Civil War II 8

civil-war-ii-8
Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing Civil War II 8, originally released December 28th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Spencer: The point of most blockbuster summer event crossovers is to throw as many characters together as a publisher can and coast off the spectacle, using tie-ins to boost sales and often refocusing their line of books in the aftermath. When these events are done right they can be loads of fun, but it’s hard to deny that there’s something kinda mercenary about the whole process. Is it possible for an event comic to have a soul? I’d certainly say so, and I’d imagine Brian Michael Bendis would agree with me. The problem with Civil War II, then, is that Bendis’ attempts to split the book evenly between spectacle and deeper themes results in both elements playing out unsatisfactorily.

Last month’s penultimate issue ended with Captain Marvel seemingly murdering Iron Man — literally shooting a beam straight through his chest and out of his back. It’s not something Bendis and artist David Marquez want readers to forget, as they open this final issue on the exact same image. Yet, they then double back, devoting another twelve pages to these two duking it out; it’s never really clear whether Tony’s “death” is a flash-forward, or if he somehow survived Carol’s attack, which is only the first of many frustrating details to this fight.

The simplest explanation I can see for this is that Bendis and Marquez feared that their finale would be too anti-climatic without some action, which has really been a problem throughout this entire event, where the action, as pretty as it’s been, has always felt perfunctory, nowhere near as important as the ideas of free will and profiling running through the story. I, for one, came into this issue ready to see the fallout of Carol Danvers killing a fellow Avenger, yet it’s probably the beat that gets the least amount of time to play out. I think Bendis and Marquez’s priorities were off with this one.

That said, I’m not all too happy with the fallout we do see, either.

guilt-trip

I hate Beast’s speech here. As smart as he is, his deigning to speak for his mostly-deceased friend is grating, especially because I don’t buy it. It completely overlooks the feud and hurt feelings Tony and Carol were nursing over Rhodey’s death and both heroes’ roles in it, and moreover, it gives Carol a big ol’ honkin’ pass for profiling people. “We can trust you to profile people because you’re a good guy, but what if bad buys got a hold of this technology?!” is such a terrible message! It’s absolute garbage! First of all, Carol Danvers just tried to murder a friend, so she’s clearly not as trustworthy as Beast or Tony may have thought, but more importantly, profiling doesn’t suddenly become acceptable because a “good” person with “good intentions” is using it to profile the “right” people (look at how Beast only mentions profiling being a problem if it targets the Mutants or Inhumans. Who is it okay to profile then, Hank? Who?). There are so many interesting, thoughtful places this plot could have gone, yet here we are, left with literally the worst resolution possible.

As for Carol herself, the only consequences we see for her nearly murdering her friend are some guilt trips (in Carol’s defense, at least they work). In fact, Carol essentially gets promoted for it, even getting a boon from the President himself. When Carol says that she has “some ideas about the future,” I’m not sure if we’re supposed to be excited or nervous. Has she learned anything from this fiasco, or has she essentially been rewarded for being the bad guy?

Speaking of frustrating endings, let’s talk about our boy Ulysses for a minute.

ulysses-died-on-his-way-back-to-his-home-planet

I knew Ulysses was never going to outlast Civil War II — he was just too disruptive to Marvel’s status quo. My pet theory was that Ulysses would end up killing himself once he saw how much damage his visions were causing. Instead, his powers continue evolving to the point where he’s no longer human, and he’s called away by the personification of eternity itself (I thought eternity was in chains, though?). I know it’s a bit gauche to promote my own ideas in a review, but I still prefer my theory here: Ulysses would meet a darker fate, but at least he would have some agency over his life for once. Instead, Ulysses goes out like the plot device he’s always been, existing solely to spark conflict and conveniently whisked away as soon as his presence would no longer be beneficial to the story. It’s a toothless resolution, if only because it once again gives the cast an out, a way to avoid addressing what they’ve done or to avoid making a final decision on the issue of profiling after Tony’s defeat. I’ve seen more than a few people online comparing Ulysses exit to “Poochie,” and honestly, it’s pretty accurate.

