Marvel’s big event of 2016 came to a wrap a few weeks, landing with a bit of a thud. Civil War II did not get the near universal praise that Secret Wars did last year and as it came to an end a lot of us were just glad to get it over with. I don’t think it was as bad as some people on Twitter would have you believe, but to me it was clearly a missed opportunity that started with a great premise. It had some moments early on, but as the story dragged on I think they lost their way. It didn’t go as far off the rails as the first Civil War event in my opinion but the conclusions left a lot to be desired.
Too soon – Civil War II started less than six months after Secret Wars ended. Secret Wars ate up the last eight months of 2015, took over the entire marvel universe, and reshuffled the deck. It really did live up to the ‘Everything Changes!’ hype that precedes all of these types of events. So to kick off another event on nearly as large a scale not even a year after this new world was established looks and feels pretty dubious. How do you ‘change everything’ again so quickly after we just changed everything? The new team-ups and new circles for existing solo heroes that had been established coming out of Secret Wars had barely made it through their first story arcs before it was time to shake up their worlds. In order for big changes to matter there needs to be a well-established order in place first and that was not the case here. As a result, both the status quo of the moment at CW II’s beginning and the new one beginning afterward both have an aura of unimportance that suggests nothing really matters here for more than a few months at a time. Dead heroes? Check back next year to see if they’re breathing again. Teammates on the outs? It’ll all be fixed after the next event. Maybe that isn’t reality but the placing of this event so soon after Secret Wars sure can give that impression.
Character assassination – The biggest complaint I’ve heard from people is what was done to Carol Danvers character throughout the story. Carol starts out wanting to use Ulysses powers to prevent cosmic level calamities then immediately wants to use him as a preventive measure in all situations, but doesn’t want to back down even after using his powers becomes an exercise in profiling and he’s shown to be less than precise (his visions predict a possible future, but not the one that will ultimately happen). Given the dangers of profiling on a level of trying to catch super villains, or groups like Hydra, it makes little sense to keep pushing once your methods show some serious fallibility. We’re not talking about holding somebody for a few hours at the local precinct or making them sit and answer a few questions at an airport, but locking them up in prisons that may not even be on Earth for indefinite periods of time.
And as the story went on she only got more stubborn in her drive, even though her superhero boyfriend (James Rhodes/War Machine) and a founding member of the Avengers (Bruce Banner/The Hulk) had been killed in missions that were set up to react to some of Ulysses visions (more on that next). That kind of unwillingness to slow down and see the forest for the trees has never been what Danvers is about and to make her that way in the name of a story arc was a bridge too far for a lot of people. And seeing as how this event was clearly a vehicle to get her profile up as a character to both comic readers and the potential audience for her film debut by way of entertainment media stories about the event, to present her in such a way that runs contrary to previous depictions of her seems to have been a major misstep.
Unworthy deaths – I mentioned the deaths of Rhodes and Banner earlier; both managed to piss some people off for different reasons. Rhodes was Danvers boyfriend and Stark’s best friend, and he was killed in the first issue entirely because he was a common supporting player in the lives of both protagonists and his demise would instantly add to the powder keg of a debate between them that existed over using Ulysses’ powers. Rhodes’s death wasn’t a gratuitous killing in my opinion but he was clearly reduced to a plot device and to a lot of people he deserved better. That of course pales in comparison to what happened with Bruce Banner. Banner’s death a few issues later would trigger a much greater backlash among people I talked to.
For a founding member of the Avengers to die as unceremoniously as he did, in effect becoming another plot device to further stir the pot between Stark and Danvers, was a real slap in the face to some people. He did not die heroically in an attempt to save the day against impossible odds, but instead because one of his fellow heroes thought he saw his eyes turn green to signify a coming turn into the Hulk. And before that Banner turning was talked up into a Godzilla level occurrence just to set the stage for what may have been necessary to contain him. A Marvel icon gets killed as a plot point because of the mistake of one of his fellow heroes that itself result from trusting the imprecise vision of an Inhuman. Yeah, that’s kinda wack.
Naked Capitalism – We all know these big events and crossovers are a money grab. That’s not a sin in itself. As long as they are done right, not done too often and are ultimately satisfying, they’re fine. I’ll part with my money for the main story and some of the crossover stuff without complaint. But when they’re done in a way that removes any veneer of ‘we planned this all out a while back and here’s the culmination’ and instead are presented as blatant cash grabs then there’s going to be scorn thrown your way, even from people that buy it all up. Civil War II dropped a few weeks after the movie Captain America: Civil War hit the movie theaters…..yeah, no coincidence there. Then there was the extension from seven to eight issues because writer Brian Michael Bendis supposedly had more story to add in (sure didn’t feel that way reading it; seven issues would have been just fine). Then there was the finale which was essentially a commercial for future events coming in 2017 and some of the post-Civil War books that have already started up. There was no sense of finality to anything that transpired in the last issue, only call outs to what comes next. This image is one that is way misleading:
These events are supposed to end something, even if it’s just the conflict between the adversaries, and yet this did not do anything of the kind. Tony Stark is for the time being out of commission but is obviously coming back at some point. Several of the various teams will be taking on some new members and losing some current ones, but they’ll still be at least somewhat intact. Danvers appears to be getting a new offer to do something big from the President of the United States, suffering zero consequences and showing little remorse for what she dragged all these people into over the course of the whole ordeal. And the question of what to ultimately to do with or to Ulysses went completely unanswered as he was whisked away to another plane of existence. The man who helped trigger all of this gets away without being dealt with in any form or fashion, even though there should have people who wanted to put him down or lock him away so he couldn’t cause any more problems in addition to people trying to get him away from it all so he couldn’t be manipulated. That was a real fight to have and could have given the story a real feeling of completion had it been included but was completely left out of the equation.
The Takes are too damn hot
So yeah there was a lot to not like. But as is the case on social media, the takes have gotten way too hot. Instead of saying “I didn’t like the way Civil War II went down” and leaving it there, I saw quite a few tweets that were banged out to air already existing grievances against the company now that they were ripe of the picking. “Marvel…FAIL!!!” is not the reality here, folks. The issues for the event and the tie-ins sold well and Marvel’s sales are just fine. Yes there are individual people on the internet and some retailers who are irritated with the constant new number one issues and the gazillion variant covers. And yes there are dudebros still railing against the ‘All New All PC” Marvel as they call it. But you and your five buddies at the comic store or Facebook group or whatever do no constitute the comics market. Marvel has made a decision to go all-in on diversity and it’s pissing some people off, but that doesn’t mean the books aren’t selling, folks.
And to be honest, the event wasn’t all bad. The artwork was really well done, and there were some absolutely riveting moments early on. The courtroom issue, where Banner’s death was spelled out in full detail, was about as well done a comic book drama as you’ll get even if you didn’t like Banner going out like that. I’d even say that were it not for the timing, so close after Secret Wars and leading right into Inhumans vs X-Men and Monsters Unleashed, that a lot of the issues (apart from how they handled Carol Danvers) wouldn’t have been as big a deal. But unfortunately all of that is going on so it fits into the equation. By no means however is this some major pitfall for Marvel. I decided to pass on Inhumans vs X-Men but I’ve heard good things so far. If it pans out ok then people will be able to leave aside whatever they didn’t like here.