Summer isn't just the season of Hollywood blockbusters. It's also when comic book companies DC and Marvel premiere their new, universe-altering comic book events.
DC recently made splash with its Rebirth event, and now, Marvel is looking to do much the same with Civil War II. The first issue of Marvel's hero vs. hero extravaganza released earlier this week, and while it doesn't waste any time raising the stakes, none of the drama feels earned.
Spoilers for Civil War II below! You've been warned.
Despite sharing a name with an earlier Marvel event and the recent Captain America movie, Civil War II doesn't require any prior reading. The set-up is relatively straightforward: a new Inhuman by the name of Ulysses is discovered to have the ability to predict the future. Who are the Inhumans? They're kind of like the X-Men, but they aren't mutants. Recently, thousands of new Inhumans were born in the wake of a prior Marvel event, with Ulysses being one of them.
The Inhumans take Ulysses in and help him control his power. It's then that Ulysses predicts an Earth-destroying event. The Inhumans reach out to the various other Marvel heroes to prepare for an attack from celestial invaders, and everything goes perfectly according to plan. Ulysses knew exactly when and where the attackers would appear, and the heroes of Earth were waiting. They quickly pushed back the invaders, and everybody went home happy.
In the wake of the victory, some heroes, including Tony Stark aka Iron Man, begin to question how the Inhumans knew exactly when and where the aliens would attack. It's in that moment that Ulysses is revealed to the greater Marvel universe, and almost immediately, tensions begin to flare. Captain Marvel wants to use Ulysses' gift in order to prevent more attacks and disasters, while Iron Man questions just how reliable the new Inhuman's power is.
Fast-forward a few days, and things escalate very, very quickly. Captain Marvel and a group of heroes use Ulysses and his predictions to stage a preemptive strike against Thanos (of course). Things don't go so hot. James Rhodes, aka War Machine and one of Tony's closest friends, is killed in the attack. She-Hulk is critically injured. Tony confronts Captain Marvel and views her as responsible for War Machine's death. After he storms off, She-Hulk dies, but not before telling Captain Marvel she must fight for the future.
In the first issue of Marvel's new event, two major heroes are dead. Comics, of course, are no strangers to death. Heroes die all the time, only to be reborn months or years later. There's no telling when War Machine and She-Hulk will return, but rest assured, they will.
This, however, isn't about the nature of death in comics. It's about good storytelling, and thus far, Civil War II falls flat. Deaths in comics should help move the story forward and be used to give a story emotional weight. Tossing aside the lives of these two characters at the very beginning of the event seems wasteful. We're hardly given the chance to see what the perspectives of War Machine and She-Hulk are on Ulysses and his gift before both get the axe. We don't get to see the two heroes firmly pick a side and choose to die for what they believe in. Instead, their battle, and their decision to participate in it, is recounted via Captain Marvel instead of shown firsthand.
It's important to note that readers of issue #1 aren't getting the full story. The battle between Captain Marvel and her team against Thanos is omitted from this issue, but is shown in Marvel's Free Comic Book Day prequel. While it's great that readers got a peek at Marvel's new event, free of charge, in early May, to cut out such an important piece of the story feels like the wrong call. It makes this issue feel disjointed and lacking in some much-needed context.
There's also the issue of why these two characters in particular were chosen to die. War Machine's death seems to exist primarily because of the character's near-death experience in Captain America: Civil War, while She-Hulk's name appears to have been simply pulled from a hat. Their identities as characters don't factor into the story, other than that they are both friends of the two characters that Marvel has decided must now punch each other to the death. Rather than coming off as characters that have made their own choices and have their own sense of urgency, they feel like mere pawns sacrificed just to move the story along.
"Forced" is probably the best word to describe the entire first issue. Their deaths feel forced in that each one seems to exist as the sole motivating factor for what Iron Man and Captain Marvel do next. Tony's near-instant skepticism of the Inhumans and their methods feels equally forced, his stance in this first issue unnatural. It feels like the issue of whether or not the superheroes should act on Ulysses' visions should be a simple conversation, not the civil war-inducing misunderstanding into which it very quickly transforms.
Part of the reason the issue fails to resonate are the Inhumans themselves. For the past few years, Marvel has desperately been trying to make the Inhumans "the next big thing" in the Marvel universe, but staging an entire event around them, once again, feels forced. Because Ulysses is a new brand character, readers don't have any real attachment to him or his predicament, either. The book doesn't even bother to ask what Ulysses thinks about the events unfolding around him. Does Ulysses trust his visions? Does he think heroes should treat the future scenarios he sees as if they were fact? While some of these questions might be asked in future issues, they seem like major ones to overlook in an issue that tries to set the stage for the entire event to come.
Civil War II is just beginning. There are sure to be plenty more shocking deaths and surprising twists in store for readers in the issues ahead. However, one issue in, the conflict and drama in Marvel's latest event doesn't feel earned.