Page 45 Review by Stephen
Sometimes a collected edition reveals so many more layers, so many more component parts or exciting pieces of narrative language when read as a whole that my original, first issue's review becomes redundant. Our review for BLACK MONDAY MURDERS had to be re-written from scratch with just a single paragraph retained, such was the wider picture and complexity of its construction.
This, on the other hand, whilst certainly thoughtful and reading infinitely better as a whole, looks relatively straightforward, especially if I'm to avoid spoilers of some substantial developments within, so let's start with my review of #0 by Bendis & Coipel (rather than main artist Marquez), slightly pimped with a first choice observations, and see what merits adding later...
Elegantly drawn by Olivier Coipel and deliciously coloured by Justin Ponsor, Bendis really needed to surprise on the script if he was going to shed doubts that this wouldn't follow the law of diminishing returns following the original, exceptional CIVIL WAR and accusations of being a mere cash-in on the substandard film.
Bravely, until the final four pages, this is a refreshingly quiet prologue culminating in the mini-series' catalyst. In that moment a young man and woman - whom he's been fond of from afar - are transformed by a cloud of Terrigen Mist into something other than they were. Neither transmogrification works well for them and the boy finds himself seeing something he shouldn't. Or should he?
I'm now quite delighted with myself that I've managed to deliver the crux of the series without giving the game away: half of Marvel's superheroes will come to believe he shouldn't have seen it; the other half will be bloody delighted that he's answered their prayers.
Thread one: Jennifer Walters, a defence attorney (who is, by the by, as tall as an Amazon and a gamma shade of green), commands attention in her closing statement not by her appearance but by her eloquence. Her client, a former supervillain, has been slightly stitched up by the local constabulary (NYPD) through entrapment. Worse still, it's not as if they found anything worth charging him with but, seeking to justify their man-hour expenditure, they threw the book at him anyway and took him to court for speculating, idly. That's all he did. He mused about the "good old days", wondering what he might have done differently when he once wore a mask. Which he hasn't - for yonks - and didn't this time, either. He did nothing wrong, yet he was convicted. Jennifer Walters failed and the individual in question has been banged up to wrongs.
Later, high up in the sky aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, its commander Maria Hill speculates that he would have done it again:
"They always do."
So that's the person in charge of the U.N. Peacekeeping Task Force, then: not only presuming guilty until proven innocent, but resolutely blinkered when it comes to rehabilitation. Which is nice. And if you think that's got Jennifer's goat, you wait until you discover what happened during the innocent's intervening hours.
I mention all this because I cannot see how this pertains to the coming storm in any way whatsoev - oh wait, now I do. Again, this is wonderfully underplayed by Coipel. There's a look in Walters' eyes which is almost an ellipsis. But it has nothing to do with the individual's identity - only his conviction and Hill's supposition.
Thread two: Colonel James Rhodes is summoned to the White House. Specifically, he is summoned to its Situation Room. There isn't a situation. As War Machine (a sort of gun-metal-grey Iron Man stand-in / knock off) Colonel James Rhodes has just diffused the most recent situation in Latveria. No, he's been called to the Situation Room because it's far more private than the Oval Office, for a one-on-one private consultation with the President who makes Colonel Rhodes a most unexpected offer as well as a future trajectory which Rhodes could never have seen coming.
Ooh, I'm doing rather well in my crypticism, aren't I? This time I really do not have a clue as to how this might impact on what looks likely to follow. Except... do you know who James' best friend is? Ah, you won't need to. Bendis is ever so brilliant and all will be laid clear within.
Thread three: Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel is back on deck, the deck belonging to The Triskelion, headquarters and home of the Ultimates, an arm of the Avengers which deals with extraterrestrial and planetary-wide threats. She receives a visitor, an old friend who wonders how she's doing on zero-hours sleep. The thing is, you see, Carol has taken command of three separate superhero institutions, co-ordinating them in order to avoid the disaster which she sees as inevitable: the day that a situation arises which Earth's metahumans will finally fail to react to in time.
So many of these so-called near-disasters are only narrowly averted every year in the Marvel Universe, lest the company begins publishing one long cholesterol-crazed picnic and Peter Parker porks-out something chronic. Even then, when I type "near-disasters" I mean complete catastrophes. During the recent SECRET WARS, for example, the Marvel Universe ceased to exist. Bit of a lose, really.
"The illusion of control. It'll eat you alive," predicts therapist Doc Samson.
I know exactly where that one's going.
So in addition to its relative tranquillity and the space it has afforded Coipel to turn in a truly nuanced performance with slow, subtle reactions and the thoughts lingering behind the eyes of those in conversation, what I liked was this: relatively minor characters coming to the fore and providing their own current perspectives on their present circumstances and what they infer from them for the future.
Unfortunately as the legendary, much loved and now much missed Leonard Cohen once growled:
"I've seen the future, brother: it is murder."
Now that I've read the whole book, that last line was pretty damn prescient.
So let's just pop back to the beginning: the Terrigen mist catalyses nascent powers in any normal-looking individual who happens to have an Inhuman lineage. For more on that, please see the finest, self-contained INHUMANS graphic novel, one of the most literate and lambently beautiful books that Marvel has ever published.
In this instance the individual in question appears to have been imbued with the ability to not only see the future, but to allow others to do the same.
Now, given the clearly stated predispositions of Carol Danvers and Maria Hill, you'll be unsurprised to learn that both are determined to make the most of this gift. Their eyes, as they see it, are on the bigger picture, defending humanity at any cost. They are going to take those visions at their 'word' and assume that they will come to fruition if not interfered with: if not confronted right now, before they happen by contesting, arresting or fighting to the death anyone who is 'seen' committing said potential immolations in the future. Anyone, really, who leaves the bottle off the pop or the fridge door open.
To Tony Stark, that is a scientifically unproven and illogical, emotional leap of faith and a dangerous, unjustifiable, immoral course of action.
Why should you have the right to arrest someone for something they haven't done? How can you assume any future will come to pass if not averted when all of them have been averted and so proven them to have been only possible futures? Plus, who is to say that what is envisaged isn't done without bias - the personal history and current emotional state - of the Inhuman having them?
Worse still, when Stark works out how the seemingly precognitive ability functions, it opens up a whole new can of worms.
How do you feel about profiling?
I've still given away no specifics (nor will I below and I have been very careful with interior art) because that's how we roll; but you can see the conundrum and that conundrum is compelling.
Both sides seek to convert others to their cause and, to Bendis' credit, there are at least two sequences in which the opposing factions sit down with each other and debate - at length and in depth - the merits of their own arguments and the flaws in the other's. Some switch sides because of those arguments halfway through. But Carol Danvers is too obstinate, too convinced in her own righteousness to listen and the emotional reaction, ironically and semi-understandably under the very specific circumstances, is Stark's.
Communication gives way to confrontation when the threats are deemed imminent and those very threats become personal because they involve those close to home whom they love - not just as victims, either, but as the most unlikely perpetrators - and they constantly force each other's hands.
It's not without minor flaws (including Panini's design - yet again). The big battles involve so many combatants that they're actually quite boring. The individual plight of the protagonists and so your emotional involvement with them is lost in the mass spectacle and the booyah dialogue suffers in those scenarios too. But, like the original CIVIL WAR, the wider picture presented has something to say and Bendis has chosen both his significant victims of disaster and his equally significant victims of presumption very cleverly for maximum, honest-to-god dilemma.
Plus I perceive how one of these visions will wittily [REDACTED] a future development whose paving has already been laid, lo these recent months elsewhere.
Body count high, if that means much to you. And already we know that it does.