Thursday, January 07, 2010

Comics! Siege begins!

This week sees the first installment of Marvel Comics’ next Big Thing: a four-part series called Siege. The back story will be familiar to those of you who’ve been paying attention here at Stevereads – Norman Osborn, the murderous ersatz Green Goblin, has professed to be a changed man, wormed his way into the President’s good graces, and been placed in charge of the super paramilitary organization known as H.A.M.M.E.R. He’s recruited his own team of ‘dark’ Avengers, and for several months now readers have been treated to a surprisingly entertaining dystopian version of the usual Marvel continuity … the bad guys have been in charge, hunting down, torturing, and even killing the good guys.

It’s yielded some good stories, and one of the things that made those stories good was the background current of tension that’s been building the whole time. Norman Osborn has been written consistently as a smarmy psychopath with only a tenuous hold on his own sanity, and his team of Avengers have for the most part been written as unabashed scumbags. Readers like me have been both fascinated and appalled, and every month the prospect of Osborn’s fall from power – and the face-stomping his team of storm troopers so richly deserves – has grown just a little more delicious in the aniticpating.

Marvel’s in-house ads hint pretty strongly that Siege is the story of that downfall – that the core trio of the real Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America, will reunite to bring about the return of the so-called Heroic Age Marvel’s been touting lately. We’ll see if that turns out to be true, but in the meantime, this issue opens with a bang.

Bang as in explosion. Osborn and the evil Norse god Loki conspire to orchestrate an catastrophic incident involving a bunch of energy-wielding bad guys and one Volstagg, a warrior who’s left the fabled city of Asgard (which now floats ten feet above some empty scrubland in Oklahoma, as seen in last year’s new run of Thor’s own comic) in search of adventure. The catastrophic incident involves a crowded football stadium, and Osborn uses its aftermath to justify launching a full-scale invasion of Asgard, spearheaded by his own super-powered shock troops. That invasion is launched in this first issue, which is written by Brian Michael Bendis in his usual spastic way and gloriously illustrated by Olivier Coipel.

Osborn’s surveillance intelligence tells him Thor is not in Asgard at the moment (readers of Thor’s own book will recall that, for the millionth time, he’s been exiled from his hometown), so his hopes of success are high. His ‘dark’ Avengers move in with Air Force fighter jets and catch the Asgardians by surprise, and the fighting is in full fury when Thor does indeed show up – only to get rather unceremoniously knocked around by the bad guys. The issue ends with things looking fairly bleak for Asgard.

The two main problems that usually afflict comic book Big Things are a) inconsistent characterization of the major players, or b) incoherent plotting, and Bendis avoids both those pitfalls in this first issue, and he does quite a bit right besides. The elements are in place here for a tremendously satisfying story – not only the prospect of Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man reuniting but also the classic overreaching Osborn has been doing all along, culminating in this issue when he angrily delegates to an assistant the task of telling the President that he’s going to invade Asgard (“I’m done talking to that man,” he snarls, and a later scene in the White House makes it clear the President feels the same about him). And certainly attacking an entire city full of warrior gods can be classified as overreaching.

So: a fine strong premise-issue (marred only by the inclusion of some script-pages for a fairly pivotal scene in which Osborn explains his decision to his Avengers – no explanation is given as to why Coipel didn’t draw these pages, like he did the rest of the issue), and the ball is Bendis’ to fumble. My fingers are crossed that he doesn’t.


Kevin said...

Wake me when all the cross-overs are complete. Maybe then I'll Make Mine Marvel again.

Comics! Great Expectorations! | stevereads said...

[...] right, and what’s even odder is how similar “Fear Itself” is to its predecessor, “Siege,” in so many ways. In both cases, continuity-wide changes are promised that almost certainly [...]