In the past few months, I read and reviewed 28 trade paperbacks (collections of comics – they usually have 4 – 6 “comic books” worth of comics in them) in an attempt to read every piece of story in Marvel’s most recent event, Civil War II. This is my meta-review and a collection of the individual reviews.
Warning: this essay will contain major spoilers for the opening act of Marvel’s Civil War II – most notably, two major character deaths which occur at the very beginning of the story. I have not spoiled any middle or ending plot points.
Who are you to judge Marvel?!
I am a relative comic, and especially Marvel, noob. I started reading Marvel with Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan), who led to Squirrel Girl and Thor (Jane), who led to Captain Marvel. This was a wonderful way to begin reading Marvel titles; all four of the series were extremely well-received at the time.
Though I have religiously followed those four characters, I’ve also expanded my horizons quite a bit – I’ve read a lot of Miles Morales’s backlog, I’ve read some recent Thor (Odinson) books, I’ve read X-Men, multiple Avengers series, Fraction’s glorious Hawkeye run, quite a bit of the modern Wolverine and Vision stories, etc.
My point being – I’m relatively new to Marvel but have done quite a bit of reading.
Until recently, though, I hadn’t experienced any of the infamous Marvel Events. For those of you who don’t know, Marvel events are generally considered to be nothing but cash-grabs; Marvel creates a big, “world-ending” event which disrupts every writer’s (and character’s) story and requires anyone who wants to know the whole story to buy way more comics than they normally would. The story for one particular character is no longer contained to just that character’s series – it’s spread across 30 different books.
Six months ago, I knew Civil War II was happening but I had no interest in reading it. I read Ms. Marvel’s Civil War II book just because I didn’t want to miss out on any of her story, and the book was so good I came up with this crazy project: to read and review every single Civil War II book. I am a “patient” reader – I read comics in trade paperback from the library – so I had an opportunity to read the whole epic story (in vaguely the correct order) and decide for myself whether Marvel events are as horrible as I’d been hearing since I joined the comic book community.
I don’t even know what the Civil War II is.
Like the first Marvel Civil War, where Iron Man and Captain America faced off over major moral disagreements, splitting the superhero community in half as they did it, the Civil War II pits hero vs. hero. Ulysses, a new hero, seems to have the ability to perfectly predict the future, and many people (most notably Carol Danvers, as Captain Marvel) want to use his powers to shut down crime before it begins.
Other heroes (most notably Iron Man) believe that what Ulysses does is no more than extremely detailed and precise profiling and that no one should be punished for a crime they didn’t commit.
Of course, the two sides ultimately battle it out, with several major casualties acting as catalysts.
All of this takes place across ~30 different comic books.
Sounds good, but I sense a tear-down coming…
I think that one reason the first civil war worked so well is because both sides were so easily sympathetic. Iron Man believed that heroes needed more regulation in order to protect innocent people (and property). Captain America believed that relinquishing control to a government was a sure path to a corrupt Avengers. Each side had their own valid argument, and heroes chose sides based on their own beliefs or loyalties.
In the Civil War II, there is no such ambiguity.
Captain Marvel is wrong.
She blatantly arrests or attacks people based on nothing but one new hero’s power – a power no one understands.
She indicts people for crimes they have not yet committed.
And half the heroes in the world believe she’s right.
It’s just completely nonsensical.
Look, I know grief affects people differently, and a case could be made for why everything Carol did could have come from either grief or genuine goodwill; her lover and her best friend are both victims of a major battle early in the story (before the actual civil war begins), and it’s easy to imagine that her pain has driven her a bit insane.
But I think that’s a load of bull. Part of writing is creating believable characters. Carol’s actions are simply not believable. A military woman who has for her entire life fought for not only the good of the Earth but also the good of the universe would never out of the blue ruin lives based on future predictions.
If we are to believe Carol is acting out of grief, I want to see it. Where is Carol crying, Carol kicking the shit out of walls, Carol hugging her cat, Carol attending Rhodey’s funeral, and Carol mourning Bruce?
And that says nothing of the rest of the people on her side of the war! Instead of consoling her, helping her check into therapy, trying to talk her down or even forcing her to stand down, Carol’s greatest friends and allies join in the ridiculous fight. It’s like everyone on her team has had a great big gulp of the insanity Kool-Aid.
The Civil War II fundamentally doesn’t work because one side is fundamentally wrong.
But what about everyone else?
Although not all of the Civil War II stories were horrendous, very few of them were marked improvements (or even, honestly, sidegrades) from the story arc the characters were already on. Ms. Marvel certainly experienced some character growth as her mentor went insane. Miles Morales, as a victim of the Civil War II, had to mature real quick as well. Sam Wilson (as Captain America), had one of the most beautiful stories of them all, but his was more of a parallel to the Civil War II instead of a direct part of it.
