Book review–New Marvel paperback series begins with Stuart Moore’s Civil War novel

Review by C.J. Bunce

A new edition of novels based on Marvel Comics characters is being published beginning this month from Titan Books, including reprints of past novels as well as entirely new works.  First in the series is Stuart Moore’s 2013 prose novel Civil War, based on the giant, 98-issue, comic book event from 2006 and 2007 (not a novelization of the Marvel Studios movie).  The release of the novels is well-timed to capture new readers drawn in by Avengers: Infinity War, and Moore’s Civil War is the perfect follow-up for fans of the movie looking for more stories featuring the majority of the publisher’s roster of superheroes.  Just like the movie Captain America: Civil War only loosely tapped into concepts from its source material in the comic books, this novel may be a little jarring to those who only follow the movies.  But Moore’s book is a great way to see even more characters than made it into Captain America: Civil War or Avengers: Infinity War working together and against each other.  In short:  It’s a blast to read.

As in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Civil War the novel features a split between Earth’s superheroes, pitting Steve Rogers’ Captain America against Tony Stark’s Iron Man.  But the similarities end there.  A devastating explosion that kills hundreds of people resulting from a failed attempt by the New Warriors (a young superhero team filming a reality show) prompts American citizens to fear the superhero community and push for an invasive regulation of superheroes.  Stark initially opposes the Act, but ultimately favors it as the lesser of two evils and the best way for superheroes to continue to serve and protect.  Captain America and those loyal to him see the new Superhero Registration Act as a fascist restraint on their freedom and refuse to comply.  In the conflict that ensues Moore streamlines the original story from the comic books into an exciting and engaging read, drawing together most of the Marvel universe’s major characters and many minor characters.

Thor, Nick Fury, and Scott Lang are dead, Hulk has been exiled off-planet, and Wolverine and the X-Men refuse to take sides, not participating in the story, except for Storm.  The Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm and Doctor Strange remain neutral, but the rest choose sides, with Sue Richards, Hawkeye, and Spider-man switching sides throughout the story.  Falcon, Cloak & Dagger, Johnny Storm, Tigra, Prince Namor, Dr. Hank Pym, Black Panther & Storm, Daredevil, Ms. Marvel, Cassie Lang, Luke Cage, The Punisher, and newly appointed S.H.I.E.L.D. director Maria Hill all have key roles, with She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, Valkyrie, and Black Widow actively involved as well.  But the bulk of the character development follows Peter Parker, revealing for the first time to the world he is Spider-man, by far the most engaging and endearing hero of this tale.  The leadership challenges of Captain America and Iron Man as they oppose each other and keep Maria Hill and S.H.I.E.L.D. at bay is the girth of the story with a great thread involving Sue Richards as she struggles to deal with her husband Reed who she feels is on the wrong side of the issue Act implementation.

Author Stuart Moore credits the source material creators in his acknowledgements.  Most interesting is this reference:  “Steve McNiven’s artwork, on the main series, was both a constant inspiration and a source of frustration–it really does take a thousand words to capture a battle that he could show in one strong, powerful panel.”  This is a great point.  This novel captures much of the “Why?” that readers were more likely to miss in the comic book series.  Why was it important for the plot for the New Warriors (as opposed to another team) to be killed at the beginning of the story?  Is Peter Parker just a plucky teenager, as we see in his dialogue, or in his own thoughts can we see something deeper going on?  When Frank Castle crosses the line that neither Team Stark nor Team Cap would support, the reader gets a richer sense of what is going wrong.  And otherwise how do we know Sue is not just leaving her kids behind?

Readers now familiar with a decade of actors standing behind these characters on the big and small screen can either revert to their comic book vision of the characters or fill in the roles with Chris Evans as Captain America teaming up with Chris Evans as the Human Torch.  Witnessing the future of Cassie Lang, the little girl in Marvel’s Ant-Man movie–all grown-up in this book–was an interesting surprise.  With Moore’s words alone coupled with the reader’s imagination, the result is a fun ride–a deconstructed comic book of sorts.

With the uncertainty of contract discussions between motion picture studios over the possibility of Disney, holding most of the Marvel film and TV rights, acquiring Fox, holding rights to X-Men and The Fantastic Four, audiences may never actually get to see a movie like Moore’s Civil War.  In the meantime, comics and novels, like Civil War, will continue to be the next best thing.

Moore’s novel Civil War is available now from Titan Books in paperback here at Amazon.

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