A civil war is about to tear the Marvel universe apart – friend against friend, hero against hero.

The first issue of the seven-part “Civil War” arrives in comic-book shops May 3. At the heart of the conflict is the government’s enactment of a superhero registration act.

The measure requires heroes to register with the government, including disclosing their real identities.

Just as significantly, it puts those heroes on the federal payroll, making them government agents. Some heroes will see wisdom in that move. Others will see it as trampling their rights.

“It’ll be a good old superhero slugfest,” says Joe Quesada, editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics.

“I do promise you more than that, though. It’s a lot deeper than that.”

Leading the pro-registration camp: Tony “Iron Man” Stark, a self-described futurist who sees regulation as inevitable and regards the act as a way to hold costumed adventurers responsible for their actions.

Heading the other side: Captain America.

That might surprise those inclined to see the star-spangled, flag-waving Captain America as a government lapdog, says Mark Millar, writer of “Civil War.”

“To me, Cap is all about personal freedom. He just smells of 1776.”

Marvel’s advertising campaign for “Civil War” asks: Whose side are you on? Strong arguments are made for each side in a dispute that echoes the real-world debate over civil liberties vs. homeland security.

“I think the one thing that’s really important to say about what we’re doing with these books is we don’t have an agenda, either of us,” Jenkins says. “This is not us presenting sort of a Democrat’s point of view or saying the registration act is a really bad thing, a terrible affront to civil liberties, or the other way around. We’re just presenting both sides.”

The effects of “Civil War” will be felt throughout Marvel’s titles.

The Fantastic Four will find its family ripped apart by the conflict.

Spider-Man, who has come to regard Tony Stark as a father figure, will be particularly torn in choosing sides.

“Civil War,” in a way, will return Marvel to its roots, Quesada says. In the beginning, many Marvel heroes were essentially outlaws, chased by police and scorned by the public.

“Cops were shooting at Spider-Man,” Quesada says. “It was a brave, new, dangerous world.”

Over time, the public became more likely to cheer their heroes than jeer. Now, with some heroes defying the government, some of the original flavor of Marvel will be restored.

“This was a great way of giving the edge back to the whole universe a little bit,” Jenkins says.