An issue with many ups and downs, and an important ending that just didn’t click with me.
Most folks who know me – or who read my reviews here regularly – have probably noticed that I’m more of a DC man. Don’t get me wrong, there are a number of Marvel titles I love (Ultimate Spider-Man, X-Factor and Uncanny X-Force are all strong ongoings, and Marvel’s recent mini-series Mystic is an early contender for one of the year’s best trade paperbacks), but on a month-to-month basis, DC tends to fulfill my comic-reading itch a little better, whether its because of their characters or (more likely) because of their more reasonable pricing structure. So maybe it’s just that I’ve been absent from mainstream Marvel continuity for a time, but I cannot imagine how this month’s prologue to their upcoming big event, Avengers Vs. X-Men, is that much of a prologue at all. But don’t let that stop you from checking it out: AvX #0 is definitely enjoyable – and surprisingly character-driven.
When Marvel’s Ultimate line first launched, I hated it with the passion that only a fanboy can muster to hate something they’ve never read. I eventually got around to sampling many of the titles, and what I read, I hated. That tarred my opinion of the entire line for a good long while. From the crass big-screen action of The Ultimates (which I never finished but plan to soon) to the cartoony retreads of Ultimate X-Men, it just seemed like a waste. Here we had a major publisher, probably the biggest monthly comics publisher in the world, and they were wasting their time and money doing gritty reboots of old stories rather than doing something interesting and innovative.
I similarly dismissed Ultimate Spider-Man, though, unlike the other core books of the Ultimate Universe, I’d never actually read a page of it. But I knew everything I needed to know – Spider-Man hasn’t grown and changed enough that I felt he really needed to have his entire mythos retold bit by excruciatingly slow, decompressed bit. But then, something happened. General interest for the Ultimates waned. Same thing with Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four and a variety of other titles. But Ultimate Spider-Man grew more and more respectable as the years passed until it became essentially the centerpiece of the Ultimate line and, this past year, made our list of the Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2011.
Last year was the year I caught up with Ultimate Spider-Man. This year is the year I write about it.
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Sara Pichelli
Colours: Justin Ponsor
Lettering: VC’s Cory Petit
Cover: Kaare Andrews
The slow yet enthralling introduction to Miles and his world continues in this issue of Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man. I have really enjoyed this series so far and this issue does not let me down.
The only downside so far in this series for me has been the cover art, as mentioned in my last review I am not a fan of this ultra-realistic depiction of Spider-Man that Kaare Andrews draws and so again this issues cover is a let-down. I do however like the massive moon behind Spider-Man and the glittering city lights below him. I also think that Spider-Man’s pose on this cover is a slightly uncomfortable one, knowing that he is only 13 years old.
The plot of this issue is as good as the two issues before it. It again deals with Miles not wanting these powers that he has received but knowing that he could do a lot of good with them. We receive our first glimpse of Miles doing a heroic rescue in this issue and it is interesting that he does this in full view of everyone. Evidently at such as early point in his development as a superhero he is not thinking about needing a secret identity, but simply knows he can save those that are trapped and goes and does it. I really liked that in this issue the series has begun to tie into the end of Peter’s time as Spider-Man, right at the end of the issue we are told that there has been a superhero battle on a bridge and that there are unconfirmed reports that Spider-Man has been shot. The shock on Miles’s face when he is told this news is brilliant, it is evidently going to affect him more than those around him because he is considering not using his powers as there already is a Spider-Man, and so with Peter’s death Miles is going to have one less reason not to take up his mantle.
The interior art in this issue was again fantastic; Pichelli continues to draw the world of Miles so uniquely and vividly. I think that my favourite panel of the entire issue was when Miles was having a nightmare that he was attacked and electrocuted by a villain. The bolts of electric shooting around the panel were amazing.
Ultimately this issue continues the excellent introduction that Bendis and his team are creating and I look forward to issue #4.
Issue Rating: 9/10
And I’m finally caught up! I read 27 comics in July, and these were the best.
By now, a small contingent of readers have been prefacing anti-Bendis rants with “While I loved Alias” or “Besides Powers” or “Torso excluded” for so long it’s almost absurd. Brian Michael Bendis made his name writing dark crime stories, gritty, witty books about murder and betrayal, and even Bendis’ latter-day detractors (including the fine folks here at read/RANT) were forced to admit that the man had a damnably impressive back-catalog. Do you miss that writer? Well, then, you owe it to yourself to pick up Scarlet.
Scarlet is a woman with a purpose, though that purpose unfolds very slowly over the course of the issue. Broken (or at least beat up) by tragedy, Scarlet is an interestingly damaged woman, and to help introduce her to us, Bendis jumps around freely in her timeline. We see her, in one pretty damn fantastic three page sequence, from birth through college. We see her murder a police officer in the issue’s opening pages, and we see her get ready to kill more people as it closes. And, perhaps most importantly, we see the tragic incident that made her the woman with whom we start and end the book.
