Is Punishing a Crime Before It's Committed a Crime Itself?

by Jack Fisher

15 July 2016

A major death raises the stakes for the present and future in Civil War II #3.
 
cover art

Civil War II

David Marquez

(Marvel)
US: 13 Jul 2016

In major and minor wars alike, there’s usually a spark that ignites the conflict. That spark doesn’t always get its own documentary on the History Channel, but it often reveals the scope and scale of the conflict that unfolds. In Civil War II, the spark is lit. The conflict over Ulysses, the Inhuman who can predict the future on a level that fantasy sports fans dream of, is just starting to grow.

It’s a conflict that has already claimed multiple casualties, namely War Machine and She-Hulk. So already, the scope and scale of this conflict is pretty big. Brian Michael Bendis gives both sides plenty of reasons to shoot, punch, and yell at each other. These reasons aren’t petty or contrived, either. This goes beyond opposing an unjust law, suspecting who may or may not be a Skrull, or falling in love with the same redhead. True to Marvel’s Civil War tradition, this conflict reflects real-world conflicts in terms of justice, due process, and using precognitive powers for more than just fantasy sports.

However, the true extent of the conflict Civil War II is still developing. There isn’t yet a rallying point where the lines are drawn, the teams assemble, and the property damage escalates. So far, the conflict is still Iron Man and Captain Marvel having a friendly disagreement. In Civil War II #3, there’s nothing friendly about it anymore. What began as a spark is a raging inferno now. The lines are drawn, the divisions are clear, and the outrage cannot be contained in a message board.

Bendis uses a common tactic in major crossover events, crafting the big turning point around the death of a major character. However, the tactics Bendis uses to make this death meaningful in Civil War II #3 aren’t quite so common. This being Marvel’s second attempt at a Civil War story, the formula requires some tweaking. It can’t go too overboard either. As the last Fantastic Four movie so tragically demonstrates, this can backfire.

Bendis avoids that pitfall by framing the conflict in Civil War II in a more sophisticated manner. There’s a not much emphasis on the death itself. There isn’t even much emphasis on the one who causes it. Instead, Bendis explores the larger implications. Those implications help expand the conflict in a way that feels personal, profound, and dramatic.

These same implications are the fuel that raises the stakes in Civil War II. It still echoes the same conflict that begins as a simple disagreement between Iron Man and Captain Marvel. That disagreement, however, is now a war that is claiming multiple casualties. Those casualties make the difficult questions surrounding Civil War II more pressing.

These questions are repeated in Civil War II #3, but in very different circumstances and in a very different context. The content is still the same though. Is it right to punish a crime before it’s committed? Even when they have a powerful tool at their disposal in Ulysses that gives them unprecedented foresight? The answers to these questions, as well as the merits of those answers, is put on trial in a semi-literal way. It may not be as exciting as the battle against the renegade Celestial in Civil War II #1, but its contribution to the narrative is every bit as meaningful.

The narrative actually alternates between the present and the past, providing details and drama to the circumstances that led to this pivotal turning point. It gets a little chaotic, but never becomes overly confusing. That’s quite an accomplishment at a time when the Marvel Universe is full of time-displaced characters and characters from other universes.

The shifting timeframe also allows for some powerful moments with certain characters, especially Bruce Banner and Hawkeye. Nobody does anything with a wink and a shrug. Nobody tries to lighten the mood. There are a lot of heavy hearts and serious concerns. Even Spider-Man doesn’t dare make any wisecracks, which is a major sign in and of itself.

The most important impact, in terms of the bigger picture, is how the events of this issue entrench the two opposing sides. Carol Danvers, despite being personally affected by the growing list of casualties, makes her position clear. She believes that using Ulysses’ visions to save lives is justified. The heavy losses she endures don’t change that. If anything, they strengthen her resolve.

These events do the same for Iron Man, albeit in the opposite direction. The loss in this issue only confirms his greatest fears. He sees punishing a crime before it is committed as a crime itself. Once again, Bendis captures the most important element of Civil War by presenting both sides as reasonable. This is a clash in philosophies where both sides occupy a very gray area of morality.

If there are any shortcomings in this clash, it’s the lack of contribution from other heroes not named Iron Man, Captain Marvel, or Hawkeye. Nearly every major superhero team in the Marvel Universe takes interest in this issue, including those with conflicting movie rights. However, their contributions and reactions aren’t really explored or hinted at. Even though the battle lines are drawn, it’s difficult to determine who sides with whom.

That’s not to say that the scope of Civil War II is underplayed. Bendis makes an effort to show just how big a story this is for everyone in the Marvel Universe. He creates the sense that this conflict is being watched at levels not seen since the OJ Simpson trial. It extends the conflict beyond superheroes because for all the public knows, they’re just one Ulysses vision away from being the next Red Skull.

Civil War II #3 succeeds in the most important part of any civil war. It draws the battle lines while establishing the merits of both sides. It also ends any possibility that this disagreement between Iron Man and Captain Marvel can end without someone getting punched in the jaw. Heroes are already choosing sides. Arguments are intensifying on message boards. This conflict is bound to get ugly, but Bendis makes sure it’s a meaningful, relevant kind of ugly.

Anyone who can make ugly things meaningful knows they’ve accomplished something.

Civil War II

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