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...
You need to stand back for a bit Mark, and see what the writers were setting up with their toys.
Osborn was made to seem such a top dog and in control of everything, to the detriment of the body politic, precisely so that Bendis would get his big "&%$ Yeah!" moment when the heroes got their act together again, remembered what they were supposed to stand for and take down the bad guy. If they just had to gang up on the little Goblin fellow that scooted around on his Bat-flier robbing banks, it wouldn't have been quite so .... epic.
Film directors, novelists and playwrights would kill for the amount of buy-in that you have invested in these books!
At this point in our reading order we have a run of Thor-related tie-ins. I'd have thought Thor's own comics would have been more central to the invasion and fall of his homeland, but although the Siege is the backdrop to these issues of Kieron Gillen's Thor, what we really get is the continuation of storylines begun in JMS's run that will pay off in Gillen's future issues. We also get to see how Gillen is tying his run on New Mutants into his Thor comics.
This issue opens with Tyr on the front lines of the defense of Asgard. He is disheartened that Osborn's troops are strengthened by the Norn Stones and by the prophecy that the God of War will die this day. When he sees the corpse of Ares amongst the fallen, he realises that the prophecy didn't necessarily refer to the NORSE God of War. He returns to the battle but is seemingly slain while trying to remove the Norn Stones from the Hood.
Tyr is anologous with Ares in more than his title. Like the latest incarnation of Ares, he is a reminder that Stan and Jack's likeable God-heroes come from myths that are much more primal, aggressive and war-like. Tyr, with his little moustache and pigtails seems very anachronistic and unrelateable as a hero, which is no doubt the point.
Meanwhile, Volstagg is reluctant to fight Clor/Ragnorak in Broxton in case more innocents are killed. He decides that underneath Asgard would be a good place to fight the robo-clone and flees there. His timing isn't great though, as he squares up to Ragnorak just before Asgard collapses on them both!
(Don't worry, it seems these God-types are hard to kill!)
You would think a comic about Loki's machinations in the run up to Norman's hare-brained invasion would be central to Siege, given that Loki was both a Norse God resident of Asgard, and a Cabal co-conspirator of Osborn's. Unfortunately, this comic is more a tie-in to Gillen's ongoing development of the plotlines begun in JMS's Thor. We see that the Siege is only one part of a wider scheme of Loki's to spread mischief amongst the Norse Gods and beyond. Most pertinent to Siege is an early scene showing us that the arguments Norman thought were coming from his Goblin persona were in fact put into his head by Loki. The final frame, with Loki looking out at the reader with a conspiratorial smirk, is a very Shakespearian moment.
Loki is putting the very words that Norman heard his Goblin mask speaking in Siege: Cabal into his head. It's fun to think that Loki's presence here might be just a representation of the mischievous, self-sabotaging side of our personalities which interferes in so many of our best intentions. The likes of Loki were undoubtedly first conceived as externalisations of these urges, and later devolved into pantomime figures that seem to be totally outside us. Here, a clever writer is bringing a god like Loki back to his first principles.
The art throughout the issue is superb. Appropriately enough, for a tale of the dealings of Gods and devils, it is very reminiscent of stained-glass windows. Each element in every panel has its own distinct colour, and is outlined heavily in black. It's far removed from the heavily rendered realist murk that is the industry norm these days, but very pleasing to me.
Jamie McKelvern does the art including those boldly inked outlines, and the colours are by Nathan Fairbairn, and are so good, they deserve a mention. (Mmmm! That's three very Scottish names!) This comic has a curiosity value too, in that the co-creators of the indie hit Phonogram have reumited on a Marvel comic. Phonogram sounds very intriguing to me anyway, but reading this enjoyable, well-crafted collaboration has made me all the more keen to read it.
As a Siege tie-in, this one-shot falls down, but I can see how it is one element of a longer well-told tale by Gillen. I just have to quibble with the ethics of marketing this to Siege completists, while at the same time making it look like it is outside the run of Thor comics that part of the readership are already committed to buying. It is obviously required reading for those reading Gillen's Thor, with bargains struck here between Mephisto, Hela and Loki that will loom large for a long time to come.
In this tie-in, Gillen brings Dani Moonstar into the Siege event. She has connections to Asgard going back to 80’s comics and at this point she has sworn to do Hela’s bidding when asked. Hela wants Dani to take on the role of a Valkyrie and guide the Asgardian dead from the battlefield to her newly acquired Underworld.
