By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service

Feb. 2, 2010 -- A lot of comics fans say they have “event fatigue,” meaning they’re tired of sprawling, company-wide storylines. If so, I hope that doesn’t put them off “Siege,” a sprawling, company-wide storyline that began at Marvel Comics in January.

However, if you believe the company hype, “Siege” actually began seven years ago with an event called “Avengers Disassembled.” And to some extent, that’s true. A writer named Brian Michael Bendis wrote “Disassembled,” wherein Marvel’s long-running Avengers title – and team – bit the dust. Since then, Bendis has managed the fragments of the group through one traumatic event after another.

I don’t have room for the details of all these crises, but the upshot is that they conspired to install a former supervillain (Norman “Green Goblin” Osborn) as the director of national security, in charge of America’s military, espionage organizations and superhuman groups like the Avengers (which he has staffed with supervillains masquerading as famous superheroes). The real Avengers and most other heroes have gone underground. And in “Siege,” Osborn has kicked it up a notch by invading Asgard.

Yes, THE Asgard, the one where Thor lives. And, despite the city being defended by Norse gods – “immortal frickin’ Vikings with giant axes!” as one distraught character says – Osborn has so stacked the deck in his own favor that he just might win.

January gave us Siege #1 (of 4), where the primary story takes place, and Siege: Embedded #1 (of 4), which follows various journalists covering the story. But naturally it’s bleeding over into other titles, especially the four Avengers titles and solo titles of major characters.

As a hint to how this will go, all the Avengers titles will be canceled after Siege #4 in April, to be followed by the launch of a single title, The Avengers, in May (by Bendis and artist John Romita Jr.).

Now, I wouldn’t be telling you all this if I didn’t like the story. In the first month alone we’ve seen a spectacular invasion, sometimes surprising reactions, a vicious attack on the New Avengers, the shocking fall of Thor, a major betrayal and, of course, lots of cool fights.

But my favorite part is the terrific characterization. (This is achieved primarily through dialogue, Bendis’s strongest suit.)

Avengers: The Initiative gets into the heads of grade-z characters Taskmaster, Constrictor and Diamondback. Taskmaster is a blue-collar villain, who usually avoids the spotlight. But now he sees the invasion as a chance to be something more … although it will very likely get him killed. Is leaving his mark worth dying for? Then there’s Diamondback, described derisively as “a gymnast who throws fake diamonds,” but who is a mole for the good guys – which might get her killed. How far does she go? That problem also confronts Constrictor, who knows his girlfriend is a traitor, and also knows he’s in over his head. Does he flip sides? Does he turn her in? Does he run? Thanks to Bendis, I care about these dead-end characters despite myself.

Then there’s Embedded, which contrasts Ben Urich, a principled newsman, and Todd Keller, a Glenn Beck-ish Osborn shill. Urich is accompanied by a former anchorman and recovering alcoholic who is balancing a desire for redemption against self-preservation.

Dark Avengers is finally telling us not who, but what, The Sentry is – and it’s not pretty. New Avengers spotlights the original Captain America and his successor, plus Spider-Man hitting on Spider-Woman. (Maybe.)
So, yes, "Siege" is a superhero comic-book story with lots of bright costumes, exotic powers, bizarre technology and things blowing up real good. But the psychological explorations, the complexity of the plot, the character arcs and learning curves, the conflict of principle, the romantic complications, the classical allusions and the epic scale all push “Siege” a little higher up the scale, bordering on literature.

Of course, when you mention “literature” and an invasion involving gods, one’s first thought is The Iliad. But while some facile comparisons can be made – Is tricky Osborn an Odysseus? Is Thor’s early defeat defending the city reminiscent of Hector? – that is not the story Bendis is telling. And wisely so, I think, because most of us have already read that one. This is a brand new story involving classical themes of war, sacrifice, love, betrayal and madness.

Plus, did I mention things blow up real good? “Siege” is superhero comics at its best, and I highly recommend it.

Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com.

Views: 181

Comment by Doc Beechler (mod-MD) on February 10, 2010 at 10:02am
As soon as the stadium blew up, about 100,000 people analysed the photos and googled the name Volstagg. Tweets went out 2 minutes later, the Daily Show talked about it that night, and Newsweek and Entertainment Weekly covered it a few days later.
Comment by Alan M. on February 10, 2010 at 10:26am
Alas, I seem to be getting to old for these things. I've had my fill of irony and self-referencing narratives...

Says the guy who's been extensively looking at the inter-relations of Grant Morrison's work... :P
Comment by Doc Beechler (mod-MD) on February 10, 2010 at 11:01am
As a dyed-in-the-wool iPhone lover...I completely disagree. ;)
Comment by The Baron on February 10, 2010 at 11:05am
OK now, Doc, don't get too "close" to your electronics, now, will you? ;)
Comment by Cavaliere (moderator emeritus) on February 10, 2010 at 11:54am
Don't worry, Baron. I'm sure Doc has an app for that.
Comment by Figserello on February 10, 2010 at 4:06pm
Comment by Alan M. 5 hours ago

Alas, I seem to be getting to old for these things. I've had my fill of irony and self-referencing narratives...

Says the guy who's been extensively looking at the inter-relations of Grant Morrison's work... :P


Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

:-P
Comment by Jason Marconnet (Pint sized mod) on February 10, 2010 at 6:08pm
Nice article, Cap. I haven't read Siege #2 yet since I pick up my comics once a month now. I enjoyed #1 and I also liked the tie-in issue in Avengers the Initiative.

I have enjoyed the Norman Osborne story line. I think for the most part he is behaving the way a psychopath in public office would behave. Plus I knew that when he took over as head of H.A.M.M.E.R. that it would be tempoarary. The heroes in the Marvel Universe have been down for far too long now and fortunately for them and us, they'll be back on top soon enough.
Comment by ClarkKent_DC on February 10, 2010 at 6:40pm
Nice article, Cap. Unfortunately, I, too am suffering from event fatigue and Osborn fatigue, and will pass on this one. As the saying goes, it's the journey, not the destination -- but I never wanted this journey and want it to be over. Lime_Coke is right: The heroes in the Marvel Universe have been down for far too long.

As for the sidebar over whether Ben Urich and Sally What's-Her-Name made a "principled" decision, I think you and Mark are both right. It was a "principled" decision as you describe it (weighing whether revealing what they had learned served the greater good), but it was unprincipled as Mark sees it (supressing the truth let a villain* get away with his crimes).

* Yes, I meant to say "villain."
Comment by Cavaliere (moderator emeritus) on February 10, 2010 at 6:55pm
I don't know about that journey vs destination bit. I'm interested in the destination of Siege but have no interest in the journey (reading it). It's been the same with House of M and Secret Invasion and so many others in that way. I look forward to seeing how writers I like deal with the new status quo in the Marvel Universe after the event but don't want to read the event itself.

The other side of the coin is Blackest Night wherein I'm loving the journey but fairly sure it won't have lasting consequences outside of the Green Lantern titles.
Comment by Lumbering Jack (M'odd-R8-Tr) on February 11, 2010 at 7:05am
I for one don't buy for a second that this particular story path was planned since "Disassembled." That's just press-release hooey in my book.

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