If you had knowledge of the future and the power to change it, would you?
That's the question asked by Marvel's crossover event Civil War II, which saw its first issue released a few days ago. A new Inhuman has emerged -- a young man named Ulysses who can see the future. With superheroes like Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Thor, Captain Marvel and more always finding themselves up against powerful foes that come dangerously close to world domination or annihilation, a little heads-up could go a long way.
But not everyone is on board. Tony Stark sees this as dangerous territory to trod, with unpredictable results, unfair preemptive arrests, and consequences that could be worse than what the heroes are trying to prevent. The excellent first issue -- written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by David Marquez -- raises moral quandaries while setting the stage for a large-scale conflict.
Here are the best and worst moments from the comic book.
Major spoilers ahead.
10 Best: Captain Marvel's Worst Nightmare
Just after her pivotal fight with Tony Stark, Carol Danvers is feeling pretty darn low. She's just used Ulysses' precognitive powers to ambush an invading Thanos, alongside a team she cobbled together that includes the Ultimates, She-Hulk, War Machine, and others. Rhodey, aka War Machine, is dead. Jennifer Walters (She-Hulk) was hit by a stray missile from the fight that exploded on impact. It was a force powerful enough to leave her barely clinging to life in the Triskelion's infirmary.
Tony, learning of Rhodey's death, storms the massive building, enraged with grief from the loss of his best friend. He goes straight to Carol, who's wounded herself but sitting at Jennifer's bedside. She tearfully explains what happened and expresses her own remorse and grief — she's been dating Rhodey lately, and had strong feelings for him — but Tony's furious that she used Ulysses despite his warnings. He exits just as Jennifer wakes up, weak but trying to talk. Carol's overcome with relief and joy that her friend has finally stirred.
But it isn't what it appears to be. Jennifer says that Tony's wrong, that it's not his sole decision to make, and she admonishes Carol to "fight for it" — the right to use Ulysses' precognitive powers. And then she flatlines. Carol's in such severe shock, she reels backwards literally until she hits a wall. Artist David Marquez does amazing work in this suddenly chaotic scene, as medical personnel charge in and try to revive her. Meanwhile, a world of guilt lands on Captain Marvel's shoulders as her friend is dying before her eyes. It happened because of her, and yet Jennifer used her last breaths to tell Carol that despite everything, they made the right choice.
Did She-Hulk really die? It's a cliffhanger that won't be resolved until issue #2. But the effect this moment has on Carol will no doubt solidify her convictions that using Ulysses' powers is something the superhero community must do. The emotional effect it has on readers, in particular the look of horror on Carol's face in the last panel, is just as powerful.
9 Worst: The Missing Battle
Smack-dab in the middle of Civil War II #1 is a huge battle, featuring a squadron of superheroes taking on the mad titan Thanos. It's a knock-down-drag-out knuckle buster, with casualties and multiple injuries. The only problem? You don't get to see it.
The battle was instead shown in its entirety in the Civil War II: Free Comic Book Day special issue. That comic came out several weeks before Civil War II #1, giving readers a taste of what was to come and leaving some huge cliffhangers (War Machine and She-Hulk's apparent deaths) in its wake. As marketing goes, this was a nifty bit of planning ahead, especially since most FCBD comics are throwaway stories that exist more to offer readers a taste of what a comic book is about than to contribute anything to continuity. On that count, it was very smartly done.
But there's no getting around the fact that a big chunk of issue #1's story is just not there. For such a crucial piece of the puzzle, all readers get to see of it are a few flashback glimpses, which really sucks. On the other hand, showing everything unfold from Tony's perspective (he's the P.O.V. character for most of the issue) makes Rhodey's death all the more jarring, letting us experience it the same way Tony does.
8 Best: The Great Debate
During a celebratory shindig at Stark Tower, the superheroes are all dying to learn how the Inhumans knew that the Celestial was coming. Medusa and a few of her Inhumans take a handful of supers — Captain Marvel, Iron Man, both Captain Americas, She-Hulk, War Machine, and Spider-Man — to a storage room, where she introduces them to Ulysses, the new Inhuman who can see the future. "Little" Jean Grey, as Tony Stark calls her (the younger version of Jean brought forward in time by the X-Men), soon joins them as well.
As Ulysses tells them his story and explains what he can do, the heroes quickly see the value of having him around. All except for Tony, who's worried about the moral implications of using precognition. Preparing for an imminent attack is one thing; stopping a crime before it happens is something else, he says. Can you arrest someone for violating a law they haven't violated yet? And what if Ulysses points to one of the superheroes as the reason for an impending catastrophe? What then? Tony makes some very intelligent, valid points, but nobody wants to hear it because they'd rather keep the world safe. Carol steps forward as the strongest opponent to Tony's reservations, with even Rhodey supporting her.
