Sunday, February 17, 2013

Young Avengers Catch-Up: Siege: Young Avengers #1 (2010)

This one-shot by writer Sean McKeever, pencil artist Mahmud A. Asrar and inkers Scott Hanna and Victor Olazaba was a brief check-in type story tied to Marvel's completely nonsensical event series Siege, a bizarrely written story by chief Marvel Universe architect Brian Michael Bendis that, as I've previously noted, doesn't make a lick of sense on its own.

The event was climax of the "Dark Reign" period of the Marvel Universe, in which former Green Goblin Norman Osborn has donned a red, white and blue Iron Man suit to become Iron Patriot and lead his own team of Avengers made up of villains-posing-as heroes and his own SHIELD-like government agency HAMMER. For reasons never explained, Osborn decides he needs to conquer Asgard, which he attacks in defiance of the his boss President Barack Obama, and ends up in an all-the-heroes vs. all-the-villains fight on the floating city of Norse-derived Kirby space-gods.

The Young Avengers special was apparently intended as a part of a suite of one-shots, as its cover is part of a single, multi-part image by Marko Djurdjevic, and it gets collected along with four more one-shots in Siege: Battlefield, which is where I found and read it. (We'll look at those other comics in a bit).

One rather admirable aspect of writer Allen Heinberg and artist Jim Cheung's creation of the Young Avengers characters is how many aspects of the wider Marvel Universe he was able to tie into the various characters, as it makes them incredibly easy to plug into just about every Marvel event series imaginable. This event, for example, revolves around Asgard, and one of the Young Avengers characters was inspired by Thor to kinda sorta pose as a Thor-like sidekick at the outset, even going so far as to go by the name Asgardian (Changed later, of course, to "Wiccan," which can't so easily be corrupted into "ass-guardian").

The plot consists entirely of what the various team members are doing during the Everyone Vs. Everyone fight on Asgard, specifically after the part of the battle (which was not a siege) where The Sentry knocked the floating city down.

Wiccan and Hulkling, whose magic and gross green veiny pterodactyl wings spared them from the crash, find The Wrecking Crew trying to super-loot the ruins for Asgardian treasure, and fight them. Patriot and Hawkeye, meanwhile, are trapped in the rubble and fighting for survival, ala Red Arrow and Vixen in that one Meltzer issue of Justice League of America, ala Nicolas Cage and The Guy Who Wasn't Nicolas Cage in World Trade Center. And Speed runs around looking for survivors in the rubble. No sign of Stature and Vision.

It's a fairly well constructed fight comic, with each of the three character or character groups going through a distinct arc in which they reach a point of hopelessness and than rally, the issue ending with a splash page of Speed leading the charge to have them rejoin the fight.

It's completely inessential of course, but then, that's what it was supposed to be all along, the answer to a question a certain sub-set of Marvel readers might have wanted to know the answer to (Hey, what were the Young Avengers doing during the Battle of Asgard?), and a bone thrown to the would-be Young Avengers audience awaiting the return of the characters creators/re-creators to finish up their story.

The artwork is quite impressive and, in certain panels, looks like the work of Cheung (particularly on a re-flip-through. If Marvel had decided to go forward with a Young Avengers monthly sans Heinberg and Cheung in 2010, this would have been a fine creative team to do so with.


As I said, this issue was collected in Siege: Battlefield, which contained a handful of Siege one-shots, connected only by their interlocking cover images and the fact that they had something or other to do with Siege. These are they...

Siege: Loki #1 by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

This particular creative team is of particular note for this particular series of reviews, as these are the guys who will go on to create the next volume of a Young Avengers ongoing series, the one that sparked this endeavor on my part.

The star is Loki, part of Osborn's cabal of villains secretly running the "Dark Reign", who is here restored to his original, male form, after having spent much of the previous "Dark Reign" cycle in the form of a buxom woman, for reasons I never understood (It happened in an issue of a Thor comic I didn't read, I imagine).

In the Gillen/McKelvie Young Avengers, he appears in the form of a little kid. I think they should probably keep him male and grown-up, personally because a) McKelvie draws him so well and b) all the ladies I know who dug the Avengers movie  really seemed to like sexy Tom Hiddleston's sexy Loki.

