Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Through Loosely Connected Sub-plots, a Foundation Is Laid in Civil War II #0

The following is my review of Civil War II #0, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Any college student cramming for a final exam can attest that procrastination is a common, often unavoidable aspect of human nature. We human beings simply aren't wired to be overly proactive. The caveman in us often refuses to acknowledge the danger until a stampede of wooly mammoths is charging our village at a rate that registers as a small to mid-ranged Earthquake. We try to be proactive. We understand its values and benefits. Despite this, our capacity for foresight is laughable most of the time.

In the world of superheroes, killer robots, invading aliens, and whatever Tony Stark happens to build on an off-day, the stakes are much higher than any exam. Knowing when and how Thanos will attempt to destroy the Earth and spit on its ashes is pretty important. It's the difference between needing another Helicarrier and needing a time machine.

It's a factor that has many real world parallels. Law enforcement, the military, the NSA, and annoying internet ads need a certain level of foresight to function. That's what makes Civil War II such an intriguing concept and Civil War II #0 makes it a point to belabor the importance of this concept. It's a point worth belaboring, as those same procrastinating college students are destined to find out the hard way. The conflict doesn't erupt here, but the mood is definitively established.

The method for establishing this mood in Civil War II #0 isn't necessarily concise, nor is it engaging at times. However, it still conveys the necessary sentiment through the experiences of characters like She-Hulk, War Machine, and Captain Marvel. These characters help shape the mood of the conflict before it erupts. They don't reveal anything about the characters that can't be gleaned from Wikipedia, but they do establish their current mindset within the context of Civil War II.


Through these loosely connected sub-plots, the foundation is laid. On one side, She-Hulk argues passionately for the defense of the Jester, a known villain who most card-carrying members of the Avengers wouldn't hesitate to punch. Her defense, however, is as articulate as it is relevant, both in the context of Civil War II and in the context of the real world where no self-respecting criminal calls themselves the Jester.

The crime in this case may or may not qualify as a crime. The Jester isn't charged with stealing or hurting anyone. He's charged with merely discussing it. For him, the mere act of thinking about a crime is a crime in and of itself. It is, by definition, a thought crime. In the real world, civilized societies find convicting people of such crimes untenable. Maybe it's a little more understandable in a world where telepaths like Emma Frost and Jean Grey exist, but it's still inconsistent with a basic understanding of justice.

Our world might not have telepaths, but it does reflect a real problem, as the original Civil War did a decade earlier. In the realm of justice and security, it's not always clear what constitutes an imminent threat. For some people, a threat only becomes pressing when someone is standing in a doorway dressed as a clown and carrying a knife. For others, a critical tweet constitutes a threat. The line isn't just blurred. It's a constantly shifting, often nebulous concept that rarely keeps up with the needs of society.

She-Hulk ends up losing her case, but her concept of proactive justice is very different from that of Captain Marvel. As a member of the Ultimates, who need to be exceedingly proactive when dealing with threats like Thanos and Galactus, she laments on how many close calls the Earth has had. This doesn't even count all the times retcons and time travel were necessary to save the day. She understands the need for foresight better than most non-psychic characters. Moreover, she expresses a desire to seek means of improving their foresight.

This leads to the primary catalyst for Civil War II, namely the Inhuman named Ulysses. There's really nothing special about his transformation or him as a character. He's as generic and forgettable as most civilians in the Marvel universe with no direct or indirect ties to Peter Parker. He just happens to be outside as the Terrigen Mist sweeps over his college campus. That's really all there is to this key character in Civil War II.

The drama is lacking, but the sentiment expressed by characters like She-Hulk and Captain Marvel are nicely developed. The situations are somewhat contrived, but Brian Michael Bendis does an admirable job crafting the thoughts and feelings of these characters. He sets the right tone and establishes the right mood, ensuring it's ripe for tension and conflict. Since the first Civil War inspired a movie that's on track to make a billion dollars at the box office, this is vital in terms of capturing the spirit of its predecessor.


While this spirit is present and well-developed, the overall story is lacking and disorganized. There are very few connecting threads tying the narrative together. Everything just happens separately and randomly. That's not to say the plot of Civil War II #0 is forced. It simply lacks organization and cohesion. It's the opening credits to a much larger story and not enough is done to make this necessary component of the overall narrative more engaging.

The greatest strength of Civil War II #0 is still the insight of the characters involved. This insight succeeds in the same way the premise of the original Civil War succeeded, creating an issue that has real-world parallels and major implications, especially for a fictional world where planet-eating entities are a legitimate concern. It's bland in terms of substance, but necessary with respect to context. It lacks a larger entertainment value, but such details aren't always possible for a certain narrative, Deadpool being the lone exception.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

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