Maleev’s art is spectacular and underwhelming in almost equal measure, though his work here is never bad. Given how much of the book is dedicated to either Scarlet’s monologue or to conversation, I might have hoped for an artist with a stronger handle on conveying emotion through body language and facial expressions, but Maleev’s command of the atmosphere and colors often makes up for it. Meanwhile, it’s impossible to look at those first three pages, Scarlet ensconced in shadow after an act of shocking violence, and not be impressed, or that final, haunting image of Scarlet standing above a shadowy, eerie cityscape of Portland, looking out at us. Maleev’s art helps sell the atmosphere of the book, even when the sometimes-repetitive monologue threatens to undermine it.
Most of the tricks have been tried before, particularly the fourth-wall breaking narration, but Bendis wields them here with an unusually deft hand, giving me a great deal of hope for the future of the book. It isn’t without flaws, of course. The clumsiest use of the narration comes at the beginning of the issue, when Scarlet says, “I’m sorry to be right in your face like this. I know you were looking for a little diversionary fun. I know you were subconsciously hoping you could just watching without any of it actually directly involving you,” a statement that seems faux-edgy, a betrayal of the fourth-wall breaking narration. It is particularly out of place given the issue’s conclusion, which makes the same point, but far more subtly… and to far greater effect. The frequency with which Scarlet reminds us that the world is broken and horrible, in case we didn’t pick up on that from the actual content of the issue, is another problem. Both suggest a lack of trust in his audience, and one that I hope he gets over soon, because, at its core, Scarlet is the most promising project I’ve seen from Bendis in a long, long time, and one of the most promising #1’s I’ve read this year.
This is how you do a set-up issue well: keep us engaged, keep us on our feet, keep us informed, and keep us guessing. At the end of the issue, we’ve still only met one, maybe two, major players. That’s it. We have no idea what the issue-to-issue reality of the book will be, not really. But we want to know. Divorced from the guaranteed selling power of Marvel’s biggest names, Bendis and Maleev rise to the challenge and deliver a powerful introductory issue.
– Cal Cleary
Siege continues to impress as characters finally wake up out of their years-long stupor and realize, “Wait, putting a bunch of supervillains in charge of everything was a bad idea, not a good one.” Admittedly, no rationalization is given as to why this was seen to be a good idea in the first place, but in the spirit of fair reviewing, I won’t criticize Siege for the events of House of M, Civil War, Secret Invasion, or Dark Reign. Instead, I will simply say this: with an excellent art team and a relentless pace, Siege resembles the epic scope and breakneck action adventure of Bendis’ best Mighty Avengers issues, but without thought bubbles or ass-shots. There’s no impressive narrative trickery and the characters are little more than props for elaborate, gorgeous fight scenes, but that doesn’t stop Siege #3 from excelling at upping the ante of an already-epic action book.
– Cal Cleary
It would be preposterous to claim that the plot fundamentals of Siege made sense in any rational universe. That is something that Marvel fans, however, have had a good few years to come to terms with, and editorial direction of the Marvel Universe notwithstanding, Siege #2 continues to deliver a surprisingly exciting ride from a writer not known for his thrilling action beats. The issue is essentially a 22-page action comic, with occasional, brief breaks to give us reaction shots… and reinforcements. While hardly groundbreaking, the opening half of Siege, ignoring all spin-offs and tie-ins, may be Bendis’ tightest work in the last couple years.
Coipel continues to be a big part of the mini’s success, deftly handling the bulk of the issue’s action. While a few panels, most specifically the issue’s shocking, gory death, seem rushed and a little clumsy, others more than make up for it – seeing Maria Hill ride up in the back of a pick-up truck, rocket launcher in hand, was such a bizarrely charming sequence it couldn’t be ignored. The issue continues to have flaws, but the fact of the matter is, right now this is exactly the sort of brief, simple beat-’em-up most people look for in these big events. It may not be ambitious or revolutionary, but things are clearly happening, and these things are being caused by people with motives. For a big event, this is success.
– Cal Cleary
Built on an undeniably flawed premise – that somehow, by shooting someone once, a known and medicated sociopath would be given control of the vast bulk of the world’s metahuman forces with absolutely no oversight – Siege #1 nonetheless manages to be Bendis’ most focused work in some time, avoiding most of the traps his earlier events all fell prey to. Osborn, finally going completely off the hinge, follows the advice of Loki and sets events in motion meant to kick start a war with Asgard. Instead of waiting for the President’s say so, which he would almost assuredly get, he uses his lack of oversight and the ramshackle nature of the hastily-assembled HAMMER infrastruction to launch the war himself, gathering his Avengers and the Initiative and storming the gates of Asgard.
