Sunday, May 07, 2017

Too many words on Civil War II

Civil War was a seven-issue, 2006-2007 limited series by Mark Millar, Steve McNiven and Dexter Vines that attempted to capture the zeitgeist of post-9/11, Bush Era America by thrusting the debate over the proper balance between security and liberty into the fantasy world of the Marvel Universe, with the various superheroes and supervillains all lining up on one side or the other of the debate, and then proceeding to fight one another to the death over it. The series didn't really work, and Millar's themes fell apart if you looked too closely at them (or even just read the comic), but it had at least a patina of relevance about it, the story could be more-or-less understood by reading its seven issues (and/or its later collected edition) and, like so much of Millar's comics work, could be boiled down into a particularly simple pitch. In the case of Civil War, it was a pitch that Marvel used to market the book and its many, many tie-ins, a five-word tag-line: "Whose side are you on?"

Civil War II was a 10-issue, 2016-2017 limited series by Brian Michael Bendis, David Marquez, Oliver Coipel, Jim Cheung and John Dell that dealt with thought crimes, or pre-emptive warfare, or judicial bias, or, implicit bias, or Minority Report or, perhaps, profiling, or various combinations of that list of those themes, depending on the scene and the issue.

If profiling is the main subject matter, which is something I suggest as a possibility because at one point near the end of the series, Iron Man Tony Stark declares, "It's profiling...profiling our future...profiling individuals." And in the last issue of the series, Dr. Henry McCoy, AKA The Beast, further underlines the theme as that of profiling being bad: "[Tony Stark] knew once you made profiling--and that is what it was--the norm... long until it was used by someone less noble?" Then it is easy to see that Bendis was shooting for the sort of crypto-relevance of Millar's original series, attempting to address the mood in a post-Ferguson United States, where "Black Lives Matter" and "All Lives Matter" are phrases of great power and import (although without any racial component in the pages of his comic, that kinds of defeats that purpose...although it might be worth pointing out that a few times Inhumans and mutants are raised as classes of people that other Marvel Universe people might be prejudiced against and, well, the whole climax hinges on Captain Marvel suspecting a black teenager of killing the symbol of America, so there's that).

It doesn't work at all, though, and Bendis' ostensible sequel lacks Millar's elegant distillation of a premise-cum-tagline, and even much in the way of the simple, primal pleasure of superheroes fighting superheroes, which the original at least provided more regularly.

Certainly, a decade after the original Civil War, readers are rightly sick of Marvel's superheroes fighting one another, as they've been doing pretty much constantly since then, but Bendis' "fights" are mostly arguments, with the various characters only choosing sides near the end of the fourth issue, spending much of the fifth on the series' one big battle, and then everyone more-or-less goes home to let the leaders of the two factions fight it out themselves...again, to the death.

Despite the title, it doesn't really function as a sequel to Civil War at all, actually. In the original, Iron Man lead a team consisting of Mister Fantastic, Hank Pym and other establishment-minded superheroes to work hand-in-hand with the Bush Administration to enforce a Superhero Registration Act, which functioned either as a mandatory registering of all super-people and/or an actual superhero military draft, depending on the issue or tie-in. Team Security were opposed by Captain America, Spider-Man and the others on Team Liberty, but they went to laughably heavy-handed extremes to enforce the will of the U.S. government, including using lethal force and extraordinary rendition of the non-compliant into a superehro Guantanamo Bay. The series only ended when Captain America surrendered in order to stop the fighting, when he realized that he was causing property damage and that New York City's first responders were opposed to him (Like I said, it didn't really work).

In this series, it is Captain Marvel Carol Danvers who serves as the tool of the government (artist Marquez, unlike Civil War's McNiven, doesn't draw the president and his cabinet on the page, but the president is presumably Obama; he only appears in silhouette or in darkened rooms, and so this is less explicitly tied to a particular presidential administration than the original). Danvers gets her hands on a new superhero named Ulysses whose power is the ability to foretell disasters, and she uses that knowledge to assemble teams of superheroes to prevent said disasters before they occur...more often than not, however, she actually just causes them to happen, or simply alters what happens slightly, with the visions coming "true" in vague senses. Relatively few heroes support her, particularly as the series progresses, and, just as Millar manipulated the reader by putting all the "cool" heroes on the Captain America side and the lamer ones on Iron Man's side, Bendis has Carol's allies consist only of those working with her already, and some of them only conditionally. Tony Stark eventually gets most of the cool heroes on his team, but, for the most part, this "war" isn't fought with armies. It's just Carol and Tony fighting, usually verbally rather than violently.

