This article consists of nothing but Captain America: Civil War spoilers. We have a spoiler free review here.
As expected, Captain America: Civil War is absolutely packed with Marvel Comics references. I’ve tried my very best to get all of them in once place, but if I missed anything, let me know down in the comments or on Twitter, and I’ll keep this updated! And now that it’s out on Digital HD (as of September 2) it should be a little easier to spot all of the little things that we might have missed the first time around.
So, let’s get going…
– It’s striking how much of this movie is still very much Captain America 3, despite how much of this is full of Avengers-related stuff. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a loose adaptation of the first year of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s time as the creative team on Captain America, and the core of this story, the redemption of Bucky Barnes still bears a lot of similarities to that.
For one thing, the Brubaker and Epting comics, while firmly set in the present day, constantly deployed flashbacks to fill in the blanks of Bucky and Cap’s history. So this movie’s flashbacks to earlier time periods is kind of a spiritual successor to the comics.
Civil War Comics vs. The Movie
– So, let’s start with the most obvious thing here. Captain America: Civil War is loosely based on Civil War, a comic book story by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven. I say “loosely based” because really, it is. All these two have in common is the idea of government regulation of superheroes and a divide ultimately led by Captain America and Iron Man.
“The Sokovia Accords” refer to the catastrophic events from the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron. No matter how many folks the Avengers saved there, the cost in damage and human life was astounding…not to mention the PR disaster that “AI created by a superhero tried to destroy the world by dropping a country on it from orbit” must be.
Really, the damn gub’mint will just look for any excuse to pass laws restricting freedom, won’t they? Anyway…
In the comics, the inciting event was more small of a local concern, not an international one. In that case it was the destruction of a town by an errant group of well-meaning but dumb low-level superheroes filming a reality show. What both versions of the story have in common is that someone exploded, taking a bunch of innocents with them.
What caused the split between the heroes in the comics was that the plan was to get everyone to register their real identities with the government so that they could be organized and monitored. Tony Stark went along with it pretty readily, Steve Rogers did not.
I can safely say that the movie illustrated this split and the reasoning behind it far more elegantly than the comics ever did.
– It’s also interesting that one of the clauses of the Sokovia Accords is that the Avengers would become a UN sanctioned operation. For many years in the comics, the Avengers did indeed have a UN sanction, although they mostly operated as an independent body. It sounds like things would be a bit more restrictive here.
– Alfre Woodard’s character is identified only as “Miriam” in the movie, but this is Miriam Sharpe. As in the comics, Miriam lost a child because of the aforementioned exploding superhero misadventures. However, the Miriam of the comics leads a very public (and tacky) crusade in the media, while here, she just makes a more quiet and dignified statement to Tony Stark. Again, better than the comics.
– When Clint Barton starts giving Tony shit about being “the great futurist” that’s kind of making fun of some dialogue from the New Avengers: Illuminati issue that set up the events of Civil War. Essentially, Tony went on and on about being a “futurist” and that’s why he knew a law would be passed making life for superheroes difficult. It was some tortured nonsense comic book dialogue, and good on this movie for making fun of it in a low key way.
It has also been pointed out to me by ACE and Drume in the comments that Robert Downey Jr. put out a music album in 2004 with the title “The Futurist.” It’s available on Spotify.
– The whole chopper escape scene did faintly remind me of this scene from the comics, though…
But far more on-the-nose was that scene during the final Steve/Tony throwdown, where we finally see what happens when repulsors at full power meet a shield that’s made of a vibranium/adamantium (what? I’m allowed to say the a-word here even if Marvel isn’t on screen!) alloy!
That came from the cover of Civil War #7, the final chapter of the comic.
Captain America: Civil War Heroes
We meet two crucial new heroes in this movie, although really, one of ’em is plenty familiar.
Who is the Black Panther?
– Black Panther first appeared in Fantastic Four #52 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Panther’s debut came right in the sweet spot of what is absolutely the pinnacle of the Lee/Kirby collaboration, and he was by far the most high profile black comic book character ever created at the time. The version of Black Panther we meet in this movie is plenty faithful to the spirit of the original, so that’s pretty cool.
