Superhero movies are actually driving people to pick up comics again, some for the first time since childhood, others for the first time ever! Tons of fans look to the source material in order to prepare for an upcoming flick, but where is the best starting place? Here is the essential reading for Captain America: Civil War.
After superhero negligence leads to the death of hundreds, the United States government enacts the Superhero Registration Act, requiring masked heroes to register their secret identities and become employees of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The super community is split down the middle, with Iron Man leading the Pro-Registration side, and Captain America leading the underground rebellion. The film can’t adapt this story directly. Heroes in the MCU don’t really have secret identities, and half of the characters featured in the book are owned by different film studios (most notably the Fantastic Four). However, the themes of liberty, privacy, public safety, oversight, and fascism will all be present, and that keeps the core of the story the same. Civil War is seven issues long, but it barely scratches the surface of the story. So much happens “offscreen” that fleshes out the characters, their motivations, and the ramifications of the war. Most of it can be found in the various tie-in books; see Marvel’s Official Suggested Reading Order here.
Amazing Spider-Man: Civil War
Out of all the Civil War tie-in stories, this is the most essential. Amazing Spider-Man issues 529 through 531 are “The Road to Civil War,” and help set the stage for the main event. Peter accompanies Tony Stark to Washington to discuss the looming Superhero Registration Act, and it establishes their relationship leading into the war. Then, issues 532 through 538 center on Spider-Man’s role in the war itself. Civil War is a good read, but it’s a very broad story and action heavy. The Amazing Spider-Man tie-ins are much deeper than that. They focus on Peter’s inner turmoil, and explore the grey area between the two sides. Peter is meant to be an everyman, and his thoughts/feelings are much more accessible than those of Captain America or Iron Man. Writer J. Michael Straczynski breaks down the themes of Civil War on a very personal level. Amazing Spider-Man: Civil War may even be better than Civil War itself, especially for fans who prefer depth and inner conflict over shallow action blockbusters.
Black Panther, Volumes 3 & 4
Black Panther makes his big screen debut in Civil War, and these two volumes are the best resources to understand his character. Two volumes may sound like a lot, but it’s largely where the filmmakers are pulling from as source material. Volume 3 – Christopher Priest and Mark Texeira gave T’Challa his first solo series in ten years, and fleshed out his character tenfold. The film is probably going to pull heavily from this volume in particular; Martin Freeman’s character has recently been revealed to be Everett K. Ross, who was a staple in Priest’s Black Panther series. Volume 4 – Reginald Hudlin and John Romita Jr.’s volume built off of Priest’s and further developed the Panther mythology. This is also the volume that intersected with Civil War, so, if you’re just looking to cram, you can focus on the tie-in issues. Issue 18 is the Civil War Ceasefire, and issues 22-24 are the actual tie-ins.
Amazing Spider-Man & Ultimate Spider-Man Omnibuses
Everyone knows Spider-Man’s origin story by now; it’s not even being addressed when he’s reintroduced in Civil War. After the two film series by Sam Raimi and Marc Webb, many casual fans may even consider themselves Spidey experts. However, film has yet to truly capture the essence of his whole character. With Peter Parker finally being brought into the MCU, now is the perfect time to read into his history and develop a standard to measure Tom Holland’s performance against. Luckily, the entirety of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original run on Amazing Spider-Man is compiled into a single Omnibus. Simply put, it set the standard for every comic that came after it. Ultimate Spider-Man was Marvel’s way of rebooting the character for a new generation in 2000. It’s also excellent, keeping true to who Peter is while making his story more accessible. The filmmakers will probably borrow more from this era than the 60’s one, but both are worth reading.
Captain America by Ed Brubaker
The MCU version of Captain America is pulled heavily out of Ed Brubaker’s run on the comics. Brubaker is the genius writer who wrote Cap’s story for eight years, creating the Winter Solider in the process and dealing with the aftermath of Civil War. His run is long; it’s all worth it. But, if eight years of comics is too much for you, center in on the period surrounding Civil War (Captain America volume 5, issues 22-25). It focuses more on his surrounding cast, all of whom are in the film, and leads directly into the “Civil War Epilogue” in issue 25. The Epilogue ties up some loose ends from the main story, and is absolutely essential. The story arc then continues on through issue 30.
Iron Man: Civil War
It feels right to have something related to Iron Man on this list, and his Civil War tie-in (Volume 4, issues 13 and 14) are probably the most fitting. However, they don’t really fall under the “essential” category. The hope is that Tony Stark’s solo series would give more insight into his thought process during the event, which it does. It just doesn’t do it to the extent that it should have. The main Civil War book is what gives the best look at Iron Man during this time. The issues succeeding the Civil War tie-ins then deal with the aftermath and the changes to Tony’s life. — Captain America: Civil War is in theaters May 6, 2016.