Drew, I’ve got a question for you: what do you think Ulysses’ final visions (all depicted by guest artists) and Carol’s assertion to the President that Ulysses saw “possible” futures mean? I can’t quite tell if Carol’s come around to Tony’s point of view with that latter statement or not. Regardless, other than Marquez’s exquisite art, those final glimpses of the future are the only elements of this issue I fully, genuinely enjoyed. Where there any that piqued your interest, Drew? (I got excited seeing the Netflix Defenders together.) And are you as ultimately frustrated with this issue and/or event as I am, or do you have a different take on it?

Drew: I’m afraid I’m about as disappointed in this issue as you are, for largely the same reasons. Taking it back to your first point about spectacle vs. themes, I’d actually say I wasn’t as bothered by the balance in this issue (though I agree it’s not quite right), but was quite distracted at the way both were forced to wrap up so tightly in this issue. I don’t doubt there will be major fallout from this event — this issue actually checks in/sets up a number of new series, from Invincible Iron Man to Hulk to the Champions — but its hard to argue that this issue was actually essential to their set-ups, especially when delays allowed so many of these series to start before this issue came out.

The lasting impact of any one issue is a terrible metric (over a long enough time line, the survival rate of the events of any comic drops to zero), but I’m more concerned with how it’s handled within the issue. For someone who bought into the moral conflict at the core of this series, it’s disappointing to see that the conflict ends when Ulysses leaves Earth permanently. I get why the specifics of the “what to do with Ulysses?” argument have been rendered moot, but as the conflict grew, those specifics mattered less and less. I suppose Ulysses’ departure is as good a reason to end hostilities as any, but the thought that Carol wouldn’t at least try to arrest all of Tony’s disciples for standing in her way (or vice versa) makes this conflict feel totally inconsequential, or at least highlights how unnecessary the hostilities ever were. It’s kind of a reverse Deus ex machina — you pull the God (Ulysses) out of the machine, and suddenly the machine just doesn’t work anymore.

I will say, though, the thought of a cosmic being ascending from Earth excites me quite a bit. It’s rare that we see glimpses of these cosmic entities, but the thought that one of them might have a human perspective (or at least a memory of a human perspective) could make for some interesting developments in the future. Marvel has never lacked for reasons to explain Earth’s special place in its universe, but I look forward to seeing how an Earthly presence among those eternal ranks will come into play.

I also think I enjoyed the spectacle a bit more than you did, Spencer. I think you’re spot-on in criticizing the misleading final image of the last issue/first image of this issue, but forgiving that deception, I found the fight sequence to be remarkably well structured. Bendis and Marquez never really let anyone else enter the battle, but the onlookers steadily grow from Miles and Steve to just about everyone — Avengers, Ultimates, Inhumans, and Mutants alike.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Spencer’s right that this issue might have been more satisfying if it had simply started with Tony’s “death”, but it’s hard to deny that this is a thrilling build-up. You can feel the tension rise as each new group of heroes arrives, building to a crescendo several decibels higher than anything in the previous issue. Necessary or not, this sequence definitely sets the high bar for superhero in-fighting — no easy feat in this day and age.

So this issue is very much a mixed bag for me. There are some enjoyable moments, but I have to agree with all of your criticisms, Spencer. Actually, thinking about your question about Carol’s intentions going forward might just sum up my problems with this series. I’m inclined to think Carol mentions “possible” futures because Ulysses explicitly shows her (and everyone else) multiple possible futures in that sequence. Maybe this is the pessimist in me, but I can’t help but suspect that she intends to avert all of these potential futures, very much in the same way she did when Ulysses was just feeding her one vision at a time. It seems the only part of Beast’s speech that she heard was the part that told her she’s a good guy, and that any deeper moral may have been completely lost. I accept that that’s simply my reading — Carol may prove to have changed much more than I’m giving her credit for here — but it sure feels like this Civil War didn’t have the moral resolution necessary to actually draw it to a close. The prospect of a neverending conflict may open up new storytelling prospects down the line, but it makes for decidedly unsatisfactory endings for stories focusing on that conflict. There’s no resolution, just a brief armistice.

