Civil War II has Marvel’s superheroes fighting each other again; this time, it’s over whether it’s better to try and stop evil when you have foreknowledge in advance. Captain Marvel is leading the charge on predictive justice and it’s a stance that’s making the heroine almost totally unlikable.
The philosophical debate tearing apart the Marvel Universe started when a young man named Ulysses Cain suddenly gained the ability to experience visions of the future. Information from his visions led to the repulsion of two cosmic-level threats, the latter of which took the life of James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine. The loss of Rhodey enrages Iron Man, and the late hero’s best friend decides he can’t stand for any super-interventions based on Ulysses’ visions. On the opposite end of the spectrum, after the death of her lover, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel embraces a pro-interventionist philosophy that prompts her to mobilise many other heroes to use those visions to stop bad things before they’re supposed to happen.
In the months since the event started, dozens of comics have shown Ulysses’ predictions with variable levels of accuracy. Tony Stark’s tests on Ulysses in Civil War II #2 opened up the possibility that the new Inhuman’s personal traits might be influencing the visions.
In the Civil War II: Spider-Man tie-in miniseries, it’s strongly suggested that acting on Ulysses’ visions is instrumental in making them come true. As seen in this week’s Spider-Woman #10, the lead character runs down a bunch of Ulysses-sourced leads and readers see that the newly empowered young man can have a string of dead-on accurate visions or come up totally wrong. Jessica Drew is Carol Danvers’ best friend, and even she has a hard time agreeing with Captain Marvel’s stance, despite the good that can come from it.
Sometimes, Ulysses’ visions have been broadcast into the minds of others but mostly we’ve seen him describe what he experiences to characters who then act on the information. It seems like there’s no hard and fast rule about the exact nature of his abilities, which gives Marvel’s writers more room to tell their stories. In the aggregate, it’s pretty clear that Ulysses has not been 100 per cent right. If there’s any consensus, it’s that he’s seeing probabilities of what might happen. The wiggle room of doubt has given most of the Civil War II-linked stories their energy, as characters question what they should do with shaky precognition.
I’m having a weird time with Civil War II. The best part about the ongoing event has been the smaller stories that give insight into the personalities of Marvel’s heroes, like the scenes where Luke Cage says he won’t fight his friends again or Sam Wilson/Captain America coming out as anti-interventionist because of its notional proximity to profiling. And I’m cautiously eager to see how the universe re-aligns once the dust settles. But I just want Civil War II to be over already, largely because of how it’s tarnishing Captain Marvel.
The heroine who leads up Earth’s defence against extraterrestrial threats is taking a hardline stance on predictive justice. Despite the loss of her boyfriend and the reasoning she’s been given in various stories, it’s a hard one to sympathise with. Here’s the exact moment that the storyline lost me, when Captain Marvel says that she’d act on information that might have only a 10 per cent chance of being right:
Part of what’s chilling about Carol’s beliefs is the nature of the action taken. When it’s a street-level interception like the guy-with-a-gun example in the panels above, bad intel might result in hurt feelings and/or litigation. A handful of lives could get ruined but one could still write that off as known costs of securing safety in a flawed system. But bad intel on a superhero-vs-supervillain level means the risk of exponentially higher loss of life and massive property damage, along with human rights violations. Most importantly, the knowledge that superheroes might be acting on predictions with unreliable accuracy almost certainly leads to a lack of public trust, which has been slowly playing out across the fiction.
Here are some of the consequences that we’ve seen from acting on Ulysses’ visions:
• The death of War Machine, which still stings despite happening in the line of duty…
• The death of Bruce Banner who seemingly posed no immediate threat right before he was struck down…
• And the arrest and detainment of an innocent, non-powered woman who did nothing wrong, leading to in-fighting amongst the Ultimates.
None of those have deterred Carol from her singlemindedness about predictive justice and that obstinance has made her feel radically altered. She mounts a defence of her beliefs and actions in this week’s Captain Marvel #7.
Tony Stark’s pro-registration in Civil War I was dumb — registering people with a government agency isn’t the same as registering a gun — but you could take a few shots of whiskey and kinda sorta see the logic. My last real attachment to Captain Marvel was during the Kelly Sue DeConnick-written run from a few years back. I know that cape comics characters’ personalities change according to the whims of storylines and writers but it’s hard to square this version of Carol with the thoughtful warrior from that previous iteration. (It’s also a curious direction to take the character who’ll be starring in Marvel’s first female-led movie adaptation.) Carol’s stance is about stopping things that might happen, which really isn’t any way to live.
It’s an emotionally compelling statement but one that obviates the slippery slope of what happens when things get out of control. This goes beyond the reality of whatever surveillance-state analogues that might exist in the Marvel Universe and into the realm of might-could-transpire. To be arrested over a possibility is a heinous restriction of personal freedom. In many ways, the Civil War events are executions of the classic Marvel ethos, which is to present superheroes who have all the foibles and failings of real people. But anyone in the real world who spouted Carol’s beliefs would come under a whole lot of justifiable criticism. You might even call them a villain.