Saturday, January 29, 2011

This is not a review of Siege

See this?It’s a hardcover book-like object that Marvel published in July of 2010. The 200 pages between its covers consist of reprinted pages from Siege, a four-issue miniseries Marvel published in the spring of that year, Siege: The Cabal, a special one-shot comic from that winter, and Free Comic Book Day 2009 Avengers, a promotional comic book from the previous May.

All of the scripts are written by Brian Michael Bendis, whose name appears on the cover of the collection, and they are drawn by Olivier Coipel, whose name also appears on the cover, plus Michael Lark, Lucio Parrillo, Jim Cheung, Stefano Gaudiano and Mark Morales.

The object was sold for a price of $24.99, although many of the people who probably bought this compilation did so at a direct market comic shop, and may have gotten a small discount. Many others probably bought it through Amazon.com, and got an even larger discount. It is also available at many libraries, which is probably the best way to consume its contents at this point.

The pages within it, if not necessarily this particular printing and this particular compilation of them, are and were very important to Marvel Comics; they were, essentially, Marvel’s entire publishing plan for a few years, if you consider the time spent building up to the events throughout the line, the time spent playing off of the events of the events throughout the line, and the six months or so in which Siege and Siege-branded books were being published by Marvel.

Issues of the four-issue miniseries, when originally published in serial form, were among Marvel’s best-performing books, and the best performing books in the entire direct market.

The contents of this book are, therefore, important, if viewed within the context of one of North America’s leading serial comic book publishers, one of our current pop culture’s leading IP generators and the direct market of comic shops.

It wasn’t a series I was particularly interested in buying and reading. While Bendis is a talented cartoonist and better-than-average super-comic scripter, his last half dozen attempts at stories of this scope and scale were of quite miserable quality, and, as Marvel began doing during his last story of this scope and scale, they were charging 33% more per issue than the standard cost of a comic book.

I borrowed it from the library, however, due to its importance as I stated it above, and had intended to write a review of it. Having read all of the comics between the covers, however, I see that I can’t review it.

It’s not really a story, and it doesn’t really have a conflict or dramatic structure or even drama (Beyond the most rudimentary definitions of conflict and drama, I suppose—as in, people fight one another). It doesn’t really have any characters in it either, although the names and costumes are recognizable from other comics.

It’s nothing more than a series of loosely connected events, strung together like beads on a string, and the events stop coming when the string provided runs out.

Bendis is one of the current direct market’s leading writers, and he sells more comics than any other writer working for Marvel at the moment, and provides more pages per month to the publisher than any of their other writers. I don’t know what his page rate is, but I would be quite surprised if it were not considerably high, and among the highest of any writer working in his field and in his chosen genre.

What he provides here, however, can’t possibly have been worth whatever he was paid. The event-string found between these covers is what Marvel would likely have been able to generate if they asked a moderately intelligent, moderately imaginative teenager or twentysomething to write a big Marvel Comics fight comic for them in the space of a single class, scribbling it in the corner of their notebooks when they should be taking notes on whatever subject their teacher is lecturing about.

As this book (to apply the term generously) fails to meet the bare minimum standards of a graphic novel, even as loosely as we use that particular term to cover various forms of bound comics, it’s nigh-unreviewable.

Instead, I’m just going to describe the plot in some detail. It’s worth noting that while Bendis wrote every single word in the dialogue bubbles and narration boxes, and provided the descriptions for the artists to draw their pages form, he ultimately wasn’t responsible for this collection, and likely had little say in the matter of 200 pages of the hundreds of pages he wrote (and the thousands of pages overall) as part of the multi-book, line-wide, years-long publishing effort that Siege was a part of.

(It’s also worth noting that I realize many of the unexplained mysteries and plot holes and seemingly missing scenes in this event-string appear in other comics published by Marvel at about the same time; I’m not writing about those comics though, I’m writing about this distinct unit, which Marvel packaged, published and sold as a distinct unit. I’m judging this book by this book, not by itself plus many other books sold separately).

****************************

A page containing a panel from Secret Invasion #8 and a few paragraphs of text tells us that this opening portion of the book is Siege: The Cabal (It’s the part illustrated by Lark and Gaudiano, in a very realistic, cinematic style).

