It’s no surprise to comics fans that we are living in an age of “crossover events”.
Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada has been promising a relief from “event fatigue” in interviews and Cup O’ Joe columns for well over a year. Yet he is also on record saying, “the truth of the matter is that, if you market a story as an event, even if it’s not the greatest story known to man, I will bet you dollars to donuts that you’re going to sell better numbers on those titles than anything else in your line”. Apparently, as much as comics fans complain about the unnecessary tie-ins, the failure to deliver major universe changes with major event upon major event, and the lack of cohesive continuity across titles, readers continually put their dollars into the books with the “Dark Reign”, “Civil War”, or “Secret Invasion” splashed across the cover.
One possible explanation could be that there’s been a shift in the types of narratives we enjoy. Whereas the comicbooks of yesteryear may have seen Spider-Man battling Sandman in one issue, Kingpin in another and the Green Goblin in yet another with little connection between issues, stories today are geared toward longer arcs, with most writers shooting for a six issue story that can be collected in trade format and marketed as a “graphic novel”. Moreover, even these extended stories must be part of yet a larger narrative. It’s akin to the changing narrative structures in television series, where stand-alone episodes gave way to longer narratives that extend plot conflict and resolution across episodes and even seasons. As readers and viewers, we want what happened in the last issue or the last episode to matter.
So here we find ourselves in 2010. Marvel has been whetting our collective appetites with teaser posters and taglines claiming “Siege” is an event “seven years in the making”. We’ve been going back to Mark Millar’s superhero dividing “Civil War” and trying to find the threads that will tie everything together in Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel’s “Siege”.
The bad news is that no four-issue miniseries can deliver upon the promise that “This Event” will change everything FOREVER. If comicbooks have taught us anything, it’s that there is a certain inevitability to things. Goodness will prevail. Evil will be punished. While Siege does not read as a story seven years in the making, it does give readers a supersized blockbuster in terms of art and plot.
Siege should be praised as an excellent set-up series for the new “Heroic Age” and one that provides new readers a great place to jump aboard and dive into the Marvel universe. While readers of Bendis’ Dark Avengers and Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man will have some helpful contextual information, Bendis and Coipel’s Siege can definitely be read as a stand-alone story. Thematically the first issue sets up Osborn as a Dick Cheney-like character, a power hungry and manipulative war-monger. Thor’s brother Loki, a malicious trickster in his own right, partners with Osborn to bring about the fall of Asgard, the home of the Norse gods which now hovers above a small town in Oklahoma. If this all sounds very confusing, well, it is, but new readers can easily catch up with Wikipedia.
Hidden agendas lurk everywhere, and Coipel’s attention to detail is fantastic. The dark shadows that hide beneath both Osborn and Loki’s downcast eyes are wonderfully evil. Coipel’s strength lies in his ability to shift between revealing, close-up facial characterizations and broad, dynamic action. This is the widescreen, Blu-Ray edition of the Marvel universe with large, bloody fight scenes, stadium-sized explosions and epic splash pages. Coipel, complimented by the equally compelling work of inker Mark Morales and colorist Laura Martin, is perfect choice, representing a contemporary mainstream appeal that values clarity while also incorporating very cinematic angles and narrative jumps.
Issues #3 and #4 find “Siege” at its best, balancing Jerry Bruckheimer-esque action-adventure with character-driven emotional intensity. Both Loki and Ares are forced to come to terms with Osborn’s deceit, and readers are unexpectedly asked to re-see and re-evaluate these “villains” in their final moments of the fall of Asgard. If the expectation of a major comic event is the battle of Good against Evil, then Siege diverges a bit, making us sympathize with those who lie and deceive.
However, “Siege” is not without major flaws. At times, it seems like the story is about to crumble under its own vision. Only four issues long, “Siege” packs a lot of punch, and there is a quickness that sometimes backfires and feels like the series is being rushed. In retrospect, it is surprising that “Siege” was not told over six issues, which would have allowed the grand, sweeping battles as well as the proper introduction and in-dialogue re-cap needed to put universe-wide characters in context. Coipel’s visual storytelling thus also feels rushed, as if proper space were not available to tell the full sequence of events. The battle between Thor, Sentry and the Iron Patriot at the end of the first issue is a prime example, with large jump cuts between movements making the fight nearly incomprehensible at moments.
Readers familiar with prior events in the Marvel U will find the final scenes with the Sentry/Void in issue #4 extremely recognizable, especially if you read a major event with a large green monster in 2007. At the end of issue #4 I was left wanting more, not in terms of fight scenes, but in regards to themes of trickery. The tricksters were finally tricked, but what has “Siege” taught us about deceit?
In the end, Bendis and Coipel deliver a fast-paced, action-heavy epic that is extremely entertaining and satisfying. The Dark Reign is over (for now)! Phew! Will things ever be same? Well, probably. But you already knew that.