Make Mine Marvel, Malapropist: Marvel’s SIEGE and Beyond

I asked my friend (and EPA-co-writer) Nathan to join me for a discussion about Marvel’s latest event comic, Siege, and the state of Marveldom in 2010. What follows is best read with at least a cursory knowledge of the terms Civil War, Superhuman Registration Act, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, and the Heroic Age.

Nathan: Thanks for letting me in on this as-far-as-I-known-untitled ongoing dialogue regarding Siege and what it means for the future of Marvel Comics. I thought that before we get into the meat of the conversation, we could do a little bit of prognosticatin’. Siege #4 doesn’t hit the stands until a week from now, which by event book standards isn’t that unbearable of a wait, but it’s still long enough so that Marvel’s next tentpole project, “The Heroic Age,” is starting to overlap, scheduling-wise, with the Siege tie-ins.

I’ve made a habit of trying to predict what happens at the end of Marvel’s big crossovers, and with Siege it will be no different. Back in the days of Civil War, I boldly declared that Tony Stark would die destroying malfunctioning Thor clone, which would simultaneously redeem him as a character and facilitate a premature end to the Superhuman Registration Act. I was, of course, completely wrong about that. Before Secret Invasion ended, I made a series of further conjectures, including: that the Wasp would die; that Ms. Marvel would also die; that the Skrulls would be revealed to have been colluding with Norman Osborn, who they would set up as their puppet leader; and that all the remaining heroes would be replaced and jailed for a good year or so. I was a bit more accurate that time, but not quite.

So what are we to expect from the end of Siege? The advance solicits give us a good idea of what happens after, at the very least. Osborn is definitely going down, although I don’t think he’ll end up as a casualty (Marvel’s done that too many times). Given the big reveal of the Sentry‘s alter ego the Void as the main villain, I think we can safely say that Bob Reynolds will be no more, probably for good. I’m also going to throw out the possibility of Karla Sofen, the new Ms. Marvel, being killed as well. Apart from that, this “Heroic Age” might be a sneaky way of describing the structure of Marvel’s heretofore unrelated superteams, making them all a part of the larger Avengers universe. With Nick Fury once again helming S.H.I.E.L.D., there will be a sort of team hierarchy wherein the classic Avengers are once again on the government payroll (and they fight the most difficult, cosmic adversaries), while the New Avengers take on street-level threats and the Secret Avengers do their black ops thing. Meanwhile, the government-sanctioned Avengers Academy trains new recruits, Luke Cage’s Thunderbolts is the villain rehab program, the X-Men are now functionally “Avengers West Coast” and the Agents of Atlas…well, I don’t know. I presume there will be a lot of overlap between books and that will sort of be part of the fun–like the Thing is on the New Avengers to act as ambassador for the Fantastic Four, and the New Avengers in turn report to the old-school Avengers, etc.

The big unknown, I think, is whether or not the Superhuman Registration Act is going to last beyond Siege. It seems unlikely, but for all we know Marvel could repurpose the Act by having certain metahumans take on government positions, with Steve Rogers and Nick Fury being the main intelligence guys tasked with making sure no heroes go rogue. This would slightly solve the problem at hand (instead of the government mandating superhero behavior, they get Nick Fury to do it for them), and perhaps create some new, interesting problems. The whole thing with keeping everyone’s secret identity on file will probably go, though.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of a D.C.-based journalist named Spencer Ackerman–he’s primarily a national security wonk who works for the Washington Independent, but he’s also a big comic fan and Marvel geek who often writes about the political underpinnings of stuff like Siege. A while ago, he wrote a truly brilliant post, explaining his idea for a possible Siege outcome, which he described thusly:

I have one narrative hope, and that’s that all this ends with Steve Rogers deciding he’s not going to be Captain America. He’s going to be the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. who sloughs off the dross of Osborn. And then he decides, once in power, to reaffirm a whole lot of what Osborn did: deals with supervillains, a restrained embrace of torture, widespread surveillance, and so forth. It’s national security after all, and these are dangerous times, and it’s better not to make a clean break and there was just a Skrull invasion and who knows there might still be Skrulls here and blah blah blah. Imagine getting your mind blown when all of that Osbornic H.A.M.M.E.R. crap is embraced by Captain Fucking America.

