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: 180

Comment by John Dunbar on February 9, 2010 at 12:59pm
Cap, I'm going to apologize in advance for being Mr. Negative here. I don't have event fatigue, but I do have two afflictions that will prevent me from getting Siege: I have Osborn-fatigue and Bendis-fatigue.

The MU is drowning is Osborn and it needs to stop. We passed the point long ago where his fingers in every pie story stopped being remotely believable. The Avengers that could not take him down long ago are not the Avengers I know.

As for Mr. Bendis, yes, he is strong on dialogue. He is also strong with the street level stuff. But he has turned the Avengers into Earth's Mightiest Talkers, and, again, that's not my Avengers. I have found his other big crossovers - House of M and Secret Invasion - to be just like his work on New Avengers, so much sound and fury, great ideas and concepts, but poor execution, poor follow through, and final issues that are not so much an ending but merely a set-up for the Next Big Event or theme.

Also, you need to update one thing, while all of the Avengers titles - New, Mighty, Dark, and Initiative - will be cancelled in April, there will be more than just one single title. In addition to The Avengers, there has also been an announcement of a Secret Avengers title by Ed Brubaker and Mike Deodato. It sounds like the successor to Dark Avengers. I have also heard rumors of an Avengers Academy title, which would replace Avengers: The Initiative, and even West Coast Avengers to replace Mighty Avengers.

Siege Imbedded - 4 issues of bashing an obvious Glenn Beck stand in? Ugh. Pass. I read comics to avoid things like the Glenn Becks of the world, that's why they're an escape.
Comment by The Baron on February 9, 2010 at 1:57pm
It's a funny thing. I feel as though I ought to be more interested in this story. It's precisely the sort of thing I would of loved when I was a kid, or even a young adult. Ah, well. If it crosses over with Hercules, I'll at least read that much of it.
Comment by Doc Beechler (mod-MD) on February 9, 2010 at 2:18pm
I'm enjoying it. I had soured a bit on the Dark Reign thing, but bringing the original Beatles...I mean Avengers back together to take out Osborn and his crew...I've been waiting for that.
Comment by Captain Comics on February 9, 2010 at 3:14pm
Actually, the Dark Reign thing for me didn't go far enough to satisfy my suspension of disbelief.

I can fully accept the whole Osborn-in-charge thing. I don't mean this to be political, but just look at waterboarding -- I would never have believed that the USA would do such things, and moreover, do them by executive fiat. Yet, boom, they did. That shows the power of a unitary executive, which we now seem to have. Further, I've been in the news business for 30 years, and seen it change from something I'm proud of to something that has become a lapdog for those in power. So when Osborn's real super-power turns out to be public relations, it makes perfect sense that he'd weasel his way to the top.

Plus, Bendis had done a pretty good job of crippling the big guns. Thor was dead, then Cap, then Iron Man neturalized. I'm not sure that I can buy the reason the FF didn't go at him hammer and tongs (threatening the children? Please -- that would just make them MORE determined to take him down), but OK, I can accept one impossible thing before breakfast.

So I have less trouble than most accepting the basic premise. However, let me emphasize that I understand those who don't, and are just wanting it to be over. I understand your perspective, which make sense and is legitimate to me as well.

But if you follow my perspective, though, you can see where I ran into trouble is that I didn't think Osborn acted like he should once he got in power. For one thing, I'd think the extermination of Spider-Man would be Job One. Not necessarily requiring his full attention, either. Just a standing order, a designated hit squad (or department of Hammer), plus using the power of government to constantly assault the web-spinner 24/7. He'd just set the dogs loose forever, not just that one-shot a few months ago.

Nor do I think he'd be as easily dissuaded from attaining his goals as he was in Spider-Man: The List and other places where he's been foiled. He's a supervillain. If he gets thwarted from killing Spider-Man or whatever, he'd just redouble his efforts, because he's a petty, angry thug. Revenge is in his blood. Once foiled, he'd just try all the harder.

Like with Iron Man, in that character's title. Tony Stark had a series of plans to prevent Osborn from getting the secret IDs of the underground Avengers, but Osborn just plowed through one after another. He was indefatigable. Every time he was thwarted he'd just get madder, and re-double his efforts, chasing Stark across the globe to Afghanistan! Now THAT'S a supervillain.

And it's what I'd expect him to do at every turn. And anybody how crossed him -- from Dr. Doom to Loki -- I'd see him using everything had, even to his own death, to exact revenge. Because he's not a reasonable guy. He's a power-crazed supervillain!

So I wanted to see MORE Osbornmania, not less. I wanted to see Spider-Man hunted to desperation and everything going wrong for the good guys everywhere.

And THEN, of course, the inevitable day when the good guys take the gloves off and return the favor. Pushed to the wall, living in extremis, mad as hell. And, of course, with the big guns restored to their former luster. To see "Disassembled" un-done. To see Cap, Thor and Iron Man say, "OK, you little punk, that's enough."

