Whether they wanted to be a part of it or not, pretty much every Marvel comic released in the past few months offered some sort of tie-in to “Civil War II.” While this proved to be a sure-fire sales-booster for titles who tied into the original event series, this time around has served as a proof of the law of diminishing returns. That’s not to say that there haven’t been good stories told under the “Civil War II” banner. In the case of these two distaff “Avengers” titles from writer Al Ewing, however, their success is directly proportional to how closely they tie into the events of this particular crossover.
Seeing as how Carol Danvers is one of the key figureheads in “Civil War II,” it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Ultimates: Omniversal vol. 2 has the closer ties. After a strong first volume where her team, also featuring the Black Panther, Ms. America, Monica “Spectrum” Rambeau, and Adam “The Blue Marvel” Brashear, solved the problem of Galactus and went on a journey outside of time, this one hits the sophomore slump. Mainly as a result of its connections to the event in question which leads to a choppy narrative in the first half if you haven’t been reading it. Which I haven’t. There’s also the matter of how the first volume showed these intelligent, ambitious, and opinionated people capable of working together for great things only to have their team fall apart in the second. It’s not that I don’t think they’d eventually have a falling out, but to have it occur so quickly smacks of editorial meddling secondary to the crossover.
All of this is too bad because there’s strong work in the individual issues. Even though I have yet to read “Civil War II” Ewing does a good job of dramatizing the emotional fallout from Thanos’ fight with the Ultimates. For that matter, he does a great job handling the Mad Titan, emphasizing how skilled a manipulator he is before breaking out the power to achieve his goals. There’s also a good done-in-one which showcases the team working with Ulysses, the Inhuman precog at the center of the event, to help save an interdimensional traveller. I also liked the arc of Connor Sims, who starts off the volume in a bad place before inadvertently winding up in a better one thanks to Thanos’ meddling. It was also nice to see the team coming together against Thanos at the end, defeating him with some good old-fashioned on-the-spot superhero improvisation. Honestly, the Mad Titan deserves an MVP award for this volume as he provides the only through-line for the plot of these issues while also giving them what little momentum they have.
Thanos doesn’t even get name-checked in New Avengers: A.I.M vol. 3, but one of his former cohorts is on hand to be the big bad here: The Maker, the character formerly known as Ultimate Reed Richards. His organization, W.H.I.S.P.E.R., has been lurking in the shadows for the past two volumes, setting things up for their takedown of the Roberto “Sunspot” Da Costa-led Avengers Idea Mechanics, the one group standing between them and world domination. The Maker has even assembled a New Revengers group for this purpose, and now all he needs is the right distraction. A superhero civil war? That in itself isn’t enough for an opportunity. However, when S.H.I.E.L.D.’s John Garrett is delegated the task of taking down A.I.M. and kicks it off by capturing Da Costa’s mole in his organization, causing A.I.M.’s leader to send some of his best in to rescue her, The Maker now has his opportunity.
This arc only pays lip service to the goings-on in “Civil War II” and is all the better for it. That’s because Ewing has been playing the long game with his plotting since the first volume and it all pays off here. Yes, it starts off with the bad guys holding all the cards, but Da Costa is subsequently shown to be the smartest guy in whatever room he happens to be in. The dudebro-to-corporate executive arc the character underwent in Jonathan Hickman’s “Avengers” run was fun to witness, but Ewing really sells the idea that the character is worthy of his status and position. There are a ton of reveals and twists that Da Costa is shown to be responsible for and they all satisfy because they were properly set up. Throw in plenty of clever one-liners, some well-executed fanservice — particularly with Da Costa’s “New Mutants” history — and I’m honestly left wondering if I’ll read a better superhero comic this year.
“New Avengers” also benefits from the slick, professional art of Paco Medina for the six issues of the main arc, and capable work from Carlo Barberi in the epilogue. Medina has never been an exceptional stylist, but his work is always full of energy and clear storytelling. His work also benefits from the coloring work of Jesus Alburtov. There’s a brightness to the coloring which suits it well, compared to the murkiness which accompanied the work of original series artist Gerardo Sandoval.
Kenneth Rocafort’s work may have more style than Medina’s, as well as more intricate linework, but these things only really matter if you’re able to show up for a whole issue. In the case of “Ultimates,” Rocafort only manages to fully illustrate the first two issues in its second volume. He then trades off pages with Djibril Morissette for the next three. The problem here is that Morissette’s work would be better appreciated in a series where his loose, thick-lined style wasn’t diametrically opposed to Rocafort’s. While it looks like there was an attempt to manage the different styles of these artists, with Rocafort drawing the more epic cosmic-level scenes, and Morissette handling the regular superhero stuff, the difference in styles is still glaring enough to pull you out of the story when the shift happens. Christian Ward doesn’t fare much better in the final issue of the volume. Except, the unevenness in his art looks to be down to the fact that he really likes drawing large-scale cosmic psychedelia and is bored to death by regular superhero stuff.
Both volumes give the impression that Ewing is building to something bigger between the both of them. Even with the flaws of “Ultimates” there’s still enough that works to keep me interested in seeing where he’s going here. That said, both series are “ending” with these respective volumes with “New Avengers” being replaced with “U.S.Avengers” and “Ultimates” getting a “2” added to its title. If you’re thinking that this means sales for each series haven’t been all that great, you’d be right. It’s still good to see that Marvel has faith in what Ewing is doing with these titles. With these relaunches, here’s hoping they’ll let him determine how closely he wants to be involved with their latest crossover.