Our Marvels At War: Millar talks "Civil War"

For many Marvel Comics fans, May 3rd will mark the beginning of the summer blockbuster season. That's the day the first issue of "Civil War" arrives, a seven -issue mini-series by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven hits stores. CBR News spoke with Millar about the mini-series, which sends the Marvel heroes down the path to war not against the forces of evil, but each other.

When Millar arrived at the Marvel summit where "Civil War" was born he had no idea he would be the one to chronicle the company's next mega story. "I only had about eight weeks before I was taking some time off and I was at this meeting laughing because I knew Brian Bendis would get talked into doing the next cross over," Millar told CBR News. "I was saying to Brian, 'Ha-ha. You know how you work twenty hours every day? Soon it's going to be twenty three hours every day and I'm going to be having a great time for six months just doing nothing.' For some reason, between mocking Bendis and getting on my plane, I ended up writing 'Civil War.' I have no idea what the hell happened. I just got so excited about it. I thought it was one of those projects that I would actually have done within a couple of months, but it ended up being bloody huge. I'm constantly tweaking it and rewriting it just because it involves so many characters. It's much, much bigger than I expected."

The big idea that evolved into "Civil War" was born while Millar and Bendis were out one morning before the summit. "We were out shopping for presents for our daughters and Bendis said to me, 'I don't like the sound of the crossovers they're talking about.' And he said, 'What if we do SHIELD versus the Marvel Universe?'" Millar explained. "I thought, 'Hrmm. It's kind of interesting.' Then he said, 'I've been setting up this stuff in 'Avengers,' where the superheroes have to reveal their secret identities or SHIELD will go out and force everyone to do so.' I liked his idea, but I felt as if the whole superhero registration act thing had sort of been done in things like 'Watchmen' and 'The Incredibles.' I also felt SHIELD had been used too much.

"I said to Brian, 'I don't know. I think there is something there,'" Millar continued. "A project that Brian Hitch and I were working on as our follow up to 'The Ultimates' was originally titled 'Civil War.' I actually borrowed some of the ideas from that; brought them forward and I thought 'What if instead of SHIELD versus the heroes, it's the heroes versus the heroes? And instead of being the secret identities which has been done before maybe these guys are being asked to work for the federal government and some of them are agreeing to do it and other ones are not. It's an ideological split down the middle."

Some readers might be incorrectly try to frame the ideological split in "Civil War" as Conservative versus Liberal. "It's really lazy writing to make everything black and white," Millar said. "I'm a politics buff and I really hate seeing America divided into red and blue states because I know people in red states who have blue opinions. And we're all very complex. No one person can really even be described as a liberal or a conservative. "I'm a liberal but I totally believe in the death penalty on occasions. People are more complex than you think and I wanted to do the same thing with superheroes.

"The most obvious thing to do would have been to have Captain America as a lap dog of the government," Millar continued. "So, I've played around with everyone's personalities a little and really just tried to get in under their skin and have them feeling very confused about it, too. Some of them actually end up changing their minds and crossing sides because it's a very complex issue.

"So, to polarize it in terms of Conservative and Liberal would have been a big mistake. And I think you don't want to think of your superheroes as being Liberal or Conservative. I think those guys should be above that. What I've done is made everyone sympathetic, but everyone pretty passionate about what they believe in."

The passionate beliefs of the combatants in "Civil War" will gradually motivate them to do things they didn't believe they were capable of. "You have to think, 'Well, if it's called 'Civil War,' there's got to be some casualties there,'" Millar stated. "There's going to be people getting seriously hurt and maybe even dieing. So, escalating everything from an argument to an outright battle across the Marvel Universe was a real challenge. On page two, Captain America does not decide to kill somebody. It's a very gradual thing over the seven issues where you see things escalating from an argument into an all out war."

The two opposing sides in the all out war will find themselves equally matched. "I'm hesitant to make anyone the underdog because that immediately makes the reader empathize with them more than the other guys," Millar explained. "What I've done is I've got very powerful characters on both sides. Iron Man is enormously powerful. In some sense, he's really turned himself with the armor into Marvel's Superman. Then counter that with someone like Captain America, whose actual super power is almost his tactical military genius. Nobody can beat Cap in a fight. So, that's really interesting I've just had to try and be a bit more imaginative in how I have these conflicts carry out."

The conflicts in "Civil War" will involve most of the Marvel heroes, but the book will also focus on a core cast. "There's maybe about five really principal players in there," Millar said. "Obviously there's Cap and Iron Man. Also Spider-Man and Sue Storm are a big deal. Outside of that there's a few kind of floating characters as well. Two of which will be a big deal and can't be revealed just now."

