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...
Here, however, there is a strong internal logic to the series ending here. The Initiative was set up as a result of the Registration Act coming into force, and as of the end of Siege that law has now been revoked.
I didn't read one panel of this series, but this is something I'm glad to see. Doing this is rare in mainstream U.S. Comics. I can think of Gaiman's Sandman and Robinson's Starman as other examples. Usually the company would just take a popular series like this and keep the name and numbering and change it into typical superhero fare even though the name now has nothing to do with the comic inside. I'll give Marvel a golf clap for this.
So here we are, the end of the line. The end of Marvel’s and Bendis’ unprecedented and wildly ambitious seven-year Superhero epic, and also the last issue of my readthrough of the Siege crossover, its culminating Big Event.
First the issue itself. Once again, a reader of a certain type could declare that nothing much happens in this issue! It is really the final mopping up after the events of the mini-series, as the good guys consolidate their victory over Osborn and his Dark Avengers. In terms of superhero action, we just get Dark Wolverine’s escape from the US Army as the siege of Asgard ends, and a failed escape attempt by Moonstone and Bullseye once they are POWs on the battlefield.
But to say that nothing much happens is to completely misunderstand what Bendis and co have been doing in their comics. We get wind-down from very big events. The big developments which we’ve seen inthis thread would have been cheapened by being swept to one side as the next big calamity hoves into view. Further, Bendis uses the lull to give us further insight into the mindsets and interpersonal dynamics of the characters.
It’s something that is a huge part of Bendis’ project. I’m of a mindset (a generation, even) that only sees how these comics are different to the comics I grew up enjoying. I can’t get fully into how Bendis is portraying these characters that I feel I know. However, I’m sure that Bendis has been cooking up something that his new younger readers find very satisfying, challenging, entertaining and even uplifting. This issue especially shows us that these are characters that take stands on certain issues, that are driven by demons, that live in a world where the difference between the good guys and bad guys is sometimes hard to perceive. Further, the characters might even convince themselves that what they are doing is justified, but in the end there are no certainties and no authorial voice declaring finally the rights and wrongs. It’s up to the readers to interpret what they see and ‘hear’ from the mouths of the characters themselves.
I think something that puts old-school Marvel fans off Bendis’ work is that absence of authorial voice. We were in no doubt what Lee and Kirby thought of the likes of Loki and Magneto. Words like ‘evil’ and ‘diabolic’ were used in the caption boxes and Kirby drew villains as bestial in their moral depravity.
Bendis, on the other hand, depicts bad people as people first. In their own minds they are comfortable with what they are doing, and often carry themselves with confidence, wit and even charm. We don’t get any overt editorialising telling us that they are evil, and instead see them striving almost heroically to come out on top, surrounded by both heroes and villains that may betray or plot against them. Some people mistake this for a lack of morality in the comics that Bendis and his peers produce.
But the morality is there. Look again at Count Nefaria’s words to his daughter that I scanned earlier. He seems charming, wry and in control of the situation, but that’s someone of a completely different, diminished mindset to even an ordinary family person, let alone a hero. Bendis is telling us a lot about how evil works in the world, but revealing it by the villains’ own words and actions.
Anyone reading along closely might notice that my opening posts were rather wry and sarcastic, but I have to admit that I’ve gained a lot of respect for Bendis since starting this reading project. He has been doing all sorts of interesting, thoughtful and challenging things with his Marvel comics.
I have mentioned along the way aspects of Marvel’s marketing strategies which would make anyone cynical about their products, but if you take it is given that comics have to be produced this way, depending on a shrinking market to buy all their interlinked comics, Bendis does tremendous work within that model.
It would be possible to read just Siege and get a good story, but it would be clear to anyone that there is more going on that relates to it. Readers would feel the need to understand where Steve, Thor and Tony are coming back from, and what kind of separation they are addressing. Readers need to know the relationships between the Hood, Loki and Osborn, and how complete their seeming control of the situation was during the Dark Reign. What is the registration act and why are the New Avengers worried about getting arrested? Without development of these, the victory in Siege is just a hollow spectacle.
I can see why anyone would throw their hands up at the number of comics they are expected to buy to be able to enjoy the central ‘important’ events of the Marvel Universe. I was able to keep up between Secret Invasion and Siege thanks to my local library, but buying all those comics is a big ask for anyone. And it does look like it’s all or nothing. So I can understand why people choose ‘nothing’ over ‘all’.
But still, seeing this kind of huge cross-company storytelling done well is something special, Bendis engineers it with skill and there are rewards to be had in reading something like Siege and its tie-ins. You can be cynical about the marketing, and there are (legal) ways to get around the huge cost they seem to involve, but as a piece of grand, ambitious superhero fiction, out there now, and completed pretty much to its creators’ satisfaction, Siege and some of the prequels and tie-ins, are worth a look.
Getting back to the comic itself, the most surprising turn is a conversation between Steve Rogers and Osborn's Dark Avengers sidekick, Victoria Hand. In it she says that she initially believed that Osborn offered a senseible way forward, but then as she realised he was going off the rails, she stayed with him to try to keep him on a sensible path, and try to ensure he did as little harm as she could. Steve takes her at her word while admitting that he disagrees with her every thought. He goes on to say that she still has her job and she'll now be working for him. It looks like Steve Rogers reaching out to include even mislead Tea-partiers into his fold.
There is a well presented scene between Thor and Ares now-orphaned son, Phobos, after the battle. I enjoyed it, but only days later did I realise that it had no place in this comic at all. Neither characters have been involved with the Dark Avengers or any of the storylines in the previous 15 issues. The scene would seem to be better placed in either Thor's own comic, or Secret Warriors, where Phobos appears alongside Nick Fury.
Just as I decided to attribute an artistic purpose to Bendis' use of a similar starting point for Siege as Civil War, I tried to see if there might be a thematic reason for including the Thor/Phobos scene in the final issue of Dark Avengers. I think it's simply that after 15 issues of Norman and company's moral quagmire, Bendis is showing us how a truly noble, compassionate and thoughtful protagonist behaves. Thor commiserates genuinely with the child, praises Ares' final sacrifice, and offers what advice, aid and comfort he can to Phobos. The new Thor is very big of heart and character. He's also a man of few words, but they are meaningful here, and in strong contrast to the 15 issues of dissembling, lies and manipulation that have preceded it.
Bendis has a great handle on this more godlike, admirable and grand Thor that JMS has brought back to life. So we do, after all, get a commentary on all the evil words and deeds that have been presented to us as 'the way things are' in this series.
The other possibility is that Thor passing on Ares weapons and armour to his son is foreshadowing of Phobos future. Possibly the damaged Phobos will now grow up to form his own Dark Avengers to work off his rage and frustration at losing his father with so much unresolved like this. In the long run, someone called Phobos (fear) isn't really going to become one of the good guys, is he?
Just spotted this contemporaneous conversation about the wrap-up to Siege which the OCD fanboy in me couldn't leave unlinked to this page...