Mark Mil­lar looks back at Marvel’s ’ 00s ex­trav­a­ganza.

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It’s been de­scribed as “Marvel’s equiv­a­lent to Watch­men” in terms of sales fig­ures but Mark Mil­lar never sus­pected that Civil War would be­come such a huge phe­nom­e­non when he be­gan writ­ing the seven- is­sue minis­eries just over a decade ago. Pit­ting the govern­ment- aligned forces of Iron Man against a re­bel­lious Cap­tain Amer­ica and his al­lies, the Steve McNiven­drawn cross­over was ini­tially de­signed as sim­ply 2006’ s an­swer to event books like Se­cret In­va­sion or Fear It­self. But af­ter be­com­ing the big­gest seller of that year, the col­lected edi­tion has since be­come one of Marvel’s big­gest sell­ing graphic nov­els ever, shift­ing over half a mil­lion copies to date and still rank­ing as Marvel’s top- sell­ing trade pa­per­back in 2015. Now set to spawn its own comic book se­quel in May in the form of Brian Michael Bendis and

David Mar­quez’s Civil War II, it also forms the ba­sis of this April’s movie Cap­tain Amer­ica: Civil War, which will see the Marvel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse’s Sentinel of Lib­erty Chris Evans com­ing to blows with Robert Downey Jr’s big screen Shell­head.

“When Steve and I were first do­ing it, we didn’t think that it would be as enor­mous as it has turned out to be,” says Mil­lar. “We just thought it would be our sum­mer event be­cause Brian Bendis and Olivier Coipel had al­ready done House Of M, and it was kind of our turn to do one. We just thought it would be lovely if it did well, so we were de­lighted when it caught on. We knew some­thing funny was hap­pen­ing when the or­ders for the first is­sue came in. By the time you count up all the variant cov­ers, it would have done around 450,000 copies.”

Now known for his cre­ator- owned Mil­lar­world se­ries like Kick- Ass, Wanted and

The Se­cret Ser­vice, which have given rise to their own Hol­ly­wood block­busters, the bulk of Mil­lar’s Marvel out­put prior to Civil War had been con­fined to the off­shoot Ul­ti­mate uni­verse. Hav­ing rein­vig­o­rated the con­cept of the Avengers in his sem­i­nal run on Ul­ti­mates along­side Bryan Hitch, he also en­joyed stints on Ul­ti­mate X- Men and Ul­ti­mate Fan­tas­tic Four. How­ever, Civil War pre­sented Mil­lar with an op­por­tu­nity to have a sim­i­larly seis­mic im­pact upon the House of Ideas’ main su­per­hero uni­verse. First pitched by him at one of Marvel’s reg­u­lar cre­ative sum­mits, it ac­tu­ally grew out of a po­ten­tial sto­ry­line he had de­vised for the Merry Mu­tants.

“We just sat around for three days and, as we al­ways do at th­ese things, we spent the first cou­ple of days plot­ting ev­ery­thing out and then chat­ting about it,” he re­calls. “A cou­ple of the guys had an idea for a cross­over but we just didn’t re­ally like the sound of it. You hate to be the guy who com­plains that some­thing isn’t work­ing but I could see it in the other guys’ faces, as it was a good story but it just didn’t seem right for a big com­pany cross­over. I’d had this idea for a civil war among the X- Men, which Bryan Hitch and I were go­ing to fol­low up Ul­ti­mates with.”

Cov­er­ing sim­i­lar ter­ri­tory to 2011’ s sim­i­larly di­vi­sive Schism sto­ry­line, X- Men: Civil War would have seen Wolver­ine and Cy­clops fall­ing out over the fu­ture di­rec­tion of mu­tan­tkind. How­ever, Hitch’s un­avail­abil­ity prompted a re­think. “Bryan was tak­ing longer on Ul­ti­mates than ex­pected and he wasn’t go­ing to be ready un­til around 2007,” con­tin­ues Mil­lar. “But I still wanted him to draw it, so I said ‘ why don’t we leave the X- Men out of this and do Civil War as a big sum­mer event?’ [ Fel­low Marvel writer] Jeph Loeb then came up with this re­ally great catch­phrase, which was ‘ Whose side are you on?’ and Civil War ended up be­com­ing a more Avengers- cen­tred event, al­though I never ended up do­ing that X- Men cross­over, as I then went off and did Kick- Ass.”

Both found­ing mem­bers of the Avengers but po­lar op­po­sites as char­ac­ters, Iron Man and Cap­tain Amer­ica made for nat­u­ral fig­ure­heads to head up the ri­val fac­tions. “One rep­re­sents the past and one rep­re­sents the fu­ture, but they both rep­re­sent Amer­ica,” rea­sons Mil­lar. “If you think about it, Tony Stark’s en­tire busi­ness model is based on an­tic­i­pat­ing fu­ture trends, as to where Amer­ica and the world is go­ing, while Steve Rogers was born when your grand­fa­ther was born. So it seemed ob­vi­ous that they would clash when it came to where to take the team next, which would prob­a­bly be in very dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions.”

