Civil War II #3
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Marquez, Olivier Coipel and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Well, that escalated quickly.
Or at least, it did on a purely surface level. After two issues with only the barest of hero-versus-hero action, Civil War II #3 abruptly gives us a big-name casualty, and it’s perhaps no surprise that readers have been conditioned over the years to stand up and pay attention when a longtime character bites the dust. Brian Michael Bendis and Dave Marquez liven up the proceedings a bit with some sharp artwork and some interesting story structure, but when you move beyond the conditioned response, it’s hard for this issue to not feel just a bit cynical. Civil War II #3, in many ways, is the most engaging this series has been since the outset — it just happens to have elicited that engagement using the cheapest narrative methods possible.
It might seem like I’m damning this series with faint praise, but I see it more as asking whether the emotional ends justify the dramatic means. Following last issue’s bloodless skirmish between Iron Man and the Inhumans over the precognitive Ulysses, Bendis and Marquez open their third issue with a somber courtroom sequence, catching readers off-balance with the change in setting and enticing them to keep going to regain their equilibrium. (It also plays well to Bendis’ strengths as a talky kind of writer - the courtroom setting means characters can recall the events to the readers, even if it acts as more telling than showing.) Bouncing from present-day depositions and flashbacks, Bendis is able to showcase different characters and give readers some big twists without dragging down his pacing - compared to much of his previous work, this is some pretty measured dialogue from Bendis, allowing Marquez to strut his stuff as well with some beautifully designed characters.
And strut he does. Whatever problems I might have with this book, it’s not for lack of trying on Marquez’s part. Admittedly, his characters don’t have much to do here and pose in group shots - there’s about three pages featuring characters in motion in this entire book - but he definitely sells the emotions here. You can see the sadness in Captain Marvel’s eyes as she looks at a killer in her midst, and you can see the grief on Hawkeye’s face as he sits in the courtroom. Tony Stark is particularly expressive in this issue, wide-eyed and horrified that he has just witnessed an old friend be murdered right in front of his eyes. But once you get beyond that, you do get a sense that he doesn’t have much to work with in terms of the script - this issue is largely just characters standing and talking at one another, the equivalency of a staged reading but without the range of performance an actor can portray. Behind-the-scenes, however, editors Tom Brevoort, Wil Moss and Alanna Smith do a great job giving Marquez a breather by subbing in Olivier Coipel for a conversation scene — because of their similarity of styles, not to mention some similarly angular rendering by colorist Justin Ponsor, the transition is nearly seamless, providing an equally effective and expressive sequence.
But ultimately, this issue’s emotional core rests on the surprising death of a longtime Avenger — but it’s only surprising because of how sudden and abrupt the death is, especially given how low-stakes the previous issues have felt. The deaths of major characters in event books has become routine in the Big Two over the years, and it’s because we’re invested in these characters over decades of stories. Thanks to Marquez selling the expressiveness of these characters, Bendis mercilessly plucks at his readers’ heartstrings — but honestly, that’s because they’re pretty easy heartstrings to pull. But this kind of artificial dramatic goosing feels like it flies in the face of the Marvel way. The Marvel U has always been about the world outside your window — there’s a reason why everyone is in New York, not Metropolis — and given the national debate on how and when the police should use deadly force, it feels like such a missed opportunity to see the premise of Civil War II be boiled down to such predictable and overused tropes. You might feel sadness out of empathy for the characters on the page, but once you close this book, you’ll likely look at the death of one of Marvel’s most enduring characters and think, “So what?”
And I doubt that’s the reaction the creative team is looking for with Civil War II. But right now, this feels like a story without stakes, without tension, without a solid sense of direction — and while there is some genuine emotional beats in this issue, it feels like only the most short-term of fixes. And that is a shame, because there is some real dramatic potential with this premise. There’s a chance to shore up Tony Stark and Carol Danvers’ opposing beliefs with some actual forethought, instead of the barely believable strawmanning Tony throws at Carol. There’s a chance of literally examining the balance between security at the cost of due process, or liberty at the cost of death and destruction — or even questioning whether or not destiny is mutable, predetermined or self-fulfilling. Instead, Civil War II #3 is a decent chapter of an event story that feels like plenty of other event stories. But as far as memorials go, it’s unfortunately pretty forgettable fare.