Ockham Publishing, 2016
Comic book readers and moviegoers love to see superheroes fight, whether to protect innocent people from supervillains or to save the world from invaders from outer space. But superheroes also fight each other, and if we can look past the energy blasts and earth-shattering punches, we can find serious disagreements over principles and ethics. This was certainly the case when Captain America and Iron Man went head-to-head over liberty and security in Marvel Comics’ epic Civil War storyline, a fictional allegory to post-9/11 America (as well as the basis for the third Captain America film).
In his latest book, Mark D. White, author of The Virtues of Captain America and editor of Iron Man and Philosophy, carefully leads you through the ethical thinking of the three characters on the front lines of the Civil War:
Iron Man, who has taken charge of the US government’s efforts to register and train superheroes to enhance safety and security
Captain America, who leads the resistance against registration in the name of individual liberty and privacy
Spider-Man, who is torn between his two mentors and has a uniquely personal stake in the battle
In his characteristically light and humorous tone, White lays out the basic ethical foundations of each hero’s thinking and highlights the moral judgment each must use to put his ethics into action. He also explains how the Civil War affected the three heroes after the battle ended and how the experience continued to test them in very different ways as events in the Marvel Universe continued to unfold. Finally, he uses examples from Civil War to show how conflicting principles such as liberty and security must be balanced in the real world, lest both be lost.
Written in a style that will be easily accessible to those new to philosophy or superhero comics, A Philosopher Reads... Marvel Comics’ Civil War will be a fascinating read for diehard comics fans and philosophy buffs as well.
Although I've wanted to write about Civil War for a long time, and touched on it in The Virtues of Captain America as well as essays for Iron Man and Philosophy and Spider-Man and Philosophy, the late October 2014 announcement of Captain America: Civil War kicked plans for a full-length treatment into gear.
I originally planned to concentrate on the larger political issues in the book, but then decided to change the focus to what I really enjoy writing about: the characters themselves. This allowed me the freedom to explore the three heroes' different ethical frameworks, the way each used his judgment to put their ethics into action, and how their choices affected them during the Civil War as well as afterwards. Iron Man had the longest arc, which carried him through World War Hulk, the Secret Invasion, Norman Osborn's "Dark Reign," and the Siege of Asgard. Cap's and Spidey's arcs following the Civil War were shorter, for different reasons, but are just as fascinating, with Cap's nicely dovetailing with Iron Man's during the Siege.
If you liked The Virtues of Captain America or my essays in various books in the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series, or if you love Civil War and these characters as much as I do, or even if you just like a little philosophy with your superheroes (or vice versa), please check out A Philosopher Reads... Marvel Comics' Civil War and let me know what you think! (And look for more books by me in the A Philosopher Reads... series in the future!)
- NEW! Nerdsync podcast from May 30, 2016:
- "A Philosopher Watches... Captain America: Civil War," interview with Skye Cleary for the Blog of the APA (American Philosophical Association), May 10, 2016
- "The Post-9/11 Ethics of Captain America: Civil War," interview with Katie Kilkenny, Pacific Standard, May 9, 2016
- "Civil discourse: Comics book series says plenty on liberty, security and morals," review by Michael Dudley, Winnipeg Free Press, May 7, 2016
- "My thoughts on Captain America: Civil War (No spoilers!)" The Comics Professor, May 6, 2016
- "What Can We Learn from Watching a Superhero Civil War?" Psychology Today blog, May 3, 2016
- "Captain America: Civil War -- conflicted heroes and a clash of philosophies," The Guardian, April 21, 2016
- Nerdsync podcast from April 4, 2016:
- Excerpt from the book at Comics Worth Reading, April 4, 2016
- Lecture at Northwood University, March 29, 2016 (the video player is picky about browsers -- Internet Explorer or Edge work best, Firefox sometimes)
- Interview with Troy Powell at Graphic Policy, February 2, 2016
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1: Setting the Stage
Part 1: Iron Man—On the Side of Security
Chapter 2: Introducing Utilitarianism
Chapter 3: Tony Stark, the Utilitarian Iron Man
Chapter 4: Do the Ends Justify the Iron Man?
Part 2: Captain America—On the Side of Liberty
Chapter 5: Introducing Deontology
Chapter 6: The Principles of Captain America
Chapter 7: The Integrity of a Hero and a Country
Part 3: Spider-Man—Caught in the Middle
Chapter 8: Peter Parker Joins the Avengers… and Iron Man
Chapter 9: Revealing the Man Under the Spider Mask
Chapter 10: Whose Side Are You On, Peter?
Part 4: The Aftermath of the Civil War
Chapter 11: Spider-Man, Back in Black and Out for Blood
Chapter 12: The Trials of Iron Man
Chapter 13: Steve Rogers Returns
Order on Amazon.