Review: Siege #4

Siege 4 cover by Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, and Laura Martin.

That's three madmen down and a Heroic Age to go.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Olivier Coipel
Inker: Mark Morales
Colorist: Laura Martin

First off, I’m reviewing this issue from the airport in Seattle– on Monday afternoon. How, you ask, considering that I get my pull on Wednesdays like the rest of you? Well, I spent part of my long weekend in Portland, OR, home of Brian Bendis… who had comp copies burning a hole in his pocket. Bendis dropped some off at Things From Another World, I scooted over there on my way out of town, and the Sentry’s your uncle. So, hey, thanks, Bendis! Thanks, guys at TFAW!

Speaking of Bob, this issue puts the entire “what do you do with a guy who makes the Beyonder look sane” question to rest for the moment, and it’s actually pretty satisfying. Better yet, Coipel’s art is what sells it. The Sentry’s been one of the major annoyances of the Dark Reign– too powerful to play nice with everyone else, too unbalanced to be really compelling as a character– and getting him off the board gives me the sense that we may actually get some forward momentum going from here on out. That’d be a welcome change from the previous year and a half of dealing with twinked-out, superpowered lunatics…

…which brings us to Norman Osborn. He gets his in the end as well, although Spider-Man isn’t actually involved. Neither is Tony Stark, oddly– it’s all Steve Rogers’ show, set up to provide us with a little insight into Steve’s new motivations going into Secret Avengers. I certainly don’t mind Steve’s redesign, but I feel like Spider-Man should’ve had the last laugh in the ongoing Osborn drama, or maybe Tony Stark. After all, Norman was a Spidey villain from day one, and the entirety of “World’s Most Wanted” was about his vengeance on Tony. That being said, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Norman’s plot arc yet, so I’m not counting either Peter or Tony out of the final reckoning.

As for our final, and arguably biggest, psychotic madman, Loki… well. His comeuppance delivers a serious hit to Thor’s entire status quo. If you have any interest in Thor and the Asgardian arc plot whatsoever, you will need to read this issue (and, if you’ve got them, Siege: Loki and New Mutants #11, both of which appear to provide big hints as to Loki’s possible fate). After all the buildup Loki’s received in the last year, this is the sea change in his relationship to the rest of the Marvel Universe, and you will need to see it even if you’re not actively following the Siege.

While I don’t always find Thor a terribly compelling character in his own right, and I’m only starting to come around to his fandom, I want to see where Kieron Gillen and Matt Fraction go with what Bendis has done here. Asgard falling appears to be the least of the Asgardians’ worries at this point in the game. Siege #4 sets up a state of affairs that can’t be ignored… and yet, over and over again in Gillen’s run, we’ve seen the gods’ childlike naïveté and willful ignorance lead them into disaster. I don’t know how long it will take the various Thor creative teams to play this one out to its end, but I expect a lot of mayhem before it’s all over.

Bendis has cleared the decks for next week’s Avengers launch in grand, cinematic style; although I have quibbles with Osborn’s eventual fate, I can’t say I’m unhappy with the denouement here. The Loki plotline is worth the price of admission on its own. Most of all, though, I’m just glad to see the Siege and the Dark Reign well and truly done; it’s past time we moved on to some new storylines and new ideas.

Review: Siege: Secret Warriors

Siege: Secret Warriors cover by Marko Djurdjevic.

Yeah, that's pretty much what's going on here. No subtlety!

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Alessandro Vitti
Colorist: Jose Villarubia
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic

I’ve read three of the Siege one-shots now– I skipped Siege: Captain America and Siege: Young Avengers, since I’m not following their home titles– and I’ve been pretty solidly entertained all along. Two of those three issues have played directly to their authors’ strengths. Siege: Loki showcased Kieron Gillen’s grasp of the Asgardian mindset, first displayed in “The Latverian Prometheus.” Brian Reed’s knack for physical comedy got full run of the place in Siege: Spider-Man, including the single best Ms. Marvel panel I’ve ever seen.

Given that, you’d probably expect Siege: Secret Warriors to go straight up the usual Jonathan Hickman alley– weird conspiracies, epic pseudoscience, and portents of disaster at every turn. You’d figure on at least a token appearance by Hydra, and you’d guess that Secret Warriors leader-in-training Daisy might be integral to the plot, as usual.

You’d be entirely wrong, too.

