By Brian Michael Bendis, Olivier Coipel, Justin Ponsor, and VC’s Clayton Cowles
Civil War II #0 serves little purpose other than to prop up the flimsiest of philosophical tenets upon a foundation of hollow dialogue and listless art. It posits a fracture of ideals so nonsensically that it makes the conflict in the original Civil War series look like a legitimate Lincolnian house-divided conundrum. But its greatest sin is that it fails to deliver as an immersive experience because it spends the vast majority of its pages talking TO you and it certainly isn’t talking up to you, either. It lacks nuance, yes, but worse, it lacks any semblance of purpose.
There is nothing that happens in this script that couldn’t happen in four pages or less of Civil War II #1. It clearly wants to put pieces in place for the real meat of the story, but it only further highlights its own unnecessary existence through its sluggish pace and lack of anything resembling an emotional hook. While it leans on the crutch of being a #0 issue, its lack of an inciting event to justify what’s to come is overburdened with making sure the reader understands the Orwellian concept of thought-policing and preemptive defensive maneuvers wrought by fear and a lack of control. Bendis comes just barely shy of having Deadpool appear in the corner of the page to go, “Okay class, so everybody gets what’s happening, yeah?” She-Hulk’s lecture (and make no mistake, it’s more lecture than it is speech) is bluntly packaged in a court-room closing argument to introduce this determinist pivot point that will bifurcate our heroes. Captain Marvel represents our fearful and speciously pragmatic post-9/11 counter to She-Hulk’s plea for libertarian judgment. If it weren’t so hollow and well-tread in this, the year 2016, it’s a digestible enough morsel of philosophical conflict, but to imagine that any of the characters in this fictional universe would adhere to such a clear-cut deterministic stance with little in the way to prop it up as a reactionary position is unfortunate.
Bendis’ dialogue is surprisingly solemn throughout, devoid of his signature quips and banter, and drains the characters of any real emotional heft save for the issue’s only redeeming interaction between Carol and Doc Samson. When Doc Samson is the saving grace of an issue, that’s a red flag. Their exchange injects some level of familiarity and humanity into an otherwise emotionally pallid issue, but its primary purpose of attempting to arouse some level of, if not empathy, at least sympathy for Carol’s position is far too thinly veiled. A back-and-forth between Maria Hill and She-Hulk has some of Bendis’ signature Mamet stylings in its repetitive nature, but like most of the issue, the characters act more as props than as believable and (ironically) free-thinking individuals.
The cardboard cutout aura of the characters is only reinforced by Coipel’s art this issue, which is a shame because Coipel is more often than not the strongest asset on a superhero property. His rendering is sharp and his eye for balanced anatomy is graceful, but there is a stilted nature to the way these renderings interact with their surroundings here. Some of that lies in the choice of having characters overlap panel borders, placing them on a different plane than their tactile world, and some of that lies in the lack of detail given to the backgrounds. Again, it’s akin to reading a page made up of colorforms or action figures without the action. And that’s a problem; there needs to be some semblance of action for Coipel to draw and outside of a demonic Inhuman (maybe?) leaping in one panel, it’s talking heads galore. The far too dire seriousness of dialogue is carried over to most of the facial features as well (Rhodey looks like he’s never blinked once in his life, for instance) and She-Hulk looks as though she’s a model staring off into the distance during a photo shoot, drearily dreaming of a reason, any reason, to be aboard this flying metaphor of a ship. Coipel can draw the hell out of superheroes, bring them to glorious life, but he has to be given something to work with, so why he was chosen for this morose script is a larger question than anything posited in the script itself.
Justin Ponsor definitely matches the tone of the issue, keeping things on the colder side with a subdued palette that springs to life with a hellishly ensanguined closing sequence. The use of lens flare lighting shimmer throughout don’t add much dynamically, but often make the figures look waxy and frozen. Ponsor wasn’t given much to work with in the way of backgrounds, so he’s hardly at fault for trying to figure out how to make swaths of gradient applications fill the voids. There’s some solid texturing at work though, and virtually all sense of depth can be attributed to him as he rounds out musculature and roughs up debris with subtle shading and sponging.
Civil War II #0 presents itself as setting the stage for the real fallout to come; to provide the quieter and insightful glimpses into the thematic origins of our morality chess pieces in tights. But instead of exploring the inherent internal conflicts through familiar and rich characterizations, it clumsily cobbles together a Philosophy 101 essay on Philip K. Dick over the course of twenty-two pages when its basic plot points could have easily fit into a much shorter epilogue at the beginning issue of Civil War II proper. The only glimmer of life coming in an impromptu therapy session, the script and art almost work harder at pushing you away than at trying to engage you. Hollow, listless, and wholly unnecessary, Civil War II #0 lacks a single engaging element as it forcefully sits you down to listen to its well-worn premise. If this preamble issue is indicative of the event to come, then the only side to choose will be what other comics you’ll be buying.