Civil War II is one of the more disappointing “event” series to come from Marvel in some time.
When a new Inhuman named Ulysses has vivid visions of the future, he splits the heroic community. Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) wants to act on the visions, stopping crimes before they happen. Iron Man (Tony Stark) thinks the visions are too unreliable to motivate present actions. A series of tragedies involving some well-known heroes drives Carol and Tony to a nasty collision that divides their friends and colleagues, leaving many lives changed.
Positioned as a thematic sequel to Marvel’s landmark 2007 series, Civil War II struggles with its concept almost from the beginning. Writer Brian Michael Bendis doesn’t even veil this as an allegory about profiling, he makes that point overly bluntly. The conceptual problem is that Bendis never distinguishes between the legitimate art of criminal profiling, a valuable investigative tool, and the pernicious sort of profiling based on things like race or ethnicity, a terrifying practice that’s quite rightly been widely condemned. The failure to make, or even appreciate, that distinction hobbles the story almost from the outset.
Even worse, the motivations for the conflict between Carol and Tony never line up. Ulysses is not the first Marvel character to interface with the future. Indeed, precognitive characters, time travelers and interface with the future via mystical experience are common occurrences in the Marvel Universe. Characters frequently act on glimpses of future events in an attempt to prevent them. The series insists that Ulysses is different somehow, but the script never really sells that. Instead, we have two characters who have both been involved in “future knowledge” scenarios before fighting for… reasons. Carol’s militant insistence on acting on Ulysses’ visions never rings any truer than Tony’s sudden opposition to making any use of knowledge about the future. Bendis attempts to use the early death of a hero important to both characters as a catalyst for this conflict, but that feels like a melodramatic attempt to gloss over the fact that the story logic underlining the main plot doesn’t add up. There’s no real reason for Carol and Tony’s fight, let alone a reason for the community of heroes to splinter around them.
Unfortunately there’s just no foundation for this conflict. For all the conceptual and philosophical flaws of the original Civil War, it felt organic to the Marvel milieu. Registration of people with powers and government oversight of superheroes were significant plot points that had factored into several series over the course of three decades before Civil War ignited a conflict that felt like the logical progression of those earlier stories. Civil War II doesn’t have that grounding. These characters frequently interface with the future and no one’s ever seemed to have a strong philosophical problem with it before.
Instead, readers get a lot of angry exchanges where the recriminations flung back and forth feel disconnected to the actions spurring them. It doesn’t help that Ulysses, the engine for the story, comes off as a complete cipher. It’s difficult to invest in his journey, because there’s nothing in the character to make a reader care. The deus ex machina that removes Ulysses from the board at the climax is highly unsatisfying. The violent clash between Carol and Tony winds up feeling gratuitous and the aftermath of the series makes it feel like Civil War II was nothing more than an excuse to move the pieces around Marvel’s chessboard for its annual line-wide re-launch.
If there’s one aspect of Civil War II that’s absolutely unassailable, it’s the art. David Marquez has been building a strong reputation with some high profile assignments the past few years. His work here shows that he’s developed into a major talent. He produces some absolutely beautiful work, filled with texture, expression and smart details. He handles small, intimate scenes as dynamically as he assays the two-page fire fights that fill the story. Working with ace colorist Justin Ponsor, who wraps the story in urgent, impactful tones, Marquez produces a series that looks great. If only the narrative reached anywhere near the level of the art.
Civil War II ultimately feels hollow. Of the pair of high profile deaths, one will probably stick for some time, while the other seems primed to be a short-term state of affairs. Fallout for some of the other characters will last until Marvel’s next reset. It’s a frustrating reading experience that lets down its ace art team.