The Week in Marvel Comics – Civil War (2015) and Contest of Champions (2015)

What’s old is new once again.  This week I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at two series that stem from the current Secret Wars event going on in Marvel Comics.  Both are “reflections” of previous comic book limited series, meaning that the title and basic premise of each shadow the original, but have different takes based on updated comic book continuity.  These books are sort of an extended “What If?” tale as popularized in the 1970’s and 80’s which told tales of an alternate reality.  Except they aren’t.  But they are.  Confused?  Me, too.

The cover to Civil War (2015) #1
The cover to Civil War (2015) #1

Civil War (2015) is an entertaining, well-thought out series which takes the premise that things went horribly wrong in the attack on The Raft and instead of leading to a battle in the middle of New York which led to Captain America ending the Civil War with his surrender, the fighting went on and became even more polarized.  America was divided into East and West with the East under the leadership of Iron Man and simply called “The Iron” while the West fell under Captain America and was called “The Blue.”  Issue one begins with hopes of a peace settlement between these two long fighting factions only to see that hope both literally and figuratively die.  The entirety of the series takes place on Battleworld and in continuity with the Secret Wars event.

What makes Civil War work is that it is believable as a story (as believable as anything can be in a world of superheroes and mutants).  It’s main focus is not on powers and battle sequences – although there is plenty of both.  Charles Soule does a great job of crafting a very human story about people who are struggling to come to terms with their ideals and viewing one another as enemies when they actually have much more in common.  It’s a story about the dehumanization of war and how easily it is for us to lose ourselves in the conflict.  It’s resolution is – unexpected and equally plausible, especially for long time Marvel Comics readers.  Leinil Francis Yu captures Soule’s words well in art form.  Together they make this an enjoyable read.

The cover to Contest of Champions (2015)
The cover to Contest of Champions (2015)

On the other end of the spectrum, is Contest of Champions (2015) – a book that doesn’t flow well, isn’t particularly well-written, and is only a vehicle for the app it’s tied to.  Based on the very first limited series done by Marvel which featured battles between superheroes tied together in a contest between two celestial level beings, the first issue of this series seems to have a similar premise.  And just as contrived as that first series was to sell books, this one is equally contrived.  Blatantly based on an app which was based on the original series, this book is as disjointed and unoriginal as any book based on a video game or toy.  The entire first issue is simply a set up to let the reader know there is another contest of champions – a waste of time since the cover and the title alone let you know what’s coming.

It’s also difficult to understand the series since it takes place after the Secret Wars event – an event that is still three issues away from concluding.  What happened on Battleworld?  Why is the Maestro – the alternate version of the Hulk from a dystopian future – still around?  The series launched despite the delays in concluding the “summer” event which only leads to more confusion.  The comic also apparently serves as a vehicle to introduce new characters into the app and so it’s hard to take them seriously as contributing to the lore of the Marvel universe.  I’m a huge fan of turning good stories into games where you can interact and enter into the story, but going the other way around seems to be a cheap ploy to make more money.

When Marvel sticks to good, innovative storytelling they do a great job.  When they go back to the equivalent of hawking Hostess Twinkies, they falter.

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