This issue is probably the best first issue of any comics series that I've ever read. Seriously. Wow.
Unlike most events, "Secret Wars'" tie-in issues have been its real strength. (I actually like the larger story that Hickman is telling, so I don't mean that as a dig against him.) In most events, the tie-in issues are unloved step-children, telling stories that happen off-panel in the main series but that aren't necessarily all that interesting in the first place. But, with "Secret Wars," the tie-in issue are actually the entire point of the event. Doom pulled together all these realities where some of the best-known events of Marvel's past didn't get resolved in the way that they did in the prime reality, and we get to see how they went instead. It initially sounded like fan-wanking, but, I'll be honest, it makes me wonder if Marvel shouldn't go the opposite way from where they're planning: rather than ending the Multiverse with this event, maybe they should keep telling all these stories.
Turning to the matter at hand, "Civil War" happened when I wasn't reading comics. I know the outlines of the story mainly from the "Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2" video game. Soule starts us at the tipping point of the event, with Captain America and the anti-registration heroes storming Iron Man's "Prison 42" to free their allies. However, it doesn't go according to plan. Someone activates a self-destruct sequence, though it's unclear which party did it. T'challa claims that it was Iron Man, so he sends Dagger to Cloak to get him to evacuate as many people as possible. Maria Hill claims that T'challa did it but she has no options because he (allegedly) locked out S.H.I.E.L.D. so that they can't stop the countdown. The truth is likely neither story, but Soule will get to that eventually. At this stage, the result is more important: Cloak tries to save as many people as possible, but he winds up serving as a conduit for the explosion, destroying St. Louis and 15 million people.
It's where Soule goes from here that makes this issue one of the most imaginative stories that I've ever read. Similarly to Slott's work on "Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows," one action flows logically from another action, carrying you seamlessly through the story. In the war that follows (including Norman Osborn's failed coup), Captain America and Iron Man wind up splitting the country, with Tony establishing a benign dictatorship called the Iron in the East and Cap setting up a libertarian paradise called the Blue in the West. Miriam Sharpe, mother of one of the children killed in Stamford, arranges a peace conference on the Divide, the No Man's Land between the two countries.
Needless to say, it doesn't go well. Tony needs land for his growing population, and he's been applying pressure on Cap by blocking off trade to the Blue, since the Iron is seen by other countries as the successor to the United States. However, Cap refuses. It's honestly one of the most tensely scripted conversations that I've ever read in comics. In the mainstream Marvel Universe, "Civil War" represents the nadir of Steve and Tony's relationship. However, they eventually recover. Soule brilliantly takes their relationship at the nadir and embitters it even more, to the point where the two can barely be in the same room. Moreover, his characterizations of both men are brilliant extensions of who they were during "Civil War:" Cap has become a weary but committed rebel, an extreme version of his Nomad/Captain persona, and Tony is the arrogant and confidant leader, an extreme version of his CEO responsibilities. Soule makes it clear that Steve and Tony are able to reconcile in the mainstream Marvel Universe because they haven't been pushed to the point where they are here; they still had some common ground. But, that ground is gone, as is any doubt that they might actually be wrong.
To make matters worse, Miriam is assassinated during the conference. The shot cam from the west, so Tony instantly blames Cap. Steve dispatches his deputy, Peter Parker, now the Falcon, to investigate. (In a heart-breaking twist, Tony had brought MJ and Peter's daughter with him, allowing them time together for the first time in six years. My only criticism of this issue is that I'm not entirely sure why MJ hasn't been allowed to move to the Blue, though I'm hoping that we get more clarity on that. Has Tony essentially been keeping her hostage to exert pressure on Steve?) Peter and Steve come to realize that only Bullseye (who Steve claims works for Tony) could've taken the shot and that he hit Miriam by accident: he was really aiming for Steve, but Miriam unexpectedly stood. Steve quits the talks, despite Tony claiming that he didn't do it, and commits to Peter to end the war.
Honestly, I just don't know what more I can say. It's like reading "Civil War" crossed with "The Road." It's pretty much the dystopic comic that I've always wanted to read, and I'm so excited about the next issue that I can't believe I have to wait as long as I do.
***** (five of five stars)