'Captain America: Civil War': The Comic vs. the Movie

Where do the two stories differ?
Steve McNiven/Marvel Entertainment

Captain America: Civil War might share a title and a gimmick — it's Captain America versus Iron Man, each with their own gang of superheroes to back them up! — with the 2006 comic book Civil War, but it's far from a straight adaptation of the fan-favorite Mark Millar/Steve McNiven series. So where do the two stories differ? Below is a primer. 

The Stamford Disaster

Judging from the trailers released to date, the plot catalyst in Captain America: Civil War is an international incident that pushes political powers to require more oversight of superhero activities, with Captain America forced to turn on the other heroes in order to keep the Winter Soldier — his wartime comrade, Bucky Barnes — out of captivity. In the comic book Civil War, the scale is at once smaller and less intimate: An explosion resulting from a superhero battle in the town of Stamford, Conn., prompts the U.S. government into action, while Cap's stance is one of principle against what he sees as an infringement of individual liberty rather than anything he's personally connected to.

It's worth noting that the comic book Civil War is explicitly about United States authoritarian oversight — Ben Grimm of the Fantastic Four simply moves to France to avoid the trouble — whereas the movie version appears to be an international issue. This makes sense in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, considering that much of the movies' action set pieces have taken place outside of the U.S.: Thor: The Dark World laid waste to parts of the United Kingdom while Avengers: Age of Ultron did the same to the fictional European country of Sokovia. No wonder other countries want to get all these American superheroes under control.

The Superhero Registration Act

While the legislation in the movie version of events is the Sokovian Accords — a version of which was released with the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 2 Box Set — the comic book incarnation's is the Superhero Registration Act. Rather than just requiring superhumans to operate under governmental oversight, the SRA specifically demanded that anyone with a superhuman ability — or in possession of technology that allows them to act as if they have one, a la Iron Man — register their identity to the authorities and either remain inactive or agree to government training and oversight before slipping on a costume and fighting crime.

Oh, and the government might require you to move, as well; one of the offshoots of the SRA was the Fifty State Initiative, which created new superhero teams in each state for the purposes of keeping all of America safe from superhuman threat. (Not that there was a lot of trouble happening in Maine, but you can be too careful.) Unless there's a lot more going on in Captain America: Civil War than meets the eye, it's arguable that the movie heroes have things easier. At least no one there will have to move to Rhode Island.

Project 42 and Other Stories

Along the lines of the comic book heroes having a harder time of things, it's unlikely that Captain America: Civil War will feature anything as genuinely bizarre as Project 42, the extra-dimensional Guantanamo Bay-like prison for Captain America's anti-registration forces that exists in the Negative Zone, an anti-matter dimension.

It's also unlikely that the movie will feature a cloned version of Thor — nicknamed "Clor" by comic fans — who murders a superhero on the other side of the battle. The comic book Civil War got pretty weird, in case you can't tell; given the track record of Marvel movies to date, audiences can likely expect something more straightforward in Captain America.

I Am Spider-Man

Spider-Man played an important part in the comic book Civil War; as a character who switched teams midway through — he started on Iron Man's pro-registration side, then changed his allegiance to Cap — he served as audience identification figure. He also gave the series its most media-friendly moment: Spider-Man unmasking as Peter Parker at a news conference to demonstrate what a good idea the Superhero Registration Act is. That his Aunt May is later shot as the result changes his mind, of course.

While Tom Holland's Spider-Man will make his debut in Captain America: Civil War, it's unlikely that he'll play the same role as his comic book counterpart — not least of all because a new teen hero who's coming into the spotlight for the first time in-universe is unlikely to make much of an impact unmasking for the press. (Additionally, the majority of Marvel's onscreen superheroes already have no secret identities, making the idea of one unmasking even less appealing.) Whether or not the cinematic Spider-Man will follow his comic book forerunner in switching sides remains to be seen, but keep your fingers crossed for Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) nonetheless.

Which Side Are You On?

Much has been made of the cinematic allegiances of the heroes: "Team Cap" consists of Captain America, the Winter Soldier, Ant-Man, Falcon, the Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye, while "Team Iron Man" is Iron Man, War Machine, Black Widow, Vision and Black Panther. Of this line-up, few played major roles in the comic book story, with the Vision, Winter Soldier, Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye absent from events altogether (Indeed, Hawkeye was temporarily dead at the time; don't ask). Two heroes have also swapped allegiances between comic and movie versions of the story — Ant-Man/Hank Pym was on Iron Man's side, while the Black Panther fought beside Cap.

In the original comic book story, Captain America's team included some familiar characters from Marvel's Netflix shows, including Daredevil and Luke Cage (Jessica Jones had left the country), with the Punisher later coming aboard somewhat uninvited.

And The Winner Is…

Perhaps the biggest potential difference between the movie and comic book Civil Wars might end up being the outcome. In the comic book version of events, Captain America surrenders to Iron Man to end the dangerous escalation of the conflict between their teams, but will Marvel allow the title character of the movie to lose? We'll find out when the movie opens May 5, but fans of Chris Evans' supersoldier should hope that the cinematic story doesn't track too closely to the comic book mythology. After all, things really didn't go too well for Steve Rogers afterward …

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