SPOILER WARNING: This review contains MAJOR spoilers for Civil War II #3.
While there are visibly recognizable characters in this comic book, Civil War II #3 seems like a story from a parallel timeline. Maybe it’s a leftover scrap of Battleworld from Secret Wars. Or a possible What If? I see Hawkeye and Iron Man, Captain Marvel and Matt Murdock, Beast and Bruce Banner, but none of the characters are especially compelling. Or even likable.
From his body of work at Marvel, it’s fair to say that Bendis loves talking head scenes. That is exactly what readers get from the opening scene of Civil War II #3. Matt Murdock is given the floor to call a witness, and his witness is Carol Danvers. After all, there is no better plot device for talking heads than a courtroom.
For a comic with “War” in the title, the complete lack of fisticuffs is stunning. Twenty-four pages without a single punch. A couple arrows are shot. There’s some shouting. And there’s a lot of great art. Thankfully.
I would pay the $4 per issue just to look at Marquez’s art. I’d pay $5 an issue to have someone else writing a more interesting story worthy of Marquez’s art. The group shots of the heroes gathered are gorgeous. S.H.I.E.L.D. descending on the New York Stock Exchange is nearly iconic. The shot of Black Cat towards the end of the issue could be (and, knowing the mighty Marvel marketing machine it will be) a poster, even if she is wearing the Tantu Totem. Deeper than that, Marquez draws resignation in his characters. And rage, disgust, confidence, arrogance, and surprise. His characters act through the story as much as those same characters figures move across panels and fill space.
Olivier Coipel pops in to draw the conversation between Bruce Banner and Clint Barton that precipitates this issue. It’s two pages and it’s a wide range of downbeat expressions from Bruce Banner. Coipel keeps time nicely throughout those two pages, matching Marquez’s panel structure while Justin Ponsor keeps the color palette muddy and murky, bleeding into and feeding out of Coipel’s shadows, describing the emotions of the exchange.
Ponsor’s colors fill Marquez’s art with passion and rage. Ponsor also details the myriad of costumes in Civil War II #3 and adds in effects for sunsets and shadows, gamma tests and mown lawn. He even adds just the slightest tinge of green to Bruce Banner’s brown irises. I’m not sure it’s strong enough to project across fifty yards, but this is comics, and the art is pretty. Letterer Clayton Cowles has his work cut out for him. There are moments where Bendis backs off from dialog and he keeps captions to a minimum, but surrounding those quiet moments is the dialog of debate, the testimony of a court room, and the discussion of how and when to end a life. Cowles dodges and weaves through those moments, packing the dialog in effectively.
Those moments, though. The testimony in the courtroom neuters the tension of the battlefield. The debate is shouting for shouting sake. The assisted suicide negotiation is an emotional gut punch. But it all just feels like a non-event. Yes, the Hulk is dead, but there’s no drama in it. His killer turned himself in. Done.
And Hawkeye is just the latest character to act erratically. Tony Stark kidnapped Ulysses last issue. Hawkeye kills his pal this issue. One of the most accepting characters in the Marvel Universe decided to act out of fear that may or may not be scientifically grounded. Even worse, he didn’t go with his gut. Which simply isn’t Hawkeye. Hawkeye is not an order follower. He’s not a yes man. And he sure as hell isn’t a cold-blooded assassin. Taking it all a step further, the vision Ulysses shared showed Hawkeye impaled, but the damage done by a rampaging Hulk is in a big city with skyscrapers, concrete, and rebar.
I’m not fond of the “characters are written out of character” blame game, but Hawkeye KNOWS that Banner might be the only help for She-Hulk. Not only that, but Hawkeye has confidence in the Avengers. Or at least that’s the image of Hawkeye that doesn’t show up in Civil War II #3, choosing to fatally shoot first, even prematurely. It’s rather shortsighted for a guy who boasts “I can see things differently. My sight is more acute.”
The philosophical divide that should be powering this story along just isn’t compelling, and the series could honestly be titled “Professional Mistakes” or “Oops. My Bad.” and have the same emotional resonance. War Machine dying at the hands of Thanos is not event-worthy. It would have been two panels – three at most – of Infinity Gauntlet. Hawkeye acting on the wishes of a comrade isn’t event-worthy. It might be deep enough for a one-shot or special, but even as a subplot to Civil War II #3, it’s shoehorned and sloppy. A being with precognitive powers, no matter how powerful, is not event-worthy. To this point Bendis just has not provided rationale as to why this story is worthy of being an event. Heroes killing other heroes though, that’s gonna generate some event worthy moments though, right? We’re at the turning point of this series, and it can either become event worthy or totally forgettable. I’d like to see Marquez draw something event worthy.
As for the Spider-Men, they each get a couple lines of dialog and a couple panel appearances, but nothing especially character-centric. You could Photoshop in Nightcrawler or Stingray overtop Peter Parker or Miles Morales and it would be just as impactful, save for the fact that both characters look stunning thanks to David Marquez.