It’s an unspoken rule that no superhero team can say they’ve arrived until they experience a dystopian future. By that standard, the X-men are seasoned pros. There are so many dystopian futures that the Watcher probably gets migraines keeping track of them. Another dystopian future for the X-men at this point has about the same impact as shooting Deadpool in the head. It’s so routine that it’s downright boring.
That’s what makes the setup for Civil War II: X-men #1 so intriguing. This isn’t a dystopian future for the X-men. This is a dystopian present. Granted, the present is rarely ideal for the X-men. Killer robots attack at least once a week and the Xavier Institute gets blown up every couple of months, it seems. However, the current status quo for the X-men and the mutant race as a whole is as dire as any future that doesn’t involve a Brett Ratner movie.
Between the off-screen death of Cyclops and the spread of M-pox, the X-men’s present has a lot of room for improvement. That makes their role in Civil War II more meaningful than most. They have reasons for improving the present beyond preventing another Thanos attack. The ethics, context, and consequences of utilizing an Inhuman who can accurately predict the future remain central to the themes of Civil War II, but those themes take on new dimensions with Civil War II: X-men #1.
The sequence of events and the ramifications of these events closely mirror those of Civil War II. The conflict is built around a threat that is resolved with stunning efficiency by Marvel standards. This efficiency is due to the foresight provided by Ulysses, an Inhuman who can predict the future in ways that stock brokers can only dream of. It’s not on the same level of a renegade Celestial, an vindictive Thanos, or drunk Juggernaut, but it’s a conflict that sets the right stage.
Cullen Bunn even makes the conflict relevant to ongoing struggles in recent X-men comics. The Terrigen Mists are still circling the Earth, poisoning and sterilizing mutants in ways that can’t be blamed on Wanda Maximoff’s mental health this time. Bunn’s team in Uncanny X-men and Jeff Lemire’s team in Extraordinary X-men are both major players in this struggle, but they’ve never crossed paths or coordinated until Civil War II: X-men #1. It’s overdue, but Bunn makes it worth the wait.
The coordination between teams is friendly at first, at least as much as any team-up where one side employs Magneto and Sabretooth. They work together to do what X-men have always done, protecting innocent mutants from a looming threat. They succeed in this. Bunn even takes time to show that characters in both teams still have close connections with one another. It’s a small, but vital detail because it adds weight to the argument that forms.
Once the innocent mutants are safe and Magneto’s team starts asking questions, the friendly team-up ends and another civil war within Civil War II begins. It happens the moment Magneto’s team learns about Ulysses, thanks to some psychic insight from Psylocke and Monet. What he learns concerns him and for once, Magneto’s concerns are actually valid. For a character whose concerns usually revolve around terrifying the entire human race, this is pretty striking.
Bunn utilizes the same dynamic that Brian Michael Bendis is using in Civil War II. There are two sides to a difficult issue. Both sides make a valid point. Only circumstances, luck, and tragedy can vindicate one side over the other, as the friends of War Machine can attest. In this case, the argument isn’t just about using Ulysses’ foresight to predict the future and avoid further sterilization efforts. It builds on the nature of the dystopian present the X-men now operate in.
It’s very reflective of the classic conflict between Charles Xavier and Magneto. Storm favors cooperation with the Inhumans to improve the current situation for mutants. Magneto favors any other approach that won’t aid the very group responsible for unleashing the Terrigen Mists. While the conflict lacks the natural charms of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, it remains very relevant and incurs a dramatic impact.
Unlike the Xavier/Magneto dynamic, both sides come off as reasonable. One side doesn’t seem more inclined to hijack nuclear missiles or crash a metal asteroid in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the key ingredient to the chaotic concoction that makes the concept of Civil War II so dramatic. Both sides have a point to make. Both sides have a reason for fighting for their side of the argument. It’s destined to pit heroes against heroes and friends against friends. In that respect, Civil War II: X-men #1 is right on schedule.
Bunn doesn’t waste time creating disagreements between the two teams. He doesn’t waste time having some characters question their allegiance, either. It’s a messy situation that feeds off the dystopian circumstances surrounding the X-men. It gives the divide between teams a level of dramatic weight that isn’t possible in a setting where the mutants aren’t being sterilized and current members of the X-men aren’t time-displaced.
Civil War II: X-men #1 succeeds at achieving its primary goals. It effectively injects the primary conflict in Civil War II into the X-men’s current predicament. Some of the secondary goals fall somewhat short. Aside from Magneto and Storm, few other characters get a chance to say or do much. In addition, the interactions between the two teams feels muted in some areas. While their arguments are meaningful, the instigating conflict never feels like too great a spectacle.
It’s the early stages of Civil War II. Characters are still choosing their sides, weighing the benefits, and wondering how likely it is that Tony Stark can win two Civil Wars in a row. In Civil War II: X-men #1, the stakes are a bit higher for the X-men. Their entire race is already sterilized, exiled, and marginalized. They really can’t afford to make things any worse, lest their dystopian present become overly apocalyptic.