Coipel did not impress me in the preview, but his versatility is on good display here, easily handling everything Bendis asks him to. The action scenes are quick and dynamic, while the larger-scale images are often quite memorable, from Volstag riding out of Asgard early in the issue to Thor rocketing down from the skies above near the end. Adept at both epic action and quieter scenes of dialogue, Coipel has proven an excellent choice.
Bendis and Coipel work well together here, and the story moves quickly and believably into place with this issue. Siege #1 pairs an intriguing, action-packed premise with a pair of fine storytellers turning in good work. While there’s still room to go sour, especially given the borderline nonsensical conclusions to House of M and Secret Invasion, this issue nonetheless gives me a great deal of hope. Quick and exciting, Siege #1 delivers exactly what it needs to in order to get you hooked.
– Cal Cleary
Welcome! As the decade comes to a close, just about everyone under the sun begins to bust out their BEST OF THE DECADE lists. Best books, best TV shows, best movies… well, we here at Read/RANT are nothing if not trend-followers-setters! So, with that in mind, and with a few weeks left in 2009, we bring you the first of three BEST OFs.
This decade was undeniably good to comics. Besides seeing old favorites like Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore return in some drastically new capacities, we also saw an awful lot of breakout talents. Masterpieces were produced. Internet outrage was shouted from the rafters over everything from implied rape in a Spider-Man comic to Final Crisis being strange. Both Hal Jordan AND Barry Allen came back to life, while both Batman and Superman left the planet. Marvel’s ULTIMATE line grew, flourished, weakened, literally drowned, and was reborn only months ago. Captain America became a vital character. It was, all things considered, a busy, crazy, wonderful decade of comics.
Who are our Top 10 writers this decade? Well, read on…
10. Gail Simone
Gail Simone is certainly one of the decade’s breakout creators. While her name doesn’t pull in the same numbers as a few other creators on (and even off) our list, her creative output still stands up to scrutiny. Simone’s stories tend to be a little quieter, a little smaller in scale, than many of her counterparts on the list, focusing instead on a bizarre, character-driven combination of humor – sometimes incredibly dark humor – and action. Books like Birds of Prey, Agent X and Secret Six perfectly exemplify these trends, attracting loyal cult fan bases and critical praise. At her best, Simone is capable of switching from laugh-out-loud to heartbreak without any warning, and without detracting from either. Despite an uneven run on Wonder Woman – and even that is leagues above most folks’ handling of Diana – Simone has improved a great deal over the course of the decade. While a number of her books ended earlier than they deserved (The All-New Atom and Welcome to Tranquility, to name two of the strongest examples), none of them have been anything less than a pleasure to read. In an era dominated by high-concept, big-action blockbusters, Simone’s quiet humor and obvious love for the craft have been an oasis.
9. Greg Rucka
Greg Rucka, it’s safe to say, has a ‘type’, a fact that quickly became evident this decade. Filling your books with savvy, ass-kicking female heroes is a surefire way to flop in today’s market, but Rucka has proved time and again an exception to this rule. Whether it’s writing one of the strongest runs Wonder Woman has ever seen or trusting fans to understand Renee Montoya’s progression from a cop in Gotham Central to P.I. in the excellent 52 on through her new superheroic identity in two or three more books, Rucka spent the years finding increasingly fresh ways to help his heroines grow, change and find an audience. Meanwhile, over the course of the decade, Rucka also wrote nearly 40 issues of the excellent Queen and Country with Oni Press, netting him an Eisner and a dedicated fan base. His increased profile is evident from his latest assignment: he’s the first writer ever to simultaneously write DC’s flagship titles, Action Comics and Detective Comics. Astonishingly prolific, timely and with a gift for espionage and crime comics, Rucka has been a defining voice for the decade’s heroines, as well as a damnably fun writer to read.
8. Matt Fraction
Only writing in the latter half of the decade, Fraction has already proved himself as a cut above the rest. His breakout work, Immortal Iron Fist, ended up becoming one of those great, character redefining runs that only come around every five years, if that. Besides making Danny Rand cool, Fraction successfully reintroduced Frank Castle into the Marel U proper. Realizing that the Punisher’s not meant for such a zany world, Fraction avoided the grim & gritty. Instead, Frank fought absurdly stupid villains, with hilarious results. Immediately following those successes, Fraction took the Uncanny X-Men reigns, producing the finest work that title has seen in over a decade. And, last but not least, Fraction helmed Invincible Iron Man, following the wildly popular movie. He managed to easily match the quality fans expected after seeing Favreau’s film. So much so, in fact, that Jon Favreau actually consulted with Matt Fraction for Iron Man 2. As if all that wasn’t enough, Fraction’s independent comic, Casanova, is one of the finest works of the decade. Fraction has a fresh, powerful voice, unafraid of filling his comics with women and, most importantly, fun.
