What Marvel’s ‘Civil War’ Might Have Been

It’s been a few months now, and I thought that the event that we all loved to hate, Civil War from Marvel, was long past us. Iron Man’s a bad guy, Captain America’s dead, let’s move on. But like any good property, it’s far too lucrative to let die.

Although I must say, I didn’t expect to be talking about Civil War in this context.

Marvel Comics’ Executive Editor Tom Breevort has decided to pull back the curtain on the making of Civil War and share with us Mark Millar’s initial treatment for the series along with his and Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada’s comments/reactions. Dated September 16, 2005, it’s very clear that this story idea went through much iteration with comments and revisions until the event saw print in summer 2006. By showing us the evolution of the story, Breevort is take a huge step forward in terms of transparency with fans within the creative process, so much so that I’m actually shocked to see that he was allowed to do this. You would think that these story origins (and editorial changes/criticisms) would be held tightly to the vest, for fear of fueling even more dissent from fans on the message boards. But looking at it another way, this could be seen as a stroke of genius as Breevort takes the fans head on with their editorial comments and shows everyone how we got the story we ended up reading.

Of course my own personal curiosity got the better of me as I spent the better part of an hour pouring over this text. Sure, the plot points that vary from the finished work are fascinating but it’s the subtext and reading between the lines that kept me interested. Before I delve into that, let me recap the majority of the plot deviations and interesting points:

  • Speedball was always the spark for the conflict, from the beginning.
  • One child died as opposed to hundreds in Stamford.
  • It was originally supposed to be 12 issues (Can you imagine that? We’d still reading it if that was the case).
  • Thor was supposed to come back halfway through the series.
  • The story would climax with the return of The Hulk.
  • Captain America loses his powers, but doesn’t die.

I know, that’s a lot to take in, isn’t it? So while the casual comic fan might zero on what could have been had this story seen print, I’m not so much interested in that, rather as the how we got to the story we read. Why? Well mainly because Mark Millar’s treatment is great. It’s easy to look back and critique, but had they done his original story, I would have been thrilled. This initial treatment had the thrills and excitement that I had expected from Civil War, not the brief flashes and moments that the published Civil War gave us. It’s easy to critique after the fact, and I’ve never written or edited a comic book, much less run one of the biggest comic book companies, but I’ve read a lot of comics. I know what I like and what works (for me at least) and when I look back at the published Civil War, I think to myself that, art delays aside, they blew it. They had it, and they blew. So how or why did they blow it?

To me, the answer lies within the comments from Quesada and Breevort. First, I was surprised to see how aware and conscious of what the distinguished competition across town at DC Comics were doing. And to blatantly own up to it in comments such as:

“Cripes this kid is your Sue Dibny”
“When you really look at these two characters standing side by side, they really are our Batman and Superman”
“Let’s not chase the DC dollar on this. It’s a sucker’s bet.”

Now, it’s one thing to be aware of your competition – any good business should be — but to craft your approach in terms of comparison and execution of your competitors, to me, seems like a reactionary and bad business practice. As opposed to creating out of innovation, you create out of opinion and of what has come before. It’s this sort of thinking that can stifle a good product (in this case, story) and put something sub-par into market. But I can understand where they’re coming from and don’t really fault them for it, it’s just a little bit of a disappointment.

In terms of speaking of stifling the creative process, one of my early theories about Civil War was that this was not Mark Millar and only Mark Millar writing it. Sure he wrote the words that eventually saw print, but this proves my theory that as the Civil War story evolved it became a mish mash of others, in the form of editorial comment/changes. Now, again, I’ve never edited a comic book and to be honest the process is a bit of a mystery to me, but if these were the initial comments to the birth of this story idea, I can only imagine what the future drafts looked like. I can accept some level of guidance from editorial in terms of tying into the greater universe, in terms of bringing back characters/teams like Thor or The Champions (which is now The Order). But the comments that begin to stack up as you read the treatment (nipping here, trimming there) that, while during the process probably seem to help to evolve the story, in retrospect I think detract from it and take away from the story.

The biggest offense was Breevort’s reaction to the story’s climax, which would weave Civil War right into World War Hulk, with the banished Hulk returning to Earth and the heroes reuniting to help deal with that threat. Breevort’s reaction was:

“The Hulk War doesn’t belong in this story, and it’s only our own greed that keeps trying to force it in. I do think that the Hulk should play a role in this story, but right now this is the point where everything disintegrates into chaos, into two big summer crossover stories smooshed together. It’s not going to be accessable, it’s not even going to make sense, and I don’t think we should do it. Let PLANET HULK be PLANET HULK, and let CIVIL WAR be CIVIL WAR. Let’s not chase the DC dollar on this. It’s a sucker’s bet.”