Asgard, a large grouping of castle walls and towers on a floating island, hovers above what looks like a field in the American mid-west. Two voices discuss it. One of those voices belongs to Norman Osborn, the father of Peter Parker’s one-time best friend Harry Osborn, and the super-villain and convicted serial killer known as The Green Goblin. He is currently in charge of all of America’s superheroes, through his agency H.A.M.M.E.R., which replaced S.H.I.E.L.D.

After two pages, we see that the disembodied other voice, which appears in purple-colored type, belongs to his old rubber Green Goblin mask. The mask has just convinced Osborn that he needs to invade and conquer Asgard.

Osborn holds a meeting with The Cabal, identified as such via a text-box, in the basement of Avengers Tower. The Cabal consists of Loki, The Hood, Taskmaster and Doctor Doom.

Osborn would like Doom to join them in invading Asgard, while Doom wants no part of it, and wants Osborn to produce his ally Namor. Osborn threatens to have Doom killed if he doesn’t cooperate, and then a shadowy, bald, muscular figure enters the room.

“What the hell is that?!!” Taskmaster shouts, leaping to his feet and drawing his sword.

The figure throws Doom through a wall, then shoots lightning at Doom, seemingly destroying him. Doom was just a robot though, and he releases a bunch of little robot insects that start eating Avengers Tower. After evacuating the Tower, The Sentry, part of Osborn’s Avengers team, flies down and destroys the Doom robot completely, which stops the bugs.

The shadowy figure that attacked Doom is never shown again or explained.

Osborn asks the president of the United States if he can invade Asgard, and the president says no. Osborn and Loki discuss this set-back, and Loki convinces him that Osborn will need a Stamford-like incident, in which super-person violence killed several hundred civilians and helped push through a superhero registration act that lead to the events of the superhero “civil war” in Civil War, to convince the president to okay an attack Asgard.

The art shifts to a painted style. Referring back to the credits page, this appears to be the second section of the book, entitled “Prologue,” and Lucio Parrillo is now providing the art.

It is now night and Loki, who never left, appears in a cloud of smoke, surprising Osborn. Osborn asks what Asgard is and Loki responds, “I am about to tell you what very few mortals on Midgard know,” and proceeds to tell him what everyone on Earth knows about Asgard and Norse mythology (provided they know anything about it). Over the course of ten panels spread across five pages, he names the nine realms of Norse mythology.

The art shifts again, and now is that of Coipel. That indicates that, referring back to the credits, we are now in Siege #1-#4.

Narration boxes show us a third consecutive conversation between Osborn and Loki, while the panels show us Volstagg, one of Asgard’s Warriors Three, who is sort of wandering around Earth, fighting Earth crime.

The pair have Volstagg attacked by “Parker Robbins” (although a group of weird-looking, luminous villains are shown doing the actual attacking—I think those are the U-Foes, who probably work for Robbins). They teleport Volstagg into a football field, and then they all explode, presumably killing everyone in the field.

A page later, it’s revealed to be Soldier Field in Chicago.

(Out of curiosity, I googled its capacity; it’s 61,500. So, potentially, the incident could have killed as many as 61,500 civilians, or 20.5 9/11s. The president of the United States is never named, but we know from other comics that it is Barack Obama, same as in our universe. Obama is, of course, from Chicago).

Osborn tells his assistant to tell the president that Osborn is going to use The Avengers and the full roster of The Initiative (i.e. all of Marvel’s officially-sanctioned superheroes, which at this point are actually mostly villains) to launch a full-scale invasion of Asgard in retaliation.

Osborn goes to Ares, the Greek god of War and one of his chief Avengers, to come up with a battle plan—Ares refuses to attack his fellow gods in Asgard, until Osborn convinces him that Loki has usurped the throne of Asgard.

The president remains opposed to the invasion—the “inciting incident” didn’t do its job.

Osborn's Avengers and H.A.M.M.E.R. forces invade Asgard, and seemingly kill Thor on television. Watching the events on TV is Captain America Steve Rogers, who stands up.(Curiously, the villains who battled Volstagg and blew up Soldier Field are then shown fighting alongside Osborn on television as if they weren’t part of the Chicago incident).

