Marvel’s Civil War Prose Version (2012) Review: A Missed Chance

Civil War

Literature and prose in general is not the trick to telling a story well, as the adaptation of Marvel’s Civil War demonstrates. While author Stuart Moore makes a valiant effort at bringing a storyline spread across several graphic novels together in a linear manner, the prose version’s weaknesses make it forgettable and ultimately better unread when the graphic novel version is so much better.

It makes sense to try and adapt the popular and acclaimed storyline to prose. The Superhuman Registration Act following the tragic deaths of over 600 people in Stamford, Connecticut due to poor superhero judgment affected nearly every character in the Marvel Universe. In the comics, this caused not only the opportunity but the necessity to express how each character responded to the ensuing internal superhuman war in 23 different collected volumes. This obviously creates quite the problem for readers attempting to find and buy the collections necessary to get the most out of the story. While the prose version does make the overarching events of the main story included cohesive while involving some events of the other volumes, it leaves out some things that completely change the soul of Civil War.

A good prose version would have made a good blueprint for a film adaptation; however, leaving out the “details” that change the morality of events damages this story like it would any other sociopolitical commentary and makes it unsuitable. The most egregious of these is not in fact a missed detail, but an outright change with Civil War taking place during Obama’s first term rather than in 2006 with President W. Bush. The timeline difference may not seem like something that matters at all to someone who misses the political implications in Civil War, but it truly changes the landscape and setting as much as it would in making Watchmen set today rather than in 1985. Civil War itself is a commentary on the wrongs of the Bush years –or at least a straw man of the Bush years’ image depending on your views. The “Negative Zone” where the captured heroes who defy the act are taken is a dark reflection of Guantanamo Bay and the Registration Act itself is in the image of the USA PATRIOT Act by threatening civil liberties. Despite those two things still having place in Obama’s presidency, the perceptions of the two presidents in the public eye are completely diverged, and perception is everything.

I stress the point of changing the setting so much because it may be why Iron Man is now the good guy and Captain America is now the irrational one. In the graphic novels, there were clear, irredeemable evils in the pro-registration side such as forcing heroes to do morally questionable government work and attempting to arrest mutant Luke Cage at the stroke of midnight when the registration act became effective that did not make it into the prose version. The Negative Zone is instead of being a place of no trails or even charges -where a superhuman committed suicide- is now a luxury resort. Gone is the investigative reporting of the Frontline volumes exposing the evils of the Registration Act while at the same time criticizing both sides. One thing that would have been easier to include perhaps than whole events is one of the greatest speeches in the graphic novel medium made by Captain America to Spider-man. [SPOILER NEXT SENTENCES] Captain America’s surrender is not his realizing that he no longer represents America and relents to the people’s desires, but is instead a “moment of clarity” in realizing how wrong he is. Additionally, Captain America dying a hero in the aftermath is not shown.

I actually happened to meet Stuart Moore and discussed Civil War with him before reading the prose version. I did get the sense from him that he had a disliking for Bush and the Patriot Act and a more forgiving opinion, though not delusional, of Obama. He also seemed to completely understand the story’s implications. Therefore, it is entirely possible that Moore changed the sense of Civil War to reflect that now the establishment is the protagonist, whereas it was not before. Other explanations may be that the prose form was rushed and some things simply slipped his mind or time. But despite the reasons, Civil War at its soul is changed in the prose to a less compelling story than its counter-part.

The way of conveying the Marvel universe in prose is indecisive. It does not describe most heroes well enough for anyone previously unfamiliar with the comics to get a clear mental picture of them nor does it provide a lot of detail about the history of individuals. However, it does provide some profile information on them from Iron Man’s datasheets in case the reader knew but simply forgot. In the graphic novel medium, there is no need to literally describe a character because it is done in illustration in a single panel. Describing a single hero would have taken up two pages –enough to slow down the pace of a story to a snail’s crawl –so it’s a reasonable, but regrettable decision. The literature works brilliantly when the characters are few, such as in scenes with only the Fantastic Four or only Iron Man and Spider-man. In particular, the part of the scene with the villain Nitro setting off the Stamford tragedy is especially done well.

