Is Civil War The Best Comic Book Event Of All Time?

Marvel's Civil War comic book event
Marvel Comics

While drawing inspiration from comic books is inherent in all comic book movies (Batman & Robin excluded), Captain America 3: Civil War is the first time we've seen anyone bring a big comic book crossover event to the big screen so directly. 

For the uninitiated, comic book events are BIG universe-wide stories that frequently include large numbers of characters within a comic book universe, and feature a number of "tie-in" comics, with the story spread out across a variety of comic book titles.

Marvel Comics, for example, has had at least one "Event" series every year since Avengers Disassembled in 2004. This includes Civil War by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven in 2007.

Pros (high stakes, high concept) and Cons (disrupts individual series, transparent cash grab) of the Era of Events aside, Civil War's new prominence in the comic book movie landscape raises an essential question: Is it good? Is it the best?

There's no arguing that Civil War was a success for Marvel. In addition to the MCU inspiration, Civil War was Marvel's best selling comic book of 2006, and has remained a perennial best seller among Marvel trades, as well as a frequent entry point for new comics readers. 

The appeal is clear: Every kid grows up wondering who would win in a fight between their favorite heroes, and Civil War offers that potential at every turn as the Marvel Universe chooses sides between Pro government registration (Team Iron Man) and freedom from required government registration (Team Captain America).

 

Better still, Civil War brings Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' "Who Watches the Watchmen" philosophy down hard on the Marvel Universe, with substantial, game-changing results (at least at the time). While some Marvel events might stop the politics and ethics at "Hey, the Hulk's really mad guys, I don't think he's messing around this time," Civil War whole-heartedly takes on issues of personal freedoms, privacy, and government interference in a post 9/11 America.

 

No, Civil War isn't some secret literary masterpiece, but it does raise interesting ideas, and plays them out in a generally compelling story, with plenty of room for debate on either side. 

So, big picture, where does this immensely popular and important Marvel event rank on the scale of comic book events?

A quick word of clarification: I'm categorizing "events" as comics series that extend to the universe at large. So something like Batman: Year One, while a mini-event or miniseries within Detective Comics, would not count. Same goes for even broader Bat-specific crossover like Knightfall or No Man's Land. DC's Infinite Crisis - which happened right around the same time as Civil War - would count as a proper universe-wide event. 

What's a Contender For a Better Comic Book Event?

Long story short, I think Civil War is quite strong. Civil War becomes even more impressive when you factor in the relative strength of the tie-ins. As an event, Civil War actually becomes more interesting when you read a majority of the related tie-ins, and this is far from a given with comics events. Frequently, too many tie-ins can collapse under their own weight, but Civil War actually found purpose and drive for the vast majority of tie-ins.

The impact of Spider-Man's decisions is given greater depth when including tie-ins like Civil War: Frontline and Amazing Spider-Man, for example.

So what's better?

When we look across the superheroic competition, DC certainly has a number of events that are just as well known. Crisis on Infinite Earths comes to mind, as does the Death of Superman (inclusive of World Without a Superman and Reign of the Supermen). 

Crisis on Infinite Earths can likely rival and occasionally outshine Civil War for impact and memorable moments (See: Allen, Barry or Girl, Super). Civil War is substantially more readable, though, and simply a better story. Crisis on Infinite Earths is trying to do EVERYTHING, and while that makes for some shockingly awe-inspiring George Perez hero gatherings, it burdens the story with a terrible weight.

Civil War is less cumbersome, and to my mind, a stronger read today.

More modern DC Events from the same time period as Civil War would include Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis. I'm generally favorable towards Infinite Crisis, but it's a whole heckuva lot messier than Civil War, and to my mind doesn't represent a real threat. There are plenty of fans who would argue Final Crisis is the superior event, but it's also one of the most challenging comics I've ever read. You need a PHD in Grant Morrison to really enjoy Final Crisis, and Civil War offers no such barriers.

Long comparison short, I think Civil War holds up well against any of DC's major events, and would outrank them in a list of great events. Of course, this does not mean Civil War is superior to all DC Comics (far from it), but specifically limited to events, it pulls off the scale of a major event better. Which us brings us to some internal competition.

Is Civil War Marvel's Best Event?

You could make a strong case that Civil War is Marvel's best event, and again, the popularity and cross-media range of the concept would certainly support your argument. As I've been saying all along, if Civil War isn't the greatest event Marvel has ever pulled off, it's certainly very, very close.

I'll admit, I had to re-read Civil War in its entirety to get a feel for ranking it against 2000's era events like House of M, Secret Invasion, and World War Hulk. 

There are individual event series that I might rather read again than the seven core Civil War issues (World War Hulk as the conclusion of Planet Hulk, House of M as a great X-Men alternate reality), but when you factor in tie-ins actually supporting story and adding depth, Civil War edges out all the familiar players.

Expanding into 2010 to 2014 doesn't do much to help find competition either. Civil War is unquestionably better than the likes of Fear Itself or Avengers vs. X-Men, and it makes Axis look like an absolute embarassment.

Which brings us, finally, to the only ruler truly worthy of the throne: Secret Wars.

Whether we're talking the original 12 issue Secret Wars from 1982, or the 2015 remix from Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic, Secret Wars trumps Civil War in every way, albeit in different ways.

The original Secret Wars is quite simple and child-like, in fact launched for the purposes of supporting a line of toys. It's also so much more fun than Civil War that I can barely explain it. Part of the childish appeal of Civil War is watching all your favorite characters fight, but Civil War largely sticks to heroes fighting heroes. Which of course excludes the most crucial ingredient in any superhero brouhaha: Doctor Doom!

Secret Wars (1982) brings all the great Marvel heroes against all the great Marvel villains and places them on an actual planet called Battleworld! The showdowns in Secret Wars make Civil War battles look like friendly pee wee football scrimmages. The Wrecking Crew devastates She-Hulk. Ultron breaks Hulk's leg. Molecule Man drops a MOUNTAIN on the Avengers! It's superior mindless comic book action on every level.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Secret Wars (2015) is the cerebral conclusion of Jonathan Hickman's brilliant run through Marvel. From Secret Warriors to Fantastic Four to Ultimate Comics Ultimates to Avengers/New Avengers, there's a subset Hickman-verse running through Marvel from 2008 to 2015, and it's the smartest, most interesting comics output Marvel can claim over that stretch.

 

Even apart from the singular moments that make Hickman and Ribic's Secret Wars the best Marvel event of all time, the event is the conclusion of a years long adventure, and it sticks the landing perfectly. For all its positives, Civil War is not really the long-running build of any particular storyline. Ironically, it's the frequently maligned Secret Invasion that is actually the payoff of mysteries and clues laid in New Avengers following Avengers Disassembled. Civil War is dropped into the middle of the Marvel Universe, whereas the Marvel Universe had been building to Secret Wars for years. 

For those reasons, and more, I can't quite bring myself to call Civil War Marvel's greatest event, which means, no, it is not the greatest comic book event of all time.

That said, Civil War is effective, and surprisingly well put together given the enormity of its tie-in ambition. Give it a read yourself to see where it stands in your own comic book event power rankings!
 

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Buesing, Dave. "Is Civil War The Best Comic Book Event Of All Time?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 24, 2016, thoughtco.com/civil-war-best-comic-book-event-ever-4036320. Buesing, Dave. (2016, April 24). Is Civil War The Best Comic Book Event Of All Time? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/civil-war-best-comic-book-event-ever-4036320 Buesing, Dave. "Is Civil War The Best Comic Book Event Of All Time?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/civil-war-best-comic-book-event-ever-4036320 (accessed November 18, 2017).