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The 2006/2007 Marvel Crisis Crossover.
The New Warriors, during the filming of a Reality TV program, unthinkingly start a fight with several fugitive supervillains (including Nitro) in the middle of a suburban housing development in Stamford, Connecticut. Demonstrating power well in excess of any he's ever shown before (due to secret drug treatments provided by a Corrupt Corporate Executive), Nitro quite literally explodes - killing all of the New Warriors (except Speedball) and 612 civilians, including the entire population of an elementary school.
This sparks a flurry of anti-super feelings in civilians. In the wake of House of M (the previous Crisis Crossover) and Secret War, Congress decides they have to act to control all metahumans, and the Superhuman Registration Act (SHRA) is passed. Although different individual comics in the crossover treated the act in slightly different (and occasionally inconsistent) fashions, the most commonly used presentation of the SHRA included these features:
- Mandatory registration of all superpowered individuals (whether active as superheroes or not)
- Mandatory registration of all costumed crimefighters (whether superpowered or not)
- All crime-fighting and lifesaving activity by non-registered superheroes is illegal
- All registered heroes are to attend - and pass - mandatory government training (waivers were issued by Tony Stark for himself and his pro-registration Avengers comrades)
- All registered heroes are potentially liable to be called up into active government service, at the discretion of the government, without the option of refusing
Captain America refuses to register and hunt renegade heroes, then forms the Secret Avengers, an underground organization that resists the Act. The X-Men declare the whole mess Someone Elses Problem, and Tony "Iron Man" Stark leads a SHIELD force to help capture all renegade metahumans, hero or villain. The US government, with Stark's concurrence, also puts together a task force of supervillains - the New Thunderbolts - for the purpose of hunting down unregistered metahumans. Some of the most psychopathic and violent villains imaginable (including notables like Bullseye and Venom) are, against all sense, released back onto the streets for the government-sanctioned hunting down of and crippling of unregistered heroes. (Also against all sense, the government hires Deadpool for similar duties.)
The crossover was similar to, but far more extreme than, previous Super Registration Act plots in comics. It is also notable for big changes in the status quo, including the death of Captain America and the unmasking of Spider-Man (among several other heroes). Despite Joe Quesada (then-editor-in-chief of Marvel) promising that Spidey's unmasking would not be undone via a "magic retcon" (those being his exact words), Spidey's unmasking was retconned as a part of Quesada's wildly unpopular pet storyline One More Day - by literal magic.
Most of the Marvel Universe was involved in this, including The Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the Runaways, and many other heroes. The X-Men comics were, by and large, uninvolved in the crossover; this is because of the decimation of the mutant population that happened at the end of House of M. However, two of them did join, both of them time travelers - Cable sided with Captain America, and Bishop joined forces with Iron Man.
In the summer of 2007, Dan Slott teased readers with retconning the whole thing away in the Great Lakes Initiative/Deadpool crossover when Squirrel Girl tried to go back and prevent the Stamford explosion, which had the side effect of turning her longtime crush Robbie "Speedball" Baldwin into the brooding Penance. (She ended up in the future instead.)
In December 2007, a "What If" special was released; a stranger reveals two alternate versions of Civil War to Iron Man, who is visiting Captain America's symbolic grave at Arlington. The first is "What If Captain America led all the heroes against the Registration Act?" and the second is "What if Iron Man won the Civil War?". Additionally, because of the times the stories take place What If: Annihilation can be considered a third alternate version of the Civil War, with the Annihilation Wave reaching Earth during the climactic battle of the war.
The event's plot is used as the story in the video game Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. Initially. It also forms the basis of Captain America: Civil War, a Pragmatic Adaptation featured in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- Adaptation Distillation: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. Fans cringed when they heard it would be based on Civil War, but the results were notably better received than the series it was based on. It also, by the end at least, created a canon that didn't make Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic fans feel the need to hide in underground nuclear bunkers directly after announcing that they didn't think either man was evil incarnate.
- Awesomeness By Analysis: Iron Man's armor knows every move in Cap's fighting style.
- The Alcatraz: The captured superhumans are imprisoned in a large prison in the Negative Zone. Escape is "futile" since it is in a separate dimension composed of Antimatter.
- Become Their Own Antithesis: As the conflict drags on, the Pro-Reg side becomes near HYDRA-esque in its operations and the Anti-Reg side, without signing the SHRA, becomes everything that they would be had they signed the act.
- Both Sides Have a Point: Played straight at first. On the Pro-Reg side, it's not unreasonable for the people to demand greater accountability of their protectors (police officers and firefighters are accountable). On the Anti-Reg side, the law and its consequences are very draconian with superhumans standing to lose a lot of personal freedom if they sign. At the end of the day, it's ultimately subverted. Both sides have taken their arguments so far that ultimately it doesn't matter which side is right. They just need to be stopped.
