This year's biggest superhero movie to date, Captain America: Civil War brought Captain America and Iron Man into head-on collision - in a way comic book fans have seen time and again! Loosely inspired by the "Civil War" event of 2006-2007, the film dealt with the tricky ethical issue of just how much superheroes should be controlled and regulated by the government. The original comics divide fans to this day, and proved one of the most iconic superhero concepts of the last 20 years. No surprise, then, that with Captain America: Civil War released, Marvel chose to launch a sequel as this year's summer event - "Civil War II"! We're two issues into the core miniseries, and seeing a number of books launch their tie-ins; so how's it going?
WHAT CAUSES "CIVIL WAR II"?
Over the last few years, Marvel Comics has gradually been increasing the presence of the Inhumans. In 2013's "Infinity" event, the Terrigen crystals that trigger Inhuman powers were released into the atmosphere as a cloud that's now circling the globe. If anyone has a latent Inhuman gene, this cloud is triggering their mutation. In a deliberate contrast, the same cloud is toxic to mutants; the continued growth of the Inhuman race is in direct opposition to the survival of the mutant race.
The newest Inhuman is a character called Ulysses, a teenage boy whose power is to get precognitive flashes of potential disaster. Most of the superheroes seem comfortable with the idea of using this power to head off potential disasters, while Iron Man has insisted both that trying to shape the future in this way is unwise, and that not enough is known about how Ulysses's powers work.
We've already seen tragedy in this arc. In the Free Comic Book Day Civil War II one-shot, we saw Ulysses's information used to stop Thanos getting his hands on a Cosmic Cube. Unfortunately, this put a number of superheroes straight in Thanos's line of fire, and both War Machine and She-Hulk are killed in the battle. But it's all well and good to be told when a known supervillain is about to strike; what happens when you learn a character is about to go down a very dark path? That's the setup for #3, which promises to be the polarising issue of the series; a vision of the Hulk going berzerk is setting up a scenario where Captain Marvel wants to take Bruce Banner out of the game fast, while Iron Man is shocked at the idea of going against someone because of an action they have yet to commit.
HOW IS "CIVIL WAR II" GOING?
So far, the main book is slow-burn. By the end of Civil War II #2 (released just this week), Brian Bendis is still on setup. That's not necessarily a problem; the first two issues are strong character pieces, and I very much appreciate the time and attention Bendis is paying to getting the characters where they need to be. Unfortunately, though, for this reader the event is lacking the moral ambiguity of the original "Civil War".
The reason is simple: Tony Stark is right when he says the world's superheroes don't know enough about Ulysses's powers. There's a fascinating sense of 'Observer's Paradox' to them; the moment he glimpses a future, he says the words, and that future ceases to be because people act on his vision. That essentially means that he's acting as a shepherd to the timeline, guiding the future along a specific path. But what path is he guiding the future along? So far, the superheroes are assuming that acting on the visions will automatically generate a better outcome. They should be questioning that assumption; after all, these visions have directly led to the deaths of two superheroes, and are heading towards a confrontation with the Hulk. Given #3 will feature a high-profile death (my money's on Bruce Banner himself), these visions may well be more trouble than they're worth.
After all, Ulysses doesn't see every tragedy, so how does his power decide which disaster to foresee?
Over in the Civil War II - X-Men miniseries, Magneto is pretty convinced he has an answer to that question. In his view, whether Ulysses's powers work that way or not, the Inhumans will use them to work towards their own prosperity and growth. Given how even the core book has stressed the nationalistic focus of the Inhumans, it's hard to argue with his point. The Inhumans will definitely have their own agenda in this, but whether or not that will prove to be Ulysses's own is hard to say.
HOW ARE THE "CIVIL WAR II" TIE-INS GOING?
So far, the "Civil War II" tie-ins aren't particularly inspiring. Most books have given us another angle on the cosmic battle from Civil War II #1 - seriously, it's as though the writers have been told that their "Civil War II" arc simply has to begin with that scene. Yes, I get that it was a big scene, and supposed to be a team-up of everybody who's anybody in the Marvel Universe, but do we really need to see everybody's role in clearing the streets?
Some books, though, are showing real promise. Al Ewing's excellent The Ultimates is the only book to really travel in the direction of "Civil War II" before the actual events; The Ultimates #7 was a brilliant character study that ensured Captain Marvel was carefully positioned for the core title. Civil War II - X-Men shows real promise, working very cleverly within the current status quo of the X-books. Meanwhile, Ms. Marvel #7 and this week's Nova #8 are excellent openings to their tie-in plots. The timing of Dan Slott's current plot in Amazing Spider-Man, where a supervillain is capturing the superheroes because he's convinced they have no care for innocents caught between them, is surely opportune.
SO HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO THE ORIGINAL "CIVIL WAR?
"Civil War II" shows real promise as an event, not least because the main book has such a clear sense of direction. The problem is, where "Civil War" had moral ambiguity, "Civil War II" already seems to have a clear right and wrong. Unsurprisingly, Iron Man looks to be in the right; he's the only one even taking the time to ask how Ulysses's powers work in the first place.
When Marvel launched the All-New All-Different range, they talked about putting Iron Man front-and-center. Sales-wise, neither Invincible Iron Man nor International Iron Man have quite performed how Marvel no doubt hoped. But given the core Civil War II miniseries is helmed by the creative team who run Invincible Iron Man, it's hard not to see this event as positioning to improve Iron Man's comic book profile.
This is actually shaping up to be a great event. Even as it goes on to cause a split in the superhero community, though, it's not really proving to be a true successor to the original "Civil War".