The focal point of this issue is Alex, the extremely creepy boy-genius son of Ares, the recently-deceased god of war. Unlike his dad, Alex is the god of fear… and while Ares can’t possibly have been the best of parents, given his treatment of his charges in books like Dark Avengers: Ares, he did leave a few very specific instructions for Alex in event of an emergency. Alex sets off to fulfill those requests as best he can, and, well, when you’re the god of fear, your best is probably a damn sight better than most people’s.

Hickman throws every bit of his usual carefully-honed subtlety out the window in this issue. I lost count of the number of people Alex chops up on his way to finding out the reason for his father’s (quite temporary, it seems) death. The entire A-plot is pretty much one dirty, protracted fight sequence; there’s not a lot of talking, just a lot of Alex going house on mortals who aren’t prepared for his assault. People who’ve been following Secret Warriors from issue one will be pleased to see Alex finally embracing his father’s amorality, which he displays in flashes throughout the regular series. His actions certainly bring up questions about how much longer he’s going to put up with being the mascot in Nick Fury’s Junior SHIELD Scouts, and I think that’s exactly what Hickman wants the reader to ponder.

If you’re not a regular Secret Warriors reader, though, Alex’s quest for vengeance probably won’t do much for you. After all, you’ve got almost no reason to care about him. You’re not going out and buying, I dunno, Secret Phobos or Ultimate God of Fear or Alex: Origins every month, because he doesn’t have that kind of cachet in the Marvel lineup. For you guys, Hickman’s thoughtfully provided a B-plot where Nick Fury and the reborn Steve Rogers renew their acquaintance over a round of hapless mooks. Vitti does a fine job with this big, sprawling Avengers-style battle, rendering Cap with a brawler’s raw physicality and Nick with the breezy charm of an amiable drunk.

The editorial dictate of the month, if this book and Invincible Iron Man #25 are any indication, is “Get all the major players in the Illuminati/ Civil War plotline back on or near the same page before June’s Avengers event.” Siege: Secret Warriors accomplishes the reunion of Nick and Cap in swaggering style. And, hey, if you’re a fan of Alex’s ongoing quest to attain the full scope of his divinity, there’s a lot to like here too. Essential for Siege diehards who were left hanging by Ares’ death, folks who liked Dark Avengers: Ares, and Secret Warriors readers. You could probably skip it if you’re not in those three categories, but you’d miss a rare atypical Jonathan Hickman story, and I don’t think I’d recommend that.

Review: Siege: Spider-Man

"blblblblbl, I'm your new boyfriend now!"

"blblblblbl, I'm your new boyfriend now!"

Writer: Brian Reed
Artist: Marco Santucci
Color Artist: Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramanga
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic

Let me cut right to the chase: Where in the hell has this Venom been all my life?

I must admit up front that I’ve read none of the previous canon in relation to the character. When I was the obligatory angry young man, Venom’s meteoric rise to popularity soured me to the entire concept and what it appeared to be doing to Spider-Man and Marvel as a whole. I can trace my inability to find purchase in any of the Spider-Man comics to what seemed like an editorial mandate to over-hype the symbiote and its hosts. More than likely, looking back, Venom was the leading contributor to my disdain for Marvel in general for the majority of the last two decades. I’d walk into a shop, be greeted by a sea of fanged, saliva-dripping-tongued faces on posters, t-shirts, what have you, and I’d retreat hastily to the Vertigo section.

As my interest in the Siege storyline has grown over the last few months, though, I keep brushing up against the Mac Gargan Venom, especially as the action moves closer to Asgard. When Brian Reed posted the preview to Siege: Spider-Man to Twitter last week, I was dubious. But those six pages compelled me to do something I’d never even considered before.

I was going to have to buy a Venom story.

I was not disappointed, and I’m still not sure how to feel about that. I’ve invested a lot in hating Venom. It’s defined my comics fandom for twenty freaking years now. It’s not like I can just let that go all of a sudden. Reed’s sense of humor is natural for Peter Parker; when you see Spidey, you expect smartassery. The application of that same humor to Venom, though? It works, and it makes him a convincing dark mirror to Spidey– the one thing he’s been missing for me this entire time. Reed’s Venom is eminently quotable, and invoking the best lines in my head as I write this still makes me laugh hours after the fact. If nothing else, Reed deserves a medal for having Venom invoke the the phrase “OM NOM NOM” while dining on Asgardian flesh.

