Thursday, February 04, 2010

Comics! Siege 2

A bunch of comics came out this week, but in the superhero world, only one of them mattered much, and it would matter even if it didn’t matter, if you know what I mean – because the writing features Brian Michael Bendis doing his choppy, impressionistic, weirdly beguiling thing with dialogue (he’s the best of the current bunch of ‘no exposition’ comics writers), and because it features the stunning, mind-warpingly great artwork of Olivier Coipel. These two could make Scrooge McDuck matter.

The series of course is “Siege” from Marvel, and naturally it matters for reasons other than its creative team, although it should be stressed that said team has seldom been in stronger form. No, this four-issue mini-series matters because it’s the culmination and climax of the company-wide “Dark Reign” story that’s been playing out in Marvel’s comics for the last few years. Some of you will already be familiar with that scenario (from previous Stevereads entries, if nothing else – just follow the tags!): Norman Osborn, the ersatz Green Goblin, has wormed his way into the country’s good graces and taken command of H.A.M.M.E.R., a gigantic paramilitary force of stormtroopers. And when he’s wearing his super-powered armor and going under the code-name Iron Patriot, he also commands his own team of Avengers, composed of villains dressed in hero costumes – plus the Sentry (think: Superman only biddable and psychotic) and Ares, the Greek god of war.

In the lead-up to “Siege,” as we’ve seen, Norman Osborn, manipulated by the evil norse god Loki (and drunk on power the old-fashioned way), has declared war on Asgard, the home city of the norse gods, which is currently floating above Oklahoma. Osborn talks about how the city forms a real and present threat to America just by being there, and in the first issue of “Siege” he gathers his troops and invades.

So “Siege” #2 starts off in the chaos of general battle, with Osborn’s troops and Avengers fighting a city full of enraged and not all that out-gunned Asgardians (swords and spears are pretty damn effective if you’re super-strong, which every single Asgardian is). Coipel’s pencils are magnificent – he’s able to convey the huge sweep of what’s going on without taking any drama away from the one-on-one encounters throughout the book, the first of which is key to this issue: the Asgardian warriors Balder and Heimdall convince Ares that he’s been duped, that Osborn is really his enemy.

There’s other stuff going on in this issue, but that’s the core story: Ares turns on Osborn, knocks him out of the sky, and is about to cut his head off when the Sentry intervenes, beats the stuffing out of Ares, and then, well … takes him out of the fight entirely, let’s say. The issue ends with Osborn unleashing the Sentry on Thor, Asgard’s greatest warrior and resident super-hero – and with Osborn himself coming under attack by none other than Captain America, alive again and fighting mad, leading his own group of reinforcements into battle. It’s a great cliffhanger ending to a great issue, but it leaves me wondering two things:

First: if Bendis is going to portray the Sentry as so powerful – able to dispatch the god of war with relative ease, likely to pound the stuffing out of Thor in the next issue – then why would Osborn need this mysterious reserve operative he’s been darkly hinting about for the last year? We don’t know who that mysterious operative is (although if you follow the aforementioned tags, you’ll see where I made my own prediction, months and months ago – a prediction I’m sticking with), but he hardly seems Needed, if this is what Osborn’s pet psycho can do all by himself.

Second: Even at the breakneck pace this thing is developing, how can it possibly wrap up in only two issues? Captain America re-entering the fray; Thor fighting the Sentry, this mysterious operative entering the fray, Iron Man presumably showing up at some point … not to mention the fact that if long-term grudge-matches are going to be honored here, Spider-Man (currently just a background member of Cap’s reinforcements) should surely take pride of place, no? Osborn killed his beloved Gwen Stacey, after all! How Bendis can possibly resolve all this in only 50 more pages is beyond me.

But I’ll certainly be along for the ride. This issue erases all my slight misgivings about the first issue of this series: this is epic-style Marvel done just right.


Kevin said...

Steve, I think you've been drinking too much of the Kool Aid - just read this glorified boring fight scene of a comic, and I'm wondering if you've forgotten what a GOOD superhero book reads like! Go re-read, I dunno, the Dark Phoenix Saga or Dark Night or something.

GAD, I can't stand the Sentry.

steve donoghues said...

Oh come now! Let's not be the kind of pooh-poohing fanboys who reflexively stopped liking all comics once the Dark Phoenix Saga ended - let's not be those guys!

This is in fact terse, tense stuff, and pretty good - the fight between Ares and the Sentry (and seeing how much coverage it's received in a million comics sites, I realize now I needn't have worried about inadvertently 'spoiling' that fight's precise conclusion - I'll certainly include the 'money shot' when I review the graphic novel) could easily have been the standard Marvel/DC fifteen-page "Urg!" "Ka-Pow!" slug-fest; instead, it looks and feels much closer to what the down-and-dirty reality would be if a super-strong character fought a super-dooper strong character in a no-holds-barred contest.

