How a 'Batman v Superman' writer predicted Marvel's 'Civil War' 30 years ago

Imagine our surprise when we found a prophetic letter from "Dark Knight" and "Dawn of Justice" co-writer David Goyer in an '80s Captain America comic.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
3 min read

He may be the guy who co-wrote "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice", but 30 years ago David Goyer seems to have predicted the plot of rival movie "Captain America: Civil War".

There's been controversy around "Dawn of Justice" because it depicts its heroes opting to kill their enemies. That reminded me of a similar storyline in some old Captain America books buried in the depths of my comic collection, so I dug them out to see how Marvel approached that controversial topic some 30-odd years ago. But as I flicked through the yellowing pages, I found something much more interesting.

"Let me congratulate you. You've got me reading Captain America again", begins a note from a reader on the letters page in 1986's Captain America issue 324. It's a letter signed by one Dave Goyer of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

I recognise that name, I thought, and a quick Google search confirmed that David S. Goyer, Hollywood screenwriter, was indeed born and raised in Ann Arbor.

Goyer is Hollywood's go-to guy for comic book adaptations, having written or co-written movies based on DC's Batman and Superman, and Marvel's Nick Fury, Blade and Ghost Rider. At the young age of 20, it seems Goyer was already thinking about comics like a writer.

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"What type of man would have the audacity to proclaim himself a living symbol?" asked screenwriter David Goyer back when he was just 20.

Armando Gallo/Corbis

"The fact that [Captain America] is a symbol of the American dream creates a number of story problems," the letter reads. "What type of man would have the audacity to proclaim himself a living symbol of America?" Goyer is still seeking an answer: the psychological weight of becoming a symbolic figure is theme that runs through his work with directors Christopher Nolan in the "Dark Knight" trilogy, and Zack Snyder in "Man of Steel" and "Dawn of Justice".

"What exactly does Cap represent?" Goyer wrote 30 years ago. "Our government isn't nearly as upfront or virtuous as our elected officials would have us believe... Does the Captain unquestioningly accept whatever the current American policy is or does he formulate opinions of his own?"

These are themes explored in 2014's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and this year's sequel "Civil War" as Cap uncovers a high-level conspiracy and turns against his government.

Goyer hasn't responded to a request for confirmation that he wrote the letter -- he's probably keeping his head down about his recently rediscovered comments from 10 years ago that a Batman v Superman team-up movie would be the "last gasp" of an "exhausted" franchise. But we know from previous interviews that he was a frequent letter writer to both Marvel and DC in his youth, once telling Nerdist, "I think I only got four of them printed. But I have some of them." One letter, Goyer recalls, was published in an issue of Alan Moore's "Swamp Thing" run for DC.

Labelled December 1986, the issue of Captain America in which Goyer's missive appears would have been on newsstands sometime around Goyer's 21st birthday. A couple of issues earlier, in Captain America issue 321, writer Mark Gruenwald and artist Paul Neary showed Marvel's patriotic hero tortured by his split-second decision to gun down a terrorist. Due to print lead times, Dave Goyer's letter was penned before he would have seen Captain America killing a bad guy, and so it doesn't address that storyline or the issues the story raised, but we know he was reading the series around that time.

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"Every second I hesitated meant the death of another innocent..." Captain America is haunted by his decision to take a life, a similar question explored by Goyer in "Man of Steel" and "Dawn of Justice".

Marvel/Script: Mark Gruenwald/Art: Paul Neary and Vincent Colletta/Letters: Diana Albers/Colors: Ken Feduniewicz

Now obviously I'm not saying the Captain America story directly inspired Goyer to tell a similar story in "Man of Steel" and "Dawn of Justice" -- comic heroes have often wrestled with their use of violence, the consequences of their actions and the limits of their morals -- but it's interesting to see how such a significant a figure in today's world of comics and movies engaged with comics as a young man. The year 1986 was, after all, the same year that "The Dark Knight Returns" miniseries was released -- a comic that very definitely did influence Goyer and "Dawn of Justice".

See the full letters page below. Goyer's is the third letter, starting near the top of the middle column.