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?

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3 comments on “Civil War II 8

  1. As a fan of Carol Danvers I never want to see Bendis write Carol again ever. Sadly I have the feeling Marvel is still going let that Talentless hack do what he wants, which means poor Carol going to pop up in Jessica Jones. So Bendis can continue the forced Friendship between Jessica (never been a complex character or had a personality) Jones, but what you expect form a hack that got his job through cronyism and keeps it do to cronyism.

  2. I’m also mixed on this issue, though for different reasons. In fact, there are a couple of things that I would disagree with Spencer about. I’ll get onto my disagreements with the Ulysses stuff later, but I disagree with what Spencer says about Carol with respect to profiling.

    Profiling is a very loaded word, because a lot of the time that we discuss profiling, the people who are profiling use bad methodology – usually racism. But poor methodology does not damn a concept. I have recently read the two Freakonomics books, which spend a small amount of time discussing profiling. But unlike racial profiling, whose racist nature means that the methodology is so poor that it victimises the innocent on bunk criteria, the stuff in Freakonomics uses much more sophisticated criteria. For example, they discuss an algorithm designed to predict whether a teacher has been editing their classes’ exams to make the results look better. And the algorithm worked. Through a test that took place in Chicago, it was discovered that the algorithm was highly effective at predicting which classes had cheating teachers. Because of the algorithm, cheating by teachers fell by 30%. There is a similar story about Sumo Wrestlers, where the Freakonomics team used data to look into corruption in Sumo Wrestling. THe most interesting thing is not only do they tell a fantastic story of corruption in Sumo Wrestling through the data, they then discuss how whistle blowers actually corroborate the data. If you look at the list of corrupt Sumo Wrestlers, their records are representative of what a predicted rigged game would look like. Meanwhile, if you look at the list of Sumo Wrestlers declared as incorruptible, their records are distinctly different. Interestingly, Freaknomics discusses how many topics they have researched where they haven’t managed to build a methodology strong enough – they’ve looked into steroids in baseball, and never managed to come up with a methodology strong enough to use, unlike their similar investigation with Sumo Wrestlers.
    Which is to say, there is a major difference between profiling with a strong methodology, and profiling with a bad, racist etc methodology. And any discussion about Ulysses suggests that he generally has a very, very good methodology for his predictions. The problem with Ulysses is a very different problem compared to problem caused by racial profiling. With Ulysses, the question is what you do you do when you have such strong information. I actually think Beast’s point about the right person using it is a good one. Giving Captain Marvel access to a powerful source of information is very different to giving it to Doctor Doom. For the same reason I am happy with Obama getting access to highly classified data, but not Trump.

    But onto the issue itself. I’m going to split this into four sections, to correspond with the four sections of the book. The fight, Ulysses Ascension, Beast’s speech, the coda with the President