Dani thinks that the new powers she has been given in her role will allow her to fight to defend Asgard, but has to learn the hard way, that the newly dead are depending on her to protect them from the Desir, scary former Valkyries that feast on the souls of the dead.
Tyr seems to be one of the lost souls that she has to fight for, but she tells him at the end that he isn’t really dead, and should go back to the fight amongst the living. This places New Mutants #11 exactly between Thor #608 when Tyr was struck down, and #609 when he pulls himself out of the rubble, dusts himself off and re-enters the fray.
Like Siege: Loki, this Siege-branded tie-in may have the crossover as a backdrop, but it really pushes forward Gillen’s New Mutant and especially Thor plotlines. It’s fun to see them dovetail here, but it’s clear that Dani’s New Mutant tale is only one of many arcs involving confused and conflicted young mutants, so it’s clear that with the X-titles, the more things change, the more they stay the same!
With the appearances of the Desir and Hela and her new Hell, this follows on closely from Siege: Loki, and a little gap from Tyr’s arc in the Thor comics is filled in nicely. If you only got the Gillen comics in this crossover, you’d get quite a satisfying series of comics, which are only part of a much longer gameplan.
The action here takes place shortly after the fall of Asgard, as Tyr and then Balder try to rally the Norse Gods to defend themselves. Loki’s schemes are revealed by Heimdall, and he further incriminates himself while trying extricate himself from the blame for what happened.
Loki’s ultimate motivation is very hard to discern. One problem is that he simply cannot tell the truth, or the whole truth, in his dialogue with any character, so the answer isn’t to be found in any of his conversations. In the closing full-page spread of Siege: Loki, he declared to Mephisto that he was interested in mayhem rather than mischief. Howeveer, you can’t kid a kidder and Mephisto keeps reminding Loki and the reader that Loki can’t be believed no matter what he says.
Loki does evoke pity in one respect. Thor tried hard to make a fresh start when he returned this time, and refused to prejudge anyone and trusted them to act honourably this time. Loki took advantage of this to start his plotting earlier than anyone was expecting. A few comments from Loki since the return of Asgard seem to reveal that what is really cutting him up is that it hasn’t been a new start for him at all. Look again at the page of Loki’s monologue I posted above. He hates it, but all he knows is deceit and mischief, the only way he can act in the world. Perhaps his hatred for Thor is stronger this time because Thor promised them all that they could be different this time and follow a new script, but Loki found he was his same despicable old self. Perhaps like Thor had been, he was reluctant to come back from oblivion, and hates being back.
There is something truthful in the way that Loki seems to be full of spite for the world precisely because he hates himself so much. There's simple comicbook insight in that.
Loki’s personality makes him hard to write, but both Gillen and Bendis write him consistently in that he’s always deceiving everyone, even the readers and himself too to some extent. His final words in this issue, after Balder has banished him from Asgard, are to say that he is somehow saving Asgard by his actions.
The only time Bendis elaborates on this major reason for the Siege is in those commentaries I linked to earlier, so the absence of a real reason for Loki’s actions in the ‘text’ itself is another mark against it.
It’s possible that Bendis and Gillen leave Loki’s motivations out of Siege because that will be fodder for future storylines in Gillen’s Thor, and perhaps Gillen himself hasn’t worked out the finer points of it yet. Still, that’s not much good to me here, trying to assess the wroth and enjoyablity of Siege as a single story, or even as a single crossover event.
I think Mark is trying to say that the world will be better for this; that one man scorned and covered with scars, still strove with his last ounce of courage, to reach the unreachable star.
In some respects I do admire your contrarian (maybe even Quixotic) position, Mark, and in some ways you read these comics without the veil of safe assumptions and benefit of the doubt that other readers adopt. It's great that you based your critique at first on what was on the page. Still, you are slipping into argument from ignorance in some of your latest posts.
I can understand that but I'd have found it more interesting if Osborn had stayed in power a bit longer.
Really? You'd have wanted Dark Reign to be longer? Did you read many of the DR comics? I found them to be hard going, and took longer to read them than if they had been lighter. I'd say it was just about long enough, if not a tad too long. There are also the structural storytelling considerations that I keep pointing you towards.
Dark Reign was a focus on the baddies, as they found their star in the ascendent, so that was something new for the writers to focus on. But they are baddies, psychopaths in many cases, and the writers could only take them so far before showing that their bloody-mindedness and psychopathy limited the range of stories. There were 18 months odd of Dark Avengers, but most of it was only treading water, in terms of the characters. They were bad and stayed bad. When you look at how little Osborn changed from Dark Avengers #1 to #16, its a wonder they wrung even 16 comics out of it.
