SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for Marvel's "Civil War II" #1, on sale now.
It was clear from the start that Marvel's "Civil War II" would involve at least one major casualty. The publisher promoted it heavily in its marketing, and it's certainly keeping in "Civil War" tradition -- the original 2006-2007 story began with several of the New Warriors dying in the inciting incident (supervillain Nitro detonating in Stamford, Connecticut) and ended with the assassination of Captain America.
It's likely the death in this week's "Civil War II" #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez will provoke a strong reaction from comics fans, even if it's not completely surprising: The issue makes it clear that, as suggested from the Free Comic Book Day "Civil War II" story released last month, War Machine -- James "Rhodey" Rhodes and Tony Stark's best friend -- died in a confrontation with Thanos. This is a significant development -- and potentially a controversial one -- as not only has War Machine's status risen greatly in recent years due to Don Cheadle's portrayal in multiple Marvel Studios films (and first Terrence Howard in 2008's "Iron Man"), he's also one of the highest-profile Black superheroes -- a relatively small group -- on Marvel's character roster.
In a time of increased scrutiny at major comic book publishers for issues of representation and diversity, the death of a minority character as prominent as War Machine is likely to yield criticism. Additionally, it calls to mind one of the more controversial aspects of the original "Civil War," the death of Bill Foster -- the lesser-known superhero Black Goliath -- which was viewed by some as dispensing of an all-too-rare Black character simply to further a storyline.
Marvel Senior Vice President of Publishing and "Civil War II" editor Tom Brevoort discussed the development in an interview with Newsarama. "We were not unaware that killing Rhodey meant we'd have a story where an African American character dies, which is something that happens prevalently in our medium," Brevoort said. "That's a conversation that we had. In our particular retreat where we talked about this, ["Black Panther"] writer Ta-Nehisi Coates was in the retreat for the first time. He heard all of this, and afterwards, he sent a long missive to myself and Axel, which we forwarded to Brian and we all spoke about, in terms of what he thought the reaction would be and what the ramifications would be, that we had to consider that from all sides. And we have."
Additionally, Brevoort commented that Marvel decided to kill Rhodey because of what he means to the two "Civil War II" main characters -- his longstanding friendship with Tony Stark/Iron Man is well known, and he's had a romantic relationship with Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. In "Civil War II" #1, it's revealed that War Machine died during a failed ambush attack on Thanos, prompted by the future-forecasting new Inhuman, Ulysses. (That fight was depicted in the Free Comic Book Day story, but it wasn't totally clear until "Civil War II" #1 if that event actually "happened," or was premonition or dream sequence.) Tony Stark was already skeptical about utilizing Ulysses' powers, and Rhodey's death proves to be the final straw in sparking the conflict between Iron Man and Captain Marvel.
War Machine's comic book death also has something of a secondary, more "meta" significance: Due to images of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) standing over a fallen War Machine in "Captain America: Civil War" trailers, many fans guessed the live-action character might die in that film. Spoilers if you are one of the few who haven't yet seen the movie yet -- he didn't, but he does end up paralyzed, albeit on a road to recovery by the conclusion.
War Machine might not be the only major Marvel hero to die early in "Civil War II." She-Hulk -- another victim of the botched attack on Thanos -- is in a coma in the present-day sequences of "Civil War II" #1, and flatlines by the end of the issue. Marvel has remained coy on whether or not she makes it out of the event story alive, though, with Brevoort telling Newsarama that more answers are coming in issue #2. Of course, the same effectively applies to War Machine's death, as well -- with six issues of "Civil War II" left to go, surprises are certainly on the way, and no superhero death should reasonably be considered permanent at this point.
Still, it looks like there may be more deaths to come as "Civil War II" continues to unfold. In the solicitation text for July's "Civil War II" #3, it's stated that "One of the biggest heroes in the Marvel Universe will fall," and it's not yet clear if that was a reference to this death -- the solicitation was released weeks before the "Civil War II" FCBD story debuted -- or another one on the way. The story next continues in "Civil War II" #2, on sale June 15.