The next five pages of the book are presented as a transcript of “Hammer Document 68785895-78795 GDFBCV…Ares War Plan.” It’s a collection of dialogue, like a radio play.

Maria Hill arrives in a pick-up truck with a bazooka and a machine gun and rescues the wounded Thor from the Avengers.

Meanwhile Steve Rogers rallies a group of superheroes consisting of Nick Fury and his Secret Warriors, The New Avengers and the Young Avengers.

In Asgard, someone tells Ares that Loki is not, in fact, in charge of Asgard. Realizing Osborn lied, Ares tries to kill Osborn. The Sentry rips Ares in half vertically, and then a couple of tentacles start waving out of The Sentry’s back.(An aside: As ratings for superhero comics have been a topic of conversation lately, I thought it worth noting that this book, which involves one hero ripping another in half vertically, is rated “T+”. In Marvel’s system, that means it “appropriate for most readers 13 and up, parents are advised that they might want to read before or with younger children.” There are two higher ratings, “Parental Advisory” and “Max;” the former is like “T+” but features “more graphic imagery,” while “Max” features “explicit content”)

Captain America, Fury and their teams arrive in Asgard to fight against Osborn’s forces.

Then there is a four-page document transcribing a meeting between Nick Fury and his Secret Warriors.

Then The Hood’s army of villains appear and join the fight.

Thor and The Sentry fight some more; The Sentry now has a large, red, luminous mass growing out of back, parts of which look like crab legs.

Then Iron Man joins the fight.

Then The Sentry knocks down all of Asgard.

Then Osborn’s face turns green, and a second pair of teeth appears to have grown around his lips.

The X-Men and Fantastic Four watch on TV.

The Sentry has now assumed a meditating posture, and, and is sprouting many large, glowing red, insect or arachnid-like legs. Kirby dots and light spill out of his head, and black lightning emanates from his body. Then there is a six-page document entitled “White House Protocol Server Beta 9-34234-45345,” which transcribes a conversation between Maria Hill and Secretary of Defense Ridell. (Obama may be president in the Marvel Universe, but Robert Gates isn’t his secretary of defense).

The Sentry’s black lightning stuff starts zapping the heroes, so Loki takes some glowing stones he calls the “Stones of Norn” from a few of the villains, and then gives them to some of the heroes.

The Sentry rips Loki in half, this time horizontally.

Iron Man drops a helicarrier on The Sentry creature, and he transforms back into a naked, human man—Bob Reynolds, The Sentry’s secret identity.

He asks Thor to kill him and Thor says no, so then The Sentry turns back into a big red and black bug monster, and Thor hits him with his hammer again and this time The Sentry monster dies, and Thor throws Reynolds’ charred corpse into the sun.

The president gives Steve Rogers Osborn’s job as The Person In Charge of All Superheroes, the Superhuman Registration Act is thrown out, and Steve Rogers and the Asgardian gods show up at a superhero party, Rogers saying “I’m going to need all of you for what comes next.”

On the next page, there’s an image of Thor and the Avengers from Dark Avengers and New Avengers, the title “The Way Things Are…” and a note saying “This story from Free Comic Book Day 2009 New Avengers takes place before Siege,” which explains why the dead Ares and Sentry show up in it.

It’s a team-up between the two teams, narrated by Spider-Man and featuring an appearance by Thor at the end.

I have no idea what it’s doing in this book instead of a collection of New Avengers or Dark Avengers, nor why, if it must be collected here, why it is put at the end of the book instead of at the beginning, as it does at least introduce many of the players that were featured in Siege.

Finally, there are ten pages of variant covers from Siege #1-#4, including the controversial “Siege #3a Deadpool Variant” (The one that Marvel shipped to shops in return for the covers of unsold DC comics), which looks especially out-of-place, as Deadpool doesn’t appear within the pages of the book until that cover, on the last page.

