CIVIL WAR II: A War Worth Fighting?

– by Jeremy Scully

Disclaimer: This editorial contains spoilers for Issues 1 & 2 of the Marvel crossover event, CIVIL WAR II.

In the words of singer Edwin Star, “War! What is it good for? Aboslutely noth’n”. This is exactly how I feel about the “Civil War” going within the Marvel Universe right now. Why would I feel that way? What can make me believe that a follow up companywide crossover to one of the biggest storylines for Marvel is “good for noth’n”? Well there quite a few reasons for such a conclusion, but first a little background on how Marvel works for those unaware.

Each year the great editors and writers of Marvel go off to a “retreat” where tons of ideas, plots, and concepts and just about anything for the company are discussed. This not so secret retreat has been going on for quite a few years with much of the focus apparently being on “big crossover events”. Huge crossovers are typically storylines that affect characters company wide, and took off roughly around the era of writer Chris Claremont and his X-MEN run ("Mutant Massacre," for example). The idea here is that, while bestselling books will probably continue to do well and push the story, lower-selling books will get some of a the “rub” of the major events boosting their sales as well. If the sales boost, and get people talking, then perhaps the series will continue to pick up readership and increase revenue.

Recent events that came about (supposedly) from this retreat include FEAR ITSELF, AXIS, and Bendis’s trilogy of SECRET INVASION, DARK REIGN, and SIEGE. The unfortunate truth is, however, most of the company’s big events just aren’t succeeding (*see chart below), which is causing Marvel to become more and more desperate. So in the desperation they turned to the man who penned one of their biggest successes (SECRET INVASION) and asked for an idea at the retreat. That man was Brian Michael Bendis, and his idea was to create a new CIVIL WAR.

Chart from Multiversitycomic.com -- Sales numbers based on Diamond Comic Distributors

Chart from Multiversitycomic.com -- Sales numbers based on Diamond Comic Distributors

What would this CIVIL WAR be about?

It had been ten years since the last great divide, and friendships had mended, and wounds seemingly healed. While the movie CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR was looming in the future for the company, Bendis couldn’t very well rehash the old Mark Millar (writer/creator for CIVIL WAR) ideas. The movie would be loosely borrowing from the original concept, so that left Bendis with needing to create something new, but would also pit heroes against heroes.

According to various interviews around the net, Bendis has claimed the idea was spawned from conversations between he and Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso, regarding profiling and personal accountability. Bendis saw all the law enforcement issues taking place and wanted to convey what the Marvel Universe version would be. Bendis wanted to create a sort of “moral choice” akin to what went down in the original CIVIL WAR (registration act-Pro or Anti) except find a way to include this judicial injustice aspect. The answer? It would lie within the growing online super powered community known as “The Inhumans”.

The Inhumans.

The Inhumans.

Inhumans are essentially mutants, but go back much further. They are the descendants of humans genetically manipulated by the alien race known as the Kree. The result: these individuals all have super powers similar to mutants. Bendis introduces a new Inhuman named Ulysses (a bit on the nose with the name there) who has the unique ability to predict the future. The character seemingly can predict tragic events before they happen with seemingly absolute certainty. Basically he can predict crimes and horrible acts before they happen. Sound familiar? It should, since there was a popular movie that came out around 2002 called Minority Report (starring Tom Cruise) about an agency using clairvoyants to predict crimes and arrest criminals before they ever get to commit them. Bendis claims the movie was not an influence at all on his story, but come on.  In today’s twitter ADHD fueled society, where attention spans and memory seems fickle and you’re yesterday’s news within moments I’m more than positive Bendis was banking on people just not remembering or caring about the film. Yes, so far in the series Ulysses has only used his ability to seemingly predict horrific events such as Thanos attacking, or an apparent interdimensional invasion. So where does the conflict lie? Seemingly this is an amazing opportunity the superheroes of the Marvel Universe can’t be upset about!

Well one guy is: Tony Stark a.k.a. the Iron Man. He believes the future shouldn’t be predicted, shouldn’t be molded or altered, and life plays out the way it should. Carol Danvers a.k.a. Captain Marvel, disagrees. She sees Ulysses as a way to save countless lives and prevent tragedies before they ever happen. Thus we begin our Civil War, heroes taking sides, should we mess with our future or simply let be!

Medusa introduces Ulysses.

Medusa introduces Ulysses.

So just to reiterate, the conflict in the Marvel Universe is that a character can predict horrific acts happening in the future, and Captain Marvel wants to use that knowledge to prevent them from happening.

Let that sink for a moment.

The characters in the Marvel Universe who have had multiple…MULTIPLE! storylines involving going back and forward in time to prevent tragic events are now suddenly taking a high ground on “Nope, we shouldn’t do that,” or “we can’t trust this guy, we don’t understand his powers, even though they’ve been 100% true so far!” 

Now I get where Bendis was going with this, his grand idea of this kid Ulysses starts out with some good predications that save lives, everyone seems on board, but then suddenly his predictions start seeing a little strange, maybe a villain performing an horrendous act no one really thought them capable of, or a better a hero doing something terrible. Suddenly some of the pro-Ulysses characters start to question the visions, and are a little hesitant to keep acting on them, while other heroes remain strong based on what they’ve seen so far.

Maybe Bendis would pick some circumspect characters with shady pasts so it keeps the cloud of suspicion intact. 

Did we get any of that?

Nope!