Crossover-itis is definitely something I think both companies are aware of and generally want to avoid, so I applaud the initial instinct, but in this particular case, I think this is the point that leads to blowing the story. From the get-go, with Civil War, Planet Hulk and Annihilation occurring in the Marvel Universe, it felt more unnatural and wrong to me that those stories did not collide at some point. Yes it was obvious, but in a good way.

Last summer, I even predicted that either the Hulk storyline or Annihilation would collide with Civil War. I thought that one of those two would bring the balance to the Civil War story and give it the gravity of storytelling that we were desperately hoping for. But they decided not to go this way. They wanted each story to be accessible, a business decision that detracted from the story. Again, I understand the motivation but its decisions like this that do not deliver amazing products. A wise man once told me that content is king. If your content is great, then success will follow. When you let external factors affect the content, for whatever the justification, the content suffers. It’s as simple as that.

The irony of the matter is that if you take me as a case study, last year when Planet Hulk and Civil War began, I bought into Civil War and I did not read Planet Hulk. One year later, I wish Civil War had been more fleshed out within the specific issues and not end with a sputter like it did, and I’m buying World War Hulk. So what they were afraid of turning people off with actually worked. They actually pulled me into it and made me buy more books. Now I’m an easy mark for this but imagine, just imagine, if they had gone with Millar’s story instinct. They could have created a true “event” that could have done to comics what Lost and 24 have done to television, and that’s make it crucial. A must-see event. (Unfortunately that would have required the art to be on time, which is besides the point.) Now of course, this is what could have been. I’m sure that had this happened there could have been crossover backlash and fan discontent. But if the content was there, if it was great, then it could have surprised us all.

Who knows, maybe they’ll do a “What If… Civil War was done how Millar originally envisioned?” some day. I bet that would sell.


  1. I read this the other day and was stupefied at some of the things they changed but relieved by others. I agreed with how the Hulk conversation turned out; I wish the Thor thing had turned out differently. When I saw “12 issues,” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    I have gazed into my crystal ball, and it showed me Tom Breevort’s blog getting him in some legitimately hot water one day.

  2. Wow. Interesting look.

    – I like the point that was made that there should be a story point to solidify Cap’s refusal to support the war. I know nearly every writer sided with Cap anyway but his steadfast refusal to even consider registration never sat with me, America’s a democracy and sometimes that means shitty laws that we don’t agree with. Cap’s not a 15 year old idealist, he’s smart enough to know this.

    – I think just having had it been someone close to Tony die would have been too little to spur it on. The entire country would not support a bill just because a rich guy’s friend got killed.

    – Tying into WWH was a bad idea. I’m enjoying it separate, but I can’t imagine it working with Civil War. They were also right, resolving Civil War through external issues and resetting the status quo because everyone teams up against the Hulk would have been disappointing.

    – It sounds like Millar had a better explanation for why Cap surrendered than we got.

    – they were way too excited about the Thing speaking French.

    – the DC references make sense. Everyone uses other famous works as examples. I’m sure if we had a fly on the wall of 52 we’d hear Marvel references.

    My own feeling with Civil War is that it should have been one issue longer, and dealt with the resolution and why Cap gave up better. Or actually beat Cap’s side.

  3. By Cap supporting “the war” I meant the Registration Act. Teaches me not to comment and watch the news at the same time.

  4. This isn’t too different from the Civil War we got. The differences are negligible; 1)One kid dies instead of a town, 2)Nick Fury instead of Maria Hill, 3)New stealth costumes for Cap’s team,4)some random superhero who has a kid dies, 5)WWH tie in, 6)a megalomaniac senator, 7)Cap retires. Compare that to what was the same 1)Speedball starts it, 2)Cap v.s. Iron Man, 3)Sue and Namor join with Cap, 4)Cap’s team get ambushed at a chem factory, 5)Negative Zone prison, 6)return of Captain Marvel and Thor, 7)the Punisher joins with Cap and is then booted off the team, 8)Spidey switches teams, 9)heroes fight in mid-town New York City, 10)Cap quits the fight and Tony keeps hunting down heroes.11) Villains hunt down heroes. Even the fall out has been very similar to what is mentioned in the original treatment (Champions, Hawkeye as Cap, and WWH). In a way we did get the dead hero/son plot point in Goliath being off-ed by Clor. Instead of grieving son we got a grieving family.