It’s essentially a prolonged, laugh-a-minute fight scene between Venom, Spidey, and Ms. Marvel, but the story never loses its awareness of surrounding events- the visual callback to Siege: Embedded is a nice touch that rewards observant readers. And despite everything else going on, Siege: Spider-Man never loses its actual focus on building the growing bond between Peter and Carol. How that’s going to work out in the long run is… unclear, but it makes for a nice story all the same.

The art, color, and lettering combine here in a very fluid manner to carry these hijinks along seamlessly. Caramagna’s lettering job, especially, makes Venom’s dialog shine through. And, uh… how can I say this? A naked man has never been funnier to me. Ever.

I keep having the same thought as I read all of these Siege and Siege-related one-shots from Marvel: More like this, please. Brian Reed and company actually made me like Venom, FFS. Clearly, we have entered the end times.

Review: Siege: Loki

Siege:Loki cover by Marko Djurdjevic.

Marko Djurdjevic provides the shiny wrapper for Jamie McKelvie's best work yet.

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Colorist: Nathan Fairbairn
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna

The Loki of Norse myth is a god of many faces– oath-brother to Odin, master sorcerer, trickster deity, child of the giants. He schemes and plots to disrupt the order of the Aesir and Vanir, suffers their punishments, and then is loosed at the Ragnarok to battle his former comrades alongside his giant kin. In the Marvel Universe, Loki’s relationship to the other gods is more clear-cut– he’s a supervillain, all right, and recently, he’s spent a lot of time bending the rest of that less-august pantheon to his whim. His relationships to guys like Doom and Norman Osborn define him more than his own deeds at times.

Leave it to Team Phonogram, then– Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie– to present a Loki who’s entirely in line with Marvel’s editorial dictates and very much of a piece with his mythological predecessor. Siege: Loki depicts Loki at the height of his powers, an androgynous figure of menace, cutting deals across the multiverse to secure his own interests. From Hela’s lair in Las Vegas to Mephisto’s hell and back to Broxton, Gillen’s Loki is equally at home confronting the atavistic fallen Valkyrior known as the Disir (also seen in Gillen’s recent New Mutants issue), signing deals with the Devil, and slowly nudging Norman further into the grip of insanity. It’s just what Loki is, and the one-shot captures his personality in exquisite detail even as Loki himself reminds us that no one can truly know the totality of his being.

McKelvie’s linework is, as usual, expressive on a level most other comics artists can’t touch. His Loki is pouting, playful, dangerous, a Tyler Durden devoid of macho and stripped down to the bare bones of mayhem. There’s the occasional knowing take to the camera as Loki taunts Norman Osborn, the sidelong glance when he reminds Mephisto of the value of ultimate personal freedom. When he does enter combat against Bor’s Disir, it’s almost incidental, with McKelvie couching it in a striking 24-panel layout on a single page. For all his prowess as a combat magician, this Loki’s real menace is embodied in his slinking, ambiguously androgynous physicality. Likewise, the Disir are portrayed as more than simple zombie Valkyrior; in McKelvie’s hands, their lust for the flesh of the Aesir appears as a depraved, nearly-sexual hunger. One panel of the Disir consuming a fallen god is enough to give rise to uneasy dreams.

I know Kieron pushes the limits in every issue of Thor; the amoral horrors of “The Latverian Prometheus” convinced me that he meant deadly serious business when it came to the deific end of the MU. Seeing Jamie step up and do the same in Siege: Loki made me more convinced than ever that someone needs to find him a job that pays better than Phonogram did, lock him in as far as he’s willing to be tied down, and let him get to it. As a primarily verbal person, it’s rare that I say this– but the art in Siege: Loki actually speaks more powerfully to me about the true nature of the Marvel Loki than anything I’ve read so far. If you have any interest in Thor’s part of the MU, even if you’re avoiding Siege somehow, you need this book. It’s the best thing Jamie McKelvie’s ever drawn, and that alone should be enough to recommend it to you.

Capsule Reviews: Week of January 25th

Hi! I’m not dead, just short-slept and working– I have one of the few VFX jobs that requires constant attention and doesn’t involve long render times, so blogging from work is pretty much out. Understanding Comics Fridays will return next week with Chapter Four.

