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November 24, 2017

Civil War II: The Oath #1 (Review)


Civil War II: The Oath #1
Marvel Comics, January 25, 2017
Writer: Nick Spencer

“Civil War II: The Oath” is a new title spun out of American publisher Marvel Comics’ 2016 crossover promotional event called “Civil War II”. The plot for this saw two factions consisting of Marvel’s most popular mainstream character properties pitted against each other. The trigger was an ideological dispute concerning how best to utilize a new character named Ulysses and his ability to predict the future. The first faction, led by a female superhero called Captain Marvel, wanted to use this precognitive ability to stop crimes before they happen. The other side, led by Marvel Comics’ famous character Iron Man, want to study the ability first in order to ensure that the predictions are not affected by Ulysses’ own bias.

“The Oath” serves as an epilogue to the main “Civil War II” crossover event, but also relies on a story arc set up in the pages of the 2016 title “Captain America: Steve Rogers”. Captain America’s long character history has been controversially rewritten so that he has always been a double agent since the character’s creation in the 1940s (achieved through the use of a cosmic wish-granting artifact/plot device called the Cosmic Cube).

In this comic, the characters deal with the fallout of the “Civil War II” event. The conflict itself was resolved on its own because Ulysses evolved beyond human perception and vanished. The obligatory battle ended with Iron Man critically injured, comatose inside a life-sustaining device. Captain Marvel, on the other hand, was granted permission to launch a planetary defense program that would create a shield around Earth and keep it safe from a massive invasion by the alien Chitauri race, as predicted by Ulysses (and in that regard, see our review of The Ultimates).

The planetary defense system is so robust that it protects Earth not just from mere alien invasions but also from very powerful otherworldly threats – even something as powerful as the world-devouring cosmic being Galactus (a character which is more of a force of nature than a being, and one long used by Marvel Comics to precipitate galactic crises). There is potential in this with regard to managing Marvel Comics’ ridiculously expansive publisher-wide continuity. Isolating Earth from the rest of Marvel’s fictional universe could help limit the consequences of the more universe-shaking storylines for which Marvel Comics are famous. It offers writers respite from the need to take cosmic/godlike beings into account when plotting their stories. However, there are doubts as to whether this plot device will be used (or, indeed, last longer than a few issues).

All of the events depicted in “The Oath” are framed by a scene of Captain America talking to Iron Man’s inanimate body. Captain America admonishes his non-responsive friend, and reveals that he’s no longer the Steve Rogers that he knew (of course, Iron Man’s status as a coma victim means the character does not hear this revelation, and only readers will be aware of the context behind Captain America’s change in character.)

In terms of writing, we can’t find fault in “The Oath”. We have reviewed Nick Spencer’s other works in the past and have praised his plotting and dialogue work. Mr Spencer is equally consistent in “The Oath”. Captain America’s lines are deftly-written, and in one case even reflects a common reader complaint against contemporary Marvel comic books:

“You call yourselves ‘heroes’ while you waste most of your time infighting and settling petty grudges,” Captain America rants in one panel. In the next panel, he recounts defending Iron Man by pointing out that for all his mistakes, he has still saved the world countless times over. But Captain America ends the monologue with a scathing question: “Does this world look saved?”

On the other hand, this issue is oddly similar in structure to Superman #77 (DC Comics, March 1993). In that issue, Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor, under the assumed identity of a benevolent parallel reality counterpart, visits Superman’s coffin. Luthor gloats, even confessing to a murder. Barring that complaint, and under the assumption that most readers will not have a recollection of that now obscure Superman comic, we can praise Mr Spencer’s solid writing in “Civil War II: The Oath”.

But our praise is not necessarily a recommendation. The comic itself, while written well, is unnecessary and perfectly skippable. Most of the important revelations in the comic have already been addressed in the main “Civil War II” series.

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