Civil Words: Iron Man/Captain America: Casualties of War

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Hi there, welcome back to Civil Words. I’m Cian, that’s my brother Colm and this is our Summer project: a read-through of the 2006 comics series Civil War (soon to be a major Marvel movie, if you hadn’t heard!).

The story so far: big name Marvel guys Iron Man and Captian America have had a falling out over something and now they really want to knock each other’s blocks off. That’s all ya need to know!

Okay, Colm after four weeks of Civil Warrin’ and the big ole superhero fight scene that closed out the last issues, we’ve more or less hit the mid-point of the story. Since the main story is kinda on pause as everyone recovers from being punched so hard/ shot with lasers, the plot threads briefly diverge into a set of short stories, each showing us another perspective on the Super Kerfuffle.

The issue we’re looking at this week, Casualties of War, is the first of these short detours. It’s really just an issue-long conversation scene between Cap and Iron Man. I also think it’s by the best thing we’ve read from the whole Civil War storyline so far, for reasons I’m sure we’ll dig into.

So ,our question of the week: what’s your favourite conversation scene in pop culture?

Colm: Honestly there are a huge amount of them, most outstanding pieces of pop-culture have some outstanding conversation. In terms of comics, I would have to say the conversation between Lex Luthor and Superman over the menace of Phantom Zone Kryptionians in ‘Superman: Last Son‘.

For Luthor, this is the justification of everything he’s belived: Aliens (especially Kryptonians) are monsters, and now the world will see he was right, whereas Superman argues that while the Phantom Zone criminals are just that, General Zod’s son (yep, that was a thing) was a child, and therefore innocent. Of course that is just in comics, and if you asked about T.V conversations one springs to mind between Barry Allen and Eobard Thawne in The Flash too!

More specifically Cian, what is your favorite Pop-culture conversation that is essentially an argument of Ideals, essentially what we are seeing in ‘Casualties of War‘?

Cian: Aww man, I was hoping to use my go-to answer for the “favourite conversation” question and just say the “I retracted it didn’t I?!” conversation from In Bruges.

But okay, since you specified it had to be an argument of ideals, the first one’s that come to mind are the Batman/Joker scene in the interrogation room in The Dark Knight. (“Never start with the head. The victim gets all fuzzy…”)

And also the long awaited meeting of Tyrion and Daenerys in a recent episode of Game of Thrones, where they talk through Dany’s solution to Westeros’ class inequality problem. (I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.”)

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Colm: Oh I’m sure you’ll get the chance to reference In Bruges again some day. Ah yes, from Bat torture techniques to Danys great Anarchic Socialist Movement (The future name of her war of conquest)

Starting off with Casualties of War, we see Cap (In a pretty conspicuous disguise, his red pirate boots are showing) and Iron Man meeting in the old avengers mansion. This chat-having took place after the initial brawl where Thor-manator kills Goliath. So Cian, do you think it was Tony Stark’s guilt over Goliath death that made him reach out to Cap, or could it have been Cap’s guilt for starting the fight?

Cian: Those pirate boots are so goofy. It’s amazing. Yeah, it seems that Tony set up the meeting, since he called Cap on some out of use Avengers back-channels, so it seems reasonable to assume that he’s feeling guilty cos his Pet Thor killed Goliath. We know Cap didn’t suggest the meet-up cos God forbid Captain America second guess his guerrilla war against police and democratically elected laws. (P.S: I think Captain America has been acting a real prick so far in Civil War.)

Colm: Well this standalone issue points out that both Tony and Cap can be real pricks. Through the comic we see multiple stories about Tony and Cap trying to justify themselves, get sympathy from the others or just outright manipulate each other.

So tell me Cian, have these events that Iron Man and Cap reference happened in the comics before?

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Cian: Yup, that’s the really clever bit: all of the flashback scenes in this issue are panels and dialogue from older Marvel comics issues – so it’s drawing on events that “actually” happened – well, as much as you can say anything actually happened in a fictional superhero universe.

There’s stuff from various periods in Cap and Iron Man’s individual long-running comics series, but also shots of moments from Spider-Man, the Young Avengers and the Avengers series, as well as an alternate future shown in the X-Men comics (!). This is one of those times when the inter-connected nature of Marvel’s series really pays off.

I really like this because writer Christos Gage is able to use events from the 40-odd year history of these character’s relationships to make the Civil War split seem like something that organically developed from the difference in their two perspectives. (Of course none of the writers of any of those past stories were building towards or had even an inkling about Civil War, but Gage is a skilled enough writer to make it seem like maybe they did.)

