Civil War II: The Oath Helps Us All Move Forward


Civil War II: The Oath tries to do what Civil War: The Confession did and close up all the themes of the series. But it ends up doing something better.

Civil War II: The Oath
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Rod Reis with Phil Noto, Raffaele Ienco, Szymon Kudranski, & Dono Sanchez-Almara
Published by Marvel Comics

At the end of Civil War, Marvel published a one-shot called The Confession, where Tony Stark stood over Steve Rogers’s body and apologized for letting the hero-vs-hero get so out of hand. After months of bizarre behavior, readers needed this. It put Tony’s descent into fascism into perspective. Civil War II dragged to a close a month ago, but the last issue felt more like a house ad for upcoming crossovers than any real exploration of the theme. So even though the Civil War Journal column ended last month, we’ve come back for one more chapter to see how this epilogue does.

The structure of the book cutely inverts the icon Confession image, now with Steve Rogers standing over Tony Stark. But this year, writer Nick Spencer has been developing Captain America as a secret Hydra agent. So the setup swims in menace. He’s already pushed a kid out of a helicopter, so maybe he’d kill a guy in a coma. But first, he’s got a long monologue.

Steve wants Tony to know that the titular Oath was his acceptance of the position as head of SHIELD after political maneuvers to make the organization the most powerful in the country. A secret Hydra agent has taken charge of the United States. And he got there because “you forgot who you were supposed to be fighting for… and before you knew it, your biggest battles were with each other.” Rogers identifies that “the nameless, faceless people you appointed yourselves guardians of – they decided they’d had enough. They wanted to feel safe and protected, and they finally realized you don’t actually have the strength to get them there.” By the end, Rogers has clearly traced the flaws in the whole Civil War II event and built an on-ramp for this year’s Secret Empire crossover.

A tough but needed critique

Marvel seems to have picked up the fumble and covered some ground here. Tony Stark and Carol Danvers each took slippery slopes to caricatures of themselves. That was well-paced and interesting, but by the end, the big themes of free will and racial profiling had been lost amidst the bombast. Hero fighting hero just doesn’t work as well as heroes uniting against a cosmic foe. To try to go back and make this all feel cohesive would fail, and Marvel seems to know that. The best choice admits this was a flop and spins it as the miserable distraction Captain America needed to seize control of the country. Nick Spencer’s writing has always been spectacular, and his slow-burn political thriller running through both Captain America books deserves this spotlight. We don’t know much about what the Secret Empire story will cover, but as the culmination of two years of careful plotting, it feels more deserving of the event status than most of Marvel’s recent ideas. And as the architect behind the enjoyable and efficient Pleasant Hill event, this writer has credibility.

Nick Spencer has keen political understanding. It’s not accidental that he describes Captain America’s base the same way liberals discussed Trump’s victory last fall. Expect Secret Empire to keep up unflinching commentary on the ugly truths behind our new nation.

So if the point of The Oath was to summarize Civil War II, it did so: Civil War II was a mess that shouldn’t have happened. And if the point was to sell Secret Empire, it did so: Steve Rogers is a scary villain. This is going to have huge impact on the Marvel Universe this year, so even if you dodged the bullet that was Civil War II, you should get this issue now.