The Spider-Man tie-in issues connected to some of Marvel’s more recent big events have ranged from mediocre to downright terrible, but one element that they all have had in common was their irrelevancy to the larger narrative being told in the main Spidey books at the time. After reading the first issue of Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man, which ties-in to the latest hero vs. hero slugfest-centric series event, it’s difficult to be totally sold on it being all that relevant to the larger Spider-Verse, but the creative team of Christos Gage and Travel Foreman do manage to put together a well-written and visually-pleasing comic book.
Gage certainly has established himself as the pinch-hitter extraordinaire for all things Spidey since Dan Slott first took over as the main writer of Amazing Spider-Man in 2011. As such, Gage has long demonstrated an excellent grasp on both Spider-Man’s history and some of the more current events and characters that have served as the backbone of Slott’s run. Civil War II: ASM #1 doesn’t disappoint in this department, busting out such deep cuts from Spidey’s past like the Vulturions, while also making some of the more current issues affecting the daily operations of Parker Industries a central part of the book’s focus.
Where the issue loses some of its momentum is also related to one of the larger issues I have with Civil War II overall: its flimsy central premise that serves as the source of strife amongst Marvel’s superheroes. Instead of a heavy-handed superhero registration act, this time around the heroes are philosophizing over an Inhuman named Ulysses who has powers of precognition. The moral tap-dance over having the ability to predict the future (and what one should do with that ability) is not something new or extraordinary. We’ve seen it in plenty pieces of pop culture, most notably the short story-turned-film “Minority Report.”
The problem with Marvel’s application of this premise thus far is that neither Civil War II #1 nor this ASM tie-in have really delved into the moral ramifications of other heroes captializing on Ulysses’s powers. Thus far, his precognition has been used to thwart extraterrestrial attacks, or in the case of ASM, a murder of an innocent couple. However, there’s a stark difference in getting information before it happens and then lying in wait for the threat to clearly emerge (as Spidey does here) and just acting on a premonition and arresting/imprisoning someone based solely on a perceived intent. Until a Marvel hero unequivocally does the latter, Civil War II will remain stuck in the in-between zone where the text is telling the reader how dire things are while the action suggests otherwise.
Still, Gage’s script manages to work in some subtle shades of gray vis a vis Spider-Man and Ulysses’s powers including a sequence showcasing Ulysses applying for an internship at Parker Industries based on Spidey’s recommendation that they might use his powers to help make the company become more efficient in how it develops new technology. Peter, even under the guise of using PI technology to save lives and all that other kumbaya stuff, leveraging someone else’s abilities to gain a strategic advantage is the kind of morally muddy waters that this new Spider-Man status quo has teased but never fully embraced. It would be the kind of story that would firmly establish how Peter was able to finally become successful, rather than seemingly lucking his way into his status as CEO of a billion-dollar corporation.
However, while it’s still worth holding out hope that Gage will take this series in that direction, Peter’s possibly gray morality is seemingly scuttled when Ulysses uses his abilities to sense a more traditional threat to Spider-Man/Parker Industries as part of the comic’s cliffhanger ending. Granted, a miniseries that ties into an event book that’s the sequel of one of Marvel’s most successful comics ever, is probably not the time or place to explore nuanced issues of business ethics, and is instead better served by a traditional hero vs. villain fight.
Adding to the overall allure of this book is Foreman’s art, which is both clean and dynamic. The opening sequence involving Spider-Man and the Vulturions fighting in the air was especially impressive. There’s nothing specifically distinct about Foreman’s artwork, but its agreeable enough that he could fill-in for an arc or two on ASM and the book wouldn’t miss a beat visually.