    The Fight – The last issue certainly made it feel like the fight wasn’t necessary, but that doesn’t mean that a lot isn’t done with this fight. The most important idea at this part is that Tony has completely lost it. Civil War II has, in truth, been about letting grief turn you self destructive, and this here is where you truly show it off. Last issue did a great job at showing it, with Miles, Steve and Carol doing everything they can to deescalate the situation, only for Tony to escalate it to horrific effect. And the fight in this issue really shows just how lost Tony is. Tony fires a volley of missiles at Captain America, seriously injures him, and then blames Carol. Tony has lost it, and it is clear. Literally everyone, on all sides of the conflict (and remember most of them are on Tony’s side at the moment) are now fully committed to stopping Tony. To say that Carol tried to murder a friend is grievously inaccurate. Tony was out of control and dangerous. Did Carol display the best judgement? No. She grieving for the death of her boyfriend, and Tony has gone full supervillain in her boyfriend’s armour. But the fact that Tony was a friend doesn’t change the fact that currently, he was a threat and needed to be stopped. And we don’t know understand enough about the abilities of this particular suit to say definitively that there was a safe way for Carol to address this threat that didn’t cause great harm to Tony.
    And so, the fight ends as it was clear that it was going to end since Tony said ‘I think I am having a nervous breakdown’. Tony does what Tony does best. The only difference this time is that because he drinks coffee these days, he can’t find the answer at the bottom of a bottle. So instead, he finds the answer in a violent, crazed attack, and tragically, forces Carol in the position of having to take extraordinary action to protect others. Ultimately, Tony needed help. But he never let himself get the help, to tragic consequences. This is why managing your mental well-being is important (interestingly, the final Invincible Iron Man issue involved Tony actually trying to get help, only to accidentally run into Carol at an AA meeting and bailed. There’s an interesting What If? What if Tony and Carol had gone to different AA meetings, and were therefore not cut off from the support systems they rely on during periods like this?)

    Ulysses Ascension – Civil War II never should have happened, honestly. It was a silly thing to fight over. But Carol was grasping at anything that could give her stability at a time where everything was chaotic, and Tony was lashing out the the easiest thing to blame – even if Ulysses actually had nothing to do with Rhodey’s death (honestly, if Thanos had escaped, he would have run off to join Gamora and Drax in their neverending quest to kill Thanos, while Carol would try and take over the Guardians of the Galaxy as the first step to creating an intergalactic organisation to stop Thanos). And that is what I like about Ulysses ascending to a higher plane. Partly, the way it makes the entire conflict meaningless. But also, Ulysses secretly being a great celestial being turns makes the entire epic event seem small in comparison. Everyone seeing the infinite future, seeing just how much of it there is and just how small Civil War II is in the greater context of everything, is exactly the point. Civil War II doesn’t feel so momentous when we see Monsters Unleashed, Inhumans v X-Men, Captain Hydra, War of the Worlds (does anyone know if this is referencing any comic specifically?), Days of Future Past, Age of Ultron, and King Thor to come (though some futures are more likely than others…). As does the fact that Ulysses is a cosmic being. Does the Civil War mean much in the context of a being of such cosmic scope? Ulysses’ birth is nothing compared to everything other part of his story now that he is cosmic.
    And this idea that Civil War II is meaningless is important. Because that has always been the central tragedy of Civil War II. This fight should never have happened. What should have happened is that Tony and Carol got the help they needed to recover from the loss of the man they loved. And so, I love that Ulysses’ Ascension makes this clear. They were literally fighting over something so far beyond them that it wasn’t meaningful any more.
    Also, the best way I can explain the Eternity in chains thing? Entities at that level work on a metaphorical level, and treating things like that literally is an exercise is madness. When you are an omnipresent, omniscient entity, being in chains means restrictions. And so this is one of the few things Eternity can do while chained. Just as someone in a cell can walk around the cell but not leave it, Eternity can welcome Ulysses but can’t do many other things.

