My goal for the year was to read at least one novel every month I’m not working on my fiction writing and to review each of them. It was way back in February when I read my first and until now, only novel based on comics. The She Hulk Diaries by Marta Acosta is kind of a chick-lit book, but it’s fun and manages to do good character work with Jennifer Walters. It’s about time I read another prose adaptation of comics, and since I’m ignoring Axis and managed to ignore Original Sin, it might as well be a novel based on one of Marvel’s most financially successful events … and among their most controversial. Introducing Stuart Moore’s novelization of Civil War.
The Civil War event is not without problems and I won’t go into too much detail here. Even though the pro-registration side was supposed to be in the right, they came across as overzealous dictators. Iron Man in particular felt like an outright villain by the end, and many readers still haven’t forgiven him for his actions. Even worse, the event leads directly to Spider-Man: One More Day. The less said about that butchery, the better.
That said, the first half of the event was kind of brilliant. It started off with a nightmarish situation that propelled the registration act into law, and Spider-Man unmasking himself on live TV was a shocking move. It could have made for some great storytelling in Spider-Man’s own series … if not for One More Day. Anyway, Civil War was the first Avengers event I read back when I got into comics in 2011 and I enjoyed it after my first reading. Every time I’ve read it since though, I’ve enjoyed it less and less. So how does the novel fare? Does it fix any of Civil War’s problems, or does it stick with the status quo?
For the most part, Moore’s adaptation sticks close to how the event played out. There are a few minor changes, including which characters are alive and who is involved with what sides. For example, Hawkeye is in the novel while at the time, he was dead in the comics. There are tons of references to cellphone videos, overly intrusive surveillance and even Obama as president. Spider-Man is not married in the novel, so that at least removes any possible mention of One More Day. Otherwise, the story plays out almost exactly like the original event.
For the most part, Moore’s writing is solid. It’s in third person perspective, switching point of view between Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man and Invisible Woman. Because of that, elements from both Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four tie-ins are incorporated. For 400 pages, that’s a lot of stuff to go through. That’s where the book starts to fall apart. It feels like a sequence of events happening. It’s a bit overstuffed with action scenes, providing little room for actual character development. It also fails to explain what the Negative Zone is to anyone who doesn’t read the comics.
The big battles come across as taking individual panels from the comic and translating them to prose. In several instances, it explains that Falcon and Ms. Marvel are dueling in the sky but there’s absolutely no detailing how the fighting is going or who is winning. This lack of showing instead of telling isn’t exclusive to the action either. Tigra turns out to be a mole in the anti-registration side, yet there’s absolutely no foreshadowing to the twist. One resistance member says a throwaway line about how there may be a mole, and in the final fight, Tigra simply declares herself the mole, to which Captain America says “I already knew.” You can’t do that and not anger someone.
The only notable changes happen right at the end. One, Spider-Man manages to destroy the Thor cyborg in the final fight. Two, instead of Invisible Woman returning home in tears at the end, Mr. Fantastic goes to her. Three, there’s no mention of Aunt May being shot. These minor changes do improve the story a little, and in Mr. Fantastic’s case, he shows genuine remorse over some of his actions. But at the same time, Captain America’s reason for surrendering is worsened. In the original, he realizes that their fighting is causing damage and panic, and will not help the heroes regain public confidence. He surrenders, being the honorable man. In the novelization, he simply “realizes” that the pro-registration heroes are right. It feels incredibly wrong and one-sided.
Moore did a decent job at adapting Civil War to prose, but it either needed to be simplified or lengthened to leave more room for character development and explanations. The whole story felt rushed. It also did little to fix any of the event’s major problems. If you still enjoy the event and are curious about the novelization it may be worth checking it out, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else.
I’m glad I read this book. Not because I enjoyed it or because it will influence my own writing, but because I got it out of the way. I’m not sure when I’ll read another comic related novel but it won’t be until at least next year. Next up will either be Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban or After the Dragon Raid. After I read both of those, Magic Slays will be next. I have yet to decide what to read after that, but I do have plans to modify my reading goals for next year.