7. Garth Ennis
In the beginning of the decade, Garth concluded his magnum opus, Preacher. Most creators take a break after completing something so brilliant. Not Ennis. He just keeps on writing, immediately moving onto another great project. I’m talking about Garth’s Punisher run, of course. Frank Castle’s been around and loved since the 70’s, but nobody’s left a mark on him like Ennis. Hell, both Punisher movies and a video game were inspired by Ennis’ work. Writing around 100 issues with the character, Ennis took Frank to dark, humorous places, creating one of the most reliable comics of the decade. Never missing a beat, when Ennis stopped writing Punisher comics, he already had a start on his next popular series, The Boys. Ennis’ writing is well-known for its intense, human drama, so it’s only natural that Garth’s passion, War Stories, would be so damn good. Utilizing extensive research, Ennis always writes fabulous recreations of often-unknown battles. There are several worthwhile pojects I haven’t even mentioned. Garth Ennis is a true professional, writing great comics month after month.
6. Brian Michael Bendis
Easily one of the most influential writers of the decade, Bendis IS Marvel, and it all happened in the 00’s. Exploding at the start of the millennium, Bendis wrote several great works that will be remembered: Alias, Daredevil, Powers, and Ultimate Spider-Man. Bendis’ Daredevil is the best work Murdock’s seen since Miller in the 80’s. Ultimate Spider-Man broke the Lee/Kirby longevity record, and it gave Spider-Man fans a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Sadly, Bendis’ work in the latter half of the decade is hated by many, and rightly so. But even if the poor characterizations and decompression are bringing you down, Bendis can still be admired for his wonderful ideas. There’s a reason why he’s been behind nearly every Marvel event this decade. His high concepts are exciting and ambitious. With Bendis’ return to Powers, Ultimate Spider-Man surviving Ultimatum, and that Daredevil project on the horizon, Bendis may have another great decade ahead of him.
5. Robert Kirkman
Breaking onto the comics scene at the birth of the new millennium, Kirkman took the world by storm with Battle Pope! Ok, maybe not, but a couple people at Image liked it, and after a few years, Kirkman was given the chance to write two ongoing books for the company in 2003. Invincible, an amalgam of every superhero trope in the benday dot covered book, and Walking Dead, a George Romero-inspired zombie epic, eventually became two of the most successful Indie books ever. Then, like all fresh-faced comic writers, Kirkman spent some time at Marvel, penning books like Marvel Team-Up and the insanely popular Marvel Zombies. Also like many writers, Kirkman grew tired of Marvel. However, few leave in such intriguing fashion. Along with that startling video came the news that Kirkman was made a partner at the company he loved so much. That was only a year ago, and already Kirkman’s been instrumental in making Image cool again. Teaming up with Todd McFarlane to create the monstrously successful Haunt, and reuniting all the Image founders on Image United, Kirkman’s like the young D’Artagnan, inspiring the old Musketeers.
4. Brian K. Vaughan
Brian K. Vaughan was a relative unknown at the start of the decade, having penned a few single issues here and there. In the early 2000s, he was still working on a string of small arcs, jumping from book to book, though the profile of the books – Wonder Woman, JLA, X-Men, Batman, Detective Comics – had risen significantly. Still, it wasn’t until 2002 that he really broke out. With the release of Y: the Last Man, Vaughan proved himself. 60 issues later, one of the defining comics of the decade came to a conclusion with a few of the most heartbreaking moments we’ve seen. If Y were all he achieved this decade, it would still be a rock solid body of work, but Vaughan also created Ex Machina over at Wildstorm, an impressive post-9/11 political superhero story, and the powerful Pride of Baghdad. He also had a successful time over at Marvel Comics with the enjoyable (if ultimately unsuccessful) Dr. Strange: The Oath and Logan, and the vastly more successful The Hood. Finally, he did something that has become nearly impossible in today’s stagnant modern environment: he created a successful new franchise for Marvel in Runaways. Vaughan’s work has run the gamut from teenage rebellion to the end of life as we know it, and throughout, he’s kept it honest, emotional and fun.