Not a single line of dialogue is wasted in the entire issue, but this scene — the centerpiece of the story — is exceptionally written. As the conversation unfolds, everyone gets the chance to share their point of view, but we the readers come to a greater understanding about who each of these characters really is and what makes them tick.
Make no mistake: That is an extremely complex thing to achieve as effectively as Bendis does. He juggles about a dozen characters, each with different motivations and different ways of speaking, all in a closed-quarters situation where everyone is focused on one thing. The writer makes it look easy, nailing every characterization spot-on with snappy dialogue and valid arguments all around. Marquez does equally fantastic work on these subtle, non-earth-shattering moments, such as the cute panel where Peter Parker is munching on chips while listening to Ulysses' story, and nobody notices.
This second act could be used in college courses to teach prospective writers how dialogue-heavy scenes are done.
7 Worst: The Hair That Ate the World
You guys, we have to talk about Medusa's hair. Don't mistake this for a nitpick-y thing. Starting from one of the very first pages in issue #1, when the Inhumans reveal themselves to Ulysses, David Marquez' depiction of Medusa's super-powered follicles is an over-the-top sight to behold.
We get it: it's super-powered hair that obeys her commands. But does it have to be so vast and unrestrained? Others have drawn her with long hair before, but Marquez' Medusa has hair so long and billowy, Rapunzel would wonder how she manages it. In that first panel she's in, strands of Medusa's 'do flow in and out, all over the full-page illustration, curling and rolling across the grass like a cloud of red smoke — that wants to devour your soul. In whatever parts of the story she's in, wherever Medusa goes, her hair takes up at least half the room. That's not an exaggeration; get the comic and see for yourself.
Don't misunderstand. Marquez draws the hair beautifully. It's luxuriant and supermodel-gorgeous. But the artist's work throughout Civil War II #1 is so strong, it's a shame to have to criticize any of it. Yet in this world of superheroes and people who can see the future and guys in metal suits that metamorphose and thunder gods and all those other fantasy and science fiction machinations...it's pretty remarkable that one person's hair size is the thing that's hardest to believe.
6 Best: "It's Rhodey"
About three weeks after the conversation in the storage room, things have settled back to normal. Tony is in his lab, bantering with his A.I. assistant Friday (see "The Missing Armor" below), when a despondent Mary Jane Watson enters the room. (M.J. joined Tony's staff a few months ago.) Tony doesn't notice her expression at first, assuming she's come to tell him about whatever the latest scandal is that his enormous ego has caused.
But instead M.J. quietly says, "It's Rhodey," and from the tone of her voice, Tony turns around to see her expression. And thanks to the terrific artwork, you can tell that he knows. He may not know what's happened, but he knows something has, and it's bad. He tries to hope that he's misreading her, asking if Rhodey has come to visit. But she sadly says, "He's gone."
The next panel shows (without words) one of Tony's greatest fears come to fruition. His best friend is dead, and he's stunned. Even in the superhero biz where the risks are greater than any other vocation, death still always manages to come as a terrible shock. Because we in the real world know that even a death that's expected, such as one a long time coming thanks to a fatal illness, is still a shock to the system. Superheroes exist to magnify these emotions in fiction, but Tony's all-too-human reaction is one of the issue's most effective beats.
5 Worst: Iron Man's Rage
When Tony flies to the Triskelion in a tearful fury, it's understandable. His best friend is dead, and he's not thinking clearly. But after he finds Rhodey's body, he then continues his rage through the building, claiming to be looking for answers but really only interested in expressing his grief. His temper dialed up to eleven, he terrifies everyone around him, even interdimensional badass America Chavez.
The only person who's able to calm him down, ironically, is the same person responsible for riling him up: Carol Danvers. When he learns what happened, he immediately blames her in the most explicit terms, saying that she might as well have murdered Rhodey herself. While there's no doubt that Tony is always driven by his emotions, the extremity of his reaction to Rhodey's death feels a little...forced. It's meant to strengthen his perspective on Ulysses, crystallizing his beliefs ahead of the impending civil war, and Bendis writes it as well as anyone could. But it's a plot-driven anguish that doesn't feel entirely authentic.
That said, Carol's reaction to his bluster rings completely true. It's equal parts grief, guilt, and conviction that she did the right thing. Her admission of platonic love for him — as soldiers who've fought in the trenches together — which finally disarms him, is a rare moment of vulnerability that hits readers between the eyes as hard as it does Tony.