Though there aren't really any factions in this conflict, aside from in the aforementioned battle, and a great many of the publisher's more prominent characters quite pointedly sit it out--Spider-Man Peter Parker, Daredevil, Hawkeye Clint Barton--the essential conflict boils down to the use of Ulysses' visions to fight supervillains and various forms of super-crime. Is it right to arrest, fight or otherwise punish someone for something they haven't done yet? Despite how obvious the answer is there--"innocent until proven guilty" is a pretty universally accepted precept of the American justice system--Bendis' focus on it is quite soft, as Ulysses' ability to even accurately predict the future is constantly called into question. The fight isn't about "Is it right to try and preemptively fight crime and disaster?" so much as "Is it right to try and preemptively fight crime and disaster based on a faulty data?" The source of the conflict isn't as solid, the line isn't as bright as in Civil War.

So with nothing in common with the original, why is it even called Civil War II? I've read a Bendis quote promoting the series where he said that as the storyline was taking shape, he turned to an editor or collaborator and asked if they realized that what they were really creating was another superhero civil war. It's far more likely that it had something to do with the strong sales of the original Civil War, which had a long, long life of doing gangbusters in its various trade-collections in bookstores and libraries. And it's more likely still it had something to do with the release of Marvel Studios' Captain America: Civil War, the feature film that took a few images and plot-points from the Civil War comic to extrapolate into an original storyline...but nevertheless marketed the hell out of the phrase "Civil War" as it related to Marvel super-comics.

In an attempt to add gravity to the series, several secondary characters are killed, and several others have their status quos radically changed. War Machine James "Rhodey" Rhodes, Tony's best friend and Carol's boyfriend, is killed (as the trailers for the Captain America movie implied he might be, although he survived in the film). The original Hulk, Bruce Banner, is also killed off, and by a fellow Avenger. She-Hulk is put in a coma, and comes out of it seriously changed into a Gray She-Hulk (Although they're just calling her new, serious series Hulk). And Stark himself ends up in something of a coma, interacting with a new Iron Man, operating under the codename "Ironheart," via a holographic operating system version of himself.

Additionally, in addition to the above, the visions of Ulysses lent themselves to essentially rolling out a long sequence of "coming attractions" in the final portion of the book, as he envisioned scenes from the next Marvel event Monsters Unleashed, Bendis' own upcoming Defenders series and so on.

But as a story unto itself, Civil War II just doesn't really work at all. That fact is both surprising and unsurprising at the same time. It's surprising because Bendis has more experience than anyone else when it comes to writing these sorts of series for Marvel, having previously written 2005's House of M, 2008's Secret Invasion, 2010's Siege and 2013's Age of Ultron, and one imagines that he would eventually get the hang of it (the best of Marvel's crossovers that he had a hand in was Avengers Vs. X-Men, in which he was one of several writers). It's not surprising because none of those stories really worked either, and, in fact, some of them didn't even qualify as stories in any way other than the fact that Marvel published them as if the were.

This isn't because Bendis is a particularly bad writer, it's just that he does a very poor job with big stories of this sort, involving large casts, big events and "historical" changes (at least in so far as the word "historical" can be made to apply changes in the Marvel Universe's ever-fluid status quo). Part of that is because of his own atomized form of storytelling, which consists of large collections of sometimes loosely-tied scenes that may or may not lead into one another directly. There is a benefit to this approach, given the nature of company-wide crossover series in which there will be literally scores of chapters of varying degrees of relevance, and perhaps it is Bendis' (and Marvel's) intent that Civil War II be read either in its entirety (that is, all the crossovers), or that readers self-curate their reading experience, choosing the scenes they want to read and ignoring the rest.

The problem with that approach, of course, is who knows what the important parts are and which are unimportant until after they've actually read them? And, at the very least, the eight official chapters of Civil War II should all be important ones (they are not) and tell a complete story unto themselves, which can then either be expanded upon by reading more tie-ins voluntarily (They do not, hence the presence of two other comics, Civil War II # 0 and Free Comic Book Day Special 2016 in the hardcover collection of Civil War II.)

I can guess at what Bendis might have been attempting as a writer, then, but, as a reader, I have no choice to evaluate the comics by what is on the page, or, in the case of the collection, what is between the covers, which is what I'm doing here.