Instead we get a series of SHOCK events. We kill off James Rhodes. Why? Well, he’s in a relationship with Captain Marvel and friends with Tony, so what better way to get them to fight? But here’s my problem with the whole situation: Carol and team are informed by Ulysses that Thanos is about to attack. So they bring together the Ultimates and some new Avengers and attack Thanos. Rhodes dies in the process since he suddenly believes he can go toe to toe with the Mad Titan (because that makes sense, and seems like something Rhodes would do). From that point and the rest of the story it becomes abundantly clear Bendis is not writing characters in a way they’ve been established in their own series (even ones written by Bendis himself). Instead he is writing characters in a way that makes sense for his Civil War story.

Right off the bat, Tony hated the idea of Ulysses powers. So much so that apparently every hero believed it was a smart idea to leave him out of the battle with Thanos (because Ulysses predicted it) and bring other non-cosmic powered heroes to help out. We then get Tony kidnapping and torturing Ulysses to find information, and not really seeming to give a damn about it either. Furthermore we get Tony outright stating that Ulysses' powers are not 100% accurate (just damn near close), but Captain Marvel isn’t hearing any of it and is just gonna keep on truckin'.

We get the Hulk killed off by Clint-Hawkeye- (thanks to Bruce apparently at some point asking Hawkeye to kill him if he were to ever almost hulk out again. Something that seems very Bruce -- except not at all if you’ve read any Hulk story in the last ten years) due to a Ulysses vision. Problem is, in the TOTALLY AWESOME HULK storyline it was established Amadeus Cho had cured Bruce of the Hulk. There was no chance Bruce could become Hulk.  No one other than Amadeus seems to really care about that. Instead we just get Bendis writing it this way because he wanted Bruce to die so he can create a side story of Hawkeye exonerated but hated by the hero community and further the divide amongst heroes and villains. He needed his Bill Foster moment.

So we have a story that came about from desperation and characters being forced into roles that don’t feel natural for them.

Still we have this looming issue with the storyline itself. Is it a profiling story? Well, who is Ulysses profiling? Thanos? Well yeah, Thanos is gonna destroy stuff. The interdimensional invasion? Is that a profiling? Not really. Predicting in The Ultimates when an alien/interdimensional scientist would arrive? Not really a profile.  That a former enemy turned friend would turn on Spider-Man? Well, that became a self-fulfilling prophecy when suddenly writer Christos Gage had Peter Parker acting like a jerk (once again, out of character because things needed to happen to progress the CIVIL WAR storyline).  

The closest “profiling” issue so far has been Bruce Banner as the Hulk. So yes, in that sense, we see all the heroes once again acting out of character and hunting down Banner as if he was some maniac, and dealing with the situation in as hostile a manner as possible with someone who (for whatever dumb reason) the heroes believe might Hulk out, rampage, and kill them all.

Even still, leading up to this point the biggest contention was, "should the heroes do something to prevent the horrific events from happening in the future?" 

This is a legit issue in the series. An issue almost every single character in the Marvel Universe has been guilty of since the days of Kirby. Right off the bat this entire storyline just feels forced, and the “Road To” was horrific build up, with most of the stories being tagged with a slogan that had absolutely nothing to do with the events or even suggesting the series might somehow get involved. There weren’t any choosing sides moments, no heated debates. In fact, the series POWERMAC & IRON FIST essentially bypasses the entire thing all together. This is something I wish the entire Marvel Universe could do so that this ridiculous event wouldn't interrupt some very good storylines.

Instead, what we now have are multiple writers trying to keep their plots integrity while handling their characters' connection to this companywide mistake of an event. As of this article, the series is four issues in, along with numerous unneeded tie-ins.

CIVIL WAR II fails even as a pale imitation of the original CIVIL WAR crossover.

CIVIL WAR II fails even as a pale imitation of the original CIVIL WAR crossover.

Nothing has garnered the reaction or the attention as the first CIVIL WAR did, and there is even less “debate” regarding the right or wrongs of what is taking place. Most of the discussions I’ve seen on various message boards and reviewers usually stem from “why the hell would character “so and so” do this?” meaning others aren’t even grasping the mentality in all this. The best thing I can hope for is for the poor sales to inform Marvel that either the big crossover events aren’t working how they’d like, or that this event shouldn’t have the ramifications they want it to have. Maybe, just maybe this was another DUD, and they didn’t need this event, as their books were selling really well before it -- and they were also getting some great buzz (I personally wrote several high praising reviews for series such as BLACK WIDOW, MOCKINGBIRD, POWERMAC & IRON FIST, and VENOM: SPACE KNIGHT, etc.).

The unfortunate truth is, more characters are probably going to die or have their personalities so altered by the events of the series that when new writers take over, all the traits that made the character special are going to be gone. I hope I’m wrong, but I have my own power of predicting the future and profiling -- and my prediction says this event is going to crap out big time and result in some scrambling to fix sales and re-work the next upcoming crossover -- THE DEATH OF X (cause ya know, we haven’t had an end of Mutants storyline in like twenty minutes).

For those of you who question how can CIVIL WAR II not be a success? Let’s look at the sale numbers per Diamond real quick:

·       Civil War #0 177,283 Units

·       Civil War #1 381,737 Units

·       Civil War #2 233,334 Units (~39% drop off!)

Issues 3 and 4 sales can still potentially pick up due to the events that take place in Issue 2 and 3. Yet what does that show? It shows that Marvel is getting more acknowledgement over its “shock” value in those issues than the general buzz of the series as a whole. In the end, I’m sure Marvel will see this as a win, and continue to raise the stock of Bendis in the company (will he become their Geoff Johns?), but for a reader like myself, it means more nonsense will be coming out way. Maybe in CIVIL WAR III the heroes can fight over sending a villain to Jail or a Mental Rehab facility.

SOURCES: NY Daily News, Comic Book Resources, Diamond Comics (1), (2)

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