a bad thing. No-one ever said that the comic book storylines had to be EXACTLY the same as it was in the comics. It's called an adaptation for a reason.

The only way i could see Civil War working is by an unprecedented level of agreement and co-operation between Disney, Sony and Fox. But the benefits of an agreement would be amazing.

the thing about civil war is that it is just about as universally enjoyed as it is hated, so you already have a strong number of marvel fans who out of distaste do not support the idea. secondly, the sheer amount of tie ins and arcs needed to properly convey the effects of civil war on the marvel universe, not to mention additional characters and races not currently mentioned in the MCU, would probably result in about six or seven separate movies. although i agree it would make a for a fantastic movie, as a project it just isn't feasible

I would be nice if Marvel films did ask the big questions with these films. But could it be possible that we could be all over superhero films by 2018?

Yeah I suppose but perhaps they're secretly planning to get Spidey, FF, etc in for the Infinity Gauntlet and eventually Civil War? Stranher things hqve happened.

Uh, I'm down! Do I think it'll happen before A4? Before RDJ decides he's done? No. Spider-Man is lined up to 2018 at Sony. The wolverine made cheddar and DOFP looks to be good. FF might just slip to Disney sooner, but not Spider-Man or xmen.

I have only read a couple of Punisher GNs and a few Batman anthologies, but I do immensely enjoy any comic-book super-hero movie. I hope to see any and all of the movie ideas put forward by the above commenters. I would even love to see some DC/Marvel crossovers too. I just wanted to add that Mr. Leane wrote a very good piece, well laid out and an idea well thought out and presented. Good show.

I don't think you could plausibly fit the mutants characters into the Marvel movie universe. Audiences just wouldn't buy the idea that with all the talk about super heros, mutants, and the issues around them haven't been mentioned once. You would need a reboot to put the Marvel universe back together.

The Civil War could be done without either Spidey or the Fantastic Four involved. And with the emergence of the Avengers in visibility in the Cinematic Universe, they would no doubt inspire many ordinary folk (heroes and villains) to go out in capes and masks, regardless of power, and cause inadvertent havoc and a consequent public backlash (the Cinematic Universe not having the years of public acceptance of superheroes that the comic book universe possess).

From what I understand, the Blade show didn't fail. It had good numbers; but was too expensive for the fledgling channel, Spike, to maintain at the time. I watched it. Thought it was pretty good.


By the "real thing", do you mean the real superheroes out there in the real world putting their lives on the line to save us every single day? Do you mean that these cheap, tawdry special effects showcases trivialise their struggle, distracting us from what really matters (friendship, responsibility, trust, love etc)? That we should be out supporting our REAL superheroes rather than watching crude facsimiles pratting around on screen?

Because I have often thought this too.

The Campaign for Real Superheroes starts here.


Nah, do World War Hulk!

Isn't Avengers 3 expected to be versus Thanos? In which case, I'd say at the most it could only seed the Civil War, but the main gist of the story would feature through Phase Four and culminate in Avengers 4 (or start in Avengers 4 and culminate in Avengers 5 or 6).

It's funny; I posted a comment along these lines some months back and was widely mocked by many for such a "dumb idea."

Its a bit big for a film and a civil war between six heros? Two of which don't have powers... Nah not going to happen, especially without Spider-Man, she hulk and Speedball... But maybe a Inhumans movie will borrow themes from civil war as the government decides to catalogue all the 'mutated humans'....

I'd rather a secret invasion followed by kree skrull war, Infinity gauntlet, a planet hulk / planet without a hulk / world war hulk trilogy, masers of evil.

Yeah they would have to do a hard reset on the whole X-verse. I'm okay with the films now that it looks like the franchiseis back on track after First Class (and hopefully with Days of Future Past).

I'd have a tremendous nerdgasm just by watching the scene were daredevil gives Tony the silver coin, that would be the greatest thing ever

Wasn't a fan of Civil War. Even by comic book standards, it seemed to be just an unconvincing reason to have a bunch of hero vs hero battle and kill a few characters off (Oh yeah, and it started the ball rolling which eventually led to the tragedy that was "One More Day").

Also, I just can't see Downey's Stark being pro-registration. It doesn't fit with the movie's characterisation of Tony. To be honest, it was already a bit of a stretch when it happened in the comics.

I don't think it is as hated as it is loved. It's one of the biggest selling storylines of the modern era. A vocal few on online message boards slagging it off means very little compared to all the money it made Marvel.
I think the biggest problem is scope. Civil War involved the WHOLE Marvel universe. The scope of it was part of the appeal (hence the title War). I don't think it would work with a movie. They don't own enough of the rights (FF, X-men, Spidey) and a 2 hour film with all those characters becomes overcrowded. If you are a comic book buyer you know why the decisions Cap and Tony etc made is a big deal. if you're a casual movie goer (which is who a studio has to aim for) you'd just think "well that team didn't last long"

A bad comic miniseries SHOULD be made into a movie? It wouldn't even fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe for more reasons than this blog has readers. Oh, and the storyline relies on gaps of logic and reality that would make Michael Bay cringe.

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