    Actually I am glad they changed it. I don’t buy anyone other than Tony Stark and the US government being enthused about superhero registration after the death of only one boy. Sure it is a damn shame when innocents are caught in crossfire, but it isn’t such an uncommon occurrence that it would get an entire country to rally behind it. The country needs to be against Cap for him to quit at the end. I just like Fury on the side of the resistance. New stealth costumes seems too 90’s. It also makes it seem like the characters wearing them are the ones who are acting out of character. They were the ones acting true to the ideal of a superhero so they should appear as they always have. They already killed the Ant Man who has a kid, I don’t know of any other hero brats out there (unless they want to kill Reed). Crossing over with World War Hulk dismisses the Hulk as a plot device in CW. The Hulk needs WWH to give him some more depth. Also WWH/Annihilation rallying the heroes together was the ending everyone was expecting. The senator with Doom tech is just too out of left field. When would they have established his story? Also the senator would have been that outside force acting on the superheroes, which partly negates it from being a civil war. Lastly, would you really want Brubaker writing stories about Cap taking a retirement road trip across the US in an RV? We dodged a bullet with that one, even if Cap didn’t.

    Anyway. That is how I see it. Way too long of a post, but there it is.

  5. ” I don’t know of any other hero brats out there (unless they want to kill Reed).”

    The thing is though that wouldn’t have made as much of an impact since the FF were public from day one, the kid would not have died from the registration act. The only hero I can think of with a kid right now is Luke Cage, but Bendis just established his kid a few months before CW so it’s not likely that they’d kill it and Cage.

  6. Yeah…I think I prefer what we got, honestly.

    Yes, we could’ve used more exposition from Cap about his surrender. Yes, we didn’t need Sally Floyd to bitch at Steve like an ignorant bitch without him retorting, but I really don’t like the overall direction they were heading in.

    And Happy Hogan got killed anyway. 🙂

  7. Isn’t Cage’s kid a skrull?

    Is it really that surprising that Marvel is looking at whats working at DC and copying it? I mean thats their history from day 1. Stan even talks about his discussions with Jack Kirby on creating the Fantastic Four to mimic the success DC was having with team comics.

    I have really enjoyed Marvel’s blog’verse. I think Joe has set a tone of transparency, and open communication with the fans that we really haven’t seen since the letters pages of the 60’s and 70’s.

  8. I’m a DC guy with my favorite hero being Daredevil. Yeah, I know it sounds crazy. Anyhow, I have always viewed Marvel as taking DC ideas and owning them (executing them better). Well, “better” by terms of sales.

  9. Can you give us a “For instance…” ?

    I don’t know if either Marvel or DC “own” the ideas for the stories they tell. I’ve heard both Cap and Batman referred to as Hamlet-like and I would say the comparison does hold up. If you bend and twist this stuff enough it can be made to look like almost anything else. What is the difference being an homage and stealing? Being honest about it?

  10. For instance,

    Infinite Crisis brought about the disintergration of trust among the heroes. Well, it was long the making leading up to IC, but basically the big three were no longer trusted friends with one another. I hate to over simplify, but it was a hero versus hero story. Of course, Superboy Prime, Earth 2 Superman, and Alexander Luthor were the heroes of the COIE that would be the heroes turned villian types for IC. These types stories existed long before obviously, but at least this was something “new” in that it hadn’t been done in a while. Civil War was also a hero versus hero story where friendships among the heroes came to an end. But Marvel made it more “realistic” by not making so clear as to who the villains were. They made more grey areas to their tale. Earth 2 Superman and Spider-Man switched sides. Alexander and Superboy Prime were your Mr. Fantastic and Iron Man, but taken to the more extreme psychotic levels.

    I certainly never meant that anyone “owned” the ideas themselves. I simply meant that Marvel could replicate what DC just did, but to greater effect in terms of sales. Why is Marvel making a Spider-Man weekly (3 times a month isn’t weekly, but people are calling it that)? This is a reaction to the success of 52. It would happen otherwise.

  11. Pardon me, I meant it wouldn’t happen otherwise.

  12. Though some of the chages were good, I think MM’s original plotline was far superior to what we got–which was rushed and awful at times with the jumpy stroyline and then late, which made it terrible.

    I think a depowered Cap would have been way more interesting than having to bring yet another guy back from the dead. If it was well written,. I would have loved a depowered cap series. Develop the man whose heart drove the super-powered body. The character that the Super-Soldier Serum was not responsible for.

