As the country splits into halves by the ideologies of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark in “Civil War” #1, Charles Soule and Leinil Francis Yu ask an important question: at what point does the war machine become one of perpetual motion? This oversized first chapter focuses on creating accord between the heroes of the Marvel Universe as characterized, for better or worse, by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven in the miniseries of the same name from 2006. It has little to do with the overarching plots of “Secret Wars,” serving more as a “What If?” story that changes one detail of the original ending and entrenches its reality in a never-ending struggle. This is a war comic book more than a super hero tale, addressing how to end a conflict that has gone on too long and if it’s even possible to do so at all.
At some point during the war in Prison 42, someone set up a bomb to detonate the prison with the heroes and villains still inside. Soule keeps the answer to this whodunit unclear for now as both sides point fingers and heightens the Stamford incident as Cloak is unable to rescue everyone and accidentally teleports the blast into Manhattan, eradicating 15 million people and creating an even bigger disaster than before. It’s a smart storytelling device — as a sequel, take what works and heighten it.
Readers find out what happened between then and the unspecified present in a series of recap pages by Leinil Francis Yu, who provides huge splashes with action and destruction. Yu expanded his scope during the “Infinity” crossover and his pages here reflect a bigger sense of scale; he uses expansive panels to stretch out the scope and, though the rest of the book is talking heads, he minimizes background detail to focus on the characters at the fore since they are driving the series.
One of the bigger complaints of the original was that many heroes acted out of character or ignored some of their better qualities for the sake of the story itself. Readers who fell on the opposing opinion of those actions may still be frustrated by this series; Soule captures the tone and feel of Millar’s work, even down to Tony and Steve’s narrowed worldviews. In fact, the writer doubles down on these aspects to create a new United States where there is a literal dividing line through the middle of the country; “Whose side are you on?” becomes a geographical concern. Steve is still in bed with Frank Castle, as the Punishers are an off-panel threat to anyone that defies the simplistic laws of his half of the country.
Soule takes the time to show compassion on both sides of the line, which is important since so much of the rest of the issue revolves around headstrong ideology and pointing fingers. The breakdown is basic — Tony’s territory is faring far better than Steve’s — but, again, logically follows from the beats of the original. In this reality, though, Steve never got the chance to surrender and end things. Soule guides readers to the realization that these are no longer heroes but generals and leaders and soldiers.
The book has little to do with its “Secret Wars” status and is actually confusing in that regard, considering the whole of the United States and other nations exist within the confines of this section of Battleworld. It’s fine, though, as there’s plenty of story to tell without those explanations. Ultimately, because this series works as a sequel to “Civil War,” a reader’s enjoyment will be based on how they felt about the characters in the original, because they behave in very much the same way here.