There’s a reason why some one-hit wonders are destined to fail in any effort to recapture their initial success. As Vanilla Ice and everyone whoever did the Macarena can attest, it’s easy to get burned out on something when it’s overdone and overexposed. Capturing that same success is even harder than capturing lightning in a bottle a second time. At least lightning obeys the laws of nature. Those that consume media tend to scoff at those laws in ways that frustrate every marketing department that ever existed.
This same dynamic applies to major crossover events in comics. Sometimes, the time and place is right for such an event. Mark Millar’s work on Civil War couldn’t have come out at a better time. It was a time when issues like the Patriot Act and pre-emptive war actively shaped the mindset of the American public. It’s hard to determine whether the time and place is right for Civil War II, but Marvel is rolling the dice, hoping it can succeed where Vanilla Ice failed.
Civil War II #1 ignites a conflict that promises to divide Marvel’s iconic heroes every bit as much as the Superhero Registration Act/Sokovia Accords. It’s a conflict that, much like its predecessor, reflects real-world issues in maintaining a safe and just society. It’s all built around the prospect of punishing crime before it occurs. It’s an untenable concept outside of a North Korean court, but in a world where there are enough psychics to start their own baseball team, it’s a legitimate issue to discuss.
Brian Michael Bendis makes it a point to make this discussion the main driving force of the narrative, but it’s the spectacle built around that driving force that gives Civil War II #1 an impact that rivals its predecessor. The story doesn’t actually start with the debate. It starts with a full-fledged, unambiguous triumph. It’s the kind of triumph usually reserved for the end of a crossover story after every effort is made to make the heroes the underdogs. Bendis effectively flips that script in the best possible way.
A rogue Celestial invades, the heroes of the Marvel universe unite, and they win the day with less collateral damage than a mild Hulk rampage. At a time when every major superhero clash incurs enough damage to bankrupt Stark Industries, this feels like a refreshing novelty. However, it’s the context in which this battle occurs that gives it a unique weight.
It centers around Ulysses, a recently-formed Inhuman who has the ability to accurately see the future. He’s the reason why every hero of the Marvel universe was able to effectively coordinate against a Celestial attack. He shows that with enough warning, prep time, and access to Tony Stark’s credit cards, there aren’t many threats that Earth’s mightiest heroes can’t deal with. In the grand scheme of superhero dynamics, it makes perfect sense. Many devastating attacks are built on the element of surprise. Take that away and even Thanos on his best day can’t win.
It’s a rarity in modern comics, the heroes being so competent and effective in their efforts. It’s rare because on paper, it makes for a boring story. There’s not much drama behind Superman rescuing a cat from a tree or Captain America telling children to eat their vegetables. In some respects, it’s that rarity that makes this epic battle against a Celestial so impactful. It establishes just what Marvel’s greatest heroes can accomplish when they have sufficient foresight, effective coordination, and no hindrances from competing movie studios.
This easy, efficient victory leads right into the dramatic debate that echoes the conflict that gives Civil War II the impact it needs to make the narrative work. Carol Danvers and Tony Stark draw the lines and establish the sides. On Carol’s side, there’s the idea that they should use Ulysses’ power to prevent crimes from ever happening. On Tony’s side, there’s the idea that the punishment shouldn’t come before the crime. Both sides make valid points. Both sides make passionate arguments. Both sides are sure to divide fans and inflame message boards, but for all the right reasons.
This argument captures the most important component of the original Civil War. It creates a conflict in which both sides make valid arguments. This isn’t a matter of democracy versus fascism, truth versus deceit, or The Phantom Menace versus The Empire Strikes Back. There’s a case to be made by both sides. By establishing this important dynamic, Civil War II #1 succeeds at achieving its most critical goal.
With this success, the foundation for the conflict is effectively set. The two opposing sides form and the stakes are established. In terms of the big picture, Civil War II #1 checks all the right boxes. In terms of the little pictures within that big picture, however, the details are lacking. Like Deadpool at a shooting range, the narrative does jump the gun in some areas.
The pacing of the story, as well as the sequence of the events, is poorly organized and disjointed at times. It made sense to rush the battle against the Celestial because of Ulysses’ impact. However, the subsequent battle against Thanos that incurred major casualties lacked the necessary context. While this didn’t take away from the heavy emotions and high drama, it does come off as contrived to some extent.
Despite the disorganization and inconsistencies, Civil War II #1 hits the ground running in all the right ways for all the right reasons. Brian Michael Bendis succeeds in capturing the same spirit that Mark Millar captured with the original Civil War. It doesn’t try too hard to be exactly like its predecessor. It doesn’t try to radically reinvent the concept either. Civil War II strikes a perfect balance between the fresh and the familiar. It succeeds where so many one-hit wonders fail.
It may be too late for Vanilla Ice, but the timing is perfect for this latest Marvel spectacle.