T’Challa has become an essential piece of greater Marvel mythology, and we wrote more about some of the amazing work Jack Kirby did with the character right here.
– The implication should be that King T’Chaka was also once the Black Panther in his youth. They don’t really touch too much on the line of succession for the Panther, but I expect we’ll get much more of that in his own movie.
– I’m pretty sure that the bald Wakandan badass lady who threatens Black Widow is supposed to be a member of the Dora Milaje, the all-female Wakandan royal guard.
– Speaking of Wakanda, that’s where we are in that first post-credits scene. Wakanda’s technology is far ahead of the rest of the world’s, so if anyone can “cure” Bucky, it’s them.
I’m including this next entry so close to T’Challa because it involves the only comic you’re likely to read about him in…
– Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross has been kicking around the government of the Marvel Universe since Ka-Zar #17 in 1998. You don’t need to know anything about that, though. What’s more important (and relevant to his portrayal in this movie) is his appearance in Reginald Hudlin and John Romita Jr.’s take on The Black Panther series from 2005. That’s a fun read, and a solid introduction to T’Challa’s world, with Everett Ross kind of acting as your personal guide to Black Panther. See also: The Black Panther series by Christopher Priest and others which preceeded that one, which is said to be a massive influence on the upcoming film.
I wrote a little more about Black Panther (and Spidey) in this other article just dedicated to the post-credits scenes.
Spider-Man in Civil War
– Spider-Man first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 back in 1962, where he was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (possibly with an assist from Jack Kirby). Seriously, at this point, Spider-Man has been the face of Marvel as an entity for about five decades, and I’m pretty sure that nobody reading this needs anything in the way of additional explanation, do they? Of course they don’t.
But what’s extra cool about this Spidey is it’s the first time we’ve had a properly motormouthed, nervous energy Spidey on the big screen. Tom Holland also very much looks the part of a 15 year old who only just got powers. Spidey’s dialogue (and the Peter/Tony banter) sounds like it came right out of the pages of a recent Brian Michael Bendis or Dan Slott comic.
– I do kind of wish we had gotten a better look at the homemade Spider-Man costume that Peter was running around in before Stark gave him the new outfit. I love low budget Spider-Man costumes. Those goggles were pretty cool.
– Tony’s “surprise” that May is Peter’s Aunt and her amused “well, we come in all shapes and sizes” is kind of a sideswipe at the internet’s “surprise” that someone as young and attractive as Marisa Tomei would play the traditionally elderly May Parker.
– In a roundabout way, it does kind of make sense for this to be the movie that introduced Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Within the pages of Civil War, Tony Stark and Peter Parker did indeed share a bond, and Peter did come down on the side of the pro-registration movement while working for Tony. That version of Spidey was much older, with a married Peter Parker in his late 20s, who chose to publically reveal his secret identity in order to show his support for Tony Stark’s side.
All of that ended up going away because comics are insane (and sometimes not very good) so there’s no reason to think too hard about it.
– In the post-credits scene, I’m not sure what the actual function of that red Spider-light thing is that comes out of Peter’s web-shooter, but it sure does look a lot like the old “spider-signal” Spidey would shine to annoy criminals.
The Other Avengers
So, we learn a few neat things about the good guys on both Team Cap and Team Iron Man…
– The revelation that Sharon Carter/Agent 13 is related to Peggy Carter wasn’t a surprise to longtime fans. Cap and Sharon had a longstanding romance of their own in the comics, although it’s even more complicated than what you see on the screen. You can learn a little bit more about that by clicking here…if you dare!
– The Falcon naming his drone “Redwing” is no accident. In the comics, Sam Wilson keeps a pet falcon (a little obvious, I admit), and because of supervillain science shenanigans (comics!) the two share a kind of psychic bond that allows the actual falcon to act as Sam’s eyes and ears.
The drone is easier, sure. But c’mon…an actual falcon!
– Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that we’d see the first flowerings of a Vision/Scarlet Witch romance on the big screen, but here we are. Vision’s flirtations with Wanda are definitely an indicator of what’s to come for them, and I love that there are little elements of familiarity around, like how they call him “Viz.”
