Graphic Novel Review: Civil War II tie-ins

All-New, All-Different Avengers: Civil War II

All-New, All-Different Avengers: Civil War II - Credit: Archant

War! What is it good for? Well, there’s Invincible Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy New Guard, and All-New, All-Different Avengers for starters, as they all produce Civil War II volumes tieing in to the Marvel crossover epic.

Invincible Iron Man: Civil War II

Invincible Iron Man: Civil War II - Credit: Archant

(Panini Books)

Reports from the frontline of the second Marvel heroes Civil War continue to roll in, and to be brutally honest, when you’ve read one debate about the merits of predictive strikes on potential threats versus the presumption of innocence before committing a crime then you’ve read them all.

Unlike the original Civil War, which offered a wider storytelling scope in the broad theme of the registration of superpowered humans, the focus this time round is much tighter, and even the main series has only a handful of narrative beats. So how do these spin-offs fare?

With Tony Stark once again one of the main protagonists in the war, his own book seems content to skip over much of what is told elsewhere to concentrate instead on the collapse of Stark’s empire.

Guardians of the Galaxy New Guard: Civil War II

Guardians of the Galaxy New Guard: Civil War II - Credit: Archant

Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the playboy futurist lose his business, his lover and his fortune, and there’s little doubt that the status quo will eventually be restored, but writer Brian Michael Bendis obviously relishes pulling the rug out from under the usually assured and arrogant Tony and letting him suffer.

The major difference here is that even during his lowest points Stark was always able to rely on the support and friendship of his best pal James “Rhodey” Rhodes, better known to the world at large as War Machine. But Rhodey’s death at the hands of the mad god Thanos was not only the trigger for the latest Civil War, but has left Tony floundering and alone.

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To make matters worse, his opposite number in the war is fellow Avenger Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, who was romantically involved with the late War Machine. It’s not a good day to be Iron Man, and the intervention of Victor Von Doom is only going to make matters worse.

This book concludes the current Iron Man volume ahead of a forthcoming relaunch with schoolgirl genius Riri Williams wearing a retro-engineered suit of armour, with Stark’s fate revealed in the last issue of the main Civil War book.

Unlike his work on the lacklustre companion book International Iron Man, Bendis’ run in the main book has been largely successful, even if he’s pretty much riffing Robert Downey Jr’s movie portrayal of Stark throughout both series. It’s unfortunate the series has concluded so quickly, as there’s a sense of lost potential in seeing him develop the character further.

Meanwhile, in another Bendis-written book, we find the space-faring Guardians stranded on Earth following the destruction of their starship, something which will play out further in the next book.

Following one of the series’ strongest stand-alone issues, a quiet character piece between the storm of major storylines, the team answers a call from former team-mate Danvers to join her side in the Civil War, with devastating consequences for their means of interstellar travel.

But that’s not even the worst thing that happens.

Thanos, Rhodey’s killer and Guardian Gamora’s adopted father, is being kept prisoner by Captain Marvel, even though she knows full well that Gamora will stop at nothing to destroy him. It’s a secret she shares with team leader Peter (Star-Lord) Quill, and the inevitable revelation tears the Guardians apart…

Just as he comes to the end of his tenure on the Guardians, Bendis finally seems to be delivering the goods, and this collection is probably the strongest we’ve seen in a very long time. One of the biggest criticisms of Bendis’ team books is the lack of any meaningful plot, but he finally seems to be taking note and developing his narrative alongside his characters. If everything works out we could be looking at a spectacular finale to his Guardians run.

Wrapping up this war report is the latest from the main team of Avengers, which includes Iron Man, the Sam Wilson Captain America, the Jane Foster Thor, Nova, Miles Morales Spidey, Ms Marvel and the Vision.

The three regular issues featured here are collected alongside an annual so bad I’m just going to forget it happened, a focus on fan-fiction within the context of the Marvel Universe that just isn’t funny or clever, no matter how hard it tries.

In contrast, the rest of the book includes some strong instalments focusing on how Civil War II impacted on three different characters to varying degrees. Following a conversation with precognisant Inhuman Ulysses, the Vision is inspired by arguments of predictive justice to take drastic action against time-travelling despot Kang the Conqueror; the new Wasp, Nadia Pym, tries to “fix” the rift between the superheroes using science; and then Thor learns a lesson about interfering in human affairs from the guardian of the rainbow bridge, Heimdall…

Writer Mark Waid draws on an encyclopaedic knowledge of Marvel history to bring a rich depth to his storytelling, while also keeping the reader guessing about where he’s going with his narratives. He’s joined here by a rich mix of artistic talent, most of which is wasted on the annual, with Adam Kubert providing fantastic visuals for the main series books.

The recent resolution of Civil War II means we should be able to draw a line under this latest saga, even though its ramifications will be felt for a long time to come. Tie-in titles such as those collected here show the potential for developing the deeper themes of crossover epics, without feeling the need to get too bogged down in action set-pieces, and as a result are usually more satisfying than the main series, which is certainly the case here.