That atomized approach to event story-telling is particularly evident in the gradual, casual beginning of this story (which, as I mentioned previously, did not spring organically from an ongoing storyline in any particular book or family of books in the way that, say, Secret Wars or Secret Empire grew out of Jonathan Hickman's Avengers books or Nick Spencer's Captain America books). In fact, Civil War II actually has three different and distinct beginnings. (Did you read Abhay Khosla's series on Civil War II at The Savage Critics? Quoth Abhay: "I just figured 'I can't figure out how to buy the first issue of your comic book' was as good an omen as a person could ask for to avoid a thing.")

So let's look at the series three beginnings, one at a time, before we look at the series as a whole.

First issue #1: Civil War II #0

This 23-page chapter is drawn by Olivier Coipel, with color artist Justin Ponsor, who colors every page of every issue in the hardcover collection I am reading. It introduces two major player in the story to come, Captain Marvel and Ulysess; two characters whose deaths or injuries will provide a catalyst to a stage of the civil warring, She-Hulk and War Machine; and one character who won't appear at all in the the rest of the series, Doc Samson.

She-Hulk is introduced in a New York City courtroom, where in her day job she is defending former (and apparently reformed) Daredevil villain The Jester from a case brought against him that she claims is entrapment. Her argument is that he is being prosecuted not for any actual crimes, but for his criminal history and his speech about that criminal activity. This is where thought crimes come up. We witness her closing statement, but will find out before the end of this issue/chapter that it was all for naught: The Jester is found guilty, is sent to prison and then gets accidentally killed by a prison guard ("He was innocent," She-Hulk says when hearing the news, "He went to jail before he did anything wrong.")

War Machine is introduced War Machine-ing in Latveria in his costume, and then we see him in the White House Situation Room, where President Obama spends two pages telling Rhodey that he wants him to be his successor (Surprise, Hilary Clinton!). He wants to appoint Rhodes as his new Secretary of Defense, as a stepping stone to being president. None of this dialogue sounds much like Obama at all, but presumably the point of this scene is to build Rhodey up as a Pretty Big Deal so that when he dies it will seem like a big deal.

Next stop is Ohio State University, where a couple of students get caught in the Terrigen Mist cloud (it is assumed one knows what that is; I am going to assume it too because this post is already destined to be long enough without getting into that nonsense) and they end up enveloped in Inhuman cocoons.

And then to The Triskelion, "Headquarters and Home of The Ultimates," where Captain Marvel is presented as a harried leader of, like, a bunch of superhero teams. SHIELD Agents do walk-and-talks with her, while she asks about Alpha Flight and A-Force. Doc Samson is there to visit, and he psychoanalyzes her during the course of their conversation. At one point, she mentions that the point of her Ultimates team is to try to stop disasters before they happen, and how she wishes there was just one thing that could help her in her mission of proactive defense of the world. (She also talks about how overwhelming her current life is, and I had a sinking feeling that Captain Marvel is going to end up being portrayed as a woman in way over her head, with so much going on in so many different parts of her life that she's totally going to fuck up the world for everyone by going to war against Iron Man over something stupid).

But funny she should mention that one thing that could change the whole game for them, because back in Columbus, the cocoons open--again, you're supposed to know how Inhumans work, and if you don't, well, maybe this isn't for you--and we find that one of the new Inhumans has emerged as a scary, mindless monster lady, while the other one, Ulysses, looks unchanged. But then his eyes go red, he stumbles around and finds himself looking at a two-page spread of a ruined cityscape, with a red sky, clouds of smoke or dust or ash and smashed-up buildings.

No one tell Captain America Steve Rogers! There's nothing he hates more than smashed-up buildings!

First issue #2: Free Comic Book Day 2016 (Civil War II)

This second of the first issues is drawn by pencil artist Jim Cheung and inker John Dell. In retrospect--that is, after you read Civil War II #1--it will be clear that this issue consists of a key scene more-or-less taken out of #1 and presented as its own comic book. It's pretty integral to the plot, which makes it strange that Marvel decided to present it outside of anything entitled Civil War, but, on the other hand, at least they gave it away for free, so potential readers had little excuse to skip it...unless they just weren't sure they had to read it to make heads-or-tails of Civil War II #1.

War Machine lands at The Triskelion to be greeted by Captain Marvel, who it turns out he is in an "On-again, off-again long-distance thing" with (Huh. That was news to me.) He just showed up to visit because he missed her, but it turns out he's chosen an auspicious time to visit, as The Inhumans Medusa and Crystal Lockjaw themselves there, with new Inhuman Ulysses in tow. He has the power to see the future, but it's more than that, he says, he "experiences" it, as if his body itself visits the future during his episodes. Medusa brought him to the Triskelion where The Black Panther could run some tests, and hopefully help him figure out how to master his new power, but then--"AGH! NNNAAGH!"--Ulysses sees Thanos coming!

