So I've started reading Siege, the Marvel event which ran through the Winter-Spring of 2009-2010.
I thought I kind of owe it to myself to read to the end of Siege, as I'd bought into Marvel Comics in a big way, from Civil War all the way through to the end of Secret Invasion. Then I started to get the Dark Reign collections from the library after I moved to Australia, I guess just through the momentum I'd built up before that.
Having read so many Marvel comics for the past 5+ years, I can declare that they aren't really doing it for me! They fall down on so many levels.
A major fault has to be the way all the stories are engineered to build up to or lead off from major events. Major events like Siege, in fact!
But that is all by the by. Marvel has made a big deal over the last 5-6 years about how these line-wide events tell one ongoing story, so I thought I'd read this last segment of the story before radically reassessing my reading policy towards Marvel.
What I have learned over the last few years is that reading just parts of these line-wide crossovers is very unsatisfying. I read Blackest Night recently, just the main title, and halfway through, our friend Hal shows up arm-in-arm and all chummy with a selection of his mortalist enemies. There was no explanation of this.
I was like "Wha...?'
Hal was like "Go Team Lantern! Yay, Murderers!"
Anyway, my point is that I've decided to approach Siege as if there is a single story running through all the Siege-branded comics, and not miss any of the main beats as I go.
It's possible that Bendis' 4-part main story has every dramatic beat and every major revelation of the tale, but y'know, somehow, I kinda doubt it!
My friend Google has supplied me with a list of all the comics that tell the single epic. I'm sure there were many more comics with the Siege brand, but this is presumably all the central ones, enough comics at least to explain any puzzling alliances that occur during it!
So this reading project has involved finding out which comics that I need to read, then sorting out the reading order, then working out which collections contain which issues, then figuring out which of those I could get from my library, THEN ordering them, THEN buying the one that I don't have access to, THEN printing out the sheet and consulting it between issues to make sure I was on track.
Marvel, don't say I never do anything for you!
I was going to just read the story, but after all this effort, I thought I'd mark this Herculean task with a thread.
The excel sheet I adapted from this discussion is appended. The green chapters were the ones I had access to, the grey ones will have to remain unread for now. Light green means I've already read it, dark green means I've yet to read it.
With this excel sheet I prove I am a hardcore geek, it seems...
Just before the first proper Siege tie-in on my list is Invincible Iron Man #20-24: "Stark Disassembled"
I loved the first part of this styline, but the second half showed all the signs that the writer had 5 issues to fill and nothing to fill them with. It looks like he was just treading water until the rest of the line caught up with him and everybody was able to go into action in Siege. This is another way that big crossovers restrict the ability of good writers to do their best work.
is my first stop.
In this one Hawkeye tells his fellow Avengers he's going to kill Osborn and then goes off and tries to do just that. There's some scenes between Hawkeye and Mockingbird, which continue from where I have only just left them off at the end of their Reunion storyline. Hawkeye quickly despatches some real toughies, like Venom - by tossing him out a window by his ear - but Ares comes along and makes short work of him. Cue cliffhanger!
These are the first comics in our reading order with the Siege trade dress. They are predominantly about the Sentry and bring his arc, as begun in very early issues of Bendis New Avengers, to the boil.
Issue 13 finally brings us the shocking truth about the Sentry. We've known that the evil Void was a part of his make-up since the 2001 mini-series, but here we see that the lines are blurring between the two. Further, we learn from flashbacks that he was only ever a junkie who discovered his transforming formula during a break-in on a lab. Bob Reynolds was never much in the way of hero material, and seems to have hoodwinked the heroes of the MU that he was a righteous dude!
I've been a fan of the Sentry from his debut. Jenkins original series was a smart self-contained story that seemed to promise that Marvel was starting to drag itself towards DC in terms of releasing higher quality superhero comics that could appeal outside the usual narrow fanbase. There were a lot of brave experiments in the Jemas era and The Sentry was another one, along with Inhumans by the same creative team.
