Warning: Spoilers ahead for Civil War II #3, on stands now.
Marvel’s latest annual summer event series is Civil War II. Written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by David Marquez, the miniseries centers on a debate between Iron Man (still Tony Stark, and not yet Riri Williams) and Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers about how to utilize a new Inhuman named Ulysses, who has the power to predict the future.
Danvers believes Ulysses’ power should be put to use in the service of predictive policing; if he knows what supervillains are going to strike before they do, the Avengers should be in place to stop them (in the first issue of the miniseries, this helped avert a potentially calamitous attack by a giant Celestial). Tony disagrees with that policy; as a futurist, he believes the future should be respected, not messed with. So far, the event has not quite lived up to its predecessor (the basis for this year’s Captain America: Civil War). As of issue No. 3, no real superhero fights have even broken out yet, much less a grand event like Spider-Man’s public unmasking from the original Civil War‘s second issue. Civil War II also doesn’t match last year’s universe-shaking Secret Wars for grandeur or scope. What it does have, though, is deaths. Big ones.
Civil War II kicked off with the death of Tony Stark’s best friend, James Rhodes a.k.a. War Machine (a move that attracted controversy for the complicated history of killing off black characters in comics). The third issue, on stands now, features another major death: Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the Hulk. But unlike Rhodes, who was killed by Marvel uber-villain Thanos, Banner was killed by someone much closer to home: fellow founding Avenger Hawkeye (a.k.a. Clint Barton), who killed Banner over fears he was on the cusp of Hulking out. (Superheroes showed up to Banner’s secret compound fueled by Ulysses’ vision of an impending Hulk attack.)
Some stuff to think about here! One is that Ulysses, still extremely new to the superhero game, probably isn’t capable of distinguishing between different Hulks. While Banner’s been spending time in a secret lab experimenting on himself in an attempt to solve the Hulk problem, the mantle has been taken up by his erstwhile accomplice and protege, Amadeus Cho. The Hulk tearing apart superheroes on Civil War II #3’s cover (presumably from Ulysses’ vision) sure seems to be sporting Cho’s distinctive hairdo (spiky, no bangs).
But even if Banner’s death has somehow prevented Ulysses’ destructive Hulk-filled vision, it still means big things for Cho. In recent years, Marvel has responded to calls for diversity by replacing its white-male flagship characters with younger, more diverse iterations. There’s now a black Captain America, a female Thor, an Afro-Latino Spider-Man, a Pakistani-American Muslim Ms. Marvel, an Asian-American Hulk (that’s Cho), a female Hawkeye, and soon a black, female Iron Man. These replacements, of course, are not really “replacements,” since Peter Parker, Steve Rogers, Thor Odinson, and Tony Stark are all still hanging around. And since changes of this nature are so rarely permanent in comics, it’s lead to some disgruntlement among fans: Why not introduce or highlight more new diverse characters on their own terms (Inhumans‘s Dante Peruz, for example, or the cast of Young Avengers) rather than letting them take a spin as Cap or Hulk for a few months until the original characters inevitably return?
Except Marvel comics are complicating that. Steve Rogers is a Hydra plant, in league with supervillains. Tony Stark is stepping out of his armor. And now, Bruce Banner is dead. Death is never permanent in comics. There’s the old-geek saying: “No one stays dead except for Uncle Ben, Jason Todd, and Bucky.” But we stopped saying that after Jason Todd and Bucky came back to life.
Nevertheless, Bruce Banner’s death does seem like a part of Marvel’s commitment to a more diverse cast of characters for the foreseeable future. And unless Mark Ruffalo’s big-screen Hulk bites it in Thor: Ragnarok, it’s also helping to further separate the landscape of Marvel comics from their big-budget movie adaptations. That’s fun in its own way.