With this knowledge, Captain Marvel assembles a rag-tag group of heroes from her various super-teams and invites along the visiting War Machine and the Inhumans to lay in wait for Thanos, who Ulysses predicts will appear at Project PEGASUS to steal the/a Cosmic Cube.

"Thanos, you are under arrest!" Captain Marvel shouts, as Ms. America, Medusa, Spectrum, Crystal, She-Hulk, The Human Torch, Black Panther, Blue Marvel, Dazzler (Dazzler?) and War Machine all dog-pile on him. The fight goes poorly for our heroes, in the main because Medusa is there at all (Captain Marvel didn't exactly pick an ideal Thanos-fighting squadron here). Medusa gets thrown into War Machine, one of his missiles goes off and hits She-Hulk in the sternum (which I wouldn't think would actually hurt her, let alone put her in a coma, but whatever; I guess Bendis and Marvel reasoned she was a bigger hero to have badly hurt than Dazzler or Spectrum). Distracted by having rocket-launched a rocket into the wrong person, War Machine isn't prepared for Thanos' sucker-punch. It is not clear from this issue, the last panel of which is Captain Marvel cradling him in her arms and sobbing, "Oh, God! Somebody help me!" but he's totally dead. Thanos punched death! With one blow!

First issue #3: Civil War II #1

Finally, it's the first issue of Civil War II, which comes 34 pages into the collection. David Marquez now assumes the art duties, and he will perform them the rest of the series, save for a handful of special guest-artists who get strategically deployed later in the series, mostly for the purposes of advertising future comics.

In this beginning of the series, the opening comes between #0 and FCBD 2016, with Ulysses running through the woods in Columbus until he stumbles upon a splash page of Inhumans...a "team" that now includes x-iled X-Man The Beast and former Fantastic Four member The Human Torch.

"Weeks later" we're in Manhattan, where The All-New, All-Different Avengers are facing what Ms. Marvel calls "a freaky, giant, big, giant celestial giant," and what Nova describes as its "little soldier things." Then Thor leads a splash page full of almost 40 heroes into the fight (She-Hulk and War Machine are among them, so this is still set before FCBD 2016...or they healed from it already. I guess it would be unclear at this point in the book). While the heroes distract the Celestial and its soldier guys, a team of sorcerers lead by Dr. Strange appear and send "The Celestial the dimension from which it came."

This leads to a 12-page after-party at Stark Tower, where Tony Stark and Carol Danvers toast The Inhumans for giving them the heads-up about the Celestial Destructor, with enough time to prepare pretty much the whole Marvel Universe to fight it. When they ask Medusa where she got that info, she calls a handful of the heroes into the darkened kitchen, and introduces them to Ulysses, the Inhuman who can see the future. When Tony and She-Hulk press him for how exactly he sees things, they call in "little Jean Grey" and she tries to set-up a limited hive mind or something between everyone there, but it turns out his mind is unreadable: It is a closed system.

Nevertheless, Carol tries to recruit him for The Ultimates, and Tony immediately starts throwing cold water on the idea, with logic. When it's pointed out that he correctly saw the Celestial Destructor, Tony shoots back that his vision "didn't happen because we stopped it wasn't the future he saw, it was a possible future." After telling Carol and the others to be careful with what they do with these visions, he walks off.

Then the book seems to catch-up to the events of FCBD 2016; Ulysses has his Thanos vision (in a different time and different place than in the previous comic, which, remember, Bendis also wrote), and then we skip that whole fight scene to deal with its aftermath (In retrospect, I do kinda wonder why the scene wasn't inserted in between scenes of this issue, so that the story could occur chronologically).

At that point, what began as a differing set of opinions becomes a heated argument, when Tony finds out the chain of events that lead to Rhodey's death, he accuses Carol of murdering him and yells at her a bunch. He demands to know where Thanos is, and then storms off...but not to kill the guy who killed his best friend, but rather, "To make sure none of you ever play God again!" by going after Ulysses.

Carol is about to go after him, when She-Hulk wakes up just long enough to say, "Fight for it. It's out future, Carol. Not his. Fight for it."

I literally have no idea what this means in this context. The "his" refers to Tony Stark, I guess? But she was in a coma, did she hear any of that? Or was she talking about the future not belonging to Ulysses? Seriously, no idea.

From this point on, with the many beginnings out of the way, the series devolves into a story-shaped series of big moments.

Civil War II #2: Everyone is mad at Tony!