I'd imagine all that grimness was wearing on the readership. Dark Avengers was Marvel's top selling title for much of it's run, but that was the novelty as much as anything. Seeing the heroes getting trumped by the bad guys for longer than 18 months would have been hard on them. Siege was a huge seller because the readership were very ready to see Norman get his.
Still, I'm boggled to see you, of all people, argue that DR should have been longer!
Good soldier or not Carol is still a hypocrite for first following the law when someone she liked was in charge and then dumping it when someone she didn't like was in charge, the same goes for any pro-regger who decided to switch sides when Osborn was put in charge. If the law the law you don't just follow it when you like the person in charge, but enough on that.
Once again I have to ask how many Dark Reign books did you weep through? The books I read took the time to show that the heroes left Osborn's fold one by one as the actions and policies of the new regime was rubbed in ther faces.
Some of Dark Reign was politically clever. The superheroes could see that the Avengers had been replaced by evil murderers, but the public couldn't. The Dark Avengers were probably the tipping point for the heroes. Added to that, Norman deliberately froze them out of his new regime one by one, as he knew the kind of people he wanted around him.
As has been pointed out he was the law, appointed by the law and I would have liked to have seen some more exploration of the frustrations the superheroes would have gone through with that. They could battle and defeat a supervillain one week, Osborn gives him a new costume and name the next week and then sends him after the heroes with government backing. I was looking for a theme of how do you defend a society that not only does not want you to defend it but actively attacks you for doing so.
This is exactly what we got month in and month out during Dark Reign. (although I'd understand if you hadn't read them) The writers showed us all the anguish and pain of the heroes. The worst of the villains were dressed up as Avengers, another lot were sanctioned by the Initiative, and another lot, working under the Hood, had Norman's covert backing. The heroes were stymied at every turn.
The whole of Dark Reign was about the agony of seeing that the government wasn't working properly, and had actually been completely subverted. The heroes wrestled with how far they should go. Treason and declaring war on your own government is a serious step, and Bendis doesn't alarm his corporate masters by showing his heroes overtly doing this. The New Avengers merely try to do what they've always done but tried to avoid capture while doing it.
I would have liked to have seen it build up to Osborn actively trying to stage a military take over of the US and then have the heroes rally to defeat him.
Who's writing this story? You or Bendis? As readers, for the most part we can only talk about the story that was written. I have said that the invasion of Asgard was forced, but there isn't much point suggesting whole other stories that weren't written.
I've also said why I think Bendis had Norman setting up an invasion to rally the country behind him, rather than some scheme to 'take over the government'. It's clear that Bendis wanted to comment on/satirise recent US history. The series of invasions/unwinnable wars was the route Bush and co took precisely to cement their hold on the government, get the laws they wanted through, and reduce dissent. Bush and friends didn't have to storm congress with the Praetorian Guard in order to lift billions out of the public coffers and transfer it over to the accounts of their war profiteering buddies. They just needed the War on Terror to do that. I've only been drawing the parallels that Bendis deliberately put there. I'm happy with them, as they give the story meaning beyond just a bunch of men in tights hitting each other in a fictional world. I repeat that this is comicbooks and he does it in broad brushstrokes, and you have to expect that.
Having him turn on Asgard seemed forced to me. I know it was forced, but it seemed forced as well and that's not good for a story.
I've argued precisely the same thing above. For me, Siege would move up from being a damn good story to being a great one if we were given something more than 'Norman's Mad/Loki's Bad and JMS left a mess that needs cleaning up.' to explain the central action of the story.
...but enough on that.
This should have been placed a bit earlier in our readthrough. It starts just before the Hood's men are called to Asgard from their fight with the Avengers Resistance in Camp Hammer and ends with the fall of Asgard at the end of Siege #3.
It should really come just before the run of Thor-related comics that I begin above with Thor #608, because those comics extend past the fall of Asgard and took us up to just before the events of Siege #4.
It's very nerdy of me, I know to be concerned about the placing of these comics in reading order, but I am interested to see how they all fit together into one large story.
Some of the scenes of Taskmaster and co fighting against the Asgardians and New Avengers are lifted verbatim from Bendis' Siege #3, so this was written to connect quite tightly with the main series. We just get the same scenes, but expanded and from the point of view of the Initiative members that we have been following in that series.