    Goddamn Beast – Let’s start with the good part. I love that Tony isn’t dead. I feel this is a much clever way, that will lead to better storytelling. Resurrection stories often lead to boring ways of getting the character back, and something like ‘the AI Tony downloads his body into a clone’ would be a boring way to do this. Instead, we have something different. Tony is highly injured, but thanks to the combination of the Extremis in his body and his constant modifications of that very same system, has given him a biology so unlike anything else that the only person that can fix him is him. Ultimately, Tony’s recovery will come down to self care. Tony will likely need the support of others, but just as he should have been more responsible for his mental health, he will have to take responsibility for his own recovery. Fixing himself is literally his redemption for letting himself fall to pieces in the first place.
    But Beast’s speech is the massive, glaring weakness that brings down what should have been a strong conclusion to a surprisingly great event. Beast gave the wrong moral. Nothing is too wrong with the philosophy. But it wasn’t about Tony fighting the guy who came after Carol. Tony was not well, and entering another self destructive spiral, as he does every so often. The correct moral was that Carol needed to take some time to herself. She didn’t need to be told that there was a risk that the person who followed her could use Ulysses wrong. She needed to be told to go home, mourn and actually deal with Rhodey’s death. And then we needed a scene of her in her quarters, crying while looking at photos of her and Rhodey together, kissing, followed by a small scene at Rhodey’s grave where she says that she loves him and will miss him, and actually says her goodbyes. Or something along those lines, that focused instead on making sure Carol got her shit together so that she didn’t follow Tony down his path. It honestly feels like editorial’s need to make this book political meant they needed Beast to give a moral, instead of using this space to give Carol the proper ending. As does Hawkeye’s cameo. It does feel like Bendis wants to give Carol that sort of ending. The focus on her crying, seemed to suggest the wish to give an emotional conclusion. One where Carol actually deals with her feelings and can move forward. But there isn’t enough, because Beast needs to give a trite moral about how both sides were right.

    The President – I actually like this scene, in that instead of being an ending all about the new status quo, it is about a new future. It doesn’t say that ‘this is new the status quo’, like most events do. It has those elements. That is why we have that spread discussing all the status quo changes. But the real moment, and the reason it works for me, is that final panel.
    It would have worked a lot better if we got a proper emotional resolution instead of a half arsed one that can fit alongside Beast spouting a moral where there is no need, but there is something powerful and inspiring about Carol coming out of this with the intent to build. She’s gone through a painful healing process, and now has come out energised, and committed to helping. After everything that happened, I don’t this this as an attempt for her to do the same sort of stuff that she did in Civil War II again. Instead, it felt like someone who had gone through hell, learned a lot, and now wants to try again, properly this time. It felt inspirational, to see Captain Marvel still standing and still trying to improve things after everything went so wrong the first time. This moment may be the first time I actually liked Captain Marvel

    Honestly, I think Civil War II has raised the bar for events. Secret Wars was sensational, but because it was so fantastic, it doesn’t raise the bar. Just like books like the Vision don’t raise the bar. We accept a book like those aren’t going to be common, and so don’t expect people to write to that standard. Civil War II, written by the guy responsible for so many bad events, is proof that events can be good without being a Secret Wars level masterpiece. Spencer discusses the expectation that events throw in as many characters as possible and to coast on spectacle, and on the difficulty of events having a soul. But Bendis has written a character focused event ultimately built around two people, a story with soul that cares more about where a character’s psychology currently is than who is punching who. One that cares less about setting the stage for the next line of books than it does about promising the idea that the future is going to be built. The book has its rough patches, especially the first and last issue. But Civil War II is proof that events can be better. Should be better.

    If Bendis, the guy whose work is inconsistent and at its strongest with only one or two leads, why can’t Aaron, whose is one of the best writers in comics at the moment, do one this good? Or Remender? Or the many other Marvel writers who have screwed up their own events.

    Because Civil War II was good. And it had every reason not to be

  3. This whole thing was a flippin’ fiasco and Captain Marvel’s next couple of writers have a daunting task ahead of them, especially given that Marvel is going to try to force Carol down our throats in advance of her movie appearance, when she has clearly been eclipsed by other female superheroes at this point, not the least of whom is Kamala.

    Honestly, though, I *am* interested in the upcoming epilogue issue because I think the real Civil War II reset that interests me moving forward is the plot line that had nothing to do with Civil War II — Hydra Cap. That’s going to the “special event” of 2017, and it will be interesting to see how that bleeds into the other ongoing books, because clearly that’s a plot line that Spencer has put more much thought into than anything Bendis did over eight essentially useless issues.

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