Tony abducts Uylsses from his bed in New Atillan, despite The Inhumans attempting to stop him, with violence. No idea what the legal ramifications are here. Ulysses would have been a U.S. citizen, but Attillan is a foreign country. By virtue of being Inhuman does that make him a citizen of Inhumans-ville? Does he have dual citizenship? If he's not a U.S. citizen, I guess Tony has a little more wriggle room in terms of abducting him and taking him to a secret science bunker to threaten him and run a brain scan on him, but since I don't know what Stark's status is with the U.S. government anymore, who knows? At any rate, the whole capture seems silly in retrospect, because presumably the very tests Tony runs on Ulysses' brain are the same ones, or the same kinds of ones, that The Black Panther would have been talking about running earlier. Tony and T'Challa are science bros.

This leads to the Inhuman Royal Family and their hangers-on storming Stark Tower, and then The Ultimates and Avengers arriving there to stop them, and then everyone finding Tony Stark and rescuing Ulysses from him. Despite some severe damage to a wall, there's no fighting yet, just some more arguing. If fighting was about to start, it is interrupted by Ulysses' latest vision, that of a gigantic, nude, drooling Hulk with glowing green eyes, standing over some kinda dead looking Steve Rogers, Thor and Hawkeye, with a limp Iron Man in one hand and a limper Captain Marvel in his other hand.

Civil War II #3: The death of Bruce Banner, and the trial of the century!

This is maybe the nadir of the series...up until it reaches a lower nadir at the end, I guess. Deciding all of a sudden to write this single chapter all artsy and out of sequence and shit, Bendis opens with a trial in a Manhattan federal court house, jumping between the trial and the events that lead to the trail, so there are flashbacks within flashbacks, and narration coming in the form of testimony from players like Carol, Tony, Hawkeye and others.

Matt Murdock is the only lawyer shown talking to anyone, and I guess he would be for the prosecution, since he works in the city's District Attorney's office, but then the thing they are talking about took place in Utah, so I don't see how a city ADA would get involved. If he's defending Hawkeye Clint Barton, well, that doesn't make sense, since Murdock's not allowed to practice law in New York anymore in such a capacity. If I had to guess, I would imagine there are only two lawyers in the whole Marvel Universe, and the other one is in and out of a coma, and Bendis doesn't have time to read Charles Soule's Daredevil, so who cares.

Here's what happened. Because Ulysses saw a giant Hulk killing some Avengers in a big city, Carol, an armor-less Tony and like all the super-heroes and SHIELD fly out to Doctor Bruce Banner's secret lab in a barn in rural Alpine, Utah and ask him to not freak out or anything. He says he's been experimenting on himself, but those experiments have kept him from becoming The Hulk for over a year now. How does this square with the events of The Totally Awesome Hulk Vol. 1? It doesn't, as far as I can tell!

And then Hawkeye shoots Banner to death with a special arrowhead given to him by Banner himself, who at some point in the past had asked Hawkeye to kill him if he ever Hulked-out again. He didn't Hulk-out, of course, but Hawkeye said he thought he was about to, and that was good enough: Hawkeye walks, since it was really more of an assisted suicide than it was a murder (Fun fact: Assisted suicide is illegal, but it's not like Bendis spent a lot of time in thinking about how trials or law works or anything. I don't even think he watched any Law & Order to research this issue). Tony is now super-pissed with Carol, as that's two superheroes who have gotten killed on account of her acting on Ulysses' visions, and doing so kind of stupidly (Like, this group would have been a good one to send after Thanos, while a smaller group of like, three or four people would have been a better one to send to visit Banner).

Civil War II #4: It's almost time to start to get ready to maybe rumble soon!

In an in-story ad for the new She-Hulk series, Hulk by writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Nico Leon, She-Hulk gets mad when Carol tells her that her cousin Bruce it totally dead now. In another jumbly timeline issue, a bunch of the grown-ups meet in a dark, dingy room to listen to Tony and Carol's "sides" of the arguments.

Tony's brain scans revealed that Ulysses, who is off having his face-painted by Karnak during this sequence, doesn't really have visions of the future, which are impossible to have, but his brain produces images of possible futures based on algorithms. Carol's argument is that if someone tells you there's a guy over there with a gun who said he's about to open fire, do you go over there and check it out, or do you wait until he opens fire? Tony counters that the percentage of the probability of him actually opening fire is relevant, and wouldn't you act differently if it were eighty percent or ten percent? Carol rolls her eyes.

Doing the mediating, sitting around what looks like one of the Illuminati's old tables, are Steve Rogers, Doctor Strange, Medusa, Blackbolt, Black Panther and Beast.

