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.
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