However, I did read just about everything in this week’s pull Wednesday night. On to the capsules!

Invincible Iron Man #23 (Marvel; Fraction, Larroca, D’Armata)

The cover for Invincible Iron Man #23, by Larroca and Hughes.

Tony's outside world is as complicated as his interior life.

This is about the only book where I not only tolerate two and a half pages of Bechdel Rule violation, but welcome it as absolutely necessary to the resolution of the overall arc. Tony and Dr. Strange may be mending Tony’s internal world– although I question the wisdom of having that internal world tied inextricably to Tony being Iron Man, and not Tony being, well, Tony— but our favorite technocrat’s external universe is a long, long way from being whole.

Fraction’s saying some interesting things in this issue about how cheaply Tony values his body as opposed to his mind, and, by extension, how dearly he regards the technologies that are the physical representation of his genius. For Tony, the work of his mind outweighs the works of his body, but this isn’t necessarily how everyone else in his world reads his choices. There’s been a lot of small parts put into place across Stark: Disassembled along those lines, and I’ll be interested in seeing the payoff next arc.

Also, hey, Rhodey. I’d like more Rhodey in this book.

Thor #606 (Marvel; Gillen, Tan, Batt, Rauch)

Thor #606 cover by Billy Tan

Doom. You're crushing my head. Cut it out.

Yeah, I know. It was last week. Blame Diamond.

“The Latverian Prometheus” concludes in this issue, and it’s a corker– not for the resolution of Doom’s Asgardian experiment, but for where it puts Loki in relation to the wider Siege plotline. With an upcoming Gillen/McKelvie Siege: Loki one-shot, that can only be good news for readers, if bad news for the deific citizens of Broxton, Oklahoma.

I jumped onto Thor cold because Kieron was writing it, which meant I was in for a whole load of “what the FUCK is going ON here,” but I’m glad I’ve stuck with it. This arc is unrelentingly dark– you’re gonna need a Volstagg chaser if you pick it up late like I did– and knowing that the bright and shiny Heroic Age is coming might blunt the impact of “Doom goes all Josef Mengele on the Asgardians” a little, but I still want to see where Loki and Doom’s plans take them in the next arc.

Billy Tan’s doing some great, expressive facial work on these book, too. Balder, Loki, and Thor are put in some heavy situations in this issue, and their faces reflect their struggles. Great to see; Thor has always been a hard sell for me for some reason, but this is a book that looks as good as it reads.

Siege #2 (Marvel; Bendis, Coipel, Morales, Martin)

Siege #2 cover by Coipel, Morales, and Martin.

Sentry's got the Oddball!

First off: I love Laura Martin’s color work and always will. Please take this as read from here on out if you see me review a Martin book. Thanks.

I wasn’t too into the first issue of Siege; I thought it set things up but didn’t move the plot forward much, and I was expecting a little more of a big bang to start off the Norman Osborn endgame. Turns out Bendis was reserving that for this issue!

Yup, someone dies. Yes, it’s a floridly gratuitous two-page Avatar-title-esque death scene with flying intestines and so on, but that actually suits the subject matter just fine. Yup, Steve is back. Yup, Norman’s about to take an epic ass-beating from Steve. While the death might be a surprise to you, not much else here is surprising, and that’s fine. I want this book to do a set list of things, and do them in a straightforward, precise manner, competently. It doesn’t have to shock me every issue, it just has to get me from mega-arc to mega-arc in a manner that will cause me to say “Yes. That is what I wanted to see here.” I don’t look to the big minis to wow me with their innovation; I want them to satisfy my need for closure. It’s kind of the same approach I take to well-executed fanfic that wraps up weird loose ends from TV shows that aren’t on any more. Nothing has to be revolutionary, but everything has to be good.

When I want innovation, I’ll go to Twitter and hyperventilate about our chances of actually getting a new issue of Casanova before year’s end– and those chances look pretty good right now. Siege, on the other hand, just started to deliver the solid goods as far as popcorn comics go, and I’m much more content about it now than I was a month ago. Coipel’s art is fantastic, with attention to small detail (page four, panel four, with Norman’s tiny surprise lines, was a particular Department favorite) and sweeping moments alike.

Plus, if you like Secret Warriors, this is the issue for you, as Daisy and her teammates finally show up to the main plot. All around, just Marvel Zombie comfort food– filling without being super-flashy or experimental.