- A throwaway 1990s superhero team, the Young Warriors, acts rashly and as a result wipes a huge chunk of Stamford, CT off the map, killing themselves and hundreds of civilians.
- Public opinion turns against superheroes and the government passes the SuperHero Registration Act.
- The Act requires two things: all superhumans must register with SHIELD and, if said superhumans wish to operate as heroes, they must be trained by, certified by, and operate under the auspices of SHIELD.
- This leads to a schism in the hero community with Captain America leading the anti-Registration Act forces and Iron Man leading the Pro-Registration Act Forces.
- The Anti-Reg forces go underground. Many typical superhero mega-battles ensue.
- The climactic massive battle takes place in the middle of Manhattan and as he is just about to put Iron Man out for the count, Captain America is jumped by a dozen cops, firemen, and EMTs who are putting their lives on the line to protect civilians, property, etc.
- Cap realizes that he's no longer fighting for the people, he's just fighting, and he's not winning the argument against the Act. So he surrenders, tells his allies to stand down, and hands himself over to Federal custody. The War is over.
- Cap is gunned down on his way into Court. Who is responsible? The Red Skull, of course.
The problem with Civil War isn't the story. This could have been a great way to reeenergize Marvel and to inject a little realism (always a dangerous word when you're talking about comics) into the Marvel Universe. CW cleaned up some of the standard comic book cliches. Is the public really going to stand for a bunch of massively-powered vigilantes hiding behind secret identities? Or supervillians that seem to break out of prison every other week? Probably not. It also straightens out some Marvel-specific nonsense. The Marvel public has hated and feared its mutant population since the 1960s and The Mutant Registration Act has been a canard of the X-Men since the 1980s. But non-mutant heroes have been warmly received. It's never been clear why genetically-enhanced superhumans are more of a threat than those who get their powers from a radioactive spider bite. And exactly how long is the public supposed to put up with the Hulk popping up, tearing apart whole city blocks, and then quietly on? CW and its related stories cleaned up all this.
The problem with CW is parts of Marvel and many of its fans keep framing the story as being a reflection on the post-9/11 world, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, etc, and a statement on trading security for liberty. There's no place for Captain America and other staunch defenders of personal freedom in this new age. The public has turned against him.
And that's where the False Comparison comes in. Nothing in the plot is anywhere near as big an issue as the Patriot Act or Gitmo. The Superhero Registration Act is basically the comic book world equivalent of gun control, close to a no-brainer. You have to register the fact you have a superpower and if you wish to use it in service of law and order you have to be an actual law enforcment officer. I know that some people are anti-gun registration, but this is a far cry from the debate around the Patriot Act. And I'm pretty sure the comics fan who think Cap should have kept up the fight against post 9/11 fascism are the kind of people who go out and consistently vote for more gun control. The politics in CW make no sense.
1) Mark Millar, the writer of CW, has commented that Iron Man's side was the right side. Why? "Had he not come up with this idea of them being licensed by the government, they'd all be getting crushed by Sentinels right now". If you just keep it on this level, CW is a great Marvel story.
2) All that being said, why did Marvel "really kill" Captain America? To sell more comic books of course.