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Marvel’s Civil War is one the most well-known and best regarded comic book crossovers of all time. Its popularity led to Captain America: Civil War from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a direct sequel written by Brian Michael Bendis in 2016. Along with getting a film adaptation and second installment, Titan Books has released a novelization of the original. Can the popular story still engage readers without art?
Civil War takes place after a horrible mishap by the New Warriors leaves hundreds of civilians dead in Stamford, Connecticut. The United States government uses the incident to attempt to enact legislation for superpowered beings. The casualties convince Iron Man that it is time for superheroes to register with the government, while Captain America sees it as an assault on personal liberties. The dispute causes friends to take opposing sides and leads to surprising alliances.
Stuart Moore’s writing does a great job of advancing the central theme. Though there is a large cast of characters to deal with, the story deals primarily with the decisions of Captain America, Iron Man, and Spider-Man. The characterization of the three is perfect as all three wrestle with difficult choices and stand by their decisions. Both Captain America and Iron Man are painted as good men who have different opinions on what the right thing to do is, while Spider-Man is trying to sort things out.
This is where Civil War excels. The story never asks readers to make a choice and instead offers up both sides for scrutiny. Both Captain America and Iron Man make justifications that are logical and statements that can be seen as extreme. There is never any point where either side says or does something that is objectively evil. All the while, Spider-Man plays the part of the reader as he listens to both sides and tries to figure out the correct course of action. It is a thin line to tread since painting one side as obviously wrong takes all the weightiness out of issues being discussed. Moore does Mark Millar’s and Steve McNiven’s original work justice.
The supporting characters are just as well written — Civil War deals with impactful and difficult issues, so it comes as no surprise that most heroes have trouble making a decision and even second guess their initial one. This is a great idea since it makes the characters more relatable and is written in a way that makes sense. The story’s twists are logical.
Unsurprisingly, the novelization is not perfect. The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” comes to mind often. There are times italics are used unnecessarily and at one point the prose is broken down into bullet points to describe what took place in one panel. It is also odd to see the narration refer to characters as “Cap” or “Spidey” regularly. It’s one thing for Spider-Man to call someone “Shell Head,” but it’s another to see the writer use an informality no character does. (This is a nitpick, but having Wolverine on the cover also seems pointless and misleading since he has an incredibly small role.)
When Civil War was first released by Marvel, it presented two sides to an argument and had compelling arguments from the company’s most popular characters. Titan Books does a great job of adapting this emotional battle and providing a fun read.
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