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.
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.
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.
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?