Carol doesn't sit around to talk with any of these folks, but just peaces out in the most dickish move possible: Flying straight up through the ceiling, leaving a huge pile of rubble in the middle of the floor.

She doesn't have time to talk; there are civil rights that need violating! One of Ulysses' recent visions was that some banker lady was a Hydra agent, so Carol has her in a freezing interrogation cell at the Triskelion, and is adamant on holding her without evidence forever. At this point, Maria Hill, the head of a super-CIA who like two crossovers ago was kidnapping villains and mind-wiping them with a reality warping device outside of any government mandate, and The Black Panther, an actual king of an actual monarchy, are like, "Carol, this is maybe going a little far, don't you think?"

And that's when Tony Stark sends Nightcrawler to Bamf! the woman out of the cell, and lands with his posse on the Triskelion roof, ready to fight Carol. Marquez and Bendis stack two long, horizontal panels that stretch across a two-page spread to reveal the "sides" (which, holy shit, it took until the fourth issue to get to?) in this so-called civil "war."

I'd scan the images, but they are too long to do so, so I'll just have to tell you who's in which panel.

Iron Man has got both Captains America, Doctor Strange, Luke Cage, Hawkeye Kate Bishop, codename-less Riri Williams, The Avengers (Ms. Marvel, Nova, Spider-Man Miles Morales, The Vision and the current Thor) and the cool X-Men (the cast of All-New X-Men: Teenage Cyclops, Iceman, Beast and Angel, plus Genesis and Idie).

Captain Marvel has got SHIELD, Alpha Flight (Sasquatch, Aurora and Puck), The Ultimates (Blue Marvel, Black Panther, Spectrum and an Ant-Man, I think...?) and the lame X-Men (from Extraordinary X-Men: Forge, Magick, Little Jean Grey, Storm and Old Man Ice Man).

So, just looking at who's on who's side, the deck is pretty clearly stacked: Iron Man is right. He is now officially the good guy, if there were any doubts before. He's got the moral authority that comes with having two Captains America! Carol doesn't even get a Bucky! The best she's got is Black Panther, and he was just telling her to chill like a few panels ago.

But just to throw a monkey wrench in things, Carol says "I have friends all over the place" on a two-page splash, and out of the sky fall the Guardians of The Galaxy! These are the ones that were in the original movie, plus Kitty Pryde, Angela, Venom and Ben Grimm.

Finally, a fight! Next issue!

Civil War II #5: At long last, superheroes punching one another over moral differences!

There's a big, two-page splash-page showing the two sides running at one another, ready to engage in combat over the dubious principle that Carol Danvers can hold that banker lady without charging her indefinitely, or maybe that she should be allowed to keep prompting conflicts that get Avengers killed or...whatever.

I confess it's an interesting spread, as it invites readers to wonder about, imagine or perhaps just rationalize why each character is on each team. I can see this being very appealing to a certain kind of reader, like, say, the one I was as a teenager, when I would read very few comic books, and always had to wait a month between each issue, because trade-waiting wasn't yet an option.

For example, Extraordinary X-Man "Old Man" Logan shows up in this spread, on Tony's side. Why's a guy from a possible nightmare future siding against the lady trying to stop possible nightmare futures, and how did Tony get him (and Nightcrawler) away from the other grown-up X-Men, who are all on Team Carol?

What is the difference that makes two versions of the same guy, Iceman, take completely different positions on the issue, and to hold them so strongly they are literally willing to fight himself/themselves over it?

Why did Peter Quill and his Guardians team choose to side with their space-faring pal Carol over their space-faring pal Tony? (Tony asks the same question, and it seems to amount to Peter likes Carol better...maybe it's a romantic/sexual thing, as there's one-panel later showing a pouting Kitty looking on as Peter and Carol hug.)

Why did Ben Grimm, who pointedly sat out the first Civil War, going so far as to move to France to avoid having to take a side and potentially punch on some of his pals, decide he was cool fighting in this one, which doesn't even have something tangible to fight about (the Registration Act), and in which he has no personal stakes in (Reed was on Team Security, Sue and Johnny were on Team Liberty)?

Why do any X-Men really care about this nonsense, especially since they have spent so much time on the receiving end of things like the government taking pre-emptive action against super-powered people, based on their potential to cause disaster?

I suppose that is the, or at least a, function of the various tie-ins (Of the two I've read so far, All-New Wolverine Vol. 2 and Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 2, the stars basically decided to announce Carol is dumb, this whole fight is dumb and they don't want to be in this crossover at all...although Luke and Danny do appear to be working with Carol earlier in the story, and in this fight, Luke at least is on Team Tony).