3. Ed Brubaker
Ed Brubaker’s pre-2000 work largely consisted of a string of mostly unknown independent single issues. In the late 90s, however, a few small Vertigo projects apparently got him enough attention to net him a few small issues on Batman, Robin and Detective Comics, and it wasn’t long before Brubaker took off from there. An impressive array of noir-influenced crime superheroics followed, from his surprisingly successful and critically acclaimed relaunch of Catwoman to his collaboration with Greg Rucka on the stellar Gotham Central. Meanwhile, over in Wildstorm, Brubaker began to push things in a different direction. Ideas like Point Blank and the following Sleeper began to take a more active interest in meshing the superhero genre with the pulp criminal underbelly. There, he could push things further and do what he needed to do to his brilliant cast of dark characters and he managed to shape the Wildstorm Universe for a good few years. His move to Marvel seemed at the time to be a strange fit, but no one can deny that his relaunch of Captain America has been the single most successful take on the character in years, and he proved an inspired choice to follow Brian Michael Bendis on the surprise hit Daredevil. Working with Matt Fraction, he turned The Immortal Iron Fist into a successful franchise that lasted beyond the creative team’s departure. And, finally, he reunited with the gifted Sean Phillips to lend some much-needed gravitas to Marvel’s ICON imprint with two books: the pulp supervillain story Incognito and the superior critical darling Criminal. Following a loosely-connected group of crooks in exciting, heartbreaking standalone arcs, it is almost hard to believe that Criminal has gone on as long as it has, but it remains an impressive accomplishment, and one of the decade’s most enjoyable books.
2. Warren Ellis
Warren Ellis came out of the last decade on an impressive high note: halfway through his stellar Transmetropolitan and having just completed his brief, game-changing run on The Authority. Transmet was a near immediate success, being taught in Political Science courses, a rare mainstream success for comics, and it would have surprised no one if he’d channelled that success into more high profile, mainstream work at the Big 2. Instead, he used his new pull to launch a string of relaunches and creator-owned projects that ranged from good to absolutely stellar. Nextwave was a gloriously fun satire on the genre. Global Frequency was a brilliant combination of sci-fi and horror, and if the premise didn’t entirely make sense, the execution more than made up for it. His creation of The Authority in 1999 and run that lasted well into 2000 quite nearly defined how mainstream action comics would work. Meanwhile, he repeatedly launched increasingly impressive array of books with Avatar Press, from the gritty supernatural Gravel books through the dark examination of super-heroics in Black Summer and No Hero and on into glorious sci-fi worldbuilding books like Doktor Sleepless and Anna Mercury. Very few writers have displayed the sheer versatility that Warren Ellis has, and the decade saw him gather an impressive array of titles under his belt. It’s my humble opinion that he could’ve made the list off of nothing but Transmetropolitan and Planetary, but Ellis is hardly the type to rest on his laurels.
1. Grant Morrison
I don’t think it’s a secret that we’re all big Morrison fans. We could produce a “Top Ten” list using Morrison’s work alone, and that list would have more quality than half the lists you’ll find on the Interwebs. Kicking off the decade with the most radical X-Men run ever produced, breaking away from the dusty, old Claremont mold and replacing it with a new shadow for the franchise. Many fans prefer the safe, crowd-pleasing Whedon run, which is amusing, since Whedon’s run couldn’t really exist without Morrison’s. Before leaving Marvel, Morrison wrote Marvel Boy, a wonderful Marvel love letter, while maintaining that Morrison freshness. Many people have forgotten it, especially since Noh-Varr has recently been bastardized, but Marvel Boy is a great example of what Marvel’s Ultimate Comics line should’ve been. Returning to his beloved DC, Morrison produced the experimental Seven Soldiers, a bold comic introducing several great, new characters. Moving into the latter half of the decade, Morrison began his run on Batman, pitting Bruce Wayne against madness, Satan, and his bastard son, Damian. Morrison also helmed his first major company event, Final Crisis. It’s a summation of nearly every Morrison work to date, and it was too earth-shattering for many to handle, but it’s one of the finest events ever produced. Though Morrison’s known for being odd and extreme, few could complain about All Star Superman, a work so tender and pure. Not only is it Superman’s finest adventure, it somehow enriches every other Superman comic. So much accomplished, and I haven’t even gotten to Morrison’s fabulous Vertigo work, which includes We3, The Filth, and Seaguy. Morrison remains one of the strongest, boldest voices in the medium, and his enormous amount of successful output makes him a perfect candidate for best writer of the decade.
… and there you have it! Our TOP 10 list has what I’m sure many people will consider to be some significant omissions. Like any Best Of, it’s limited by what we read, how we assessed it, the context in which is was read. It was limited by the consistency with which they produce their best material, and how much we keep talking about it, months or even years later.
So, anyone who’s interested: what’s your Best Of list look like? Who were comics’ strongest writers, this decade, and why?
Join us next week as we bring you our Top 10 Artists of the decade, and have yourselves a happy holiday season!
