Most people believe that the 20th century was a death struggle between Communism and Capitalism, and that Fascism was but a hiccup. But today we know better. Communism was a fool’s errand. The followers of Marx gone from this earth, but the followers of Hitler abound and thrive. Hitler, however, had one great disadvantage. He lived in a time when Fascism, like a virus… like the AIDS virus… needed a strong host in order to spread. Germany was that host. But Germany did not prevail. The world was too big. Fortunately, the world has changed. Global communications, cable TV, the internet. Today the world is smaller and a virus does not need a strong host in order to spread. The virus… is airborne. One more thing. Let no man call us crazy. They called Hitler crazy. But Hitler was not crazy. He was stupid. You don’t fight Russia and America. You get Russia and America to fight each other… and destroy each other.
Dressler, The Sum of All Fears
Drew: I’m not sure if the above quote appears in Tom Clancy’s novel, but it sure plays a key role in its film adaptation, where a group of fascists run a false flag operation in hopes of pitting Russia and the US against one another. The narrative of a neo-nazi faction gaining by pitting the two powers that be against one another certainly has real-world resonance in the rise of the alt-right during this election cycle, which I suppose highlights the danger of steamrolling any narrative into a simple dichotomy. The US and Russia may have been the only superpowers left, but they were far from the only interests that could benefit from their antagonism. Unfortunately, international relations aren’t always subtle enough to fully understand those smaller interests. The same could be said of superheroes, which, even when they’re fighting with one another, tend to be almost entirely two-sided. The Inhumans already represent a kind of third party to Captain Marvel and Iron Man’s “Civil War,” but an even subtler point is how even smaller factions might exploit that conflict to their own ends. It’s The Sum of All Fears, but with superpowers in place of, well, superpowers.
Maximus has done an excellent job of framing Medusa for the attacks on Tony Stark’s business. Not only is Medusa at the scene of the crime when the Ultimates arrive, the Ultimates don’t understand that Lash isn’t one of Medusa’s Inhumans. In a kind of microcosm of Maximus’ plan, all Lash has to do is attack to set the Ultimates against the Inhumans. It’s a clever justification for the “let’s you and him fight” trope that tends to proliferate during these misunderstandings. Medusa has an equally clever solution: teleport virtually all of the combatants back to the triskelion so she can actually explain herself to Captain Marvel.
Actually, there again is an interesting parallel to The Sum of All Fears. With whole teams of superpowered combatants, both teams are at defcon 2, ready to retaliate at a moment’s notice. Not to spoil the resolution of The Sum of All Fears, but it’s only when Jack Ryan manages to reopen communications between the US and Russia that nuclear war is averted. Similarly, Medusa is only able to cut through all of that high-anxiety chatter that Captain Marvel can actually hear her point.
Unfortunately, Tony isn’t there to hear what’s really going on, so is ready to pounce when Maximus kicks off phase two of his plan: lowering New Attilan’s defences to draw out an actual attack from Tony. Predictable as ever, Tony falls lockstep into that trap, ensuring a real battle (though hopefully not an all-out war) with the Inhumans. In the short term, that almost certainly means Black Bolt and Karnak, who were standing by ominously in the throne room.
Seeing Black Bolt back in his old jumpsuit is enough for me to love this page, but I’m also thrilled with Kim Jacinto’s work here. This is unlike anything I’ve seen him do before, marrying some of his previous artistic phases into something totally new. The Sean Murphy influences are toned down, making room for Jacinto’s own style to shine through, and it really is gorgeous.
Carlos Pacheco handles art duties in the non-New Attilan sequences, lending Medusa’s fight for order an optimism that is ultimately undone by Maximus’ plan. Actually, focusing on the artists reveals an intriguing element of the structure of this issue. Check out the breakdown of pages by artist (and, incidentally, location):
The New Attilan sequences are always the same length, but they take on added weight as the Switzerland sequences get shorter and shorter. Add in the sensibilities of these artists, and you have an issue where the darkness doesn’t necessarily grow, but the light definitely shrinks. It’s a neat effect that takes advantage of the specific styles each artist brings to the table.
Patrick, I haven’t loved all of Civil War II, but I’m really enjoying Soule’s take on the Inhuman perspective of it. It may not seem like there’s always nuance in the premise of superheroes fighting one another, but Soule, Pacheco, and Jacinto manage to twist the idea just enough to wring some new thoughts out of it. Did you enjoy this exploration of what could be just a footnote in Ken Burns’ inevitable Civil War II documentary?
Patrick: I mean, just as in the American Civil War, the reasons for conflicts within smaller groups and the reasons for conflicts between individuals are almost always going to be more interesting than the conflict of ideologies, right? That’s why the first we keep drifting back to that descriptor of “brother against brother.” Literal brothers probably did fight on opposite sides of that war, but not in the kinds of numbers that would make it a suitable subtitle. But it’s a fascinating emotional position to ponder: imagine being in a situation so complicated, so steeped in history and culture and identity, that you were forced to fight your friends and loved ones. For my money, this story succeeds as well as it does because Soule reflects the theme of “Civil War” back on his entire cast, methodically reintroducing the reader to over a dozen Inhuman characters and letting those personalities and relationships drive the conflict.
It ends up being a pretty spectacular display of Soule’s command of these characters’ voices, something which is even more impressive when you consider that they haven’t been around that long, and considering how many originated in series written by Soule. When Flint, Grid, Inferno, Kamala and Naja all have a mini-conference about whether or not their leader would have ordered an attack on the Stark facility, it’s easy to pick out flashes of personality and values.
Inferno is duty-bound, reiterating his commitment to his job three times in as many speech-balloons. Grid, on the other hand, demonstrates a little bit more of that bleeding heart we’ve read in the pages of All-New Inhumans. Iso is the pragmatic optimist, while Reader is the coolly detached pessimist. It’s a startling number of personalities expressed in rapid succession – like what you’d expect from a well-written team-up book. You know the kind — like Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars — but instead of well worn characters like Spider-Man, Cyclops and Reed Richards, we’re dealing with Nur, Naja and Flint.
You’ll notice that we don’t get similar character beats for Spectrum or Ms. America. The actions of the Ultimates are only a catalyst to reignite the Inhuman Civil War. And maybe “reignite” isn’t totally correct – there already is dissent within the Inhuman community and it’s not just Maximus the Mad leading it up. Lash is a good example of an Inhuman that hasn’t fallen into line with Medusa’s army, but Soule and Jacinto quietly deploy two more late in the issue. Maximus encounters both Lineage and The Unspoken in some forgotten prison in the bowels of New Attilan. Lineage is a recent addition to the Inhuman family, spinning out of Soules’ Thunderbolts in the wake of global Terrigenisis, but The Unspoken’s history goes back a few years before that, before the modern influx of Inhuman drama. And that’s to say nothing of Maximum himself, who’s been a engine for internal conflict for fifty years. Check out how Jacinto puts them all in the same panel.
They’re all in different rooms, there’s no logistical reason to present them all at once. Doing so suggests a through-line between them and illustrates that there always has been conflict within the superstructure of the Inhumans.
That all just means that this issue feels both like a perfect issue of Civil War II and a perfect issue of Uncanny Inhumans. It’s as though Soule and company were handed these themes by editorial, only to respond “duh, we’re already doing that – we’ve always done that.”
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?