Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #212: Ms. Marvel Vol. 6: Civil War II by Wilson, Alphona, Miyazawa, and Andofo

I don't know if superhero conflicts are required to be based on the stupidest possible interpretation of premises, but it certainly seems that way. Subtlety or nuance don't exist in superhero universes; in a world where people can punch each other through brick walls, that's the only way to do anything.

Ms.Marvel Vol. 6: Civil War II is another piece of crossover, which means it's substantially stupider than a standalone Ms. Marvel story. I'm not claiming they're brain-teasers in the best of situations, but they generally consist of believable characters doing understandable things for plausible reasons.

Before I go on to talk about the story, here's who brought it to us: writer G. Willow Wilson continues as usual, with original series artist Adrian Alphona taking the first issue and flashback scenes in the next four, Takeshi Miyazawa doing the non-flashbacks for those issues, and Mirka Andolfo drawing the last one collected here.

Those first and last issues (numbers 7 and 12 of the 2015 Ms. Marvel series, for those of you scoring at home) are standalones, and I'll get to them later.

The main story here spins out of the big dumb [1] crossover Civil War II, which apparently triggered when someone discovered a new Inhuman -- yeah, they were still on that kick in early 2016 -- named Ulysses, who, well, I'll let Captain Marvel [2] do the honors:
It's more like mathematics -- he can determine, to within a fraction of a percent, the probability that certain events are going to take place.
As described, this covers any event, of any kind. And, since it's a superhero power, it's declared to be absolutely, totally reliable all of the time. Extremely improbably, Ulysses is not already the richest man on Earth from stock-picking or craps or sports book. Nor will his powers be used to, oh, predict earthquakes and hurricanes for the betterment of all mankind. Nor to fiendishly predict the weak spots in other nations or corporations for the power-enhancement and enrichment of his friends and bosses. Nor to turbo-charge scientific development by focusing attention on the areas most amenable to breakthroughs. Nor to do a million other things that you need to actually take five minutes to think through.

No, instead Ulysses's vast powers will be used to predict street-level crime in Jersey City, New Jersey so a group of teen vigilantes can go beat up people a day before they would have done something bad, and/or vaguely "citizen's arrest" them, holding them down until after the time they were going to do the thing they were just stopped from doing.

Mere human language cannot adequately convey how deeply, utterly stupid an idea this is, nor now vastly it undervalues Ulysses's powers. I am in awe of the weapons-grade idiocy here, and wonder if Ulysses is actually some idiot-savant who is just endlessly shouting out things like "John Smith of 331B 25th Street, New York, has a 37.562% chance of shoplifting a fun-size Snickers bar from the Sunny Day bodega on the corner of 24th and Market at 4:52 PM local time today." The story would almost make sense if he had no control of his power and was psychologically focused on stupid minor crimes close to him for some plot-sufficient reason.

So, yeah. Ms. Marvel, the girl of stretch, is brought in by the senior Marvel, Carol Danvers, to supervise a random group of gung-ho crime-fighting teenagers in her neighborhood, because of course that's how serious government projects work. (The other crime-fighting teens are all people we've never seen before, and probably mostly people we will never see again: utterly plot furniture.) They get random updates from Ulysses, run off, and punch people generally mere moments before they're about to do something naughty. These updates only come in when they're not in school or sleeping or doing homework -- they're foiling convenient crimes.

Their MO is wildly inconsistent: one actual supervillain who stole a government tank is told he'll be held for fifteen minutes until the unfoilable super-security system blows up the tank, because they apparently can't arrest him for stealing a tank, or driving it down a city street, or attacking civilians, but only could stop him if it blew up with him in it when he didn't realize it would. But then when an otherwise honor-student teen boy might -- Ulysses's supposed "fraction of a percent" predictions are never actually cited; everything is a sure bet every single time -- cause a power surge the next day that would start a fire, they grab him and throw him into some kind of black-box high-security private prison.

This makes no fucking sense. Not for a second. Ulysses isn't providing percentages for anything, and the focus on teenagers in Jersey City is deeply ludicrous. And the outcomes go so far beyond arbitrary and capricious that they turn into the opposite of anything reasonable. Even assuming crime-fighting was the best use of these powers -- and, again, it totally isn't -- this is quite possibly the single worst way of doing so.

But wait! The whole stupid plot seems to be designed to make our Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, realize that, hey, y'know, maybe beating up people and locking them up without due process just might be a bad thing...as long as it's purely based on something they haven't done yet, of course, since doing that to people otherwise would be totally fine! And that realization is purely to fuel her break with Danvers, the current Captain Marvel.

Danvers is a former military test pilot and big fan of the chain of command...except when an ill-defined group is using a random superhuman for bizarre crime-fighting activities, but it's her ill-defined group, and crime-fighting is the only thing these caped lunatics know, so let's go with it -- and so barks out the kind of cliche conversation where she talks down to "junior" superheroes and calls them things like "soldier" using random Army jargon picked up from Full Metal Jacket.

Because military people in comics are all about "shut up and do as you're told," since the question of legal and appropriate use of force never comes up in fictional universes. Obviously.

So The Lesson Kamala learns here is that your idols sometimes assholes who aren't going to do what you want them to, and also that semi-fascist panopticons are not as cool an idea as they might seem. I know! Who would have thought! (Presumably somewhere in the actual Civil War II series it all ended when we learned that Ulysses's powers can't handle vibranium, or he's a Skrull spy, or some such stupid bullshit, so everything could go back to normal.)

Oh! Also another Lesson: it is your fault if your best friend does something you warn him is really dangerous and gets seriously injured, because you are A Superhero and should be able to make everything nice all the time. (Well, maybe there's also a bit of "You went along with something that didn't smell right and it turned out horribly and crippled your best friend.") But, as a bonus, Wilson is totally setting up ex-best-friend to return as a supervillain in another 5-10 issues. So we have that to look forward to.

This book also contains two single issues untainted by crossover, and so therefore relatively intelligent. The one up front is a cute science-fair story, with a side order of Millennials Have It So Much Worse Than Other Generations (Even the Ones That Had to Go To War and Stuff) Because Student Loans, and guest appearances by Spider-Man and Nova, to underline how much they are all basically the same damn character.

And the closing story sees Kamala take a trip back to her native Pakistan. This seems unlikely to happen during the school year for a student as much of a grind as Kamala, but it's not clear when any of these stories take place during the year, so maybe it's suddenly summer? And there she Learns Things, though she doesn't notice that her new friend is also totally that local superhero she runs into. Oh, and the local society is corrupt and riddled with bad actors in multiple ways, but she shouldn't be judge-y about it! Let the locals deal with it!

I'm beginning to think I only read Ms. Marvel because the different ways it annoys me amuse me. It may also be that I had all the superhero bullshit I could stand about twenty years ago, so even "good" superhero comics are so full of crap they make me break out in fits of swearing. Either way, my relationship with this comic is not particularly healthy. Luckily, I just get collections of it from the library about two years late!

[1] I haven't actually read anything else from Civil War II, so it's possible that I'm maligning its intelligence. But I wouldn't bet on it.

[2] No, not the one you're thinking of. Not that one, either. Definitely not that one. The one who's getting a movie.

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