Make Mine Marvel, Malapropist: Marvel’s SIEGE and Beyond – pt. 3

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.

PART ONE
PART TWO

Greg: Even with my carefully-controlled expectations, I thought the final issue of Marvel’s Siege was a letdown. By the time Siege #4 starts, Captain America, Thor and company have effectively shut down Norman Osborn’s attack on the kingdom of Asgard and exposed Osborn as the villain he has always been. Events throughout Marvel’s line of comics have been building toward Osborn’s downfall for months now, and he has been oppressing the superhero community for the last year or so. By the end of Siege #3, he’s appropriately been reduced to a state of impotent rage. (Points for the scene in #4 where he hits Captain America on the head with a rock and tries to sneak off.) But because Osborn was the only thing keeping the all-powerful Sentry from going off the deep end, the Avengers now have the Sentry’s evil alter-ego the Void. And this is where [writer Brian Michael] Bendis and [artist Olivier] Copiel lost me.

Brian Michael Bendis deserves praise for attempting to make relatively new characters—including those of other writers–an important part of the Marvel universe, rather than letting them fall by the wayside. The Hood—one of Siege’s secondary villains and an ongoing Avengers foe—would otherwise probably be forgotten by now, and Bendis has managed to make him a convincing, enduring threat. But for me, the Sentry was boring to the end, a jumbled mess of competing concepts. (He’s a Miracleman/Marvelman rip-off [who originally was a Captain Marvel rip-off], then a Superman analogue, except his worst enemy is a part of him, and also he’s a junkie who’s addicted to having superpowers. And the Angel of Death. Obviously.) After Siege #3, some readers speculated that the heroes wouldn’t simply be facing the Sentry/Void but a Void overtaken by the Carnage symbiote. That at least would have been novel, and maybe a great finish in an over-the-top way.

One thing I did like: introducing the notion that much after seeing the world according to Nick Fury, and then Tony Stark, then Normal Osborn, we’re about to see the world according to Steve Rodgers. As a guiding concept for the Heroic Age, I think it really works—and makes the Heroic Age seem more like a marketing device. That said, setting up the Heroic Age was only part of this issue’s job, and the only part I think it did well. Agree? Disagree? And either way—are there recent ‘event’ stories you think (do) conclude in a (more) satisfying way?

Details:

– Bob Reyonds, the human facet of the Sentry/Void, pleading that Thor end his life felt like something I had seen a million times before. Ironically, it reminded me specifically of Miracleman #15, a much more affecting twist on this scenario:

– I chose to believe that the man in a Daredevil costume drinking champagne on the top of the Avengers tower is not Matt Murdock but rather a new character named Champagne Daredevil.

– The notion that Osborn needed to be the Green Goblin, even under his Iron Patriot suit, was one of my favorite things about Siege, which is why it pains me that this wasn’t better-executed. What we’re seeing is a sort of Goblin war paint mask, right? That we have to stop and wonder whether or not Osborn is physically transforming into a goblin, a la Ultimate Norman Osborn, undercuts what’s otherwise a clever representation of Osborn’s compulsions.

– Speaking of how hard it is for newer characters to achieve some semblance of staying power, I’m really glad Matt Fraction is keeping Grant Morrison creation Fantomex visible. Why isn’t Fantomex a Secret Avenger? That would rule.

Nathan: I’m basically in agreement with everything you say, which doesn’t surprise me. Like House Of M and Secret Invasion before it, Siege‘s ending is its greatest weakness. And you know how much it pains me to say this, as I never like to pile on the Bendis Internet hate, but look at it this way–the same day Siege #4 came out, we got Bendis’ final issues for Dark Avengers and New Avengers. And both of those are, without question, much stronger comics. As sad as I was to see Dark Avengers come to an end, I was happy to see Bendis bring it to a satisfying conclusion, reinforcing the point (often lost in other Dark Reign comics) that Norman Osborn is no cackling villain, but rather a Machiavellian pragmatist and patriot brought down yet again by his mental problems. Meanwhile, Bendis’ New Avengers Finale managed to show once again what made New Avengers so readable despite certain problems of plot and pacing: the scenes of the gang together, hanging out in Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum or Captain America’s hideout, shooting the shit with each other (whenever Bendis puts Wolverine and Spider-Man together, the results are always classic–with the Thing set to join the team, we should expect New Avengers to be the book with all the one-liners). The last page of that issue may be my favorite thing to come out of Siege: a simple shot of the now-legal Avengers, taking an afternoon stroll, Luke Cage wheeling his baby daughter and Peter Parker taking pictures and clowning around. This is a group that is glad to take its place once again as part of the Marvel universe periphery, as opposed to its center.

You don’t get any of that from this last issue of Siege. In fact, the conclusion is so poorly-constructed that I would recommend reading the tie-ins instead to get a better gist of what happened. You were right that this book is, in essence, a watered-down version of Miracleman #15, which was precisely shocking because it dared to show what Siege doesn’t: godlike power, manifested for murderous purposes, unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace. The Sentry brings down Asgard, but does anyone really die? And what is up with those Norn stones? At first, I liked the fact that Bendis was using a plot beat from his Dr. Strange arc that came out a year ago, but why does it only work for three pages? And how does it work? Does Spidey’s webbing get super-strong or something?

I guess I like the concept of the Sentry more than you do (he was perhaps the most compelling element in the latter half of Dark Avengers), but you’re right to say that anything, even the resurgence of the Carnage symbiote, would have been more interesting than that protracted beatdown. Thor kills the Sentry, but how? I haven’t been reading JMS’ Thor, so someone’s going to tell me how Loki did this ridiculous about-face and promptly died before explaining his behavior to anyone.

I also didn’t like the way all the loose ends were tied up. There’s a great story to be told about how the Superhuman Registration Act gets repealed–Bendis didn’t need to get that out of the way in one panel (can Obama even do that?). Steve Rogers becomes America’s “top cop,” but that seems only marginally different from when Nick Fury was top cop.

from FINAL CRISIS #7

You mentioned before that you weren’t concerned with Siege and its lack of “inventiveness [or] genre subversion,” but I would have much rather have seen Bendis at his intricate, Daredevil best, than what we got here. My favorite superhero crossover, Morrison’s Final Crisis, was savaged by fans and promptly ignored by DC architects, but I dare you to read that last issue and not feel as if it was brimming with ideas, both in terms of style and content, that have more to say about the role of superheroes and superhero archetypes than Siege ever will. While Siege doesn’t hit the cosmic reset button, it might as well have–now that everything is back to how it was in 2003, how is this any different than One More Day?

ADDENDUM: Regarding Grant Morrison’s characters, it should be noted that both Fraction and Jason Aaron have really made a push to bring back Morrison concepts–also, Marvel Boy will be in the big Avengers book (calling himself the new Captain Marvel, I think).

ADDENDUM II: Oh, and I have no way of knowing whether or not Osborn’s green visage was some sort of bizarre paint ritual or if he’s starting to physically manifest goblin symptoms–the last few pages of Dark Avengers hint that we may see the adventures of Ultimate Big Monster Goblin at some point.

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