How do you draw out an event with a slim premise? Lots and lots of posturing.
As Iron Man says to Medusa, Bendis and Marvel appear to be saying to readers, “This isn’t a thing unless you make it a thing.” Or unless Marvel makes it a thing. That thing is the Civil War II summer crossover event.
And, of course, Tony Stark makes it a thing. In this issue, Bendis invokes the futurist impulse to the nth degree to mask Tony’s grief and loss. Mourning the death of his best friend, James Rhodes (War Machine to those of you less familiar with either the Marvel Comics Universe or the Marvel Cinematic Universe), Stark goes to the perceived root of the problem: the NuHuman Ulysses, gifted with the ability to see into the future. Except Stark leaps over a few diplomatic barriers (figuratively and literally), kidnaps Ulysses, and, essentially, starts a war with the Inhumans. Thus Stark becomes the thing he was hoping to avoid, and, somehow, Ulysses avoids seeing any of this coming at him, especially when his own life is in peril.
I’m not saying Bendis writes him out of character, but I will say this is an odd thing for this character to do. Unless you all recall the whole Superior Iron Man bit. And “The Crossing” storyline from the 1990s bomber-jacket-era Avengers. And “Armor Wars”. So, I guess you could say this is right inline with anything Iron Man might do, especially when put on his heels. Complicating that is the recent passing of his best friend, and anyone is likely to be a bit discombobulated. Maybe even irrational.
Stark breaks out his scientific theorizing as he’s tainted the sample: does emotional state affect Ulysses’ visions? And then he reminds Ulysses that “fair” is a principle best dismissed, before appealing to Carol Danvers’ better nature.
I’m also not saying that he’s writing Ulysses wrong. The only person who knows if this is right or wrong is Bendis. Ulysses didn’t exist sixty-some pages ago. He doesn’t know how his powers work, how can any reader? We share the same surprise as Ulysses and many of the other characters in this comic book. All we know is Ulysses has the ability to see gigantic, crossover plot and subplot event McGuffins: the rampaging Celestial in the previous issue of this series, Thanos’ attack, and the cliffhanger bit for Civil War II #2.
Around all that, Bendis sculpts politic intrigue and diplomatic affairs, but doesn’t put much detail into the intrigue or the affairs, once the plot of hero versus hero gains some momentum.
Thankfully, Bendis can draw upon smoke and rubble to entice readers. David Marquez draws another gorgeous chapter of Civil War II filled with panels that beg to be splash pages. And the splash pages Marquez does give us – Whoa. The art in this issue has more grit to it, almost as though Marquez is sharing technique or process, experimenting with lines and shading. In some spots the result appears as though colorist Justin Ponsor is working overtop pencils. In other spots, Marquez and Ponsor congeal so tightly that photographs would struggle to compete. Marquez has all the chops throughout Civil War II #2, knowing when to throttle back on the backgrounds and when to pack more detail into a panel than some artists can pack into an entire issue. Likewise, Ponsor’s colors set mood and coax the reader into emotionally investing in each scene: breathing slowly and shallowly as Iron Man sneaks into New Attilan or sweating bullets alongside Ulysses as he undergoes a round of interrogation. The story might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the art is certain to at least catch readers’ eyes.
As for your Spider-Folk update, well, if you’re just in this for the spinners, save a couple bucks. There are exactly zero panels with Spider-Man. Or Spider-Woman. Well, OK, Miles does appear in two of the issue’s 104 panels, sporting exactly as much dialog in this adventure as I do. See? Not much from the webslingers.
I didn’t enjoy the comic, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t doing what it set out to do: pitch the Marvel Universe into opposing camps and fling them at each other, like the playthings of a bored child. This isn’t event fatigue speaking, it’s just my personal reaction to fairly uninspired reimaginings of playground arguments. You know, exactly the same thing audiences were treated to when Ben Affleck suited up against Henry Cavill on the silver screen back in March. It’s not predictable, which is to its credit, but it also isn’t inspirational. It’s a visual spectacle with a story that is trying so hard to become a thing, but it just falls short of becoming that thing.
Civil War II #2 is a visual spectacle that really wants to be more. Brian Michael Bendis uses twenty-two pages to move characters towards the edge, while David Marquez uses the same amount of space to draw magnificent pictures.