written by Mark Millar
art by Steve McNiven and Dexter Vines
published by Marvel Comics

Few events resonate so soundly as to affect the entire super hero community down to their core, even dividing their ranks. Event comics need to have real impact, especially if it wants to justify the additional books it takes, outside of the main mini-series as the story spills into some of the main players’ individual titles, to tell the story. (Yes, nearly two decades later I’m still bitter about Secret Wars II.) We are caught in wave after wave of comic book events, from Identity Crisis to Infinite Crisis over at DC Comics to The House of M as Marvel Comics’ last big event – all of whom had major repercussions for their respective universes.

While at first I thought this was going to be little more than an updated version of Contest of Champions, by the second issue of Civil War, this series promises huge repercussions. I remember when I used to think of Mark Millar as a Grant Morrison hanger-on, back when they co-wrote Aztek: The Ultimate Man and several issues of The Flash together. That was before he exploded with picking up The Authority after Warren Ellis’ classic run without missing a beat and then Wanted and The Ultimates.

The plot follows the folly of the superhero group, The New Warriors. They seek ratings for their reality show and end up trying to apprehend villains clearly out of their league. The unfortunate chain of events turn quickly tragic. Worse still, the devastation, including the motives of the heroes as well as the human casualties, is captured on tape. While there have always been innocents caught in the battles between heroes and villains, this time it leads to the proposal of the Super-Hero Registration Act. It would require superheroes to register their identities with the government, undergo training, and be sanctioned as federal agents. Some heroes, Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four, see this as the next natural step in the role of superheroes operating in society. Others, embodied by Captain America, see it as an assault on civil liberties. Eventuating with many of the cool heroes having to go underground.

This isn’t necessarily new territory. In Legends, John Byrne gave a superficial treatment of the idea of public sentiment turning against the DC universe of heroes. In the context of today’s world, Civil War serves as a commentary on the ever-present threat of the erosion of our civil rights

“Who’s been telling kids for years that they can live outside the law as long as they’re wearing tights?” –A grieving mother

We forget that super-heroes, technically, are vigilantes. We lose sight of that anyone can put on a mask and run around in their long johns. Training heroes and giving them badges, essentially making them agents of the empire sounds reasonable and responsible. So on one level, Civil War is about the letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law, allowing vigilantes to prowl the streets and protect the citizens. On another level, the debate is not about the Law, but about the disrupted social order. When leaders, heroes, inspire followers into action against the imperial order, then they become a threat to the empire. So Civil War becomes a story about who we choose to serve?

Captain America: Super heroes need to stay above that stuff or Washington starts telling us who the supervillains are.
Commander Hill: I though super villains were guys in masks who refused to obey the law.

The “empire,” the state, with its values and its control and order is safeguarded at a price. The price of imperialism, a “new world order” of peace and security, is too often disorder and devastation for their people (if they resist it), escalating economic demands, and social paralysis. Too often in the name of the right things, its citizens are terrorized and intimidated. Be it the U.S. government or the international espionage force known as S.H.I.E.L.D. that Commander Hill leads, the interests of the empire must be maintained.

Serving the Kingdom means pursuing your true purpose. The problem with the New Warriors was that they were in the superhero business for the wrong reasons. They might have wanted to altruistically want to save people, but they did so in the pursuit of fame and fortune, values more consistent with the values of the empire. The values of kingdom living means joining in the mission, as exemplified by Captain America as a Christ figure, to be a blessing to others boiling down to serving one another.

The values of the kingdom run contrary to the ideas of empire. Frankly, it holds the hope of healing the effects of imperial violence. Heroes, by example, can inspire people to renew a spirit of community and call them to take control of their lives and re-establish cooperation. They can foster a sense of community as people learn to come to each other’s aid, restore mutual assistance, and work toward regaining and rebuilding trust. A renewed community of called out (underground) heroes are about tradition. Everyone has fundamental rights, but kingdom living is about social renewal, protecting the poor and the powerless.

Millar does a great job with the pacing, a lot of his “big screen” action, blending nicely with the iconic imagery of the art team. There is a good amount of story crammed into these pages, revolving around characters we’ve come to know and trust. This story, despite it being an “event”, works at a very personal level, telling a very human story – a community divided, friendships betrayed, with the hope of a future reconciliation.