Spoiler Alert: This article discusses the events of Marvel’s Civil War II comic book crossover.
Rest in peace, Bruce Banner.
On July 13, the third chapter of Marvel’s Civil War II comic book crossover event left a Hulk-size crater in its wake. Issue 3 brought about the death of Banner/the Hulk at the hands of Hawkeye/Clint Barton — an event that will all but vaporize the Avengers’ team unity.
But Banner’s death is about much more than the effect it will have on the Avengers and Marvel’s comic universe. Banner is a beloved character, and while few comic characters ever stay dead forever, his death provides a chance to appreciate and reflect on his life — and perhaps, a chance to talk about some recent real-world events.
How Marvel killed Bruce Banner
Banner’s death comes in the latest chapter of Civil War II — a massive comic book crossover event in which all of Marvel’s heroes are just truly unhappy.
Here’s an abridged, spoiler-ish summary of what’s happened in Civil War II so far: Captain Marvel finds an Inhuman who can predict the future to a very high degree of certainty. The Inhuman’s visions allow Captain Marvel’s team deal with crises before they start. And the world’s heroes are split on this, because some believe in free will and others believe in safety at all costs.
Civil War II’s first two issues focused on the conflict between Captain Marvel and Iron Man — two A-list heroes who are on completely different sides of this problem. Captain Marvel sees the ability to know the future as a good thing; Iron Man doesn’t. In the comic's second and third issues, the Inhuman receives a vision that the Hulk will kill all the heroes (including Captain Marvel and Iron Man).
Written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by David Marquez, Civil War II No. 3 actually chronicles a courtroom trial in the future. Through the testimony of Captain Marvel and Iron Man, we learn that after hearing the Inhuman’s premonition, the two of them, along with a bunch of their fellow superheroes, sought out Banner, who had gone into hiding while working on a cure on himself. And when they found him, S.H.I.E.L.D. tried to arrest him (unjustly, in my humble opinion) before he’d committed any crime, setting off a series of events that ended with Hawkeye shooting down Banner:
The explanation for Hawkeye’s behavior, we eventually find out, is that Banner and Hawkeye had a pact in which Hawkeye would shoot Banner dead if he became the Hulk again. Banner was tired of inflicting uncontrollable damage on innocent people, and he just wanted to be taken out before that could happen again.
Hawkeye explains that in the moment when Banner was being arrested (pictured above), Hawkeye caught a glimpse of the monster Banner feared, and that’s why Hawkeye shot him. Hawkeye has also seen in the Inhuman’s vision of the future, where the Hulk kills everyone. Hawkeye believes he was saving lives.
But none of those assurances mitigate the pain and anger everyone feels in response to losing Banner.
Banner’s death and its aftermath mirror recent real-world events
Bendis is a beguiling comic writer; I think he is generally more skilled at writing smaller, more intimate stories that focus on street-level conflicts, rather than cataclysmic crisis tales where he has a whole bevy of characters to play around with (e.g., Bendis’s Jessica Jones > Bendis’s X-Men).
But even though Civil War II is definitely more cataclysmic in scope, Bendis and Marquez — whose art in the series has been stunning — have created a complex, layered story in this issue.
The trial gives Bendis the structure to really spell out the personalities at play, and to let him fiddle with Captain Marvel, Iron Man, and Hawkeye’s individual points of view. At the same time, we get to see three different interpretations of who Bruce Banner is but don’t get to witness what actually happened.
And it’s hard to cleave Bendis’s interpretation of Hawkeye without thinking of recent examples from American reality, specifically the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police. To be clear: Civil War II and crossover events like it are planned out far in advance, and months and months before the recent tragedies in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas. But the ideas and debate surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and police accountability extend far beyond this month’s tragedies.
Hawkeye’s reason for killing Banner is that he says he saw green — a signal that the Hulk was about to emerge — in Banner’s eyes. He made a call. He believed everyone was in danger. But no one else sees it that way. "I can see things differently," Hawkeye tells Matt Murdock/Daredevil. "He was agitated. His eyes flickered green."
I found myself turning the pages backward, searching for any green glimmers in Banner’s eyes.
Tony Stark/Iron Man didn’t see what Hawkeye did. He saw Hawkeye pull a trigger on a man Hawkeye was convinced was a monster. He saw betrayal. He saw his friend get gunned down.
The issue made me think of Indestructible Hulk No. 1, written by Mark Waid and drawn by Leinil Francis Yu. In that issue, Banner tells S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Maria Hill that he’s just like any other guy, just like Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic and Tony Stark/Iron Man — two men who are unconditionally considered genius heroes. But he’s always seen as a monster, even if he’s every bit as smart, heroic, and kind as Richards and Stark are. He’s always seen as a danger.
Being considered anything other than the Hulk is a privilege Banner doesn’t have. When Sterling and Castile were shot and killed by police, they were anything but dangerous.
Bendis also shows the gears working in Hawkeye’s head. We understand that Hawkeye had the best intentions — he just wanted to save his friends — but he was pushed to an extreme. If he hadn’t shot Banner, it’s possible the Inhuman’s vision of the Hulk killing everyone would have come true. Knowing all this, we’re left with a situation that’s painful, murky, and messy.
Maybe it isn’t that deep. Perhaps Banner’s death is just a death — another twist in a giant comic crossover event. And this issue isn’t without flaws (if Banner’s demise is going to stick for a while, I really hope he gets a proper sendoff issue). But it feels like the first installment of Civil War II that might spur people to have a conversation about it, even outside the context of our own messy reality.