Civil War II: The Oath 1

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Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing Civil War II: The Oath 1, originally released January 25th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Spencer: Why is Steve Rogers being transformed into a Nazi such a terrifying idea? It’s because we all trust Steve Rogers, both in universe and out. Not only can he use that to gain influence that should never, under any circumstances, be given a Nazi, but that trust means that we’re probably inclined to think the best of him — out of sheer habit, if nothing else — even though he’s never deserved it less. Well, no more. Civil War II: The Oath drives home that this altered Steve’s heart is as black as they come. If only the rest of the Marvel universe was privy to that fact as well.

That’s a lot of talk about Steve Rogers, isn’t it? Yeah, this issue is less of an epilogue to Civil War II and more of a prologue to Nick Spencer’s upcoming “Secret Empire” event (and is also a direct continuation of this week’s Captain America: Steve Rogers 10), and yeah, hopping from one event directly into another is as exhausting as it sounds. At least the Civil War II tie-ins from a few issues ago make the event’s themes a natural fit for Spencer’s story; he uses the Marvel universe’s current fractured, acrimonious state to justify Steve’s ascension (and his access to unprecedented political power), and Steve’s frustrations with Iron Man and Captain Marvel quite likely mirror many readers’ after Civil War II‘s controversial ending.

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While I’m enjoying almost all of Marvel’s books on an individual level (seriously, they’ve got a tremendously strong line right now), I’ve had some of the same frustrations with their universe’s general direction over the last year. It’s eerie seeing my feelings shared by Hydra-Cap. Up until now Spencer’s shown that this version of Steve shares many of his original iteration’s more honorable qualities even if he’s using them to further Hydra’s aims, so it’s easy to think that maybe this is the case here, too — that maybe he truly wants what’s best for everyone, even if he’s misguided about what that actually is.

But that’s bull.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. Trump and his cronies used similar tactics during the 2016 election, painting Clinton and liberals as elitists who had lost touch with “real” Americans. Whether there’s any truth to that or not is essentially moot, though, because Trump certainly doesn’t care about the middle class (or about anybody who can’t line his pockets) either; it’s just a smear tactic. I doubt even this Steve Rogers is as callous as Trump, but it quickly becomes clear that when he refers to “the people,” he doesn’t mean all people. Steve’s prejudiced, too.

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Rod Reis is a tremendous artist whose talents aren’t fully served by this talky script, yet he elevates every page he touches in this issue nonetheless. His moody, atmospheric work sells this story as the horror tale it truly is, but this is the page where he and Spencer hit me hardest. Reis pulls no punches, showing every horrific, evil detail of Steve Roger’s America. What’s scariest isn’t just that this is what Steve thinks America should be, it’s what he thinks the people want America to be as well.

Of course, that’s the problem with someone like Steve/Trump/Richard Spencer etc. gaining power or prominence or any platform at all, really: they empower likeminded individuals. Look at how Reis depicts the crowd at Steve’s inauguration.

crowd

These folks think they’re cheering the hero, Captain America, yet Reis draws them distorted, in black and white, the panel full of rage lines — he’s depicting them as deranged, and I think it’s a bit of foreshadowing for what Steve’s following will become. Bigots like Harry Hauser already think Cap an ally without even knowing he’s a Nazi — how hard would it be for him to indoctrinate some of his more impressionable fans?

That’s why I’ve always been wary of the “Steve Rogers as a Hydra agent” story, though. The future Steve wants to bring about isn’t just some abstract horror — it’s a very real possibility in our current political climate. I’ve appreciated how Spencer’s highlighted the very real issues that lead to people becoming extremists in the first place, but with fascism currently thriving, it doesn’t feel like the most vital concern anymore; and indeed, I worry that Hydra-Cap could even inadvertently inspire aspiring Nazis/Alt-Righters (it would require a gross misunderstanding of the story, but that will happen). In a time when Nazis are a real threat to society, having a Hydra-Cap almost feels dangerous — at a time like this, we need the hero invented to punch fascists in the face.

That said, I’m starting to wonder if we may be seeing that hero sooner, rather than later.

the-other-me

This is a confusing statement. Kobik rewriting Steve’s past shouldn’t just mean that Steve can’t remember his original history, it should mean that he never lived that life. Is Spencer saying that Hydra-Cap knows this isn’t his original life, but chooses it anyway? Could this possibly mean that the original Steve Rogers — our Steve Rogers — is in his mind somewhere (like how Peter Parker survived in Ock’s mind in Superior Spider-Man), and could maybe even play a role in Hydra-Cap’s downfall? As appropriate as it would be for Hydra-Cap to fall to Miles Morales as predicted (a half-black/half-Hispanic legacy hero; the only hero more fitting for the job would be Ms. Marvel), it would be beautiful for the original Steve to arrive just in time to sock his own Nazi doppleganger in the face.

