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Marvel Comics recently made official what a teaser postcard implied: they would be publishing Civil War II, a sequel to the popular event 2006 mini-series Civil War. There are some very understandable reasons that Marvel would want to bring back Civil War. However, this new series also poses some risks, both creatively and as an event comic. Since we know now that Civil War II is coming, what are the potential problems and what does Marvel need to do to avoid a disappointment?
Civil War was a huge seller for Marvel Comics in 2006. Written by Mark Millar, with art from Steven McNiven, Civil War was a novel idea that put into fruition what fans had discussed for years: what if the heroes fought other heroes. In this case, the issue was whether heroes should have to self-identify to the government and be registered. Iron Man led the contingent of heroes that accepted the registration while Captain America led those who felt it was a slap in the face and refused. The original Civil War series is what the upcoming film Captain America: Civil War will be loosely based on.
Today, some further details about Civil War II were released. In a contrast to the first Civil War, and going against what the teaser postcard depicted, Iron Man and Captain America (Sam Wilson) will actually not be on opposing sides. Rather, it appears that Iron Man will face off against a different captain – Captain Marvel. The issue in question is not government intervention this time. Civil War II will center on a mysterious figure who can predict the future. Captain Marvel wants to use this power to take advance, preemptive action against criminals while Iron Man (along with Captain America) disagrees.
It’s understandable that Marvel would like to revisit the success of the original Civil War series while also gaining some synergy from the Captain America movie. There is some encouraging signs, too — the fact that the sides had been mixed and there is a different “real world” issue at the core of the series. However, there are also some red flags. It has been revealed that a major character will die at the beginning of Civil War II, perhaps during an inciting incident that causes the sides to form.
During the original Civil War, Goliath was killed and then at the conclusion, Captain America appeared to be killed (but was somehow sent back in time). Relying on the shock of character deaths is a tricky proposition. Marvel has “killed” numerous characters during the 21st century and had them return. In addition to Steve Rogers, Johnny Storm, Hawkeye, and Bucky Barnes have been killed and come back shortly thereafter. This trend runs the risk of Marvel crying wolf too many times, meaning fans are not intrigued by these deaths since they do not feel they are lasting changes. Killing off characters is also a somewhat cheap way to generate dramatic tension, since it doesn’t come from genuine character development or interactions.
The other major element of Civil War II that is problematic is that it perpetuates the phase of nostalgia that Marvel Comics has been pursuing over the past couple of years. The big comic book event at Marvel in 2015 was Secret Wars, a series that bore the same name and some of the same elements of Marvel’s first mini-series success from 1984-5. Likewise, the lead-up and tie-ins to Secret Wars returned to many of the big events of Marvel from their history, like Planet Hulk, Age of Apocalypse, Old Man Logan, and many others, including — you guessed it — Civil War. Offering so many projects that are based on past series seems to indicate a dearth of fresh ideas from the House of Ideas. It also returns the “heroes vs. heroes” trope that Marvel has employed a lot lately and Brian Michael Bendis, who had been involved with many events, will be a major player. If fans see a comic that is too familiar, they may lose interest.
The reality is that Civil War II will probably sell well, if not very well. Marvel does big event series because they move comics. If the mini-series didn’t, Marvel wouldn’t offer one every year. Still, there are sales that are decent and ones that are blockbusters. By revisiting a comic series that is not barely a decade old, Marvel is treading on dangerous ground. Sacrificing a character (who will probably return soon) and reprising a recent series for sales may work in the short term, but it’s not an enduring recipe. From a creative standpoint, there are reasons why fans might be concerned that Civil War II will feel familiar. Perhaps it will be great, but if so, it will have to overcome some real obstacles.