SIEGE #1: I've enjoyed "Dark Reign," and particularly Brian Michael Bendis's fuming, coffee-nerved Dark Avengers, and I wanted to see how it all ended. I've got no quarrel with superhero event comics, obviously. But this is just a distressingly shabby piece of work, and it fails to deliver the goods in nearly every way it might have. [Explanation under the cut...]
Here's a bit from a scene where Ares is addressing the super-types under his command:
What a scene like this calls for is spectacle--something like a cast-of-thousands George Pérez freakout, or that bit in Final Crisis where every possible Superman shows up. The way Olivier Coipel has drawn this page, though, is just about as unspectacular as this sort of sequence can be made to look: a close-up of Ares' face, a long shot of Ares with a tiny little Iron Patriot and a huge but vaguely sketched-out mechanical thing in the background, a reverse angle of Ares silhouetted with a handful of roughly rendered costumed folks in the far distance, and finally Ares silhouetted from behind again, with a bunch of little blob-people and some faked-up scaffolding taking up most of the panel.
Ares' speech--and why are we watching him cheer on the troops for a page? we're not supposed to be getting revved up for Osborn's team, are we?--is followed by another tedious page of monologue. This one's set in the Oval Office, and goes through ludicrous contortions not to depict the guy who sold half a million copies of Amazing Spider-Man a year ago: establishing shot of White House, interior shot with the POTUS silhouetted in the extreme distance (with a bunch of random people sitting around the Oval Office just to fill space, as far as I can tell), the same but as a down-shot, and a little scribble of a dropped receiver, accompanied by the unnamed president explaining that Osborn is "out of control" and that therefore there's going to be a full-scale American invasion of Asgard against the direct orders of the Commander-in-Chief. Given that one big theme of post-Civil War Marvel comics has been the relationship between individuals and the state, shrugging and dismissing the state immediately before the climax is a serious fumble.
Coipel's "widescreen" layout on both of those pages may be intended to get across the idea of scope, but there's no horizontal action in any of their panels, so it just forces the figures on the page to be tiny and diminishes their dramatic impact. The same thing happens in the big fight at the end of the issue: the Dark Avengers' takedown of Thor is seen, for some reason, entirely in the far distance, which makes sense in the panels where we're seeing it on TV but makes what should be a dramatic high point dull. Or maybe it's just covering up for the fact that Thor is apparently being brought down by "okay, everyone hit him with... stuff." In fact, all those sequences are so awkwardly staged that they bumped me right out of the story: the last thing a would-be blockbuster entertainment can afford is a failure of craft.
There are infelicities scattered all over this issue (Maria Hill drawn way off-model, the jumbled layout of the Balder/Loki two-page spread, the habit Coipel's characters have of grimacing toward the reader instead of interacting with one another, the out-of-nowhere "Medical Journal Update" shoved into a single panel for the sake of exposition...). But the bigger problem is that Siege, so far, isn't making much progress toward resolving the stories it's supposed to resolve. It has no internal tone of its own, no resonance beyond "and then Norman Osborn decided to invade Asgard"--it's just a big hand reaching down and shoving various pieces to where they need to be by Free Comic Book Day.
After this issue, there are 66 pages, give or take, left in Siege proper. The tightest plotter in the world would be hard-pressed to wrap up even the major outstanding threads and thematic arcs from "Disassembled," "House of M," "Civil War," "Secret Invasion" and "Dark Reign" in that space, and tight plotting is not generally one of Bendis's strengths. There's a certain amount of forward momentum in this issue, but it's not the focused series of shocks of the best Bendis comics--it comes off more like a handful of thrown gravel, a rushed checklist of plot points, a loose early draft. Also, this is one of seven Bendis-written titles coming out this month; is there anyone besides Stan Lee who's been able to maintain that rate of comics-writing productivity without letting things slip badly somewhere or other?
The back-matter is even more frustrating. First is Joe Quesada's recap of "the Mighty Marvel mayhem that's been unfolding for seven years," beginning with "Avengers Disassembled," which was... five and a half years ago. For some reason, the whole thing's in the present tense, which means it includes passages like "Where are YOU the day Cap dies? I sure remember where *I* am..." It also hints that the Sentry will once again be the plot-hammer that gets the conclusion where it's supposed to go.
That's followed by another illustrated text piece, the "Ares War Plan Transcript"--uncredited, but written either by Bendis or by someone who's absorbed his tics. ("Yeah. See... he is the god of war. And there's just one of him. And I am now shutting my ass up. And I am a badass man. I'm known, specifically, as a badass. And one of them, just one, got me to shut the hell up." Evidently, nobody looked at it for more than two seconds before it went to press, or they would have noticed that the text intended for its third page is missing, and the text on its first page is repeated instead. If I really wanted to give that the benefit of the doubt, I'd call it a homage to "Blood from the Shoulder of Pallas," but I don't, especially since the third and fourth pages include reprinted maps of Asgard that are entirely different.
Finally, there's a brief preview of Hulk #19 that appears to end in the middle of a sentence. Given the general sloppiness of this issue, I'm amazed Marvel didn't just print the Siege #1 preview again at the end. AWFUL.