Drew, I’m sorry, whenever I write about Hydra-Cap it’s very easy for me to get lost in my own (very strong, very complicated) feelings about the matter. This is a dense issue, though, and there’s plenty more we could dig into. Did you have any thoughts about Steve’s scenes with Tony and Carol, or the interludes with other Marvel characters, or simply about the idea of “Secret Empire” in general?

Drew: Oh man, this issue has a lot going on. I think it’s easy for us to focus on the “HydraCap as Trump” reading — the reading that is often the most appropriate for his solo series — that we ignore how Spencer complicates that analogy. Yes, Cap is a fascist with unprecedented executive power, but he’s also an idealist who (perhaps insincerely) lectures Carol on the moral dangers of allowing noble ends to justify monstrous means. More specifically, he’s opposed to the “build a wall” analogy in this narrative — the “shield” plans Carol got from Maria Hill. Sure, Cap’s opposition to it may be that he’s secretly pulling for the Chitauri fleet to decimate the world’s population, leaving a power vacuum Hydra could then fill, but the reasons he gives are exactly the reasons that we all should oppose that stupid wall.

The Shield

This argument is further complicated by the fact that Carol seems to be standing in for Hillary Clinton. This parallel is a bit more opaque — Carol “won” Civil War II, and still has as much authority as she ever had, but now faces a deeply divided constituency, and lacks the bedside manner to truly win them over. She hopes simply keeping her head down and doing a good job will speak for itself — a decidedly Clintonesque attitude —  but Cap appreciates that there’s more to leadership than just getting shit done (even if that shit is done well).

Spencer, I’m with you on not totally knowing how to read that “I’m not the man you think I am…” line. I’m taking it to mean, in this post-Kobik world, that Steve was simply leading a double life, and that the other Steve that he’s talking about is simply the character he played while in deep cover. However we read it, though, parsing Steve’s motives is incredibly frustrating. That is, there are the things we know HydraCap wants, there are things we know Steve (as the patriotic boy scout we know) would say, and it’s almost impossible to know what is dictating his arguments.

Take, for example, the warning he gives Carol about ends and means. That feels like a very Steve thing to say — that our morals have to be bigger than short-term results — but it also suits HydraCap’s goal of keeping Carol from building that wall. We know HydraCap is cool with using monstrous tactics to reach his goals; we were first introduced to him as he through Jack Flag out of an airplane, and we now know he’s planning on letting aliens kill most of humanity in order to achieve his goal of global Hydra domination. So, he’s lying, but his lie is the right thing, the inspiring thing, the thing we should all be aspiring to. But then, his advice to Carol about winning over the superhero community is just good advice — it’s hard to see how this advances HydraCap’s goals, so can only be read as sincere help. Maybe it’s just to stay in character, but it doesn’t have the kind of explicit duplicitousness of the Shield stuff.

Lest we confuse the two, though, Spencer makes it crystal clear the contempt HydraCap has for the character he’s been playing all these years:

Mirage

This sets us up for that big reveal — that Ulysses vision was of some yet-unseen time where Hydra had already taken over the world. Miles expresses frustration earlier in the issue that everyone seems to assume that that future had already been averted; he seems resigned to the role of chicken little on this front, which will make is decision to actually kill Cap (though the vision still isn’t exactly explicit on that front) at once more and less tragic — he will be doing the thing he feared doing, but for decidedly good reasons.

Which I guess reveals how excited I am for “Secret Empire.” Seeing the future Cap reveals to us at the end of this issue slowly come to fruition would definitely be a slog, but seeing the heroes we admire repel fascists even after they have taken control of the country might just be the inspiring message we all need right now. I can’t think of a better writer to deliver that message than Spencer, and I look forward to seeing HydraCap get his comeuppance.

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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7 comments on “Civil War II: The Oath 1

  1. Great work guys, you covered every thought that came to my mind when reading this issue. What I love about this issue is how Nick Spencer uses the boring ass events of Civil War II to further push his Hydra-Cap storyline. That’s great! That’s working with continuity – no matter how crappy it is – and molding it to align with your own ideas.