Seriously, sign me up for a spinoff starring these two.
– With lines like “I knew I should have stretched” this is the closest we’ve seen Hawkeye to the perpetually beat up and exhausted everyman that he was portrayed as in the absolutely essential, perfect, you need to read all of it right now Hawkeye comic by Matt Fraction and David Aja.
– I probably don’t have to explain this to anyone, but the Pym Particles have also granted Ant-Man the ability to become, well, Giant Man. The Giant-Man identity is traditionally associated with Hank Pym not Scott Lang, but holy moley, aren’t you happy you got to see that happen here?
– Speaking of Hawkeye and Ant-Man, can I just point out that we finally got to see this moment from the comics?
– I owe a nice thank you to Kurt in the comments for this one…there is indeed comic book precedent for Rhodey needing cybernetic enhancements to continue functioning as a hero. It was a bit more gruesome in the comics (Rhodey was left a quadraplegic in the wake of a terrorist attack), but in the aftermath of the comic book Civil War, Rhodey ended up more of a cyborg than a man in a suit.
– Mike Priest in the comments pointed out the similarities to Rhodey’s injury to something else that happened in the Civil War comics, where Bill Foster/Goliath was killed by a cloned version of Thor. That’s basically the moment that was used to illustrate how senseless having heroes fight each other was, much like Rhodey’s moment was here.
Captain America: Civil War Villains
Alright, let’s talk about the bad guys…
– The Soviet officer in charge of programming the Winter Soldier for his missions is Vasily Karpov, who was introduced in the fifth issue of the Brubaker/Epting Cap comics. Now, that’s a character with a name from the comics that we can pinpoint, but since the movie’s maguffin is really a group of other “winter soldiers” it leads us to another point about these villains…
– While they’re never named, the fact that the other winter soldiers were under Karpov’s control kind of indicates that they’re supposed to be the Soviet Super Soldiers. Key among these would be Alexi Shostakov, the Red Guardian. While he’s never actually named in the movie, I kind of figure that the jacked dark haired guy is the Marvel Cinematic Universe equivalent of the Red Guardian.
It’s never made explicit that these other winter soldiers are supposed to be Marvel’s Soviet Super-Soldiers, but that’s kind of how I feel about the whole thing. I’ll be honest, I kind of wish they wouldn’t have killed ’em all off like this, because that kind of grounded take on these characters could have made for a really cool Captain America 4 or something.
UPDATE! Grant down in the comments says that the dark-haired bad guy is credited as “Josef,” and there was indeed a Red Guardian named Josef Petkus. I haven’t been able to verify the “Josef” thing myself yet (still need to go for another viewing), but if this is true, it pretty much confirms this whole Red Guardian/Soviet Super-Soldiers thing!
Who is Crossbones?
– You might remember ol’ Brock Rumlow from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but here he is, in full-blown Crossbones gear.
Unlike his movie counterpart, though, Crossbones sprang fully-formed into supervillainy in the pages of Captain America #359-360. He was created by the writer who really kinda shaped the Captain America of my childhood, Mark Gruenwald, and Kieron Dwyer, who I consider to be one of the most underrated comic book artists of his time.
Brock’s first appearance, by the way, comes in a story called The Bloodstone Hunt, which is just a tremendously fun, dopey read. It’s the height of 1980s Captain America comics craziness. Fans of the kind of colorful villains and over-the-top technology that the classic GI Joe cartoon was delivering would be in for a treat with this. Seriously, it’s like if Cap and SHIELD are GI Joe and the villains are just COBRA cast-offs.
I suppose it’s a little bit of a bummer that another potential tie to the legacy of the Red Skull has been eliminated. Regardless, Crossbones is a quintessential soldier villain, and a fun piece of Cap history to have on screen, even as a minor character. It just adds to the whole authenticity of this being a Cap movie and all.
Who is Zemo?