Brian Michael Bendis, for all his massive talent on books like Powers, Alias, Daredevil, etc… has a serious and fundamental problem with event comics. Specifically, with the ideas of ’cause’ and ‘effect’. Which is to say, his conclusions have nothing to do with the stories that precede them. After a few issues of exciting or emotional storytelling, it often peters off into a confused mess of nonsense meant to have ‘gravity’ that really just functions as a way to say “This is where Marvel wanted the status quo to be at the end of the story.” But with Siege limited to four issues, I figured it was worth it to give one of my formerly favorite writers another shot.
Siege: The Cabal is for the most part utterly disposable. While some things of note happen, the only BIG one is telegraphed on the book’s cover – the falling out between Doom and the overstepping Norman Osborn. Still, Bendis actually does a good job here of giving people motives and then following through on those motives, making the proceedings believable, enjoyable and intense. Each of the main players are distinctly characterized, the dialogue is quick and functional, and the brief action is exciting and surprising, though he plays a particularly obnoxious game in his efforts to hide Osborn’s super-weapon from us.
Lark turns in good work, as Lark always does. While most artists have little trouble keeping action scenes energetic and exciting (and Lark is definitely capable of that), a strength of his art here is that he (along with Gaudiano and Hollingsworth on inks and colors respectively) also does an excellent job with Bendis’ extended talking heads scenes, using the layout, shadows and angles to help keep the reader’s attention where it needs to be.
Siege: The Cabal also provides a brief, unnecessary preview of the upcoming event that does little to flatter it. Even Loki essentially says, “This is how Civil War started – let’s do it again!” If you enjoy minis with dimwitted heroes accidentally murdering thousands of people in an effort to start a frankly unbelievable witch hunt against a subsection of the population, well, then it looks like you can either read Siege or just go read your back-issues of Civil War. For now, however, those who are excited for the upcoming event will probably find something to get excited about in Siege: The Cabal. It may be disposable, but it’s still well-crafted.
– Cal Cleary
That’s right, folks. Desiato is back and ready to talk some Marvel.
Spoilers abound for this one.
I’ve done this previously for Dark Reign and War of Kings, and I thought, as the resident Marvel guy lurking in the shadows of a generally DC heavy comic review blog, this is the perfect time to make a triumphant (but most likely short lived) comeback to the world of read/RANT. So let’s talk some Marvel. More specifically, let’s talk SIEGE. Bendis! Coipel! Only four issues! It’s got a strong chance of being pretty awesome. Time to break it down, see where we’ve been and where we’re going, specifically pertaining to the last two months or so of Dark Reign continuity.
As a quick proviso, this article is going to focus on Norman Osborne. To find out what’s going on with the rest of the Cabal, I’m going to be putting up a sort of “Where are they now?” article on my own blog, Musings of the Alpha Primitive. This is partially to be self-serving, and partially because I don’t want this article to be 4,000 words long. That should be posted in a week or so, and I’ll probably update this article with the link when I’ve done it.
By the time folks read this, Dark Avengers #11 will most likely have been released. It comes out on Wednesday. I get my books online through Discount Comic Book Service (the best folks in the planet in many ways), and will not be receiving my copy until the end of the month (which, while lame, is a hell of a lot better than paying cover price).So bear in mind that this Siege preview is being written without the added detail of anything that happened in that issue.
So let’s talk about the most recent pertinent points first. We’ve navigated through just about all of The List. I remember when the list was announced, I was perturbed by the idea of 8 $4 one-shots coming out within a month or two. I wasn’t going to buy them. At the time, I was enjoying, but not totally enamored with Dark Reign. But then I saw the creative teams. Fraction and Davis on X-Men. Bendis and Djurdjevik on Avengers. Remender and JRJR on Punisher. Hickman and Ed McGuinness on Secret Warriors. These are stacked creative teams that are worthy of a $4 purchase (or, in my case, about $2.20 thanks to DCBS). And they were all great. I didn’t read Daredevil and didn’t order Spider-Man because I don’t read those ongoings. But maybe I should have, considering the quality of the other books (and I’m sure I’m going to pick them up during con season on the cheap next year). The List rekindled my interest in Dark Reign.
Add to that the monumental achievement that was World’s Most Wanted, Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca’s world-spanning Iron Man epic that has taken a year to tell (and, honestly, how often do you see twelve issue story arcs these days, especially in ongoing titles?), and Dark Reign has kicked into overdrive. Norman Osborne’s armor is weakening. His hold on the world and his own sanity is slipping. The members of the Cabal are splintering, creating their own alliances against Norman and HAMMER. Everything is coming to a head. Siege is, as some of us know thanks to J Michael Straczynski, at its core the siege of Asgard. We know this, because this is apparently why JMS left the Thor book, because he didn’t want to deal with the crossover. We also know a few other things based on some teaser images that have been released in the past few weeks.