**********************

I liked Coipel’s art style just fine, however the book is as visually uninteresting as its plot is uninteresting. Coipel matches Bendis’ “and these guys show up to fight, and then these guys show up to fight too, and then…” plot with too-appropriate artwork—much of the action is wasted on splash pages featuring groups of heroes posing, and even more is wasted on bland drawings of explosions in the distance.The entire Marvel Universe fighting in Asgard is, as a phrase, one that evokes an awful lot of exciting and compelling imagery, but there’s nothing as exciting or compelling in the drawings between these covers as that phrase. Flip to any random page of, say, James Stokoe’s Orc Stain, a series about nasty Hobbit villains fighting over the collection of one another’s scrotums, and you’ll find artwork 100,000 times more imaginative, sprawling, grand, epic, detailed, exciting and crazy-looking than anything in this book.

There are no George Perez (or even Phil Jiminez or Jerry Ordaway) group shots of any scale or depth. The action consists mostly of unconnected poses, with only a few scenes showing actual fighting between combatants, continuing through consecutive panels. It’s unfortunate; I thought the climax of Mark Millar and Brian Hitch’s Ultimates run was rather flawed, but that battle between all of Marvel’s heroes and the heroes and villains of Asgard makes this one seem like a pale echo.

The sole exciting image I found in the book was this one——and that’s one that occurs just before the battle of Asgard begins. It is all downhill from there.

When Osborn and his Avengers land in Asgard, it's a medium to a long-shot of a couple of characters landing. While Sentry and Thor trade blows shortly after, that chapter's climax involves Osborn and the U-Foes shooting something at Thor. An image of Osborn instructing them to shoot at him, a close-up of their fists, and then a long-shot of explosion in the distance.

***********************

By the way, at no point is anything laid siege too. Osborn attacks Asgard in a bit of a blitzkrieg, and the battle seems to last less than a day. I suppose Blitzkrieg, Fight, Battle or War just didn’t sound cool enough. I know War of the Gods was taken; I’m kinda surprised they didn’t go with Ragnarok, although I suppose there are probably a half-dozen Thor stories that have already used that title.

**********************

I like the sound of Thor War.

**********************

I would still like to read a comic book adventure story about Marvel heroes and villains fighting a huge battle in Marvel's Asgard, perhaps in part because that's what I expected from this thing—in fact, what this thing promised—and I didn't get a lick of it here. I guess I'll look into some of the Siege Colon Name of a Marvel Franchise trades out there, I'm particularly interested in Siege: Thunderbolts and Siege: Mighty Avengers because I really like the writer of the former and I think the latter has Hercules in it.

Do any of you have any suggestions for trades that might include "the good parts" of Marvel's Siege event? (There are good parts to it, right? Given the size of it and number of books that were published as Siege tie-ins, simple statistics would seemingly dictate that there must be)

10 comments:

Randal said...

Oh...SNAP.

This venom-filled snark has the me stamp of a approval.

matthew. said...

This might be one of the best reviews I've ever read. Well done, Caleb.

George S. said...

You just said everything I wanted to say about this event, only better.

SallyP said...

I remember hearing about all of this, but I never read it. I am SO glad.

Siskoid said...

I've been avoiding Bendis books, and Siege passed me by completely. Come to think of it, I only read the Dark Reign stuff that banner-headed Agents of ATLAS and Secret Warriors. And while I read Secret Invasion, I had nothing but contempt for it.

(And nope, didn't read Civil War... Marvel's not holding my interest on those crossover events, are they?)

Loved the non-review!

Will said...

That may not have been a review, but it killed any interest I've ever had in reading what sounds like a boring, horrific train wreck of a book.

You have my thanks, sir!

Dylanio21 said...

Boo to Bendis. Always boo to Bendis.
But the art surprised me.
I expected more from it.
A complete selling point to me.
Maybe upon closer inspection when I see all that Coipel did on these books.

LiamKav said...

World War Hulk was the only recent big Marvel crossover that I liked. It was also the only one not done by Bendis.

Hmm.

adam-0oo said...

Can't get enough of dudes surfing on the top of jets.

Eyz said...

*See guy ripping other in half in a T+ book*
What the heck was that panel about?! °___O


Also, Bendis is quite overrated...

Great "not-really-a-review" post!