Which is what Siege threatens to be: The return of the grown-ups. And I can't wait to read it.
Comment by Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) on February 9, 2010 at 3:26pm
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.

Too late. It may be something really great, but I ain't gonna buy it. Maybe later when I can find them all in the dollar (quarter?) box I will pick it up, but now? No way. It wouldn't be so bad if all of the previous events didn't suck so bad. I took the same stance on "Blackest Night".
Comment by Doc Beechler (mod-MD) on February 9, 2010 at 3:32pm
It's kind of the Lex Luthor as President story done right...
Comment by Captain Comics on February 9, 2010 at 5:13pm
Also, John Dunbar, no worries about being Mr. Negative. It's evident that there are wildly divergent opinions about Dark Reign/Siege, and I've certainly had room to express mine. I'm interested in others.

Also also, I was interested in what you said, Mark, about Ben Urich not being a principled reporter. Since that touches on some of the things I'll be blathering about in my thesis, I'm curious as to your reasoning.

For one thing, was Ben aware of Stark implying that he had started the war with the Atlanteans? I thought that was just Sally. I'll have to go back and look that up.

But let's say he did. Why would it make him unprincipled to keep that to himself? There is no law that a reporter has to report everything he knows. We're not stenographers. That's where "ethics" and "principles" come in -- making decisions about what to cover and how to cover it, that are rarely black and white.

Take, for example, Urich finding out that Matt Murdock was Daredevil. He chose not to report that, as he felt it would do more harm than good. (And, obviously, it would.) He withheld the information from his editor, too -- but wouldn't lie that he didn't have the information. He admitted to JJJ that he knew, but just wouldn't reveal it -- which resulted in getting fired. To me, that's pretty darn principled.

And I think the same yardstick applies here. Sally and Urich decided that revealing this information would do more harm than good. I don't necessarily agree with them, and I thought that entire story was written without a clear understanding of how journalism worked (and a low opinion of it, to boot). But that is how the story has been presented, and we can only judge what we were given.

And I think judging whether it was a principled stand has to be set aside from whether or not we agree with the decision. As I said above, I don't necessarily agree with the Front Line's decision not to reveal the information. But because I don't agree doesn't mean I think it was unprincipled. In fact, I think the reverse. If it was the opinion of the Front Line that releasing the information would harm the public good, then the only principled response is to withhold the information. Releasing the information -- and selling a butt-load of newspapers, and getting multi-million-dollar book deals, and getting talking head jobs on TV -- would be the UN-principled decision.

Of course, as I said, I don't agree that releasing the information would harm the public good. But they thought it would (and may know things in this fictional universe that I don't), and gave up personal gain to -- in their view -- serve the public good. That, in my mind, is as principled as it gets.

But maybe I'm wrong. Thoughts, anyone?
Comment by Figserello on February 9, 2010 at 7:54pm
I guess I'm getting jaded.

In principle, I like that Bendis embarked on such a huge longform narative back in 2004. (Did Secret War predate Avengers Dissassembled?)

It's the logical progression when you look at how the length of the stories told grew over the years, and this generation of writers need to do something that hasn't been done before, just like their predecessors did.

But it falls down in the execution for me. Secret Invasion ended absolutely insultingly ludicrously. Since when have superhero comics been about solving our problems by the expedient of shooting someone in the head?

So I felt insulted and that was my jumping off point.

I got the preview mag to Siege with the first few pages. The fat one out of the Warrors Three is involved in the destruction of a packed stadium in a slug-out with some supervillains? Didn't we do this before in CW? Something new please!

I'm also sceptical of the idea that this has all been planned out since Avengers Dissassembled. Yes, the goings on in the Savage Land way back at the start foreshadowed Secret Invasion. Actually that was playing to Bendis' noir strengths. Investigations of small incidents in crime stories often fold out to reveal huge nationwide conspiracies. However, once the Skrull Queen took that bullet, we're off in a new direction.

Having Osbourn enter the longform story as a cackling remote controled assassin in CW, kind of negates the set-up of him being the highly regarded PR genius who gets control of all the strings of power. So I don't feel we are in the hands of creators who have mapped everything out from the start.

And given Bendis' treatment of his female characters, I'd say Diamondback has the most to worry about of the three minor characters you mention.

Sorry for the negativity. Fool me once, and all that...
Comment by Figserello on February 10, 2010 at 2:36am
Turning point said >>>The fat one out of the Warrors Three is involved in the destruction of a packed stadium in a slug-out with some supervillains? Didn't we do this before in CW? <

That was the whole point of Loki's scheme, using irony here by taking a page from the Civil War playbook. Thus, Osborn pulls a Stamford on Volstagg to legitimize his reason to attack Asgard as a threat to the US.


Thanks for giving the context to this, which obviously the 6 page preview didn't have.

Alas, I seem to be getting to old for these things. I've had my fill of irony and self-referencing narratives...
Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on February 10, 2010 at 9:25am
Good discussion everyone!

I have nothing to add, but good discussion!

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