I’ve been accused of being a Marvel hater because, so far, I haven’t reviewed any Marvel comics. That’s just not true. While, I will admit that DC is my first love, I also love Marvel. In fact, the Marvel Unlimited App is my most used program. For a mere $72 a year, I have access to thousands of Marvel comics. I have walked down memory lane reading the Fantastic Four from issue #1 (the real issue #1) all the way to the present. I have re-read the great Avengers-Defenders cross-over, and of course traveled into space with Jim Starlin’s incredible run on Warlock.
More recently, however, Marvel seems to be addicted to the massive universe-changing crossover comic event. In order to avoid continuity anxiety, it seems that you have to choose between paying your kid’s college tuition or keeping current with the Marvel Universe.
For example, in 1984 the Secret War event only involved 31 comics: twelve issues of Secret War and nineteen cross-over issues. Twenty-two years later, Civil War involved 103 comics and Secret Invasion had 109. What made matters worse was that Civil War immediately led to the Secret Invasion which immediately led into Dark Reign, weighing in at 198 comics. At $2.99 a pop, that comes to $1,225.90. In the New York area that’s a mortgage payment, minus property taxes. It is neither cynical nor paranoid to say that Marvel is trying to milk the fans into buying more comics than they would ordinarily by creating continuity anxiety.
Which brings me to Civil War II. Unless and until it hits the Marvel App, I’m just going to read the core titles. And that’s what I’m reviewing here. As of this review, four issues have appeared.
The idea of a “Civil War” comic has now become almost a genre. Take a moral or political issue and put the heroes at odds with each other. In the original Civil War multiple issues were tacked under the umbrella concept of whether heroes should work for the government or be freelance vigilantes. The subtext was the persistent strain of libertarianism and skepticism of government which has prevailed in comics since the Nixon years. Tony Stark, who walks the Twelve Steps, naturally, came down on collective responsibility and submission to a higher authority. Captain America, expressing the spirit of American individuality, came down on the side of trusting the individual and being wary of too much government oversight.
Marvel now returns to the well, hoping to recover that earlier success, trade on recent Captain America/Avengers movies and raid the pocketbook of the fans with Civil War II. Here, the heroes are faced with an old science fiction trope: if we can predict the future and know a crime will be committed what can we do to prevent it, and how far will we go.
This raises many philosophical and moral questions, such as the role of free will and whether a person who has not acted should be punished for what he may do. While a Calvinist with a strict belief in predestination would not be bothered, Tony Stark is haunted by the idea.
The Inhumans bring to the Avengers a new member who may see the future or an alternate future. In the first test, the heroes defeat a deadly menace only because of the advanced warning. While most of the heroes are on board with this oracle, Tony has moral qualms. And of course it wouldn’t be a massive cross-over event which “changes the Marvel Universe FOREVER” if things didn’t start to go horribly wrong.
The stage is set with issue #0, which opens with Jennifer Walters defending a former super villain on a conspiracy charge. As she points out to the jury, he didn’t actually do anything, he was merely talking with some old acquaintances about the “good old days.” She argues that “we as a society have to be very careful about punishing people for thought.” He gets convicted. When Jessica complains to Director Hill that her client was innocent, Hill responds “He was a repeat offender…he would have done it again.”
This is the heart of the story, and an issue we as a society are being forced to face with the recent terrorist attacks. How can we prevent such attacks, and are we justified in taking preventative action. The FBI has set “honey traps” out for prospective terrorists. Many of the arrests reported in the press are of people who thought that they were dealing with terrorist cells but were in fact dealing with undercover agents. And there are politicians who claim that we must exclude from this country and impose strict surveillance upon certain people just because of a religious affiliation as a certain Austrian Corporal did about 80 years ago.
The story is written by Brian Michael Bendis, and fans know it will be a good one. Bendis, as past experience has shown, studiously avoids the pitfalls of creating strawmen as he delves into moral, ethical and social issues. From the opening scene in issue #0, I believe that his sympathies lay with Stark and Walters, but he clearly understands and argues for both sides. In light of current events, Civil War II is a more relevant storyline than the original Civil War.