Bendis' New Avengers #63, covering the same timeframe as this one, altered the tempo of the issue with flashbacks to the night before. Gage however, manages to centre all the action on the two scenes of superhero battle and still push forward the arcs of Taskmaster, Diamondback, and Constrictor. Gage deserves credit for this even though Bendis' is probably the more artistic choice.
Of course when Asgard collapses we get our apparently doomed conflicted serpant-themed couple shouting out to each other.
So, at last we come to the end of the mini-series, if not the crossover event. The Sentry is defeated by first an attack by the Norn Stone-empowered ‘Allies’, then having a SHIELD carrier cybernetically hijacked by Iron Man and driven into him, and finally he’s flash-fried by the biggest lightning bolt that Thor has ever called down on anyone’s sorry ass.
We get some more semi-explanations from Loki concerning his motivations. He seems to be pleading his case to Odin, but perhaps we can take that as a rhetorical turn of phrase and grant that these words are as true as his other soliloquys in this storyline. He says that he only instigated the attack on Asgard to somehow save Asgard and make it stronger. He hadn’t realised this much destruction would follow. We still aren’t told how exactly he thought all this mayhem would be to Asgard’s benefit. But his change of heart seems real. He grants the heroes a burst of extra power for as long as he can, and thus gets killed by The-Thing-That-Was-The-Sentry.
It’s still a bit of a narrative cop-out, but starting to feel a little bit more like how a major player in a drama should be characterised and motivated, even if it is very late in the day. All grist to Gillen’s mill now.
The Sentry’s remains get carried to the sun by Thor and are immolated there. (That’s some throw of Thor’s hammer, eh?) It’s worth pointing out that almost every attempt to destroy the Void before now has involved hurling it into the Sun, but maybe throwing Bob’s bones in this time may do the trick. Superman has a connection to the Sun as Apollonian bringer of light and truth, but the Sun appears in the tales of his Marvel counterpart as a terrible destructive purifying force. (Osborn calls him the Angel of Death, and we’ve already seen some connection between the Void and the biblical force that caused the deaths of the first-born children in ancient Egypt)
The defeat of the Sentry doesn’t involve any very clever manoeuvring on the part of the writer or any Avengers. Just lots of brute force, liberally applied. It is, however, a grand send-off for the character, with plenty of sound and fury. As he dies, his Watchtower atop Avengers Tower disappears, and this too marks the end of an era in the Marvel Universe.
Sadly, I don’t have access to the Sentry: Fallen Son tie-in, so this will have to be my last Sentry story for now. I found him interesting and different in an era when so much has been a reconfiguring and a retelling of previous stories, and when actual fresh ideas from Marvel and DC have slowed to a trickle.
After the mayhem of the battlefield, we get some scenes of wrap-up, promising us the beginnings of a better order in the Marvel Earth. Steve Rogers gets Osborn’s old job of Head of Security and it’s implied he has made it a condition of taking the job that the Registration Act is repealed. Just like that. All those security and public safety concerns just handwaved away.
On one level, of course, Siege has been all about getting to this much desired end-point. Obviously some of the stages getting here haven’t even been important enough to merit a properly developed explanation, but it’s not the journey that counts, it’s the destination.
Siege is a grand cinematic conclusion to many years of storylines. It gains its power from familiarity with those storylines, and the reader’s wish to see them resolved in a reassuring way. Four issues is quite short, and even then about ¾ of it is one long pitched battle between superfolk. Coipel’s art is great, but I think the 4-issue series would feel like a very hollow collection of loud confrontations without the context of what has been happening in the Marvel Universe since 2004.
I thought Thor's trip to the Sun was very Supermanian.
Unfortunately I do have access to The Sentry: Fallen Son and will try to comment tonight.
Loki's sacrifice may be what spurs Thor to want him back.
Will you be discussing Avengers Prime?
Great minds... Actually, with Sentry now gone, and Thor fully returned, Thor seems to be filling the Superman role in some respects. Moreso than he did before his last Ragnorak
I thought Thor's trip to the Sun was very Supermanian.
Unfortunately I do have access to The Sentry: Fallen Son and will try to comment tonight.
Loki's sacrifice may be what spurs Thor to want him back.
A popular question. Well, my local library doesn't have it so ... not any time soon. Looking forward to reading it when I get the chance though.
Will you be discussing Avengers Prime?