Monday, February 15, 2010

Siege #2

The Bendis saga continues over at Marvel, where the author's latest focus-shifting mega-event to change the shape of the face of the Earth, dubbed Siege, is underway. As was the case with Dark Reign, Secret Invasion and Civil War before it, the seeds for this crossover have been germinating for years, with roots planted in every one of Marvel's biggest ongoing titles. Long story short: Norman Osborn is changing the system from the inside and Thor posed a threat to his authority, so Normy invented an excuse to invade Asgard. Backed by his team of Dark Avengers and the full might of HAMMER, he was successful in the sudden offensive, but that bravado may just prove to be the straw that broke the camel's back.

Osborn's recent public rise from villain to reformed up-and-comer to savior to corrupted power has been one of Marvel's best character pieces. Looking back, it's easy to see how telegraphed the man's breakneck rise to power really was, but the brilliance of his story was how off-guard it caught us at the time. No one could have predicted how long Osborn's reign would last, but we all knew it would eventually come to a spectacular end. Now that we've reached that point, the real story isn't so much his fall itself, but how the heroes intend to work around the might, both in terms of manpower and P.R., that he's accumulated while in charge.

Of course, most of those intriguing aspects of this storyline are hidden away between the panels. In the foreground, Bendis caters more regularly to the popcorn-munchers in the audience. Set in the middle of a war zone, it should come as no surprise that the bulk of this issue concentrates on a lengthy fight scene, particularly the sudden skirmish between Ares, who feels betrayed by Osborn, and the Sentry, who's drunk on the Goblin's Kool-Aid. The fight scenes get plenty of room to breathe without the constant word balloons that had become Bendis's trademark, and quickly assume a surprisingly dark tone. These aren't the playful, jab-swapping fisticuffs that constitute most superheroic battles: it's a straight-up war. Nowhere is that hard line approach more evident than in the breath-stealing conclusion to the Sentry and Ares's heavyweight free-for-all. I'm amazed Marvel let it see print, frankly. It's a shocking, major moment that could really change the way the publisher is seen by its readers.

I've loved Olivier Coipel's artwork in the past, and when he stays on task this month it's every bit as good as I remembered during his runs with Thor, House of M and Avengers. On several occasions, though, Coipel gets carried away with a very loose, complicated paneling style that stands in the way of easy legibility. I'm all for experimentation, especially when we're challenging a set of guidelines and limitations that could stand a breath of fresh air, but when I have to go back and read over a page three or four times to figure out the order it's supposed to be read in, something just isn't working. Coipel's artwork is as magnificent as ever, especially when he gets the chance to pull the camera back from the action and accent the magnitude of the battle from a distance, but he's handicapped himself with this failed storytelling experiment.

Like the previous publisher-spanning sagas I referenced in my introduction, the gears are churning and the plot points are clicking for the opening chapters of Siege. Bendis is a master at building anticipation toward a huge moment that's always dangling just out of reach. Where he's fallen short in the past, and where the success of his latest epic will be decided, is in the follow-through. I've been down this road before, I've bought into his promises, I've been legitimately thrilled at the prospect of what was on the horizon. And I've been disappointed. This time I'm holding my breath and waiting to see how it all plays out. Despite a few trips and slips from Olivier Coipel, it's a story of so far, so good. Borrow it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7

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