While Steve Rogers has some­times been per­ceived as a glo­ri­fied political lackey, Mil­lar be­lieves he’s al­ways been a con­sid­er­ably more in­de­pen­dent spirit than of­ten given credit for. “There’s this crit­i­cism where peo­ple some­times think of Cap as this guy who fol­lows the govern­ment line, but ul­ti­mately Cap­tain Amer­ica is a sym­bol of free­dom,” he says. “He doesn’t rep­re­sent the govern­ment, as much as he rep­re­sents an idea. He fol­lows the flag; he doesn’t fol­low the par­tic­u­lar pres­i­dent as such. So Cap would be kind of ro­man­tic and say, ‘ We can’t work for the govern­ment, we have to be free agents like the Lone Ranger.’ Whereas Tony Stark would think, ‘ Well, at the same time, we can’t have the Avengers run­ning around and knock­ing down build­ings with­out a li­cence.’ That led some peo­ple to think that the se­ries was about se­cret iden­ti­ties, but it wasn’t re­ally to do with that. It was more about, ‘ Should su­per­heroes work for the govern­ment or not?’ and that idea was en­cap­su­lated in Cap­tain Amer­ica and Iron Man.”

In the real world if some­body had su­per­pow­ers, I’d like them to be reg­is­tered

The mis­ap­pre­hen­sion that Civil War ex­plores the sub­ject of su­per­hero aliases per­haps stems from # 2’s dra­matic cli­max, which sees Spi­der- Man sen­sa­tion­ally re­veal­ing on live TV that he is ac­tu­ally Peter Parker. “When you do a large event like that, you have to do some­thing re­ally big and we knew that there was a Spi­der- Man story com­ing up, where he was sort of go­ing to be re­booted, so we kind of had a li­cence to do any­thing we liked with him,” says Mil­lar, re­fer­ring to 2007’ s con­tro­ver­sial “One More Day”, which erased nu­mer­ous el­e­ments of the Wall- Crawler’s per­sonal life, in­clud­ing his mar­riage to Mary Jane Wat­son. “But it’s funny that it re­ceived so much at­ten­tion be­cause in the book it­self it only takes up three or four pan­els.”

In­tro­duced af­ter a New War­riors op­er­a­tion in the small town of Stam­ford Con­necti­cut goes hor­ri­bly wrong, cul­mi­nat­ing in an ex­plo­sion that kills dozens of peo­ple, the Su­per­hero Reg­is­tra­tion Act re­quires all su­per­pow­ered in­di­vid­u­als to sign on with the au­thor­i­ties, which Mil­lar main­tains wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily be a bad thing. “Weirdly, some of the other writ­ers would of­ten make Tony the bad guy, which I thought was a strange choice be­cause I was ac­tu­ally on Tony’s side,” he says, re­fer­ring to the var­i­ous spin- off ti­tles that ac­com­pa­nied the main se­ries. “In the real world, if some­body had su­per­pow­ers, I’d like them to be reg­is­tered in the same way that some­body who has a gun has to carry a li­cence. But a gun can kill sev­eral peo­ple while a su­per­hero can kill sev­eral thou­sands of peo­ple, so on a prag­matic level I’m 100 per cent on Tony’s side. Maybe on a ro­man­tic level, Cap’s po­si­tion makes sense but I don’t think any­body in the real world would re­ally want that.”

With the ex­cep­tion of a new in­car­na­tion of the Thun­der­bolts, which saw the likes of Bulls­eye, Taskmas­ter and Lady Death­strike press- ganged by Iron Man to track down the renegade Cap­tain Amer­ica and friends, the bad guys take a backseat for the ma­jor­ity of Civil War, a move that suited Mil­lar, who pre­ferred DC Comics as a child. “I read Marvel when I was very young, so I have a broad un­der­stand­ing of the main char­ac­ters,” he says. “So I just made it about the guys that I knew, which just hap­pened to be the he­roes. I’m not all that fa­mil­iar with the Marvel vil­lains, and the ones that do ap­pear are es­sen­tially Spi­der- Man’s and maybe the Fan­tas­tic Four’s as well.” Ul­ti­mately Mil­lar ar­gues that Civil War was ac­tu­ally just an ex­ten­sion of the oblig­a­tory slugfest that usu­ally oc­curs when­ever two su­per­heroes first meet be­fore they even­tu­ally unite against a com­mon foe. “I al­ways thought it was a tra­di­tional comic be­cause the Marvel comics that I did read as a kid al­ways seemed to be Thor vs the Hulk, or the Hulk vs Spi­der- Man,” he says. “There al­ways seemed to be th­ese ti­tanic bat­tles, and you’d al­ways have two he­roes go­ing off at one an­other. I al­ways saw that as a very Marvel thing, as you never re­ally saw Green Lan­tern fight­ing the Flash or who­ever. DC al­ways seemed to be more grown up and ‘ yes, we’ll work to­gether on this prob­lem,’ while the Marvel guys seemed to be quite teenage and ag­gres­sive. They were al­ways meet­ing, hav­ing a mis­un­der­stand­ing, fight­ing and then be­com­ing friends. It was just that clas­sic struc­ture, and I thought, ‘ If I’m do­ing this as a big Marvel event then read­ers are go­ing

to want to see that on a grand scale.’”

“Avengers scrap like dock­ers!” more like it.

Keep it Civil, Cap… So, as the man asks, whose side are you on? Peter Parker comes out of the mask.

Ow: the Pu­n­isher holds a bat­tered Iron Spi­der.

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