But aside from all the geeky continuity stuff, I think the flashbacks work so well because they present Cap and Iron Man’s schism in terms of an experience most people can connect with and see a parallel with in their own lives: these guys are good friends who have known each other for many, many years and seen each other at their best and worst, but now they’ve had a major falling out.

I know you’re far more of DC guy than a Marvel. Did the flashbacks have the same impact for you without as much context?

Colm: Yeah I was certainly impressed by all of those stories having such an impact on a modern storyline! Project Wideawake for instance is actually pretty terrifying, and brings up the issue of what the government will do if they have superhero’s regulated and controlled, a more tyrannical government may (as cap said in Civil War 1) will begin to dictate to hero’s who they should fight, whereas Iron Man sees this as a means of support and stability for struggling superhero’s.

It is actually a pretty powerful message and image: Thousands of Sentinels (robotic symbols of oppression of mutantkind) Soaring through the skies, ominously herding the population into whatever those who control the Sentinels see fit. Tony made a point that he worked as hard as he could to stop a future like that from coming to fruition, the story crafts tony as something of a politician whereas Cap is a military leader, though neither of them have learned how to lead properly!

Though the tales didn’t have as big an impact on me without the same level of context they filled in blanks I never realized were there: narratively they suit the comic well and they lend themselves to the situation at hand well to, like you said. Though I do think it would have had a bigger impact on me if I’d known these stories beforehand I still had a great understanding of how these old tales augment this one. But who do you think has the more convincing argument in this issue, with the old tales as additions or hindrances to Cap and Tony’s war?

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Cian: I think this story does a great job of pulling off what the main Civil War series tried and failed to do: making both sides of the argument seem well-reasoned, sympathetic and logical. But I really feel that Tony’s argument is more persuasive.

There’s an interview somewhere with the South Park guys, where they talk about how they try to not tell stories using “and then” to describe what happens, but rather “therefore”.

So because he’s a comics character written by dozens and dozens of different writers doing their own things since the sixties, Tony Stark’s biography is long history of “and then” stories: “He was secretly a superhero, and then he formed the Avengers, and then he was an alcoholic, and then he fought his friends, and then he hunted down all the other guys who had super-armour, and then he became Secretary of Defense, and then he started a big war with Captain America!”

What I like about Gage’s work in Casualties of War is that he finds a way to turn this long string of “and thens” into a concrete character arc, including lots of “therefores” and “buts”:

He was an alcoholic superhero, therefore he eventually nearly accidentally killed some people. His friends brought him through it, but the idea of the damage he could do stayed with him. Therefore he tracked down and stopped all the other people using similar armour, and publicly revealed his identity. He got a load of respect and good PR from this, and therefore got the position as Secretary of Defense. In that position he saw the files the government had for rounding up the X-Men/mutants with giant Sentinel robots and killing them or putting them in prison camps. He saw that these plans could just as easily apply to all super-people, not just mutants, Therefore he stared a campaign to get superheroes more supervised and integrated into everyday life, which required having them register with the Government. But this clashed with his friend Steve’s belief in individual freedom and the need for heroes to remain anonymous and outside government control. Therefore, the two eventually came to blows/war.

That seems to me like a way clearer and more interesting character arc than the one we got in the main Civil War series.

But as much depth as Casualties brings to Iron Man’s point-of-view, I’m not sure that it gives the same weight to Cap’s side.

But, what’d you think, which side convinced you?

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Colm: I don’t agree with you there Cian! While I’m on the Pro-Reg side, some of Tony’s anecdotes were just Sob stories about what a mess of a person he is, and while hey did have some merit to his argument, the anecdote that he wasnt a part of (WIDEAWAKE) was the most effective at defending the Pro-Reg side. I’m not saying they dont have an interesting, integral purpose to the argument, just that they feel more like Tony projecting and manipulating his own personal insecurities and failures for his justification of the Pro-Reg side.

Iron Man uses the examples of the Young Avengers and Spider-Man as people Cap unconsciously manipulated with his status as a moral paragon to join his cause, which Cap rebuffs, accusing him of the same thing with what he did to spider man. Is it fair to say the Y.A and Spiderman were manipulated, or do you think they have more intuition that that because lets face it, aside from Spider-Man, the Young Avengers have done feck all in this story?

Well Tony stark did the most Convincing, however this issue did not have me pick a side. Caps arguments weren’t too rousing, and Iron Man did as much against his cause than for it to me. This issue at its core is peeling away the ‘war’ to just Captain America and Iron Man fighting, and that is pretty much what their argument was, them verbally accusing and manipulating each other, though Tony was clever enough to use personal experience to justify his cause, it didn’t have its intended effect.