- Bury Your Gays: How many LGBT suffered here... Xavin gets her neck snapped, Karolina and Wiccan get kidnapped, and Hulkling...
- Cape Busters: S.H.I.E.L.D. creates a new unit to capture heroes that refuse to register in defiance of the SHRA. In an amazing display of subtlety, they are named the "Cape Killers."
- Cardboard Prison
- Civil War
- C-List Fodder: Goliath and the New Warriors.
- Cloning Blues
- Crisis Crossover
- Darker and Edgier: Formerly Fun Personified Speedball gets new, pain-based powers, takes up an outfit lined with spikes on the inside (one for each person who died in the explosion) and dubs himself Penance. The Internet explodes with laughter, disgust, and the Fan Nickname "Bleedball".
- Depending on the Writer: As said above, how does the SHRA work? Is it simply registering yourself with the government of the jurisdiction you operate in and making yourself accountable to them? Or is it, essentially, a superhuman draft?
- Digging Yourself Deeper: As Cap realizes in the climax, as long he keeps operating as an unlicensed vigilante, every act he takes will just land him and his side in more trouble, convincing more and more of the public that the SHRA is necessary.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The first time the moment when Speedball gets shot in Civil War: Front Line is shown the panel is practically identical to the famous picture of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. Right down to the expression of pain on Speedball's face and the shooter's clothing.
- The angry mother was basically Cindy Sheehan who protested the second Iraq war and became famous for doing so after her son was lost. Though in Sheehan's case, she was already politically active before her son deployed.
- Everything Is Racist: Luke Cage compares the Pro-Registraters rounding up those who haven't registered to the Jim Crow Laws.
- Evil Costume Switch: On the covers, and a few of the supers who switched sides.
- False-Flag Operation: In Prelude to Civil War, Iron Man hired his old enemy the Titanium Man to make an attempt on his life in order to provide a cause for not passing the registration act (basically, America's enemies would take advantage of the division and wipe them all out).
- Four Is Death: The incident that starts this: Four New Warriors confront four villains, and one of the villains blows up a large chunk of the city where the base is located.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Sally Floyd is brutal in pointing out that Cap's idealized America doesn't exist, and may have never existed, but that doesn't make her wrong. Nor does her argument that if Cap isn't going to bother to learn about the modern world, then he has no business saying how it should be run.
- Grey and Gray Morality: Allegedly. In reality...
- Hypocrite: Iron Man tells the Anti-Reg side that the Pro-Reg side is superior because they take responsibility for their actions - and then promptly tells Cap that all of the Kick the Dog moments he (Iron Man) did were all his (Cap's) fault. Way to destroy the credibility of your argument when you can't even practice what you preach.
- Intellectually Supported Tyranny: Pro-reg 'Futurist' Reed Richards.
- Ironic Echo: Hold him down! Hold him down!
- Issue Drift
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Both sides showed signs of this during the course of the series.
- Karma Houdini:
- Failed attempts by Executive Meddling to grant Iron Man Karma Houdini for his crimes during this storyline — instead of admitting how wrong (or at least over-the-top) he was — have only resulted in Flanderization and ruining an originally strong character.
- After getting shot, pretty much nobody ever called Cap on any of the shenanigans he pulled and was later pardoned by Obama. Also, Hill, who pretty much started the whole conflict in the first place, was merely demoted to Deputy Commander.
- Kick the Dog: It becomes fairly obvious that the only way the writers could keep the debate somewhat open was to give Iron Man as many of these as possible, regardless of how ludicrous and out of character.
- Killed Off for Real: Probably the New Warriors (well the ones involved in the Stamford incident, the group has now reformed), definitively not Captain America despite Marvel's claims that Cap was definitely dead for ever and ever no matter what.
- Meaningful Rename: Speedball --> Penance.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Iron Man's reaction to the outcome of the alternate scenarios presented to him in the "What If" special. Spider Man also goes through this after witnessing just what he's been helping Iron Man do with all those pesky heroes...
- Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering: The Illuminati, as it turns out: they split evenly rather than unify on the pro- or anti-registration side. Foreseen by Black Panther, who refused membership in the group because he saw this coming.
Black Panther: You just decided all by yourselves that you are the Earth's protectors. And that you, and only you, not your teammates or family, are trustworthy enough to include in the process... What happens when you disagree? When one of these Earth-changing moments finds you all at odds with each other, here in a secret meeting?
- Number Two: Spider-Man starts off as this for the Pro-Registration side, even being the first hero to officially register live on television. He eventually defects though when he disagrees with Iron Man's morals.
