I am not a die-hard comic reader/lover/fanboy/whatever. I started reading comics when Civil War I was covered in the mainstream press (Peter Parker, why did you reveal your secret identity, why?) and I stopped when life got too busy to justify buying ten comics a week just to flick through them listlessly.
But right now I am living overseas, stay-at-home-parenting my two superhero-loving sons, and wading into Civil War II seemed like a harmless way to while away the tropical nights.
And mostly it is. But as I spend another night drinking cheap local beer and reading about the exploits of the newly reincarnated-as-a-Hydra-agent Steve Rogers, the stridently-certain-with-the-power-to-destroy-planets Captain Marvel (who is a girl; girls can destroy planets too), and the I’m-pretending-I’m-conflicted-but-I’m-really-pretty-fucking-certain-I’m-right Iron Man, I find I lose track of where this sentence is going. Nope, got it. I’m discovering that I don’t know why I stopped watching Netflix to read these in the first place.
Not because they’re not good. They’re not, obviously. But the bar for comics is set pretty low. They’re thankfully not allowed to be shamelessly exploitative anymore (although someone forgot to tell the makers of the new Killing Joke movie) but they remain determinedly silly. As I realized when I tried to explain to my son today that Steve Rogers/Captain America had been resurrected/given his super powers back by a newly sentient tesseract-thingy except the little girl tesseract-thing had been brainwashed by Red Skull and so she brought Captain America back as a secret Hydra Agent.
And it’s not about the ludicrously costly barrier to entry. Many have already complained about needing to spend $40 a week to know what is going on in the ten or more different books that are all tied in to this ‘main event.’ The ridiculous cost is indeed a barrier but I have a different gripe with the hundred or so comics covering the same event from different angles.
Enough prelude. Now to the not very important stuff.
Civil War II involves a new fight between superheroes split over the – oh, God, I can’t even bear to recount it. Every single Marvel comic of the last three months has begun with a summary of the existence of a new Inhuman called Ulysses who can see the future, and the existential dilemma of whether superheroes should act on such foreknowledge, or if doing so amounted to punishing people before they did anything wrong (Minority Report, anyone?) making it kind of profiling. Dammit. I accidentally recounted it anyway.
Right. So they split over whether to use this kid’s powers and Iron Man says ‘No way, that’s really bad, I’m a futurist but the future isn’t written’ and Captain Marvel says ‘I may just be a small town intergalactic space avenger slash loveable aunt but I’m still tough, and sexy’ (thanks, Dixie Normous) ‘and I am going to stop bad things before they happen.’ Then Ulysses has a vision that Thanos is coming to Earth to steal some irrelevant but incredibly powerful/dangerous maguffin and Captain Marvel gets some good guys together to go stop him but clearly she doesn’t get enough because (Spoiler Alert, but you don’t really care) James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes (that’s right, his nickname is just his normal name with a ‘y’ instead of an ‘s’ on the end) gets killed. Rhodey is both Iron Man’s best friend and Captain Marvel’s secret lover. But Iron Man takes precedence in the grief stakes because bromance beats romance every day of the superhero week (which, incidentally, has an unspoken additional eighth day for polishing your outfit, courtesy of Doctor Strange).
So here is where I end the torturous intro and get to the point. Over the months of Civil War II lead ups and tie-ins, James Rhodes has died, and come back to life only to die again, at least three times. Because apparently the most powerful entertainment corporation in the world, the corporation that can make a sequel about a lost fish and still make you love it, cannot manage to organise some continuity between ten fucking comic books. There are six issues of Invincible Iron Man dealing with the lead up to Civil War II (starting as far back as February), except that Civil War II #1 (July, 2016), when Rhodey gets killed, was published in the middle of those issues’ being released.
Similarly, there are separate comics centring on Ulysses himself, which all deal with the time between Civil War II #1 and #2 (I apologize for the naming conventions, they’re obviously not mine) but are published between 1&2 then between 2&3 and then 3&4. So they deal with stuff that we know will already happen a certain way. Making it somewhat strange to go back to the having doubts in the garden of Gethsemane bit when we know the decision that is going to be made.
The same thing happens with She-Hulk, who gets injured in the same fight with Thanos but then appears in other, later, comics. And also when Bruce Banner gets shot through the head by Hawkeye even though he got cured by Amadeus Cho (if you understand that sentence, congratulations, you’re a terrific geek). And further when Hawkeye kills Bruce Banner, goes to trial and has his verdict released – two weeks later he is still in custody helping Captain Marvel with her problems in Captain Marvel #8.
So, bearing in mind that I’m an unusually time-rich customer, and it is entirely possible that Marvel isn’t actually expecting anyone to purchase — at US$4 each — every single Civil War II tie-in, it still seems kind of lazy that their big 2016 let’s-cash-in-on-Captain America: Civil War event is… kind of lazy.
I will, of course, keep reading the series to the bitter end – at least a couple of months away yet – because it remains an excellent way to pass drunken tropical nights. Though the awesomeness of Rajinikanth movies may ultimately squeeze the ridiculousness of Marvel comics out of my life. And if it does, I might actually just forget to find out how the superheroes ultimately get reconciled and the whole thing amounts to absolutely no long-term effect because, hey, it was all secret Skrulls who were responsible, anyway.
Seriously Marvel, if you’re reading, I swear to god if you explain away Captain America: Civil War so glibly, I will stop watching Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and probably even Luke Cage. And I’d threaten Agent Carter but we both know I couldn’t stay away and then you cancelled her anyway. And I won’t see your new movie on the opening day. And at some point I will have a proper think about how much of your media I’m consuming and whether or not that’s a healthy thing.
And THEN you’ll be in trouble.