Millar has had a blast working with the majority of the characters in the Marvel Universe and has carefully crafted "Civil War" so that even the smaller players get a chance to shine. "I made sure pretty much that everybody gets a little bit of screen time," He said. "I didn't want to leave anyone out. I've been quite lucky. 'The Ultimates' is a fairly broad book that covers a lot of characters. I've had a crack at 'Spider-Man' and I've also done an X-book, but just to get a little scene in there with Black Panther and another little scene with Dr. Strange, that was exciting."

When it comes to the actual battles that the characters in "Civil War" will be fighting, readers shouldn't expect the anti-registration side to just be reactive in fighting for their cause. "They will be a combination of both reactive and proactive," Millar explained. "I didn't want to just have these guys in, say, like a terrorist cell or anything because fundamentally Cap's guys are superheroes. So, the rationale for the Marvel Universe shouldn't be that they're just underground guys who are constantly fighting the forces of the status quo. They've got to be superheroes. They've got to go out and actually fight super villains and, unfortunately, SHIELD and the other superheroes are after them when they're doing so. It's an added tension to the whole thing."

"Civil War" is a conflict between the heroes of the Marvel Universe, but the villains do a play a role in the series. Millar is keeping their part in the story a secret, but he did reveal that he would be touching on an idea from his "Marvel Knights Spider-Man" run in which a secret cabal of industrialists conspired to create many of the costumed villains in the Marvel Universe. "There's some stuff going on with the villains about half way through the book, but really the main focus of the series is the split between the heroes and the other stuff is just really seasoning."

The split between the heroes is over the superhuman registration act, which mandates that anyone who puts on a costume and goes out to try and enforce the law must register with and become an agent of the federal government. Heroes who violate the law will find themselves imprisoned in newly redesigned secretive superhuman penitentiaries. "That's actually quite a big plot point," Millar stated. "There's a whole new way of storing super villains and heroes who refuse to sign. It's quite a big deal. We're really updating the Marvel Universe in a lot of ways."

"Civil War" will also address how countries around the world view the US government's new policy on super humans. Some of the fictional Marvel countries that don't exactly see eye to eye with the US, like Wakanda, Latveria, Atlantis, and Providence, might even become embroiled in the events of the story. "Some will be involved quite a bit and others will remain neutral and others might come in at a later stage," Millar explained. "That's part of the meat of the story really."

The various countries of the Marvel Universe will have different degrees of participation in "Civil War," but the globe spanning organization SHIELD will play a definite part in the mega-story. "SHIELD's new boss Maria Hill isn't quite as cozy with the superheroes as Nick Fury was," Millar stated. "So, that works very well within the scenario. It would have been a lot harder to do this if Nick, who is very pro-superhero, was in charge because he would have been probably against the registration act, whereas, Maria Hill made the story a whole lot easier for that."

When Millar's epic story is over, he hopes readers enjoy the ride that he took them on. "I want them to get the same kind of fun out of it as I got out of 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' or one of the big crossovers like 'Secret Wars,'" Millar said.

After "Civil War" is complete Millar won't be immediately building upon the story foundations he lays down in the series. "I've been very lucky while I've been at Marvel. I've always been doing top five books," Millar stated. "I've never been involved with anything quite this big. I was shocked when I saw the numbers and I know what's happening over issues two and three. The sales on this thing are going to be nuts. So, I'm kind of annoyed with myself for not immediately following this with a book because I know all the books that I'm setting up in 'Civil War' are going to be huge; the ones that spin out of it.

"All my friends are going to make a fortune on this thing and meanwhile I'll be off doing some stupid creator owned thing," Millar joked. "But, Brian Hitch and I are doing something gigantic. You won't hear about it till the end of the year and it will be out in 2007. It's a mainstream Marvel book."

For Millar, "Civil War" has been a difficult, but immensely gratifying tale to tell. "I've had a good time on it and it's been an awful lot of work," Millar said. "If I knew how much work it would have been I probably wouldn't have started doing it. It's been difficult but so rewarding when I see it coming back looking so good.

"Steve McNiven is just the greatest find," Millar continued. "Marvel is really lucky to have him. He's brilliant and it's really exciting for me seeing the pages coming in."

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[CBR NOTE: Did you know CBR hosts a Civil War Forum where you can ask questions of Editor Tom Brevoort? Well, now you do! Hop on over and join the discussions. Plus, tomorrow we'll bring you highlights of those questions already asked of Tom Brevoort in a special Q&A article.]

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