- Omniscient Morality License:
- Tony Stark and Reed Richards claim this, due to their status as "futurists". Whether or not people call them on this depends on the writer.
- On the anti-reg side, Cable, who takes the opportunity to give the President a lecture on how the Fifty States Initiative will only lead to tyranny while Deadpool is using the White House toilet.
- Captain America sees himself, as does the Anti-Reg side, as in the right no matter what he did mostly because his name is Captain America.
- Averted with Doctor Strange, who took himself completely out of the conflict other than to side with the Anti-Registration group on principle. When questioned by Uatu the Watcher, he claimed it wasn't his to decide how superpowered humanity was going to go, and all he could do was pray for the outcome that would be best for everyone.
- One-Scene Wonder: The crossover generated a big upswing in interest in Hercules (kicking off what would turn out to be a few very good years for him), in a series of moments that amount to about six pages.
- Outside Man Inside Man: Captain America was Outside, Iron Man was Inside.
- Put on a Bus:
- Before the bill gets passed, Johnny Storm is assaulted outside a club and left in a coma for much of the series. Hulk was entrenched in the Planet Hulk series, and trying to get him to pick a side was something both sides combined couldn't handle. Besides... they were all fucked when Hulk got back to Earth.
- Johnny recovered about halfway through the series just in time to go to anti-registration side along with Sue. They got interesting cover-up identities too.
- All of the Cosmic Heroes, specifically Nova, were all embroiled in the Annihilation event, an event, while traumatic to him, probably saved Nova from dying in Stamford with the rest of the New Warriors. So really this bus ride worked in his favor, especially for what followed for him...
- The Real Heroes: Pops up right at the end. Ironically, it's because of them that Cap surrenders, and we all know what happened later.
- Red Skies Crossover
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Ben Grimm decided this was a load of crap he didn't feel like dealing with due to the lack of care over civilians, so he skipped town and spent his time in France.
- Smug Snake: The final scene of the series is Tony Stark, talking to a mother bereaved in the explosive opening, about how he's accomplished a great thing, and has even greater plans for the future. He has an immensely smug smile on his face. This is after two of his friends are dead, and another half are imprisoned or in hiding.
- Spiritual Successor:
- Siege is thought of as Civil War without the moral ambiguity, with Norman Osborn and supervillains taking the place of Iron Man and other Pro-Reg characters.
- The X-Family Crossover Schism is also compared to Civil War for being a morally grey conflict, this one seeing more success in making each viewpoint defensible (with their home under attack and only junior members around to defend it, Cyclops wants to make a stand, which the kids are willing to do even though they know not everyone will survive; while Wolverine doesn't like them getting mixed up in this and wants to retreat).
- Superman Stays Out of Gotham: Turned on its head when the X-Men Lampshade how anti-mutant sentiment was never on the radar of the heavy hitters in the superhero community (comparing the Stamford disaster to the Genosha massacre which no superheroes helped with) and declare they're staying out of the whole mess. Likely due to the X-Books' constant theme of mutant registration being the first step to anti-mutant genocide not jiving with the "Pro-Reg is right" message.
- Super Registration Act: One of the Trope Codifiers, if not the Trope Codifier, about this.
- To Be Lawful or Good: The entire superhero community is caught into this ethical dilemma, but the two characters that took most of the cake is Captain America and Iron Man. The X-Men, however, took the third option and decided to stay out of this conflict because of the events of M Day.
- To Catch Heroes Hire Villains: They empowered the Thunderbolts to go after heroes who refused registration. Thunderbolts under the command of Norman Osborn. Including Bullseye, a Complete Monster whose personal body count is probably well in excess of those killed in the Stanford explosion.
- Villain Protagonist: Iron Man.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Twice in the above mentioned Civil War: Frontline. The intrepid reporters Ben Urich and Sally Floyd go to interview Captain America and Ms. Floyd proceeds to chastise him for his reckless superheroics. Then they pay a visit to Tony Stark and reveal that they have discovered that he turned Norman Osborn into a Manchurian Agent, and made him attack an Atlantean ambassador in order to create tensions between Atlantis and the United States, so that the US government would be compelled to grant military contracts to Stark, which would boost his corporation's stock value, and the profits from which he could use to fund the Avengers Initiative program. This revelation lead to Tony Stark's hilarious reaction.
- What Did You Expect When You Named It?: With so many Marvel characters named Goliath, it was only a matter of time before one was killed by a small projectile.
- Why Did You Make Me Hit You?: Technically, it's "Why did you make me imprison you without trial in an extradimensional concentration camp?", but otherwise, this is pretty much Iron Man throughout the arc.