Civil War- Casualties of War - Iron Man-Captain America-021Cian: Sure, you’re right to point out that Tony’s own insecurities and failures are a big part of his argument/ his flashbacks – but think that’s kind of the point: in a more “realistic” world, people make mistakes, have bad days and buckle under stress. It’s why real world law officers have oversight: cos they’re human and can make mistakes or even just be corrupt or abusive of their position (a point that’s all over the news recently)

Ole’ Shellhead touches on that point himself when he says “See, that’s the problem here. It’s why you can’t see things from my perspective. Because it’s predicated on the premise that superheroes make mistakes. And your Captain America. You don’t make mistakes.”

And later: “Let’s face it…if everyone were like you, we wouldn’t need registration. But they’re not. Everyone feels inadequate next to you. God knows I always have.”

Weirdly, the conversation almost comes to echo the old theory that DC stories are about gods trying to live among men while Marvel is about men trying to live up to the status of gods.

Cap thinks that superheroes will do the right thing…because they’re superheroes: a very DC perspective.

Iron Man, meanwhile thinks that superheroes are ultimately human: that is, on some level flawed and inevitably going to let someone down. They’re heroes because they get back up and try to do better. Let’s call that the Marvel perspective.

Because Stark is a Marvel character taking the perspective that syncs up with the history/themes of the Marvel Universe in a Marvel published comic book, I think his argument comes out on top.

Meanwhile, Steve’s more DC-ish argument comes off as too idealistic and unrealistic in the slightly more hard-edged Marvel universe.

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Is there something here Colm, or am I just reading way to much into things?

(Ok, I’m writing thousand word posts about a goofy superhero comic that was published 10 years ago. It’s pretty clear I’m reading too much into things. But that’s beside the point!!!)

Colm: Thats another well made point to this while issue, its Tony who’s doing the negotiating, and Cap who refuses to listen to some form of reason. Its a strange new (back in 2006) way of looking at Cap, what once defined him as the most righteous man in the Marvel Universe is now being thrown back on him with non-heroic consequences. Does Captain Americas own brand of Heroism make him a Bad guy?

Well you can always read into things Cian! What if ‘Othello’ was just a story about a really manipulable man and his duplicitous frenemy, with nooooo hidden meaning attached? Some is intended, more is discovered!

OK, so aside from making the Civil War more personal for Iron Man and Captain America, what does ‘Casualties of war’ accomplish?

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Cian: Outside of the Cap/Stark stuff? Not much, I suppose – it’s very focused on just that one relationship. I suppose it gives some additional back-story to the whole Civil War event story, and situates it firmly within the fictional history of the Marvel Universe. Put I think it’s mostly the focus on their friendship: this is a story that just picks one thing to do, but does that one thing very well.

One thing it could have used I thought was a bit more humour: it’s all very self-serious for a story about a ninety year old man in red, white and blue pajamas arguing with another guy dressed as a jet plane.

The only thing I really found funny was when Cap first comes in and Iron Man is just sitting behind a desk in his full armour, like he’s chairing a meeting. He’s all “Shut the door, have a seat.”

What about you, any moments or panels that really stood out to you?

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Colm: I did find Tony’s Iron-morph suit hilarious, though I doubt anyone would make the comic so humorously self aware unfortunately, I mean there is a war going on!

As to my favorite panel in the entire issue…well i’m going to have to cheat: The two panels of Cap and Iron Man fondly reminiscing about the first time they fought but were cool with it, then getting sad, remembering how simple life used to be. And what was yours then?

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Cian: Well first of all, the cover, with Iron Man looming over Cap, is just cool looking.

But I also like the sequence of panels towards the beginning, where Cap nearly gets dragged into a screaming match about the recent Civil War brawl, and who was in the right, but he visibly manages to stop himself, take a deep breath, and refocus the conversation in a more productive direction. I like it both because it’s a character moment well and inventively communicated by the artist, but also cos it’s a very human moment, something that I’m sure we’ve all done (or wish we had done) in the heat of an argument. And these kind of well-judged, human character moments can often get lost or buried within the fights, plot-twists and time-traveling, and alternate universe selves of superhero comics.

And because I feel like the tone has been a bit more serious this week than normal, I’d just like to close by saying: Captain America is an absolutely ridiculous name for a character. Goodnight, everybody.


About the Authors:

The lovable slacker type, Colm Sheppard is into all things comic book. He enjoys good food, good stories and lengthy anecdotes.

A lifelong TV addict since his first episode of Sesame Street, Cian Sheppard works as an English teacher in Germany and thinks you look very nice today.


About English Den

Experienced, qualified and professional English teacher working in Warsaw, Poland. Interested in pop culture, and using pop culture to teach languages. Available for private or in-business classes. International classes also available on Skype. Contact for further information.
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