    As Spencer noted it’s scary how real all of this Hyrda-Cap business feels unfortunately. From the fictional narrative standpoint however I’m thrilled to see Nick Spencer take his idea this far. So far we’ve been semi-rooting for Hydra-Cap, even though he’s a bad guy. Now it’s become even clearer to us that he’s a BAD GUY. I’m very excited to see how this whole thing plays out.

    • I’m kind of curious how this would have played out differently if Hillary had won. Like, I think HydraCap was always destined to be a big bad, but I think the potency of the message had changed a great deal given the results of the election. I wonder how the story may have changed to address that.

    • Despite the usual hatred of Marvel events, I mostly enjoyed Civil War II, so I’m not going to say that Spencer made lemonade out of lemons.

      But I love how naturally Spencer creates a bridge between Events. If events are the biggest story of the Marvel universe, it is tragic that they are so often disconnected from each other. Instead, Spencer uses Civil War II so wonderfully, taking advantage of the tensions caused to create a powerful sequel hook. And regardless of what you think of the book itself, I can’t think of a better coda for a series about heroes fighting heroes than ‘because you were too busy arguing about nothing, you didn’t notice true evil hiding in plain sight’.

      One common criticism of the Civil War movie was that damn letter at the end, where all of the strong character work was undercut by a scene dedicated to undoing it so that when the next movie begins, nothing gets in the way. This is what the movie should have done. End in such a way that the fact that the stakes of the next story is based on the fallout of the last one.

      And it is so beautiful to Spencer get it right. Or, as I should say, horrifying. Because ultimately, what this issue says is ‘things matter’. What you do matters. I don’t think I agree with the idea that Carol is Clinton, but you can see an easy metaphor of the election. Too many people acted like things didn’t matter, until it became clear that it did.

  2. Reading this isssue, I honestly felt kind of sick; it just hit too damn close to home. When HydraCap started, I thought it would be a fun exploration of an altered version of the character–in the same vein of DC’s Injustice portraying a totalitarian Superman–but now, I really just want Steve Rogers back. I get that that’s the point, but living in Trump’s America, I think HydraCap might just be too painful to read

    • I understand where you’re coming from, but I couldn’t disagree more. We have decades of Cap punching Nazis we can still read if we need that escape, but we don’t yet have a story where America fights back after fascism has taken over its highest offices. That’s the story I need right now, and I’m so looking forward to reading it.

    • That’s how I felt reading Sam Cap last week. Steve Rogers — a being that we are supposed to trust implicitly — betraying the country and acting to destablize it makes me nauseous. It also makes me cry. I know it hits close to home, and a lot of what I’m feeling is the real world stressors baldly projected onto a comic book, but I think it’s helpful to have a clear expression of these things. Reading a single issue of Spencer’s helps to streamline the emotional experience, which in turn helps me how to understand what I’m feeling when its splattered across the rest of my day. I want Steve Rogers back too, but I also want a government I can trust.

    • I can’t remember which issue I described this story as a horror story, but I have before. And it is certainly truly scary to see Steve Rogers talk like that. I have described Steve has the greatest supervillain in comics at the moment, and this issue just makes that so clear. Can’t think of any villain scene in recent memory that is so well done. But it is well done because it is so scary. So close to home.

      I mean, it truly is horrifying that literally days after Spencer releases a pair of issues where a Neo-Nazi gets control of America’s National Security apparatus, Trump gives a Neo-Nazi a seat on the National Security Council (while removing power from the military and intelligence who would act as counters).

      But here, it is valuable to remember the value of horror. Horror has always been about how we act when things are at their worst. It is about resistance, and fighting even when the things seem insurmountable. That despite the stakes, we can actually get out alive. Or at least be heroic and do our best.

      Yes, it is painful to read. This is a horror story about the exact kind of horror we are facing now. But that is the value. We can see how heroism can exist in such horrific circumstances (remember, this story is much bigger than just Steve Rogers). We can learn how to resist, and what we can do to help. Learn the value of the things that truly matter at the moment. Because as great as Steve Rogers punching bad guys is, the sorts of stories we really need are stories that actually help us understand how to face the threats we face today. And those threats aren’t in underwater bases, but in the high level of government. That is the value of creating a book that is so horrifying, so painful. Because it teaches us the lessons we need to read

      The other advantage? It actually is a great way to refocus. Nothing Trump is doing is a distraction. But he is trying to overwhelm us. So many things to concentrate on, and we have no idea what to do. Spencer’s book does a great job in refocusing that. Reminding us ultimately of the true horror. Not any individual policy, but Trump himself. As Patrick said, it streamlines what we are all feeling, making it easier to contextualise so we can focus on the most important stuff. Which is resistance

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