I was ok with the Sentry joining the mainstream MU, but had to compartmentalise his appearances in Bendis’ New Avengers and Jenkins’ entertaining Sentry Reborn away from the excellent original series. Marvel desperately needed some fresh concepts in the Noughties, that's for sure, that weren't just recycling decades old properties. The Sentry's reintroduction did promise a few interesting twists. There was the ambiguity on his origins, and then we were teased with some possibly metatextual playing, where they used certain overtly comic-bookish styles to show us Sentry's internal world.
I have to admit to a little disappointment with how Bendis now seems to be working it all out. The shocking reveal in Dark Avengers #13 only turns the subtext of the original series (Bob's plight is analogous with a junkie's) into text (Bob's a junkie folks! SHOCK!)
The revelation that the Sentry and Void personas aren't so seperate, and that they have been murdering and manipulating people for a long time, doesn't reflect well on all the Sentry's MU chums who have been looking up to him all this time. That Reed Richards, especially, could be such a doofus confirms my theory that this MU isn't the one that most of us grew up reading. Everything about it was rebooted in Avengers/JLA just in time for Bendis’ radically revised new continuity.
The art here, by Deodato, is excellent, even if I have reservations about how most modern Marvel comics follow a similar house style. One problem I have with this dark pseudo-realist style is that it demands everything be taken with the same level of seriousness. More cartoony art allows a sense of playfulness, and a greater range of emotional tones.
It's the difference between someone getting their head blown off in a Looney Tunes cartoon and the same fate being visited on a character in a Scorsese movie. Comics don't have to be aping Scorsese all the time!
There is one fine sequence set in 1300 BC, showing us that the Void's shadowy tendrils and destructive power is very similar to how the wrath of God manifested itself during Moses time as leader of the captive Jews in Egypt. This isn't the first time Bendis has teased us with a short trip outside his comfort zone, and I really wish he'd give us more of them. (I also wonder if the date he picked accords with current scholarship on biblical events?)
The movement from the insular self-referential world of current Marvel continuity outwards to scenes we share as part of our broader culture is a welcome one.
Issue 14 ends on a shocker, as Norman asks Bullseye-Hawkeye to kill the Sentry's wife Linda, as Bob's love for her is the one thing that the Void can’t override. That Norman would want to eliminate the one link with humanity that is keeping the Void’s urge to totally destroy everything in check, shows us how doolally the former Green Goblin has remained!
In this one we see Norman talking to his inner Goblin before convening the last meeting of the Cabal. Emma frost and Namor have jumped ship and Norman his brought in the Taskmaster to replace them. Obvously things aren't going well, when the TAskmaster is your replacement for two of the most powerful mutants in the MU.
Dr Doom only shows up to ask for his 'ally' Namor to be handed over to him. The Dr Doom/Sub-Mariner team-up comics of the 70's were fun but I didn't think they were that close. It comes to a showdown between Norman and Victor, which Norman only wins by bringing in a mysterious player. Doom's fallback plan is to attack the whole Avengers building with attacking robot insects. The Sentry arrives to save the day.
The scenes at the beginning with Norman talking to his old Goblin mask are fun but Norman was always a very poor choice for central villain of Dark Reign. There is nothing of the Shakespearean anti-hero about him, no tragic reaching for greatness. His tragic flaw is that he is a raving psychopath with a long history of very public mental breakdowns.
There was a character in the famous book The Dice Man, who was a patient of the psyciatrist protagonist. This guy was one of those people who can't help but sabotage everything in their lives. The psychiatrist decides to make everything in the self-sabotager's life go really great, even paying a woman of dubious virtue to chat him up and become his girlfriend. Of course the better his life becomes, the more spectacularly the loser guy screws everything up. Norman is like that guy. He's given not just unimaginable power and wealth completely out of the blue, but also absolute control over the entire security forces of the world's most powerful military-industrial complex. So we get to see how the least suitable guy in America for the job messes it all up.
That's the stuff of comedy rather than tragedy.