    It is interesting how many ideas got thrown into other things–like trying Hawkeye as Cap.

  13. “Infinite Crisis brought about the disintergration of trust among the heroes.”

    Or maybe Marvel looked at their own history and decided that heroes distrusting each other, and being a bit more villified by the public / law was a better way to go. One of the classic Marvel things was that anytime two characters met they would generally start with a fight. The Avengers fought the X-Men the first time they met, Spider-man fought everyone.

    I look at Civil War as more of a reset of ’60s / ’70s continuity where not all the heroes were beloved public figures. Spider-man used to have to be as wary of the police as supervillians.

    ” This is a reaction to the success of 52. It would happen otherwise.”

    Yeah 52 probably has a lot to do with it, but I wouldn’t over estimate the fact that three Spider books was too many and there was no real clear reason for having them, other than sales figures. What made FNS, AS and the other one (name escapes me right now) different. The X-Men books at least feature different characters.

  14. From comments that have been made in the past (particular RE: Avengers Disassembled), it seems to be a recurring theme that a lot of the ‘powers-that-be’ are unclear as to EXACTLY what it is people don’t like about crossovers.

    The forest for the trees, as it were.

    Not only is feeding Civil War through to World War Hulk a conceptually sound approach, it potentially builds a SINGULAR event. Which is spinning wheels much less than a stringy Civil War.

    A similar point was made by a marketing exec after Disassembled and leading in to House of M, in response to the negative reaction to the spin-offs.
    The misconception was that they gave fans spin-offs that were’t crucial, which should have made it okay, but I don’t think that’s ever been the REAL point.

    EXPENDABLE and creatively unnecessary extensions and marketing stamps are far less offensive than a dense, well constructed story broken up into several parts.

    Interesting to see them open themselves that much, if the ‘secrets’ themselves aren’t ENTIRELY surprising.

    At least they’ve been receptive enough to keep things anchored to a core mini-series. You just have to wonder if the logic still needs some work.

  15. While I never read Civil War, I followed the storyline as best I could through the various media sources and friends. I think, after perusing through Millar’s treatment, that combining all of these events would have been the way to go. I know that Marvel wanted to avoid linking them all together and make them more accessible, but it didn’t do that for me. I returned from a hiatus in comics after issue #2 of Civil War came out. And I had zero interest in trying to understand it.

    I think what they did instead was alienate what would have been a better story. I can recall that many fanboys (including the leaders of our favorite podcast) had mentioned that it would be badass if the Hulk returned during Civil War. Maybe if this would have all been linked, I would have felt more of a compulsion to jump in on it. Like a, “Don’t miss out on this one event” kind of thing.

    Who knows how it would have worked out if it would have come out as Millar’s treatment. The one thing you can count on with comic book fans is that they can find fault with anything…

  16. So I think Civil War has gotten beaten up unnecessarily.

    The story arc discussed a lot of important issues that I think were well treated in the comic book format.

    I LOVED Frontline…and before Civil War, pretty much avoided Marvel…now I’m a Marvel fan, and really, really liked Cap. He embodied my feelings surrounding the patriot act and the unthinking support for Bush at the beginning of the Iraq war.

    Thanks Cap for saying what I was thinking and feeling.

  17. I am liking Civil War more and more as time goes on. Or maybe I’m liking the fallout since Civil War. Or maybe I’m just healing with a little distance. But I’m glad they kept these events separate. Even though it felt wrong and anticlimactic at the time, I’m glad it ended the way it did so Iron Man had time to play in his sandbox for a few months before Hulk’s return.

    I did find the lack of the real Thor’s return to be like a big raspberry in my face. I mean there was just no reason for the delay that I can fathom. In fact as far as I can tell Thor’s new title should be set before any of the Civil War happened, because that’s when DB first picked up the hammer in the desert with the flash of lightning and the K-ThOOOOM!

  18. I am quite disappointed with Marvel’s collections department. They could of made a fortune by now with a Civil War Omnibus collecting Frontline and Civil War. McNiven’s art really needs this treatment.
    But no, they had to get a tpb out with the 7 issues right away.

  19. I’ve been reading Marvel and comics in general since 1964 and admittedly lost touch with Marvel about five years ago. I recently came back to pick up on what the Avengers were doing. I am disgusted with the Civil War storyline. This isn’t Marvel. The House of Ideas has hit the lowest point I’ve ever seen.
    Would I recommend Marvel comics to my grandkids, students, and kids based on the Civil War. Hell no.