Their story is set before and behind the scenes of the battle that occurs in Siege,basically showing Loki as a wicked and clever manipulator moving in a world of Marvel's evil power players—we see him taking a call from Doctor Doom and meeting with Mephisto and Hel, for example—to get what he wants, which here seems to be the destruction of Asgard and release from his destined place in Hel's hell (which may be spelled "Hel").

It's pretty great stuff, light on the superhero business (Osborn appears on one page) and heavy on the mythological and, tonally, it felt like an early issue of a pre-Vertigo Vertigo series: Mature storytelling devoted to mythology and fantasy extrapolated from old-school trashy super-comics which were themselves inspired by classical mythology. While reading, I kept thinking this creative team would probably do a knock-out Doctor Strange series.

I can't say enough good things about McKelvie's clean, smooth, pristine, perfectly-acted artwork: That guy's the best. This is by far the best-looking chapter of the book.

Props go to the pair also for their five-panel sequence involving Loki and Osborn. That's the first time that it was made clear to me that it was Loki speaking to Osborn through his Green Goblin mask, as his Green Goblin persona, in an effort to convince Osborn to attack Asgard because that's what Loki wants him to do. In a lot of the other "Dark Reign" and Siege related comics I've read, this isn't at all clear, and Osborn is usually presented as either a complete lunatic attacking Asgard just-because, or being talked into it by Loki, who doesn't really offer any compelling reason to convince him to do so. Here, it seems the compelling reason is that Osborn thinks his dominant if buried persona is telling him to do so.

Siege: Spider-Man #1 by Brian Reed and Marco Santucci

Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel fight Venom, who, at the time, was former Scorpion Mac Gargan in the alien symbiote suit, who spent the majority of "Dark Reign" (and the Bendis-written series Dark Avengers) disguised as Spider-Man.

That, obviously, annoyed Spider-Man.

This issue, then, is devoted to the climax of their fight over that particular conflict, with the pair tumbling out of the still airborne Asgard to the city below (Broxton), where Ms. Marvel swoops in to give Spidey an assist and fly him back up to Asgard so he can participate in the events of Siege.

It's a decent enough story and the art is similarly decent. It is about as pure a fight comic as you can get without excising the dialogue, which hear consists mainly of Spider-Man quips and Venom's chatter about eating people.
The most striking and memorable image is a panel in which Ms. Marvel separates Venom from Gargan by sticking her hand down the former's throat and yanking the naked latter out its mouth.

Siege: Captain America #1 by Christos N. Gage and Federico Dallocchio

The artwork on this one made it very hard for me to read. It was clear enough that it was easily legible, I just didn't like looking at it. Very photo-reference-y, with poses and renderings that look, if not traced from photos, then at least rigorously imitating images of real people, with costumes and fantastic action set atop of them.

It's all very awkward looking, as in a terribly uninspired two-page splash page of a bunch of heroes fighting a bunch of villains. One of the Captains America, in this image, appears to be both simultaneously kicking Taskmaster's shield and firing his gun at the shield, and seems badly in danger of literally shooting himself. Also, Dr. Fate seems to be there, for some reason.

Gage deviates from the all-fighting, all-the-time mandate that dominates most of these stories by introducing a family of civilians on the outskirts of the conflict, who provide an element of extra danger for the Captains, as well as some folks to be inspired by them.

Then current Captain America James "Bucky" Barnes and returned-to-life former Captain America Steve Rogers are participating in the big fight on Asgard and, after Sentry knocks it down, they find themselves fighting Razorfist, perhaps the least believable of all of Marvel's many fantastical villains (He's the guy who has had both of his hands replaced with huge, razor-sharp blades, and his costume consists of a sort of skin-tight ski mask with ear holes that I can't imagine how he puts on—dude must have an intern to dress him. (Also, Razorfist...? Dude can't make a fist, as he doesn't have hands).

