I can offer you nothing about health care. What I can offer you is a pained meditation on my disappointment with Siege, a Marvel crossover event that’s easy to love and frustratingly difficult to like. The third issue of the series shipped Wednesday, as did the fifteenth issue of one of its affiliated stories, Dark Avengers, and the peripheral book illustrated the problem with the central one. Perhaps its best if you join me after the jump, since there’s really no way to write this one without spoilers. The third issue of Siege is the emotional center of the story: Disassembled and Civil War are undone in spirit, as all incarnations of the Avengers defend Asgard against Osborn and his creeps. While you don’t see Thor and Tony fighting alongside each other, writer Brian Michael Bendis gives us the emotionally rejuvenative sight of Tony Stark, in classic mid-70s-to-80s Iron Man armor, coming to the relief of Steve Rogers in his classic Captain America uniform. That’s one of a few beats the issue needed to hit, and it does. But.
The pacing of this entire book is off. Olivier Coipel is a fantastically talented artist. The last page of Siege #2 was the most exquisite the series has yet produced — a five panel descending grid, drawing tighter on Norman’s face mask as the reflection of Captain America’s hurled shield gets larger and larger, accompanied by not a word of text. That was dramatic.
And it was the exception to the whole rushed series. There’s just too much that needs to happen in Siege than there are pages to let it unfold. The image in this post is the first on-panel appearance of Iron Man, a huge moment in the story — he’s supposed to be incapacitated! Tony destroyed his own brain! — but one that can only command one panel of a six-panel grid because the story has to keep moving. Bendis and Coipel give us nearly a full page for the teleported entrance of the Hood’s goon squad, creating the expectation that this is a climactic, tide-turning villain-surge — and then they have maybe three tiny background panels of action before disappearing for the rest of the book. Rarely can Bendis and Coipel afford to let a scene unfold over more than two pages. The result is a dense book that feels rushed, making it hard to savor the payoff of, say, the reunited Iron Man-Cap team.
There is, in fairness, a very big exception here — the destruction of Asgard by the Sentry. You get your double-page spread, your several-pages-more scenes of devastation. And it’s legitimately presented as a cataclysmic event. But even there, you just get a weary Thor moaning, “Father…” in response, and a calm-to-resigned Thunder God asking Osborn where Loki is. And here the book really could benefit from some interiority. Everything Thor has done since returning from Ragnarok has been about the restoration of Asgard, including an emotionally painful reunion with Odin, and here’s the stronghold of the Norse Gods, in ruins because of one of Osborn’s mad schemes. Maybe Thor has a reaction to what’s happened?
Now, by contrast, consider the last three issues of Dark Avengers, also written by Bendis. They take place out before the Siege books, which is less than satisfying and makes the actual crossover feel rushed and poorly planned. And they tell perhaps the most crucial backstory to what’s happening in Asgard: the Sentry’s descent into dangerous, destructive total madness. You can’t understand Siege without those issues of Dark Avengers. Issue #15 is arguably climactic: Bullseye/Hawkeye murders the Sentry’s wife on orders from Osborn, thereby removing the last check on Osborn’s manipulative hold over Bob. Bendis and artist Mike Deodato devote six text-heavy pages to the murder, a horrifying and sexually charged act that presents Bullseye/Hawkeye as a force to be feared and hated, a psychopath who needs to be put down instead of a creep in tights. If it weren’t wrapped up in Siege, I contend comicdom would consider it the most definitive portrayal of the character since the death of Elektra — it’s that good.
And it’s that good because the pacing lets it unfold. It has a rhythm and a tension and a release that nothing in the Siege book possesses. Accordingly it makes you think about the implications of the act — especially its ramifications for the Sentry, and a partial explanation for why he ripped Ares in half during Siege #2 — while and after it unfolds, making you, y’know, care about it. I accept that a big crossover book just has to move quickly across multiple characters and the pacing can suffer. But Millar’s Civil War had a ton of interiority on display, making it feel more epochal than the parade of punch-ups that characterize both Siege and, come to think of it, Bendis’ Secret Invasion. (We’re fighting in the Savage Land! Who’s who? The invasion is complete! Oh wait, now we’re fighting in Central Park and — oh, OK, the invasion has been repelled.)
Sure, sure, Siege is fundamentally about a battle. But it does a poor job of making us care about the battle beyond the fact of our existing emotional investment as fans. I hope issue 4 can overcome the trap the previous issues have set for it.