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Trouble with Comics

Daily Breakdowns 087 - Siege/Avengers Wrap

Siege #4, Avengers: The Initiative #35, Dark Avengers #16, The New Avengers Finale #1.

Writers - Brian Michael Bendis, Christos Gage

Artists - Bryan Hitch, Stuart Immonen, Mike Deodato, Olivier Coipel, Jorge Molina, Others.

After basically ignoring most Marvel series the past few years (getting a few in collections such as Captain America and, more recently, Agents of Atlas), Siege was a way for me to catch up at the tail-end of the Norman Osborn Era, and see what Bendis and the other writers were doing. I didn’t care for the plotting of issue #1 and thought Coipel’s art was less than dynamic, but the story picked up a bit with the revelation that The Sentry was possessed by his arch-nemesis (or other side of the coin), The Void. It wasn’t all that much of a revelation, as aside from having Sentry sleep with several superheroines I don’t think much effort was made to give him other enemies. He was Osborn’s high-powered stooge, and so it was inevitable he go down and go down hard. I mainly just liked how The Void was depicted as an evil crab.

I think Bendis is generally best with scenes of characters relating to each other without a whole lot at stake and not many plot points to hit. Siege is about clearing away what, in the chunk of Avengers back issues I read, seemed to be a pretty fruitful period. Crazy villain in charge of the military, with supervillains disguised as heroes while the real heroes are hunted and have to work off the grid—that’s pretty good stuff. Sprinkle in conflicts between old friends like Captain America and Iron Man and the more relatable concerns of bringing a baby into a crazy world (Luke Cage and Jessica Jones) and some kooky, larger-than-life romance (The Hood and Madame Masque), and there’s quite a bit of string to play out. 

Cutting those strings and getting back to the status quo of reasonable government and superheroes free to trash property and endanger civilian lives with the full support of those civilians is not where Bendis’ strengths are, so the miniseries had little momentum. Were there many of you out there who bought Siege #4 with breathless excitement? You knew the basics of what was going to happen. Bendis and Coipel get to the finish line with some nice if unspectacular moments, and lots of heroes standing around watching almost as passively as the reader. Volstagg fapping Osborn with the side of his sword isn’t worth $16.

Avengers: The Initiative #35 has to be a little bittersweet for Christos Gage, as the issue gives a lot of room to wrapping up Siege plot threads like the end of the Diamondback/Constrictor romance, as she smartly plays on her past with Captain America to get a pardon, intending to get Constrictor the same deal, but looking on from above, he just thinks she’s dumped him and makes his escape, heartbroken but resigned to a life of crime. I didn’t think I’d ever write anything like that about perennial third-stringer Constrictor, so points for the effort. The parts of the book that feature the regular cast are less interesting. I’ll give the rapprochement of two characters a pass because I wasn’t around for their romance and breakup in the first place, but the scenes involving Justice and others blathering about keeping the superhero school dream alive don’t have anything fresh to them. I will give Avengers Academy a try, though, since there Gage will have a much better artist in Mike McKone.

The New Avengers Finale is a bit of an oddity. I suppose they did a one-shot instead of a final issue of the regular series since New Avengers is relaunching next month, though I’m not sure putting a one-shot between the series makes that less confusing. The first thing that stands out to me is that after about a decade of pretty good choices in projects, Hitch has made two choices in a row (including Captain America: Reborn) that seem superfluous and uninspired, building off the monthly work of others. 

Right from the cover, one of the more timid pieces I’ve seen from Hitch, we know we’re not in for anything close to his best. He shares pencil duties with Stuart Immonen, but I’m guessing both were doing something closer to breakdowns on some pages, with Butch Guice’s (credited as main inker here, with Andrew Currie and Karl Story backing him up) rougher style seeming to win out in most panels. I like Immonen and Guice fine, just don’t expect this to look a whole lot like Hitch. 

Bendis seems to have cranked out this script without much thought and little editing, as there are some silly errors. Oddly enough, the main story, which finds the Avengers team of Captain America (Bucky), Ronin, Mockingbird, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, Spider-Man, Cage and Wolverine on the trail of Masque and Hood. As Hood lost his powers, I’m not sure why they need so many Avengers, but whatever. The lovers on the lam seek help from Masque’s dad, Count Nefaria, who gets a funny line that shows his greed winning out over his paternal instincts, and it’s funny that, like most dads, he’s disappointed in his daughter’s choice of boyfriend and thinks she can do better. Hood wants Nefaria to re-power him and Nefaria is going to soak him for all his money to make that happen. The Avengers show up before that happens and that’s pretty much it for the story, aside from making clear that the good guys are the good guys again. The story has no complications and didn’t need to be double-sized at all. For some reason, I feel kind of protective of the old villains who don’t get around much anymore. You sort of want this to be Nefaria’s Crazy Heart, but no, he just really gets his ass kicked, sliced and fried. Any of these Avengers could have taken him solo, but instead they take turns. Poor bastard.

Dark Avengers #16 finishes off that book, and it’s the best of the lot. I like the dusty, sun-bleached look of Deodato’s art, plus there’s more new story here, even if it’s mostly setting up the new Avengers books. Daken escapes in a fun scene that doesn’t soft pedal what a cold-blooded killer he is. Bendis refuses to kill darling Victoria Hand, or at least let her rot in jail. Instead, Steve Rogers sees something in her and puts her on his team, which is just crazy enough to work, or else it’s just going to lead to stories with a character who should have gotten off the stage. We’ll see. I did really hate Deodato’s depiction of Osborn, which now isn’t just Photoshopped Tommy Lee Jones but is now some weird computer modeling that looks more like a Gerry Andersen Thunderbird. That wasn’t a good way to end the book.

As far as the new Avengers books look, I have to think Bendis has some other members in mind besides the ones we’ve see in the promotions. Besides Bucky and Luke Cage, all the others have at least one solo and/or team book guiding their fates. That doesn’t give Bendis a lot of room to operate. I would guess he’s got some other reclamation projects in mind.

—Christopher Allen