Sound familiar? About a month ago, I saw Ackerman speak at this panel–discussing civil liberties issues in the Marvel and DC universes (I know: fantastic, right?)–in downtown D.C. After the talk, I approached him and tried to convey my enthusiasm for this concept, and he said that he had suggested the idea to Ed Brubaker (they had started emailing each other during that Captain American-teabagger fracas) and it was basically shot down. I guess Steve Rogers is too much of a sacred cow for Marvel and it wouldn’t fit the MO of the Heroic Age. It’s a shame, because it seems so…Marvel.

Greg: My big unknown is somewhat different than yours. I’d wager that the Superhuman Registration Act or government-regulated superheroics will no longer be part of the Marvel universe following Siege–that beyond the end of Norman Osborn’s time in power, this is the major status quo shift we’ll see. What I wonder about is the level of interconnectedness throughout Marvel’s titles in the Heroic Age. For the past year-plus, the Dark Reign storyline has affected most Marvel books to some degree, and Osborn and his lackeys have turned up nearly everywhere. Personally–and maybe this is because I read a limited number of Marvel comics each month, usually in collected form–I thought this was forward-thinking and fun. But to some fans, I’m sure it felt like an imposition. With the Heroic Age (terribly corny name, let’s acknowledge), are we looking at fewer company-wide storylines? More titles moving in their own individual directions?

The answer, probably, is yes, but Marvel also seems to be expanding its Avengers line, and including characters from every area of the Marvel U on one team or another in what seems like a(n autonomous?) Avengers network. Mostly this is exciting–Brubaker’s new super-espionage series Secret Avengers looks like a romp, in spite of Mike Deodato Jr.’s porny artwork. And Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen‘s New Avengers (volume two) doesn’t look like it strays too far from the, um, earlier New Avengers line-ups, I’m all too happy about Bendis writing a team that includes Spider-Man, the Thing, Iron First, and Stephen Strange. I wonder though, ignoring the obvious marketing advantage, why we need both Avengers Academy and Young Avengers, or what kind of person buys both.

In the post that follows, we should probably get to what we’ve actually thought about Siege so far, but your mention of Ackerman got me thinking about Steve Rogers–specifically, who this character is and what kind of stories can be told with him. To be blunt, Ackerman’s story isn’t one I’d want to read. To me, Rogers’ incorruptibility is like Superman’s invulnerability; removing either one is an obvious way to begin a story, but maybe too obvious. (These characters are both probably easier to deconstruct than to write straightforward, novel and engaging stories about.) Since Brubaker began writing Captain America five years ago, he’s done plenty of playing around with the Cap mythos, but Rogers has consistently behaved, well, heroically, and it’s been a huge success. Spider-Man is better suited for stories about a hero screwing up, in my opinion, and Daredevil is better suited for stories about a hero making compromises. Even if Ackerman’s story was told well, I think comics readers are too jaded to have their minds blown by such a turn, and what else the story would be good for.

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2 Comments on “Make Mine Marvel, Malapropist: Marvel’s SIEGE and Beyond”

  1. David M Says:

    Oh man, Greg. How long have you had this blog going? I just spent 2 hours reading the whole thing. Awesome work. Especially all the Mad Men mentions. Keep up the good work.

    Also, every -oh I dunno- 5 months I want to get into comics. But I’m starting about 15 years after everyone else. Plus, I don’t know what ones to buy. I don’t want to spend my well earned substitute teaching money on silly comic books. What do you suggest?

    One more thing. I’m applying for jobs in and around the twin cities. I hope to see you doodz a lot this summer and for the indefinite future.

  2. […] Fewer Winks, More Man-Thing In which my friend (and EPA co-writer) Nathan and I resume our discussion of Marvel comics in […]

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