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WTF was going on with Carol Danvers in Civil War II?
It’s no secret that Carol Danvers is a lady with a tumultuous past.
She had a troubled home life, joined and left the Air Force, received a blood transfusion that gave her with superpowers, had one ex die of cancer and another murdered by Mystique, was sexually assaulted in one of the most notoriously bad comics of all time, had her powers stolen by Rogue, spent time in a coma, became Binary and left Earth entirely for a while, came back, lost her powers, discovered that she suffered from alcoholism, went into recovery, led the Avengers, dated Wonder Man, broke up with Wonder Man, got a cat and a boyfriend while being written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, joined various superteams, finally everything was going great, and, well, then... Civil War II happened.
Phew.Civil War II was a company-wide crossover at Marvel in 2016. The bleak political turns of the U.S. that year and the bizarre plotline of this book seem inextricably linked to one another. Real life made no sense in 2016, and likewise, Civil War II does not make sense. The film Captain America: Civil War was released in May of 2016 to great box office returns. Besides that, even if filming didn’t begin until 2018, the Captain Marvel movie had been in development as far back as 2013. While there are a lot of reasons why any new Carol Danvers fans would want to start just about anywhere else on their reading list to get a feel for the character, this was one of the first major crossovers to focus on Carol as an essential protagonist.
The premise of Civil War II is that a young person named Ulysses becomes an Inhuman and believes that his power is to see the future. Later it turns out that he actually sees multiple futures and he’s pretty much a God so he “dies” and leaves Earth to become a cosmic entity. Though he is the cause of everything that happens in the story, we don’t find out much about Ulysses. Briefly, he presents a moral point for Carol and Tony to argue over.
Surprisingly logically, Tony insists that nothing is known about Ulysses and it is ill-advised to depend on his precognisant skills. Despite this being obvious fact, Carol takes a team to act against Ulysses’ warnings. He had said that they would eventually be killed by Thanos, and so the team preemptively attacks Thanos. James Rhodes dies in battle and She-Hulk is nearly destroyed. Later, Carol and her team apprehend the Hulk while acting on another advisement, and Bruce Banner is shot and killed by Hawkeye for pretty much no reason. Around this time, Carol starts taking actions to control the future that are blatantly unethical. This builds to a very pointless fight in which she and Tony fight and he nearly dies.
There is no character that acts consistently to who they are in this storyline, with the exception of Tony Stark. While his drive to prevent severe civil rights violations is logical, the opposition is based around the belief that people should be punished before they ever commit a crime, which is unquestionably wrong. Why exactly so many superheroes go along with this very bad plan is extremely difficult to distinguish and is never satisfactorily explained. Several people on the team seem to arbitrarily agree with Carol only to drop off later with no real reasoning behind their choices.
For instance, T’Challa point blank admits he only followed Carol then later resigned because Steve did, which makes him seem wishy-washy and easily led astray in a way that doesn’t add up with what we know of the character. She-Hulk, who is a highly experienced lawyer, apparently agrees with the extreme violation of human rights intrinsic to Carol’s new methods, going so far as to state her emphatic approval while lying near death in a hospital bed. Johnny Storm appears as the somber side piece of Medusa. Hank McCoy shows up to provide pages of rambling context and to scold other characters for experimenting on themselves, a hypocritical stance for someone who is covered in blue fur from head to toe as a result of experimenting on himself. The typically bold America Chavez stutters and backs away from a raging Tony Stark. James Rhodes dies in the very first encounter with a supervillain in the story with scarce commentary from his close friends. In the end, his death serves as little more than another arguing point between Tony and Carol. Individually, these moments would stand out as glaring mischaracterizations, but rolled all together in this series, they become truly bewildering.
Perhaps most glaringly, Carol, a character who has as much experience as a superhero as just about anyone involved in this story, seems paradoxically green here, even in contrast to much younger heroes like Ms. Marvel and Miles Morales. In this story, despite her long history, the complicated ethics of being a superhero appear to have utterly blindsided her. There is a scene in which she interrogates a prisoner, comes up with nothing, then openly insists that the group will “find something” to justify illegally holding them. Her rapid slide into fascist tactics is beyond confusing, especially considering her long and complicated history with authority and her character-defining need to retain personal autonomy even within groups of notoriously strong, demanding personalities. Despite having had a long-standing relationship with James Rhodes, his death barely gives her pause, and for Tony, it seems like just another excuse to lose his temper and thrash around insulting people.Civil War II is truly a baffling story. Marvel’s last few years have given us some astonishing tales in books like The Mighty Thor, Black Panther, and Ms. Marvel, but their crossovers and the political commentary that is the basis of many of many Marvel characters has been wildly inconsistent and often detrimental to the point the writers themselves seem to be trying to make. There hadn’t been sustainable philosophical substance in the first Civil War to justify the second. While the subject of pointless company crossovers that are prohibitively expensive for most readers and seldom live up to their hype is a subject for another time and is not a problem exclusive to this story arc, but even as crossovers go, looking back, this one rate as being pretty unnecessary.
Marvel as an entity has ever sent mixed messages of morality. Even the original Civil War arc presents a lot of questionable plot threads under closer examination, but Civil War II is all over the place with very heavy themes that are currently extremely relevant, yet it fails to productively or even clearly comment on that. Carol had just recently established herself as a highly diplomatic leader and a team player via her many team affiliations with groups like the Ultimates, Alpha Flight, and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Her bizarre inability to see basic reason and her near complete disregard for the rapidly escalating death toll among her friends and peers makes it nearly impossible to discern her motives here.
Sad to say, Carol is pretty unsympathetic here, but on the other hand, so is everyone else. The commentary that could be provided via a superpowered paramilitary group attempting to prevent future crimes and not caring that they’re persecuting the innocent when doing so is treated far too flippantly here to have any staying power beyond the pages of the series. This story tosses around fascistic ideology extremely casually and presents it as simply another side of an argument, obscuring what is right or wrong, which reads as incredibly bizarre considering that one character is openly pursuing fascism. There is a truly perplexing scene in which Carol asks Steve to convince others that she “isn’t the devil." This is coming from a person that very nearly single-handedly caused multiple deaths, so it's off-putting to see her turn the entire scenario into being about her own ego rather than the tangible damage that had been done. In short, when your words and actions actually make Tony Stark look emotionally present and responsible, you have gone about as far off the rails as a person could go.
Carol was used as the counterpoint in this story because she was available, not because of any personal history or context in her own life that would imply the secret fascistic leanings she displays here. Once the series ended, the characters were all simply rolled into their next events and the dead were returned to life, rendering these issues more or less meaningless even in context to the time period. Whatever was going on with Carol here, she seemed to get over it pretty quickly. On the plus side, so did the audience.