And don't belittle "Siege" because of the fighting! Keep in mind, this is an incredibly tightly-focused mini-series: not weeks, not days, and not hours - this whole thing, all four issues, chronicles maybe ONE hour, So of COURSE the whole thing's a fight scene.

But for what it's worth, I hate the Sentry too (being the world's biggest Superman fan, I could hardly not, now could I?), have hated the character since he was first introduced. I'm hoping the one really big thing Brian Michael Bendis was given permission to do in this series is somehow moiderize the character, although I'm betting just the reverse is going to happen.

Kevin said...

In my mind, a good superhero slugfest should include more drama, much more imaginative uses of characters' powers, more craftiness, more cleverness. More signifigance - it makes you care what happens to who. Is there a character you could care less about being disemboweled than Ares?

This book reminds me more of 90's Image-era posing and posturing. You know I'm right, too. Underneath it all, you do. Deep down. I know there is good in you, Bendis hasn't driven it from you fully.

Re-read your Astonishing X-men, then. That was printed this decade.

steve donoghue said...

OK, that first entire run of 'Astonishing X-Men' (I'm thinking especially, as you know I am, as every single person who read it is, of the final issue of that run - "Disappointed, Miss Frost?" "Astonished, Miss Pryde") was a hit, a very palpable hit - but you're still missing the point! The whole POINT of this issue's non-imaginative slug-fest was that we, as readers, aren't supposed to care about EITHER of the characters doing the fighting. One is a psycho, the other is a thug, and both are having the crap manipulated out of them by somebody even worse. I think what Bendis is showing us is the BARBARITY of these characters - I really doubt he's trying to make anybody care about them. And as far as bare-bones barbarity goes, well, that fight Coipel drew, that one hyper-grotesque moment, gets the job done.

My only quibble? It should be avenged, and not by somebody like Thor, who Bendis might actually write as LOSING the fight - seems to me the person who'd be most likely to squash Sentry like a bug in the next issue would be Ares' father. Too bad that won't be happening.

Kevin said...

A dodgy justification at best, but at least I got you to admit it was unimaginative and the reader doesn't care about the characters.

Revenge of Zeus would rule. So you're probably right about it not happening.

Mike said...

So, as someone who stopped reading comics years ago but has spent a few minutes on the internet (An expert, I know! Kidding of course, but I have kept an eye on the funny books through some blogs) I still can't get past the gratuitous nature of these comics. I'm no prude, and I don't think I'm sanitizing the comics I grew up reading (Onslaught, Spawn, etc...I didn't read anything without ridiculous--even by comics standards--costumes and melodramatic characters until Kurt Busiek and George Perez's Avengers) but... really? This is the mainstream of comics? I know these are villains we're talking about, but why does this have to be all IN YOUR FACE. I mean, for one thing foreshortened ...inner bits and pieces are probably beyond most reference books for artists so it just looks odd. But I read about Ultron destroying an entire European nation and it made me feel something, looking at these pictures I don't see these deaths as anything more than stunts. Which comics have always had, of course, but this feels like stunt piled on visera and just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
And that's why I won't give Marvel any money.

Well, I've vented my spleen. Feel free to rebut my little rant. I kinda wish you could.

Steve Donoghue said...

Well, Mike, it's not so much a rebuttal as it is a friendly laugh over a cup of wine: EVERYTHING is more 'in your face' in today's entertainment - most certainly including comics - than it was even twenty years ago. I mean, yes, there's a constant edging of the bar - that now-infamous Ares death-panel was instantly seen by every reader and pundit out there as exactly that. My main point is that it wasn't SOLELY that - it was in whatever passes for Sentry's character to be so psychotic and removed that he'd take such a direct approach in combat.

My main worry is that the whole thing is going to end up being utterly redundant, which really WOULD make it a stunt. Fan consensus seems to be that Ares will be rather speedily resurrected, him being a god and all (and therefore evisceration-proof?) - and many members of the Silent Majority have already emailed me (privately, of course ... sigh ...) to point out that when Ares gets his one and only good axe-shot in to the Sentry, TENDRILS start spilling out - and they coil there in semi-sentient fashion right next to Sentry for the rest of the issue - leading some readers to raise the possibility that it isn't the 'real' Sentry at all. If that turns out to be the case - if Character A shreds Character B but Character B instantly recovers and besides, it wasn't really Character A ... well, that would indeed leave a bad taste in the mouth...