– Daniel Bruhl’s mysterious Baron Zemo is a little trickier, since he bears very little in the way of resemblance to his comic book counterpart, which is kind of a shame, because holy moley that comic book version of Zemo…
Zemo first appeared unnamed in flashback in Avengers #4 in 1964, the same issue that brought Captain America into the present day. Y’see, it turns out that Cap and Bucky were on a mission at Zemo’s castle when they caught the express train to suspended animation. Zemo then appeared properly in the pages of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #8 and made the rounds in the usual way that supervillains did in Marvel Comics during the ’60s.
But I have a rather personal attachment to Zemo, as the first Captain America comic I ever read was a vintage copy of Captain America #168, which introduced Zemo’s son Helmut (then going by the name of “the Phoenix” … not to be confused with the X-Men character). This comic, with its tale of how the elder (Heinrich) Zemo was an abusive ass since that dopey purple facemask was literally glued to his face by Adhesive X scared the crap out of me (I was an easily influenced child), and Zemo quickly became one of my favorite Marvel supervillains.
Anyway, back on track…
The version of Zemo we meet in the movie bears almost no resemblance to the former Nazi of the comics, although there’s some indication that he isn’t a particularly nice guy, despite his attachment to his family. Other than the name (and perhaps the accent) the only other real nod to the comic book Zemo is the mention of his father. He’s not just avenging the death of his wife and son, but that of his Dad. And since this is Helmut Zemo, we can safely assume that his dad’s name was Heinrich. Maybe his Dad was a dick, too. Who knows?
– The floating/submersible prison is referred to as “The Raft” and that’s right out of Marvel Comics. Except in the comics, the Raft sits on NYC’s East River, right near Ryker’s Island.
The big screen version is a little more remote.
There’s a little bit of a parallel here to the prison that Tony Stark and Reed Richards built in the comic book version of Civil War to contain supervillains and non-compliant superheroes. The thing is, that prison actually stuck you in the Negative Zone, a concept presumably tied up at 20th Century Fox right now.
– There doesn’t appear to be a Marvel Comics parallel for the ill-fated Dr. Broussard, but I have to wonder if his name is a shout out to Stephen Broussard, a producer on Iron Man 3, Captain America: The First Avenger, and other Marvel projects.
– Peggy Carter’s comic book death (of old age) and funeral took place towards the end of Ed Brubaker’s tenure as Captain America writer. It’s available on Amazon in this volume if you’re interested.
– Tony amusingly refers to Bucky as “Manchurian Candidate” towards the end. The Manchurian Candidate was a novel by Richard Condon (which I’ve never read) but it’s also an absurdly good 1962 Cold War thriller movie that starred Frank Sinatra. Totally worth your time. Jonathan Demme re-made it in 2004, but I never bothered with that one. I probably should get around to it since Demme is a good director, but for real, see the 1962 version.
– Making General Ross into Secretary of State Ross is kind of a genius maneuver, and I suppose it’s a reasonable evolution for the character who is traditionally the Hulk’s least favorite pain-in-the-ass. It’s worth noting that for a brief period in the comics, Tony Stark was Secretary of Defense. And Cap nearly ran for President. I would pay all the money to see either of those things happen in a future Marvel movie.
– It looks to me that the Starks were transporting some kind of derivative of the super soldier formula on the night of that ill-fated car ride. The sharp-eyed C Moesta in the comments points out that the date of the Starks’ death (via newspaper clipping) has been consistent since the first Iron Man movie.
– Also, the date of the Starks’ death totally lines up with the “Stark death” headline we caught a glimpse of in Hydra’s archives during Captain America: The Winter Soldier!
– Did anyone else notice that the weird personal holding cell (what is this, The Blacklist?) that Bucky is kept in is designated D-23? D23 is Disney’s annual fan convention, and it’s probably where they’re gonna start taking all their Marvel footage instead of San Diego soon.
– This is brilliant, and I can’t believe I missed it, but that’s Jim Rash as the MIT guy hassling Tony for a piece of the September Grant. Rash is familiar to Russo Bros. diehards as Dean Pelton on Community. (thanks to Kevin Skinner of NYC’s Crass Monkey for pointing this out)
If I missed anything, let us know down in the comments or shout right at me on Twitter, and we’ll keep updating this until it’s complete!