The prose version attempts to extend some of the reach of the story by explaining the death of Thor that occurred previously to Civil War and controversially decided to have Peter Parker and Mary Jane to be broken up as it is in a different storyline. However, the book is short and leaves a lot left up to the reader to infer rather than taking advantage of the prose format and spill out the details extensively in black and white.

I may have discussed a lot of things that matter to the intellectual instead of the person who enjoys superhero fights and action, but why consider a typed version instead of a colorful graphic world if that is the interest? Despite the added cost, it is well worth it to get the graphic novels. The essentials I recommend in descending order are:

Civil War (Civil War #1-7)

Civil War: The Amazing Spider-man (The Amazing Spider-Man #532-538)

Civil War: Road to Civil War (Amazing Spider-Man #529-531; Fantastic Four #536-537; New Avengers: Illuminati)

Civil War: Captain America

Civil War: Iron Man

Civil War: Frontline Vol. 1 & 2 (Civil War: Frontline #1-6, Civil War: Frontline #7-11)

Civil War: War Crimes (Civil War: War CrimesUnderworld #1-5)

Civil War: Fantastic Four (Fantastic Four #538-543)

Most of the others are recommended, but not essential for the minimalist.

Simply, do not get Civil War in prose at all whether you read the graphic novels or not. It is a false version of Civil War that looks enough like it to be recognized as such and satisfy the non-scrutinizing; but if you stick with it, you will miss out on true nature of one of the best stories in the entire graphic novel medium.


What do you think? Leave a comment.

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J. Bryan Jones is a prospective writer-editor in both prose and graphic novel media. He created "Leather Wing Media" and currently lives in Los Angeles, CA.

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  1. Taylor Ramsey

    Every time Marvel or DC try these prose versions of big stories, and there have been a lot of them over the years, they fall flat. Even when done by high end writers like Peter David, they just seem like an attempt to bring people that would not be caught dead in a comic shop into the fold. Always more of an attempt to cash in than an attempt to tell a good story in another medium, these are always a little insulting to me.I have read piles of ‘big boy books’ and read comics now by choice. I don’t really need to be told that I need to read the prose version of a comic for it to be ‘valid’. That is always how these seem to be marketed to me.

  2. This is what I would call a great review of a shit book. Avoid friends… avoid.

  3. longitude

    I didn’t dislike the book. I enjoyed it–getting through it in just a few days. I’m a sucker for Civil War story arc, and enjoy the exploration of civil liberties with exceptional people.

    That said, when reading the original (graphic novel) I felt that the story just sort of ended–like a Star Trek: Next Generation episode–bringing everything together at the very last minute. The ending just stops.

  4. I don’t read comics or graphic novels so I’m not overly familiar with the happenings in the original formats and cannot judge this novel in relation to them. However, as a stand alone novel this was a very well thought out and executed story.

  5. SkateBen

    It feels like Moore just decided to change things at his own discretion. I read the original comics, and yeah, they were really disjointed. But some of what went on made more sense than what Moore wrote. Some of the changes he made weren’t necessary. The endings for each character were too pat.

    The one thing I did like was the way he incorporated the post Brand New Day Spider-Man continuity.

  6. Joel Fragine

    ok ok, it wasn’t the worse, I’ve read worse! But it could’ve been tons much better.

  7. Despite not being a comic enthusiast, I was introduced to this Marvel event by a colleague around the time of its release, and was enthralled. As a newcomer to the medium, the exposition of the characters and story were expertly handled, and the socio-political parallels with the Bush administration were played perfectly.

    It is a wonder, then, that so much of what was relevant to that story has been omitted or changed for the prose version. It’s extremely disappointing to hear.

    Are there any prose versions of graphic novels that you could particularly recommend?

  8. Good to know I was smart to avoid purchasing this.

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