Brian Michael Bendis breaks down that shocking death in Civil War II

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Jun 22, 2016, 7:52 AM EDT

It might have the same name, but Marvel Comics’ Civil War II event is a very different animal than the Captain America sequel that just blew up the box office. So, what does the guy writing it have to say about the central death at the heart of the conflict?

Spoilers ahead for Marvel’s Civil War II comic arc, though everything we’re talking about has already been published!

The crux of the story revolves around a new Inhuman named Ulysses, who has the ability to see the future (or at least a version of it). The Inhumans bring this skill to the attention of Captain Marvel and the Ultimates, and they use it to repel a potential world-ending attack. Then Ulysses sees Thanos causing some trouble, so Captain Marvel assembles a team to ambush him. That mission does not go well, and James “Rhodey” Rhodes is killed. It’s a brutal moment, and we’re honestly still reeling a bit from that gut-wrenching panel.

So, why did Rhodey have to die? Writer Brian Michael Bendis told io9 that particular twist was born from the need to connect this story and give it weighted stakes between Iron Man and Captain Marvel. Since Rhodey is Tony Stark’s best friend, and romantically involved with Captain Marvel, Bendis said Rhodey (sadly) proved the perfect fit to give them both something to fight for.

Here’s an excerpt from his comments:

“The one hurdle I had was the idea that [Iron Man and Captain Marvel] are both smart, good people and they’ve been through Civil War. What would make [these characters] throw the gauntlet down again? It was really what other writers had gifted me—that Rhodey was Tony’s best friend and also romantically connected to Carol—and then I said out loud [his death] is something they would fight for.

The [central] idea is good but something personal would really help the audience get to that ‘they’re going to do it again’ thing. Do you know what I mean? They have to go the distance. It just so happened that the same person was Tony’s friend and Carol’s romantic friend and I did say out loud, “I don’t know exactly where they’re going to land in the Civil War movie but I know Rhodey gets hurt and I’m worried about even the concept of poaching something. It’s not something I want to do. Nobody at Marvel on any level felt that what it was because they saw where it was coming from.”

Bendis also tackled the touchy question of killing a strong black hero, and using his death as a catalyst for this conflict. He noted the death was born organically from a storytelling perspective, and felt it would be a disservice to the story not to include it. He also worried about making that decision based solely on the character’s race, since the writing team truly believed it was the right way to go:

“Then I was faced with the idea if I don’t go down this road with this story, that at this moment is telling itself, if I don’t do that, then isn’t it kind of the opposite of the right thing to do? Are we not now treating characters equally? Isn’t diversity about equality? If this was a white character, we wouldn’t think twice about it.”

What do you think of the decision to kill off Rhodey? Did it feel cheap, or provide some emotional weight to the story?

(Via io9)