The Captains beat the shit out of him, and then run back to the crossover story. See a pattern forming? These are kind of fun in how straightforward they are, as the majority of them are little narrative cul de sacs, where the characters leave the events of Siege, run through the conflict of a single issue tie-in, and then return to the events of Siege, usually declaring, "Well, that's the end of our one-shot tie-in; back to the main series!" (I'm paraphrasing; here it's actually "Let's go... ...We're needed."

This one's followed by Siege: Young Avengers.

Siege: Secret Warriors #1 by Jonathan Hickman and Alessandro Vitti

This series, Secret Warriors, is a kinda sorta years-later spin-off of that weird Bendis-written Secret War miniseries that truly kicked off his Avengers and Marvel Universe writing, and ended with one of the worst and laziest issues of a comic book I've ever read.

The premise of Secret Warriors was that an off-the-grid Nick Fury was leading his own team of secret superheroes, all of whom eschewed costumes in favor of classic SHIELD uniforms, for maximum boring-looking character design. I never read any of it, but Marvel might have tempted me to read the first issue had they instead titled it Nick Fury and his Howling Secret Warriors (I'm a big fan of howling).

So did you read Siege...? If not, there's this one gross-looking panel where Sentry grabs Ares the god of war and rips him vertically in half, just like She-Hulk did to Vision in "Avengers Disassembled," except Ares isn't a robot, so there's a bunch of gore and viscera in the panel (Bendis wrote both scenes, so he's not stealing from another writer, just repeating himself).

Well, on of the Secret Warriors is Phobos, the son of Ares (who is also a little kid). The issue opens with him watching a bank of monitors in which panels from Siege appear, including the gross one of his dad getting torn in half.

While Nick Fury joins Captain America for the assault on Asgard, Phobos flashes back to hanging out with his dad, then picks up a couple of swords, enters the White House through a secret passage, and silently slaughters Secret Service agents throughout the issue in order to, as he finally explains once President Barack Obama is safely aboard Marine One and flying towards safety, "to deliver a message."

The message isn't metaphorical, but literal though, as the last panel of the issue sees him sitting down at Obama's desk, the Oval Office littered with dead agents, to write a letter:
It's not every day that a human finds himself responsible for the death of a god and then on that very same day escapes facing another...
But before you wash your hands of my father's blood, I would encourage you to reflect on what brought us to this point: You sacrificed honor for expediency. You traded intent for quick action. You were wrong...and we all suffered for it.
It's a pretty weird comic. At least when Garth Ennis had The Punisher threaten to kill President George W. Bush, he did so without killing a bunch of innocent guys, and the president was a little more directly tied to the crime.
Obama's guilt for the death of Ares is fairly indirect, in that he put Osborn in charge of the superheroes, Osborn hired Sentry and Ares and Osborn ordered them both to attack Asgard, where Ares rebelled against Osborn and got torn in half. I realize the buck stops with the president and all, but Siege made it pretty clear that Osborn had "gone rogue" and was acting against the will of the president and, um, the entire United States government when he attacked Asgard, acting on the advice of his Green Goblin mask/other personality/Loki.I'm not a fan of the art in this one, although there's nothing really wrong with it. The style just didn't do much for me. There is a pretty neat panel of Obama sitting behind a desk, his face in shadow, his hands calmly folded in front of him, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff lined up behind him and a small army of gun-toting Secret Service agents between them and the reader. It's maybe the clearest image of Obama-as-supervillain I've seen in a comic book.

You know, between Bush's handling of the events of Civil War, "The Initiative" and Secret Invasion and Obama's handling of "Dark Reign" and Siege, as horrible as the choices these guys make in our universe might so often seem, they're both a hell of a lot better than their 616 counterparts...

1 comment:

MrCynical said...

"You know, between Bush's handling of the events of Civil War, "The Initiative" and Secret Invasion and Obama's handling of "Dark Reign" and Siege, as horrible as the choices these guys make in our universe might so often seem, they're both a hell of a lot better than their 616 counterparts..."

That's because the MU US Government is the Reagan/Rand ideal of evil incompetent government.

My evidence:

Sorry, I have a lot of opinions on the wrongness of modern Big Two comics, and the Initiative and its implementation was a big part of my old blog. If you like, read up on it.