Civil War II #5
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by David Marquez, Sean Izaakse and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Now we’re getting somewhere.
After four laborious installments, Civil War II finally makes good on its hero-versus-hero high concept with its fifth chapter, as Iron Man, the Avengers and the X-Men square off against Captain Marvel, the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Inhumans. In many ways, it’s the face of Old Marvel going head-to-head against Marvel’s prospective future, but Civil War II #5 doesn’t ponder the divide too deeply, instead trying its level best to evoke the kind of fun yet breezy airport melee of this summer’s Civil War film. But not only does artist David Marquez finally get his opportunity to show his prodigious action chops, but even the typically talky writer Brian Michael Bendis gets to deliver some fun moments amongst his eclectic match-ups.
One of the very first comic books I ever bought back in the day was an issue of The Infinity War, and Civil War II #5 brings me back to the days of wonderment as I saw dozens upon dozens of superheroes all crowding together in the Baxter Building. Of course, with this series, the heroes are on the Triskelion, and they’re also beating the hell out of each other - while Brian Michael Bendis has in the past come across as flighty or unfocused with his rapid-fire David Mamet-esque dialogue, with this issue he channels that manic energy into the pacing, and that winds up making this the most effective installment of Civil War II yet.
Opening with a double-page splash of Tony and Carol’s teams barreling towards each other, Bendis quickly starts bouncing around the battlefield, showcasing Doctor Strange trying to outmaneuver Storm and Iceman, or Flash Thompson’s Venom having a legitimate beef with newbie Spider-Man Miles Morales (and vice versa). But with this action-packed milieu, Bendis is able to effectively channel the blockbuster Marvel movies and inject a great sense of humor, that makes some of these stranger bouts more memorable. There are some great beats here, like Magik teleporting Sam Wilson cross-country after some mild chauvinism, Nova sucker-punching the Blue Marvel (“Ya burnt!” Sam cracks, in one of the book’s funniest lines), or Aurora of Alpha Flight winding up for a knockout punch, promising that she’ll give Kate Bishop something to remember her by.
With the punches flying fast and furious, we finally get to see David Marquez get to strut his stuff here - teaming up with an art assist by Stray artist Sean Izaakse, Marquez delivers some potent imagery here, from the opening splash pages featuring such a wonderful variety of different fighting stances, to the chilling and bloody twist featuring two Marvel icons. As these characters brawl through the halls, Marquez knows when to portray motion like Carol giving Iron Man a pair of brutally fast haymakers, or to let the characters linger in a cool pose, such as when Star-Lord has to face off against Steve Rogers himself. There’s a particularly great sequence featuring Miles’ fight against Venom, where Marquez contrasts his angular panel layouts with the curved architecture of the Triskelion, really highlighting the high-flying nature of this fight as well as the contrast in anatomy and physicality between these two combatants.
While this issue proves to be a welcome shot in the arm for Civil War II, that’s not to say there aren’t some flaws here - while there’s the occasional bit of shaky dialogue at the outset between Tony and Carol, by the end of the issue, it does start to feel like the deck is being stacked against Captain Marvel in the same way that the deck was stacked against Iron Man in the original Civil War. It’s understandable - superhero comic books are about the illusion of change, and so the likelihood of large-scale paradigm shifts like precognition or Superhero Registration Acts aren’t likely going to last the test of time. But that doesn’t mean that the creators shouldn’t make every effort to make a compelling case for both sides - and between the deaths of War Machine and the Hulk, not to mention the unsubstantiated arrests that have gone on in this book and others, it doesn’t feel like Carol or her team has much of a leg to stand on. Additionally, while Bendis’s quippy sense of humor does evoke much of the same flavor as some of the recent Marvel movies, most of this issue lacks the sort of personal animosity that gave the original Civil War its drama and its stakes - he does correct this with a late-breaking twist this issue that connects far better than anything we’ve seen yet in this series, but early on the banter makes it hard to take this too seriously.
Yet considering how difficult it was to connect with the previous four issues of Civil War II, I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth with this much-improved installment. While Brian Michael Bendis might be known for his naturalistic dialogue, he’s able to utilize his structural strengths in a very different - and very refreshing - manner here, as he finally turns in a script that not only delivers on the promise of Civil War II’s high concept, but also gives his collaborator David Marquez a real opportunity to shine in an event comic book landscape. While it appears that the superhero fisticuffs might be taking yet a breather after this chapter, it’s hard to deny the sheer fun Civil War II #5 has to offer.