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Why Iron Man and Captain America are going to be fighting in Captain America 3

Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr.
Rob Kim/Getty Images for Academy of Moti
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Warning, there are spoilers about Marvel's Civil War comic book event here. These spoilers could also be spoilers about the next Captain America movie. Proceed at your own risk.

On Monday night, Variety announced that Robert Downey Jr. is in the final steps of negotiating his next Marvel movie, and it isn't an Iron Man or Avengers film. The actor is reportedly on the verge of "signing on" to Captain America 3 (2016), the trade publication reports, explaining that his Tony Stark will play a major role in kicking off what's known in the Marvel Universe as Civil War — a major comic book storyline from a few years back that also served as an allegory for some War on Terror-era political controversies.

A lot of that might look like a nerdy word potpourri of sorts. But don't fret. Here is a basic guide to the Civil War story arc from the comics.

What is Marvel's Civil War?

Civil War is a Marvel Universe crossover event, written by Mark Millar and Paul Jenkins, that began in the summer of 2006. It starts off with a hero named Speedball and a villain named Nitro, who are taking part in a nationally televised fight (Speedball is a part of reality show, and I am not making this up). Nitro eventually goes a little crazy and kills a bunch of civilians (including children), everyone  sees, and this prompts lawmakers to propose a Superhero Registration Act, which would require all practicing superheroes to reveal their secret identities, their whereabouts, and conduct their crime-fighting under license from the federal government.

The events turn into a "Civil War" because Iron Man and Captain America don't agree about the Registration Act. Captain America doesn't believe in registering, while Iron Man believes everyone should register. The rest of the Marvel Universe (even the characters whose movie licenses belong to Fox) ends up choosing sides, and all of this eventually come to blows and superheroes being imprisoned:



So Tony Stark will be the villain in Captain America 3?

That depends on which hero you think is right. The storyline actually reflects real-life political events like the Patriot Act and Guantanamo Bay, as well as issues like civil liberties and trust in the government.

"The political allegory is only for those that are politically aware. Kids are going to read it and just see a big superhero fight," Millar told The New York Times in 2006, prior to the release of the crossover.

There's actually nice symmetry here with the upcoming movie Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which comes out the same year. If Captain America 3 follows the Civil War arc from the comic books — and Variety does report that Downey will have a bigger role than initially intended — then we're going to have two huge blockbusters pitting good guys against good guys.

How does Civil War end?

Not well, if you're a Captain America fan. The arc eventually ends with the (apparent) death of Captain America which is … interesting in that Chris Evans, who plays Captain America, has a contractual obligation to appear in six Marvel films. Avengers: Age of Ultron is number four, and Captain America 3 would make five. If the films follow the comic, Marvel could conceivably have a way to write Evans out of his Captain America role — Evans has expressed that he wants to quit acting once his Marvel contract is over.

Downey, who has been on a media tear teasing about the non-existence of an Iron Man 4 is, under contract for an Avengers 3 (2018). It's unclear if Avengers 3 would be Evans's final movie, but the timeline does fit.

Does Civil War mean anything for Avengers: Age of Ultron?

Probably not, other than Iron Man and Captain America will most likely survive the battle. However, if the two are supposed to be opposing forces in Captain America 3, their interactions in Avengers: AOU might play a bit more saltily, in order to lay the foundation of their upcoming contentious relationship. The Civil War storyline looming could also point to the story's aftermath and suggest relationships during Avengers: AOU might be strained.

What if I want to read more about Civil War?

Well, that's easy. The event is currently available in trades (books that compile all the comic books in an arc or event). But there's also something curious. On Monday, Marvel sent out this image of "Civil War," possibly signaling a reboot of the book and an opportunity for new readers to catch up to the story:

Civil War


Captain America 3 is scheduled for release in May of 2016.

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