Of course given that the "war" really only amounts to this issue's fight scene, I don't know that the answers really justify whole issues of comic books about Iceman debating his teenage self or whatever.

As for the specifics of the fight, it is mostly very lame, and, at some points, difficult to even read or make sense of. The Miles Morales version of Spider-Man apparently meeting (a) Venom is kind of interesting, but for the most part the issue's main consequences seem to be only to show that, first, Carol is increasingly willing to hit Iron Man super-hard, and, second, to destroy the Guardians' ship, essentially grounding them on Earth temporarily (the focus of a story arc in their own book/s that followed Civil War II).

It ends when another Ulysses vision shows a bloody-fisted Miles holding a limp and impaled Steve Rogers, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building. The sobering image gets everyone to stop fighting and turn to this Spidey and Cap. Carol immediately wants to arrest Miles, but that is more than enough action for one issue!

Civil War II #6: Everyone returns to their corners, to plot and/or cry!

Carol's decision to preemptively arrest teenage Spider-Man finally causes Black Panther to turn on Carol, and after he briefly tells her off, he and Team Iron Man all teleport away to a safe house. The Inhumans take their maguffin and go home. Teen Spidey has Thor drop him off in the city, where he can have a proper panic attack.

Carol has something approaching a panic attack herself, sitting on the edge of the rooftop, crying and cradling her hand while thinking about--or having flashbacks to?--the deaths of Rhodey and Banner. Starlord, Maria and some X-ladies come out to comfort her and tell them they found Spider-Man--standing on the steps of the Capitol building, just like in the vision!

Wow, hardly anything happened in this issue at all!

Civil War II #7: Carol and Tony war, civilly!

Ulysses continues to get weirder and weirder, having now completely tuned out his fellow weirdo Inhumans, and he is growing glowing tentacles out of his back. He goes to visit Old Man Logan in the pages of Old Man Logan, which gives Old Man Logan artist Andrea Sorrentino a reason to appear and draw about a half-dozen pages, presumably to give Marquez a break as he tired near the finish line of this particular marathon (Otherwise, there's not really a reason to include the scene, as all that basically happens is that OML tells Ulysses that Tony Stark pushed someone with a feminine pronoun too far, and caused all the Old Man Logan sequels. That would also explain the decision to re-run the two-page spread of Miles over Captain Steve, so close on the heels of its initial usage).

Back in the real world, Captain America, like Spider-Man, for some reason decided the very best course of action to avoid Ulysses' vision of one of them killing the other is to meet at that place and have Spider-Man pointedly not kill him. This leads to a conversation, which only adds to the excitement of the Ulysses/Old Man Logan conversation. So much conversation!

Carol then decides the very best thing to do at this point, given that two of the three visions she had tried to stop in this series have lead to the deaths of Avengers, is to swoop in and try to take Spider-Man into custody. That's when a force field appears over him and Tony swoops in wearing a huge, Hulkbuster-esque suit of armor bristling with missile launchers and painted gray, probably in memory of Rhodey. They fight...for a whole four pages! Of course, two of those pages are a spread consisting of only three panels, so it's not, like, a real fight or anything.

The most hilarious part of this is that Tony shoots a missile at Carol, and she bats it away...and it detonates right in front of Captain America, who is only saved by the fact that he has a shield and is, you know, Captain America! It took her like one minute on the ground to almost kill Captain America herself, when the whole reason for her coming there was, because as she told Starlord and her gal pals, that if the vision comes to pass "and we do nothing, we basically killed Captain America ourselves."

Then she punches the guy in the gun metal-gray super-armor in the abdomen super-hard, which is exactly how Thanos killed Rhodey! Irony?

Civil War II #8: The extra-length, ad-fortified conclusion!

This final chapter is 38-pages long, but don't worry too much about Marquez's drawing hand; there's less drawing involved than you might think, and a solid eight pages are devoted to ads for other Marvel comics, drawn by guest-artists. Plus, there are more repetitions of pages from previous issues of this very series, which a theoretical reader has already read and paid for (I can't decide what is more frustrating. If you read this in single issues, then you are paying for the same content twice, but there is at least likely a month between the time you read it originally, in case you forgot that Carol punched Tony really hard, and Cap and Spider-Man looked on. If you're reading it in a trade format, as I am, then it really calls attention to its laziness, because I just read that exact same series of three giant panels, like, seconds ago.)

So! Two-page spread of a longshot of Carol and Tony, locked in moral/mortal combat in the skies over Washington, D.C.! Carol is firing her power-blasts at Tony, and he's shooting a Robotech episode's worth of little shoulder-mounted missiles at Carol. It is a nice drawing. Then! The same two-page spread from the previous issue, completely unchanged!