Most of the characters were derailed from their established stories in a way that makes me sad. Nova went from saying goodbye to his mother and blasting off to find his father, to suddenly and with no explanation being a part of the Avengers and the Civil War II again. Cho (Hulk) gained some nice backstory, and his book featured a beautiful homage to Bruce Banner, but, ironically, Banner overshadowed Cho in his own book.
You mentioned a money grab?
As I read these 28 books, I increasingly wondered whom this event is for. My understanding of comic readers is that most of them either 1) have a short to medium list of comics (actual comic books – not trade paperbacks) that they buy from the comic store each month or 2) get trade paperbacks six months after the final comic leaves the comic store (either purchasing it or borrowing it, it doesn’t matter).
This event doesn’t work for either of those groups.
I read 28 books for this project. I read 3,527 words for this project. If I had bought the books for this project, they would have cost $500.
And I didn’t even read every single tie-in.
Does the average comic book reader want to spend $20 to read about characters they don’t normally follow, just so that they can understand the story for the characters they do?
And I understand that not every book is necessary for understanding a big event like Civil War II. But for me, all of the most relevant books (Iron Man, Inhumans, X-Men) were ones I’m not interested in. So I couldn’t read just the books I normally follow; they wouldn’t make much sense without the ones I don’t.
Events feel like money grabs. They ask people who follow four or five characters to suddenly follow all of them.
Okay, Civil War II sucks, got it.
No, wait! It’s not all bad!
Captain America: Sam Wilson: Civil War II works so well that I believe it stands as a magnificent book even independent of the event and the character. The only things I knew about Sam Wilson going in were 1) his role in the current movies and 2) that in the comics he currently wields the shield and the mantle of Captain America.
Sam’s book takes the premise of the Civil War II (which, as I’ve ranted about above, doesn’t make a great story on its own) and weaves it with real-world current events, creating a narrative that progresses the story in world, but also comments on our own society.
The artwork in Captain America: Sam Wilson: Civil War II is not groundbreaking, but it doesn’t matter. This particular book is truly about the story.
Spider-Woman’s book is also spectacular. I actually think that Spider-Woman: Shifting Gears: Civil War II, paired with the first volume in the series (Spider-Woman: Shifting Gears: Baby Talk) is a great introduction to Marvel comics for people who aren’t as into world-ending massive scale superhero tales. Spider-Woman’s books are low-key, relationship and character focused, and beautifully feminist.
For fans of Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales, and Wolverine, their Civil War II tie-in books are all both relevant to the story and loyal to the existing characters. Even if you’re not interested in the event, I recommend that fans of these characters not miss their event books.
The rest of the book is mostly crap so I don’t recommend you buy it, but if you can get your hands on issue #3 of Choosing Sides (or just check it out from the library), the War Machines short is absolutely breathtaking. Gorgeous artwork supports four wonderful two page stories.
How about a rating for the whole thing?
I think it says a lot when out of 28 books almost 1/3 of them are 1 stars. On the other hand, I try to be a bit stingy with my 5 stars, but I gave out five of them for this project. There are definitely some gems in the mix!
(Please note I use the Goodreads style of star rating: 1 is “did not like it”, 2 is “it was okay”, 3 is “liked it”, 4 is “really liked it”, and 5 is “it was amazing”. So a 3-star is still a decent book, for me.)
The average number of stars I gave these books was 2.68. I’d be comfortable rounding the whole event down to a big fat 2 stars out of five – an “it was okay”.
The project, on the other hand, was a whole lot of fun. I wrote a lot, thought a lot, and (I believe) grew as a critic. Truly, it takes a lot to make a good comic, and the past few months have been a great exercise in finding and appreciating the good and the bad.
Finally – the reviews themselves.
To conclude, here is every single book I read and review I wrote for this project. I know that I missed at few little tie-ins; I largely followed [this guide](http://www.comicbookherald.com/the-complete-marvel-reading-order-guide/civil-war-2/), with some additions of my own.
The format of this list is: book title and link to review | # of stars | mini review or note.
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 6: Civil War II | ★★★★★ | The one that started it all. I loved this book so much that I decided to read and review the entire rest of the event. Because Ms. Marvel is so close to Captain Marvel, Kamala’s Civil War II story is actually an improvement over her already-existing arc.
Invincible Iron Man, Volume 1: Reboot | ★★★★★ | This book was light on story and strong on character development. It was my first Iron Man book and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
Invincible Iron Man, Volume 2: The War Machines | ★★★☆☆ | Very bad artwork, but a decent story.