Bendis is trying for some kind of realism with Norman's shirt-sleeved posturing, but Norman's best scenes in any of the Dark Reign books were in Paul Cornell's Dark X-Men. It showed how Norman Osborn had much more power in the persona of evil comicbook troglodyte, the Green Goblin.
(BTW, Younger readers may like to know that the real-world reference point for Norman Osborn's 'list' was the actual list of his enemies kept by disgraced former President Richard Nixon.)
Avengers The Initiative #31
In this one, Gage expands on Taskmaster's way-out-of-his-depth appearance in Siege The Cabal. It moves threads of the ongoing Initiative series forward while tying them in to events in Bendis' larger narrative. There's more to say on this comic, but I'll save it for when we reach it on the Initiative thread.
This issue is also intercut with Siege: The Cabal. In the confusion caused by the robot insect attack set off by the Doombot, Bullseye-Hawkeye escorts Linda Reynolds off on a helicopter, strangles her to death and chucks her into the sea.
All pretty sleazy for a comic with Avengers on the masthead. The scene of Hawkeye strangling Linda is pretty uncomfortable, as we are shown it in a succession of panels over a page, from Hawkeye's point of view, with the implication that he is getting his kicks from it, and perhaps we should too!
Bob/The Sentry/Void is unhappy about this, to say the least, but 'Hawkeye' lives to strangle women another day.
In this issue we learn that it was the Void that Osborn had called in as back-up in his imbroglio with the Doombot in Siege The Cabal. Sentry had appeared later in that comic with no knowledge of having helped Osborn in this way, but by the end of Dark Avengers #15, any dramatic tension over the Sentry's duality is moot, as he is now switching between all three personas as his psyche begins to break down.
Another problem I'd have with this way of producing event comics is that they are overly reliant on plot revelations like this, which, once known, reduce the reasons anyone would have for reading these comics again.
New Avengers #61 and 62
The draw for these two issues for Marvel fans is probably seeing Steve Rogers and Bucky interacting. As someone who's genuinely interested in following all of this story, the fact that I couldn't get a hold of Steve's return from the dead and his reunion with Bucky, makes me feel a little left out.
We do get Cap's reunion with the rest of the Avengers and some sotto voce exchanges with Carol Danvers which I didn't get the magnifying glass out to read. Perhaps it was something about forgiving her for being a government toady for all those months while he was away?
The Hood's villains are powered up by the Norn Stones, and hard to beat. I'm reminded of the Under Siege storyline, which I never got to read to the end. Isn't it amazing how so much in current superhero comics have to refer back to previous comics. I hadn't realised that Siege even takes its title from a previous Avengers storyline.
The Hood himself is still all: "Oooh! I have a gun, and I might shoot you with it!"
Immonen's art is excellent. An interesting choice is that the scenes with Spider-man and Spider-woman on a stakeout are drawn by another artist - Daniel Acuna. Spider-man seems to be flirting with her. Aren't they cousins in some continuities? Perhaps I am mixing them up with the Hulk and his female counterpart.
It was Linda Reynolds' murder that was the final straw. When Bullseye survived Siege unpunished, I was outraged. Seriously! Fogey-mad, even. That's why the only Shadowland offshoot I ordered was the Shad: Bullseye just to make sure the creep got what was coming to him!
Looking at the cover here, I think I have this tucked away somewhere. A short conversation between Norman and Loki shown in this freebie might fit in here in the chronology.
In it, Loki tries to convince Norman that he doesn't use mischeif all the time, but only with his enemies, and Norman isn't one of those. We also get a depiction of the nine realms of Norse myth.
Notice that the covers refres to Siege as 'the Event seven years in the making. Bendis' New Avengers didn't start until November 2004, so its hard to see where they got the Seven Years" from. Perhaps it is counting from the end of the Sentry mini-series in 2002? If so that's a bit of a clue that the Sentry will be a big element of Siege. I'm sure they were already advertising the Fallen Son follow up tie-in to Siege even before Siege started, so it's a pointer that Sentry might be the guy about to 'take one for the team'.