The fight lasts a few pages, during which Captain America is almost killed by missiles for a second time, and then a whole bunch of people try to get involved to stop the fight. Maria Hill sends Team Carol down to stop the fight, The Inhumans appear and attempt to stop the fight (I guess this fight is what Ulysses thinks Old Man Logan was talking about when he said Tony and "her" caused the Old Man Logan-iverse?), and Nova, Spider-Man's teenage pal from All-New, All-Different Avengers, human-rockets onto the scene.

But after Tony lands one more good punch on Carol, his systems shut down, and there's this montage in which Carol just seems like a maniac, pounding on Tony after he's stopped fighting back, repeatedly trying to peel off his helmet or armor and, eventually, in another two-page spread, she punches him so hard his armor explodes, he flies out of the back of it, and all of the various heroes who were flying or swinging to get to them in time are sent reeling by the shock waves of the hit.

As the bloodied Tony falls out of the sky, Ulysses sucks everyone into another weird vision, this one of "The Futures..." (plural). And so begins a sequence of silent splash pages, some single-page splashes, others double-page splashes, all by guest artists and revealing either a future Marvel comic or story (The first is apparently the events of Monsters Unleashed, the big Marvel event comic that immediately followed this one and is, in fact, already over, and there are similarly images showing Inhumans Vs. X-Men, the Miles and dead Cap image which may, in retrospect, be part of the in-progress Secret Empire, something having to do with Boy Thor and Loki) or past and/or standard Marvel futures (Age of Ultron, a Days of Future Past riff, Kilraven fighting the War of The Worlds' Martians).

And now it's time for the ending, or at least the denoument, which Brian Michael Bendis is notoriously terrible at writing!

Tony is not dead, but Beast, the only surviving Science Guy, puts him in some kind of weird iron lung thing and says he can't figure out exactly what Tony did to himself, but he doesn't wanna mess with it, as doing so might really kill him (He's a holographic AI in the rebooted and renumbered Invincible Iron Man that started coming out before this series was ever even finished, so that probably explains some of this). Beast tells Carol that Tony was her secret best friend all along, and he wasn't really fighting her to the death, because he trusted her; in actuality, he was fighting her to the death because he feared what the person who followed Carol might do with the powers she was already pretty severely abusing. This is pretty much the most unconvincing part of the whole book, but I guess Bendis wanted to take a stab at not making Carol look like one of the Marvel Universe's worst villains after months of doing the opposite...?

Ulysses just evolved into a Celestial and flew away or something. This was never his story; he was just a convenient maguffin, something to fight over that needed to be taken from the grasp of the victor at the end of the story.

Hawkeye confronts Carol and asks her not to read Occupy Avengers. Like most Marvel readers, she doesn't.

And, finally, the shadowy president who is totally Obama (this final issue was released after the election, but before Trump was sworn in and, anyway, as much as this guy doesn't sound at all like Obama, he does talk in complete sentences that conform to English standards). He asks Carol what's up, she previews coming attractions--The Champions, The Hulk, The Defenders, etc--and then he asks her what he can do for her.

She makes a very serious face and has she has some ideas "about the future," which I don't think is meant to be a joke, but sounds like one.


And then there are 30 pages worth of variant covers, which remind one that something good did come out of this series: Michael Cho's great fight card-style variants.

Although, perusing those and the other variants, it's weird how many of them promise or depict fights that never actually happen in the story at all...


Daniel Von Egidy said...

And then all of Marvel's comics tanked and they blamed diversity. It was flabbergasting how inept this comic was. Probably the worst of Bendis' career. The tired work of a hack.

Evan Dawson-Baglien said...

Marc Guggenheim does a decent job of addressing all the stupidities revolving around Hawkeye's trial in the one-shot, "Civil War II, the Accused." He explains away pretty much all the irregularities in the trial as being the result of the government's breaking the rules in an attempt to railroad Hawkeye. Matt Murdock was requested to assist the prosecution ostensibly because of his past experience with super-people; but actually it's because the senior prosecutor thought that his previous experience of getting disbarred and rebarred would make him easy to control and threaten.

I guess it would have been better if Bendis had done the research about how to follow trial proceedings, but at least we got what is essentially a collection of No-Prizes masquerading as a story out of it. I really like stories that exist purely to cover up the mistakes that writers have made in the past. Since mistakes are by definition unplanned it introduces an element of originality to the story that's hard to duplicate consciously.