Monday, 7 June 2010

Over Siege?

I'm a little behind the times at the minute, but I finally got hold of and read the final issue of Siege this weekend. Spoilers will now be forthcoming. Watch them come forth!!!




Well... it was short. And it needed to be. Secret Invasion was, at the barest minimum, two issues too long. It also suffered, as I've discussed earlier, from being essentially one horribly extended battle of attrition with a Savage Land sideshow of no real importance to anything. The first issue was great, and the last set up Osborn in a reasonably interesting way, but everything else? Not Much There.

So bonus points for Siege being so much snappier. Of course, when I complained that ...Invasion needed some serious trimming, I wasn't suggesting jettisoning everything except the fighting.

Which is kind of how Siege reads; like they're replaying the main slugathon from ...Invasion with everything extraneous stripped away. The fact that Captain America, Iron Man and Thor all return to high-level superheroism at the same time and on the same side is nice of course, but even so you've essentially just got a single location (Valhalla) into which successively large/powerful groups of heroes and villains are being dropped (though, again, this is far less of a problem for something like two and a half issues than it is for six).

For three issues, it just about managed to hold itself together, simplistic though it undoubtedly was. Certainly, I appreciated the pay-off to first Mighty and then Dark Avengers of having Osborn end up too war-hungry for the God of War - until then one of his two powerhouses - only for said god to then be ripped in two by Osborn's other titanic force, the Sentry. It made sense both logically and dramatically, and probably did more than anything previous to make the Sentry seem genuinely terrifying. My only quibble is that sending Ares into battle by telling him Loki is running Asgard seems massively unlikely to work, though I guess you could argue Osborn needed him more for the planning than the actual war. Which is another healthy layer of irony, now I think about it, as well as a counter to everyone who spent their time whinging that Ares was a one-note concept.

By the end of issue three, the shine was beginning to wear off, but at least it ended on something big. Void big. Pure Evil With the Power of a Million Exploding Suns big. You know how you thought "ginormous" was big? Well this big would find that big and RIP IT THE FUCK IN HALF.

Satisfactory resolution was always going to be a problem. Still, you're at least supposed to try. The problem with Siege #4 is that it doesn't read like a comic. It reads like the bullet points of what Bendis wanted to have happen, directly transcribed and illustrated. Loki gives the superheroes extra powers. Loki dies. Tony Stark crashes the helicarrier into the Sentry's face, and essntially kills him (though Thor finishes him off). Captain America is promoted to Chief Hero Of All Heroes. The Asgardians prove surprisingly forgiving. THE END.

Nothing feels like it's happening in front of you. Rather, it feels like we're being told it's happening, by someone who got to watch it first hand. In fact, this is what it's like: it's like we're about to read Siege #5 but right now we're watching the "Previously On" segment summarising the previous episode. The Sentry/Void crisis has been building for years - Bob ripped Carnage in half all the way back in 2005 - it needs more than just dropping an airship on him, however heavy it might be. And no, I don't care that Thor had already softened him up, and then gets to finish the job whilst the Void is regenerating, or whatever the Hell. If anything, it absolutely needed to be the other way round. The Sentry had just spent the last four issues smashing apart Thor's home. Murdered his friends. Killed his half-brother, even if he did kind of have it coming. Letting Stark get the kill-shot is a nice inversion of Osborn finishing off the Skrull Queen in ...Invasion #7, but Thor was both more capable of taking on the Void, and had far more invested in doing so. Thor needed to beat the Void, not just finish him off.

In fact, there is one hero that it would have made even more sense to hand the final blow to: Phobos. A day or two after reading Siege #3 I wrote a brief synopsis over at the SFX Forum outlining where I would have taken the story, had it been up to me. The post in question has been eaten due to that site's recent decision to obliterate most of its history and severely limit its number of threads, but essentially it went like this. Not only does Phobos have a pretty major reason to hate the Sentry, who has only just killed his father, but his status as God of Fear gives him a unique in regarding the Void itself. The whole point of Bob Reynolds was that he was mortally afraid of the Void to the point of complete paralysis. But what about the Void? How afraid is he of Bob? Only one way to find out!

Doing it this way would have several significant advantages. Phobos getting to avenge his Dad would be one. Getting some mileage out of Phobos himself would be another; admittedly I've only read the first six issues of Secret Warriors but thus far all he's really done is let off a few cryptic prophecies and complained endlessly (though justifiably) that Fury won't actually let him do anything. It would make for something far more interesting than the usual "heroes beat up enemy before someone delivers the death blow" formula that Siege ultimately chose to follow in the laziest way possible (this is a wider problem with Bendis; his dialogue and characterisation are frequently more than passingly smart, but his resolutions to crises never really amount to much, see "Maria Hill turns up with a bazooka" back in Siege #2) - there were after all plenty of other super villains running around for them to smack down. And lastly, it would allow the Void to be finally beaten by the exact hero he always should have: the Sentry himself. Sure, Phobos would be the gun, but Bob would be - as Osborn was always so fond of calling him - the golden bullet. I don't for a moment think it would have been a smart move for the Sentry to actually survive the battle, but that doesn't mean he couldn't win it.

Instead, we're treated to magic rocks, the world's biggest head-on collision, and the distinct feeling that both the Sentry and the Void just got pissed away in the most weak-sauce way imaginable. And don't even get me started on The Sentry: Fallen Sun (which admittedly I have only read parts of). Just as with Rose Tyler, it should always start alarm bells ringing when a story is desperately throwing out reasons why the reader should care, rather than letting them make up their own mind.

All told, I guess I'd be pretty hard pressed to call Siege a disaster. Even "very poor" seems like too harsh a judgement. Certainly, though, it managed to miss a whole host of opportunities as it unfolded.

Still... it was short.

Update: Here's a 4th Letter post about Siege's conclusion that I decided not to read before I'd written the above, to make sure it didn't influence my thinking too much. Now that I've read it, and found out it's essentially the same piece only approximately thirty times smarter and more informed, I am regretting opening my mouth at all. Glad to know other people thought the Phobos angle was the right one, though.

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