1. Asgard is in trouble. One of the teaser images that has been released is the picture of a burning Asgard plummeting to the ground. It’s still in Oklahoma, and the neighboring sleepy town looks to be in trouble (considering that Asgard is landing directly in the center of it). Considering that the whole point of Siege is Norman Osborne storming Asgard, nothing about this should come as a surprise. But let’s keep some things in mind. First, the Asgardians as we know them are not actually in Asgard right now. Loki, Baldur, basically everyone but Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three are currently in Latveria. Secondly, considering the last panel of World’s Most Wanted, featuring Donald Blake in his Oklahoma hotel room alongside Pepper Potts, Captain America (Bucky) and Black Widow, and that Blake has power of attorney in Tony Stark’s living will and is presumably going to get him, there’s a decent chance that the BIG THREE (and I mean big three, as Cap Reborn should be wrapping up to the extent that I fully expect Steve Rogers to be back with the shield by the beginning of Siege) will be using Asgard as their headquarters/staging ground preparing for some kind of attack on Osborne when he brings the heat to Oklahoma. One would assume that the big three will also bring in folks like the Mighty Avengers to join the cause (probably the X-Men too, but I don’t know if the scope of the book is such that they want everyone involved).
2. Norman Osborne has a secret weapon. This goes all the way back to Dark Reign: The Cabal, and the shadowy figure that Norman’s been using to keep the rest of the Cabal in line. There has been much speculation, and now we’ve got two pieces of information to help us narrow some things down. The first is a teaser image of Norman surrounded by seven pictures and a “WHO IS NORMAN OSBORNE’S SECRET WEAPON?” tag line at the top, and the second is the end to Dark Avengers #10. These are obviously linked, considering that three of the characters are in both images. Let’s take a look at who’s on the teaser image first to get a sense of the possibilities.
2a. Thanos. No chance in hell. This is a red herring. One, the fact that they specifically chose an image of Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet is too loaded of an image. Take also into consideration the utter arrogance of Thanos, and that there’s no way he would ever go along with someone like Osborne. Plus, there’s the fact that he’s dead. And Abnett and Lanning would probably be a little annoyed if one of the supreme cosmic characters of the Marvel universe suddenly shows up parading around a crossover on earth. Odds: Eleventy-billion to one
2b. Odin. In case you couldn’t tell, I’m getting the no chance in hells out of the way first. Most of the reasoning behind Thanos can also be attributed to Odin. He’s arrogant, and would be exceedingly unlikely to consider Osborne an equal deserving of his time. He’s also dead, and while he did hold a grudge against Thor for not resurrecting him after the most recent Ragnarok, they reconciled during the two issue Thorsleep arc in JMS’ run. Not gonna happen. Odds: 200,000,000,000 to one
2c. Nate Grey. X-Man, eh? So I’m not reading many of the X books. I’m reading Uncanny, but that’s basically it. Dark X-Men seems to be the book that features the return of X-Man, and while I probably should have bought it considering that Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk are piloting the series. Nate’s an omega level mutant, and he’s one of the many folks in this teaser that can actively alter reality. From my perspective, Nate Grey lacks the punch that would be needed to really make Siege pop. Not enough folks would really get enough out of Nate Grey being the big secret baddie. It’s more plausible than Odin or Thanos, but it’s definitely unlikely. Odds: 999 to one
2d. Mephisto. See, now we’re talking. Mephisto has some definite possibilities. He’s definitely shown that he’ll work with anyone if the price is right. And Norman’s definitely crazy enough to have no compunction to make a deal with the devil. Some folks have been attempting to make a link between Mephisto as Norman’s secret weapon and the events of One More Day as a sort of kill two birds situation. I don’t see that happening. Personally, Mephisto’s up there. He works perfectly well in this situation. He could legitimately keep folks in line. Plus, he’s in the last panel of issue ten of Dark Avengers (for the information of those not in the know, Dark Avengers 10 ends with a double page spread featuring Norman Osborne being confronted by a new Dark Cabal consisting of Enchantress, Zarathos, Mephisto, The Beyonder, and Molecule Man on a throne of skulls). Odds: 10 to one
2e. Molecule Man. Molecule Man has some potential and some problems. Rich Johnston leaked some things about Norman’s secret weapon having the MM initials, which certainly points to Molecule Man, but one would think that if this were the case, you might not necessarily give that away at the end of Dark Avengers. But Molecule Man was certainly in power, especially considering his sitting on a throne of skulls and all, and if he can exert his will to dominate folks like Mephisto and The Beyonder, we should probably watch the hell out. Sure, he’s not necessarily dominating these folks, but he’s definitely in the place of power. Of course, there’s also the fact that Norman is completely insane and could be imagining it all. But, if he is imagining it all, is he doing it for a reason? Is it because he’s worried he could lose control of his secret weapon? Hard to say, but I think Molecule Man is, in a way, a little too good of a fit. He doesn’t have a strong personality, and could easily be convinced by Osborne to be his ace in the hole. Odds: 7 to one
