I can Siege clearly now the Reign is gone!

WRITER: Brian Michael Bendis
PENCILER: Olivier Coipel
INKER: Mark Morales
COLORIST: Laura Martin
LETTERER Chris Eliopoulos 

With Norman Osborn’s political clout waning and his Cabal torn apart, the HAMMER leader and former Green Goblin takes drastic measures to retain his power and fulfill his promise to Loki, the removal of Asgard from Earth.  Inspired by the Stamford explosion’s bolster of support for the Superhuman Registration Act, Osborn and Loki engineer a clash between the Asgardian god Volstagg and the U-Foes that ends up destroying Soldier Field during a game.  In the disaster’s wake, Osborn persuades Ares to rally the entire Initiative to attack Asgard without the president’s permission (complete with a 300-style battle speech). 

Osborn’s forces descend on Asgard.  Donald Blake, tending to Tony Stark’s injuries nearby, joins the battle as Thor but gets pulverized by the combined power of Sentry, the U-Foes, Moonstone and Osborn as Iron Patriot.  Steve Rogers, in his Captain America costume, sees the news coverage and looks ready to fight.

Siege would seem important enough if it simply concluded the Dark Reign storyline that dominated most Marvel titles throughout 2009, but Marvel has hyped it up even further, advertising Siege as the endgame of the seven-year story of the Marvel Universe that began when Brian Michael Bendis began writing the Avengers.  Moreover, it will supposedly finalize the perpetual event-aftermath-event-aftermath pattern that’s defined Marvel’s publishing strategy during the same time period.  And it’s going to do all that in four issues!  Well, four issues plus 33 tie-ins, according to the handy checklist the issue provides.

So, does Siege #1 meet the hype?  The answer is, kind of.  Huge things happen in theory, but nothing packs quite the punch it should.  Thousands of football fans are incinerated, but the narrative never bats an eye at how people react to this event, which in reality would shake society as much as if not more than 9/11.  The largest army of superhumans ever assembled battles an entire pantheon of Gods, but only snippets of the action occur on-panel.  The one true Captain America enters the stage, but he only snarls at a television.  The intro with Volstagg and the U-Foes is visually incredible, but Marvel has printed it in so many comics as a preview that anybody who has read the prerequisites for understanding Siege has already seen it at least five times.

Nonetheless, Siege #1 is a game-changer.  Either Asgard will be conquered, ending the Thor era started by J. Michael Straczynski, or Norman will lose all credibility and authority, ending the Dark Reign era of Marvel Comics.  Because Norman has promised his Dark Avengers freedom once the battle ends, this story also marks a transition in the lives of the characters gathered by Warren Ellis in Thunderbolts.  Once Steve Rogers joins the fight, the three iconic Avengers will all be in the same place for the first time in three quarters of a decade.  Practically every major thread in Marvel Comics is converging on this story.

Since working with Bendis on House of M, Olivier Coipel has blossomed into one of the finest artists to grace the medium.  His experience on Thors helps him bring to this Asgard-centered event exactly the visual majesty it needs.  Coipel’s take on Asgard and its residents is THE iconic modern interpretation, and nobody else has any business drawing them as far as I’m concerned.  However, with Bendis’s noticeable writing style, don’t expect to mistake this for an issue of Straczynski’s Thor.  Siege #1 reads like an amped up issue of Dark Avengers, and Bendis never puts the same music into Asgardian voices that Straczynski did.  Where Bendis does excel is in his handle on the characters’ attitudes and motivations, especially those of Norman Osborn, who continues to subtly lose his self-control and the people around him are starting to see it.

Overall, Siege #1 sets the stage for the rest of the story just fine.  It works because it doesn’t drip with the self-importance of, say, Civil War.  Like other events, it purports to change the face of the Marvel Universe as we know it, but so far it seems to be doing so simply and without pretention.  Siege is doing nothing more and nothing less than covering the big bases that readers want covered, and if it keeps doing that it will become an entertaining turning point.

In addition to its 23 pages of story, Siege #1 comes with a few bonus features.  First, it includes a three-page column by Joe Quesada summarizing the major Marvel events building up to Siege over the past seven years.  Second, there’s a transcript of the Dark Avengers’ war plan with some maps and images of Asgard thrown in.  The transcript extends on a conversation occurring in the main feature, and it adds nothing new to the story.  Also, because of an editing error, a page of text is repeated and the page that should be there is missing.  Finally, the issue has a preview for Jeph Loeb’s godawful Hulk series.  These features do not add substantial value to this $3.99 comic. 

3.5 out of 5.  For those following the Marvel Universe, Siege is a must-read.  Others might get less out of it, but I still recommend it for Coipel’s art.



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