Civil War II | ★★★☆☆ | Because the whole “main event” is only eight issues long, this book was extremely fast-paced, to the point of being way too light on details or exposition. In my review I remain optimistic that the tie-ins will provide more explanation for character motivation. Lol.
All-New, All-Different Avengers, Volume 3: Civil War II | ★☆☆☆☆ | A series of bad one-shots, plus one one-shot I really liked (but others didn’t).
Captain Marvel, Vol. 2: Civil War II | ★☆☆☆☆ | Let the character butchering commence!
Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man | ★★☆☆☆ | A tiny amount of characterization, and little else.
The Ultimates: Omniversal, Volume 2: Civil War II | ★★☆☆☆ | Again, very little story. Plus, artist problems meant inconsistent artwork, which really throws you out of any comic.
All-New Wolverine, Volume 2: Civil War II | ★★★★★ | This is a great book, if you’re reading the whole Civil War II. The event tie-ins are super and there’s some extraordinary character growth.
Civil War II: X-Men | ★☆☆☆☆ | $20 of stupid and contrived drama.
Spider-Woman: Shifting Gears, Volume 2: Civil War II | ★★★★★ | This is a very, very good book in an extraordinary series. Spider-Woman’s books have been consistently original, beautiful, and fun to read.
Civil War II: Choosing Sides | ★★☆☆☆ | This is where my review lengths started ballooning and I really began to have fun writing about what I was reading. Choosing Sides has mostly horrible zero-star one-shots, but also the best comic in this entire event.
Civil War II: Gods of War | ★★☆☆☆ | These characters were completely new to me and I actually enjoyed meeting them. It’s a bit of a meathead book, though.
Uncanny Inhumans, Volume 3: Civil War II | ★★★☆☆ | The Inhumans are a huge part of the Civil War II, so it makes sense that their book would be quite impactful in the grand scheme of things. The best part of this book, though, was meeting all of the ridiculous characters; that was quite a treat.
Captain America: Sam Wilson Volume 3: Civil War II | ★★★★★ | This was my favorite book in this entire project. The story is relevant both to real-life and to what’s going on in the rest of the Marvel universe. I highly recommend this one.
Nova: The Human Rocket, Volume 2: Afterburn | ★★☆☆☆ | I like Nova a lot and he’s one of the characters I follow, but his story keeps getting ruined by other characters and their stories. This book is a prime example.
The Totally Awesome Hulk, Volume 2: Civil War II | ★★★☆☆ | This book has some beautiful characterization of Banner and some gorgeous artwork. Unfortunately, it also introduces a significant and infuriating plot hole.
New Avengers: A.I.M., Volume 3: Civil War II | ★☆☆☆☆ | This is not a book about the New Avengers. This is a book about acronyms and ridiculousness.
Power Man and Iron Fist, Vol. 2: Civil War II | ★★★☆☆ | Half of the artwork was not to my taste, but I liked the decision to give Power Man and Iron Fist different artists.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Vol. 2 | ★★★★☆ | Miles is a victim of the Civil War II, and his book does a fabulous job of illustrating how the war has affected people like him.
Squadron Supreme, Volume 2: Civil War II | ★★☆☆☆ | This book doesn’t work at all unless you know the characters.
Rocket Raccoon & Groot, Vol. 2: Civil War II | ★★★★☆ | This is a silly and tangential book, but for Rocket and Groot, silly and tangential is the name of the game.
Mockingbird, Vol. 2: My Feminist Agenda | ★★★☆☆ | This is a book that knows its audience. Creative touches like suspects portrayed as D&D villains, a boy scout footprint guide, and background characters in cosplay really make it a fun read.
Deadpool: World’s Greatest, Volume 5: Civil War II | ★☆☆☆☆ | I have pre-existing negative impressions of Deadpool, and this book did nothing to rebut those impressions. Deadpool is an asshole.
Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat!, Volume 2: Don’t Stop Me-Ow | ★★★★☆ | This book is full of adorable artwork and some really nice character growth. I particularly love all of the good friendships in this title.
Guardians of the Galaxy: New Guard, Volume 3: Civil War II | ★☆☆☆☆ | This is another blatant money grab from Marvel. There is very little story in this $25 hardcover.
Uncanny Avengers: Unity, Volume 3: Civil War II | ★☆☆☆☆ | This book features more Deadpool and more character destruction of both Captain Marvel and Captain America.
Invincible Iron Man, Volume 3: Civil War II | ★☆☆☆☆ | The final money grab – this book is only half Civil War II issues, and the rest of the included comics are from 2007. Questions aren’t answered either, unfortunately.