4 Best: The Cavalry Arrives
Before the moral quandary arises, before the shocking superhero death(s), before anyone plants the seeds of a civil war, there's a massive team-up of heroes in a fight against one of the colossal ancient beings of the Marvel universe known as the Celestials. It's never explained why this one is malevolent or what its beef is with our world. All that matters is that it's bent on destroying everything in sight, and it's a near-Galactus-level threat that no one hero or even one team could hope to defeat.
The scene begins with the Avengers, whose butts are being kicked quite properly by the Celestial and its group of smaller (but still enormous) warriors. A two-page spread shows off some stunning artwork by David Marquez that fully sells the size and magnitude of the Celestial in New York City. Help for our heroes soon arrives in the form of a huge army of supers, led by Thor (She-Thor? Thorette? Lady Thor? do we have a shorthand yet to differentiate Jane Foster's Thor from the big, muscle-y guy?). Present are members of the Avengers Unity Team (aka the Uncanny Avengers), the Ultimates, the X-Men, the Inhumans, A-Force, and Doctor Strange's team of sorcerers. But the full-page panel puts a big focus on Thor, Medusa, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, She-Hulk, and War Machine — the latter of whom will play crucial roles in the rest of the issue.
The issue really allows Marquez to show the full breadth of his capabilities. From the most intimate and private moments of emotion to the grand scale action, it's amazing to see what he can do. But it's hard to top this triumphant, heroic moment.
3 Worst: Death Shroud Tease
When Tony learns of Rhodey's death, he flies straight to the Triskelion in his Iron Man armor. After slamming into the ground outside, he demands to know where Rhodey's body is, and is shown to a room where his remains have been left on a table, covered by a blanket.
All we see of Rhodey is the outline of a person under that blanket. There are also red blood stains soaked through the shroud. That's all we get to see of Rhodey, and it was probably intended as a respectful way of Tony Stark viewing his best friend's mangled body. But in retrospect, not showing at least his face has led to some unnecessary speculation.
That's because we live in a society where anything that isn't spelled out in explicit terms or visuals is automatically assumed to be a mystery. "They didn't show his body, so maybe it's not really Rhodey under there!" was the cry heard on message boards across the Internet. Everybody loves a misdirection — and comics are known for them — so we see them everywhere we look, oftentimes when they're not there. A seemingly innocent means of being respectful to the dead has become a creative conspiracy, a puzzle to be debated and sorted out.
But sometimes a body under a blanket is just a body under a blanket, people.
2 Best: Spider-Man's Commentary
It's no secret that Brian Michael Bendis is good at writing Peter Parker. No one else quite manages to nail Peter's humorous observations on everything around him with the sharp wit that Bendis produces effortlessly. And Spidey gets plenty of chances to shine in Civil War II #1, despite being a background player.
The storage room scene finds Peter at his quippy best, throwing out one-liners at every major turn in the conversation. What makes Peter's point-of-view so funny is that most of the time he's simply verbalizing what readers are already thinking — he just does it with more playfulness and sarcasm than most of us.
With so many hilarious lines to choose from, it's hard to pick just one, but the most laugh-out-loud moment has to be right after Tony Stark leaves the room, having aired his bitter concerns about the dangers of what Ulysses can do. He's left the room in shock that his feelings are so strong — and so negative — on the matter, so no one is quite sure what to say.
That's when Ulysses glances sideways at Spider-Man and expresses awe at having just met Tony Stark in person.
Peter replies, "Yeah, it's exciting. Then you get over it."
Parker: 1, Everyone Else: 0
1 Worst: The Missing Armor
In the middle of the story — as in, after the storage room debate, after Ulysses gets his vision of Thanos' attack, but before Iron Man flies to the Triskelion — there's a quick beat in Tony's lab as M.J. comes to tell him the bad news about Rhodey.
In this brief scene, Tony is groping around his lab, his arms in the air, searching for his armor. His latest armor -- the one he's been wearing since Secret Wars ended — has a stealth mode that allows it to turn completely invisible. Apparently, Tony wanted to test that stealth mode, and turns out, it works too well, because he's lost the armor somewhere in the lab. Making matters worse, his sassy digital assistant Friday refuses to tell him where it is.
So he's flailing about, looking completely ridiculous, when M.J. arrives to tell him Rhodey's dead. Is it horrible? Nah. Does Tony's private life often tend to be this silly? (Especially compared to his serious superhero life?) Yes it does. As throwaway scenes go, Civil War II #1 could have done a lot worse. But the absurdity of this moment feels out of place in the middle of so much heavy drama.
Just how big will the latest Civil War get? Who's going to bite the big one next? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments section.
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