2f. The Beyonder. It seems to be the case that Bendis has been itching to use the Beyonder in some capacity. New Avengers: Illuminati #3 was all about The Beyonder. There was heavy speculation that he was pulling the strings during Secret Invasion. He’s been on the cusp of involvement for a while, and he would absolutely scare the shit out of the other Cabal members (and extra points for having a specific grudge with Doom). Of course, this could easily be Bendis continuing to mess with us by dangling The Beyonder just out of reach; only this time he’s actually appearing on panel. I like The Beyonder as the secret weapon. I think it works well. A mix of the old and the new. Personally, this would be my choice, though I don’t necessarily think it’s the most likely. Odds: 4 to one
2g. Scarlet Witch. When was the last time we saw Bendis and Coipel working together on a big project? House of M. COINCIDENCE?!?!?! The return of Scarlet Witch would bring quite a few things full circle. It would play off Loki’s recent actions in Mighty Avengers. Hawkeye would continue to go nuts, especially considering New Avengers #26. Scarlet Witch, in many ways, started the ball rolling. She’s the most unstable of the reality-alterers in the mix. She would scare anyone into service, because she’s capable of anything. House of M proved that. Much like Molecule Man, this might be too perfect. But Scarlet Witch has been off the table for a long time, and this might be a worthy moment for her return. Odds: 3 to one
2h. Someone else. There are other possibilities. Dormammu, for one, as he does have ties to The Hood, who’s probably been the most on Osborne’s side throughout most of Dark Reign. The Void would manage to not only keep the Cabal in line, but would also act as a safety net to cover The Sentry. Marvelman was a popular guess after Rich Johnston’s MM leak, but I think it’s too soon for Marvelman to hit the main Marvel U. I’d like to believe it’s one of the folks on the teaser, and that it’s not a bait and switch situation.
3. Some flying shadow dude. There’s another teaser image of a shadowed figure flying above New York City as the denizens of the city look on in a mixture of shock, awe, and terror. We all assume that this enshadowed figure is Norman’s secret weapon, though much of that could be because those two teasers were released at the same time. So who is it? The Beyonder with his white disco coat blowing in the wind like a cape? Scarlet Witch? The Void? Sentry? Who knows? What I do know is that I dig the image and it further whets my appetite for some Siege goodness.
Is there more to cover? Yeah, probably. But we’re going on 2,100 plus words now, so I think I’ve done enough damage in my return. If you want the lowdown on Dark Reign and Siege, make sure you’re following Dark Avengers, Invincible Iron Man, Utopia, and The List. That’ll help out the most for the major story points. And once again, keep a look out for my article on the Cabal over at Musings of the Alpha Primitive (yeah, I plugged it again). You stay classy, read/RANT
There’s no question that print media is slowly being supplanted by digital formats. Marvel and DC have both been slowly trying to diversify the types and formats of their publications, and this is the latest move along those lines. Though Spider-Woman #1 is hardly the first motion comic, it is a pioneer in that it is the most high-profile, and the first to begin as a motion comic and then be changed for future print publication. Unfortunately, Marvel choose a poor book with which to launch this particular endeavor: though the format proves impressive, the story within is… less so.
Bendis’ dialogue may have become a staple of his comics, but here, read aloud, it just doesn’t work. The voice actors – Nicolette Reed, Stephanie Thomas and Geoff Boothby – offer relatively stilted line-readings throughout the production, but even the most gifted voice actors on the planet would have a hard time with lines like these:
“This is a very cool doohickey you can’t buy at any stores.”
“This is what we call bull-caca.”
“We have a rendezvous point thingamajig and we’ll get out of here.”
Maleev’s art, on the other hand, works extraordinarily well in motion. The striking visuals give the production a haunted look as we pan over the dimmed neon glow of Madripoor, see Drew fight against a Super Skrull, or watch her have a shadowy conversation with Abigail Brand. Anyone who had their doubts about the viability of motion comics should have some of them put to rest as they see how well it can work here.
Ultimately, Spider-Woman #1 offers a bizarre obsession with mentioning Wolverine at least once every 2 minutes, way too much heavily stylized dialogue, and a whole lot of gorgeous art. With someone like Ed Brubaker, the already noir-touched art might have found a more able companion, and Marvel might’ve launched their new initiative with a bang. As is, they instead provide an unsatisfying opening chapter to a story we’re given little reason to care about.
– Cal Cleary