There’s little more disappointing in comic books than a bad ending. A story that’s bad from start to finish? It happens all the time. A story or series with a rough beginning? As long as they can get past it and get their footing, it gets a pass. A rough ending, on the other hand, easily poisons your final thoughts on a product. For instance, let’s say Return of the Jedi ended with a scene of Luke saving the galaxy by viciously murdering Darth Vader and the Emperor. Not only would that have sucked, but Return of the Jedi would have sucked and the Empire Strikes Back would have sucked in retrospect.
That’s how I feel about Siege, the miniseries by Brian Michael Bendis and Oliver Coipel. The miniseries ended about a week ago and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it initially. Why did the ending bug me so much?
First, let’s look at the miniseries itself and how it ranks as an event. At only four issues (regardless of the unfortunate delay), it’s really refreshing. With Secret Invasion and Blackest Night, I’ve become completely sick of overly long event comics. This goes doubly for the two examples, as it means every single comic tie-in is going to be the same basic story told over again. Siege is quick and to the point. The issues are action packed and move the story forward at breakneck speed. The tie-ins are quite good for the most part, with the worst being at least inoffensive. It’s the first event where the Ben Urich tie-in mini is actually pretty good.
The art’s rather nice too.
Then you have to look at what it’s all about. Usually with these event comics, they do so well because they’re really dynamic story ideas. You can rant about how people only buy them because they’re important to continuity, but I mostly disagree on the basis of having described these stories to non-comic readers and seeing their reactions. If you tell someone about what World War Hulk or Civil War or Blackest Night is about, a lot of the times they’ll come across as interested.
How do you describe Siege to somebody? “There’s this crazy jerk who is one of the country’s bigwigs and he conspires with a trickster god to attack a floating city of gods in Oklahoma just because they’re there. The crazy jerk has a uber-powerful ace in the hole and a bunch of superheroes interject themselves into the battle.” It doesn’t have any real kick to it.
That’s because the true story of Siege is that it exists to wrap of several important subplots in the Marvel Universe. There are three things Siege is supposed to take care of. Let’s look at them one-by-one and see how they fared.
First is the more short-termed deal of ending Norman Osborn’s “Dark Reign”. Osborn implodes on himself after over a year of everyone and their mother telling us that he’s going to implode on himself. The real disappointment is how the whole Cabal situation completely crapped out. The first meeting between the group ended with Dr. Doom looking at the reader (oh, and Namor too) and suggesting the very idea of a supervillain Civil War. Oh, shit! Now that is an event I want to read!
Think about it. For years they (and by that I mostly mean Mark Millar) have been doing stories that ask, “What if the villains just decided to put their massive egos aside, work together and take over?” The idea of a villain Civil War is far more interesting to me. Marvel’s Civil War series was all about heroes vs. heroes, but the idea of villains vs. villains vs. heroes? I want that.
The Cabal peters out as Emma Frost and Namor leave the team, Taskmaster joins for two minutes and Norman and Doom have a confrontation that leads to nothing. Doom’s only role in Siege is to insult Loki for a couple panels in a tie-in. Yet they still chose to include a Doom profile page in Origins of Siege.
Back to Norman, the whole exercise of going after Asgard doesn’t make much sense to me. Yes, I know they’re considered an alien threat and he’s CAH-RAZY, but even still, it doesn’t rub me the right way. Osborn’s shown to be discussing it with others to the point that he appears to have been able to think his actions through. He talks business with the Hood and talks about his plans to make Hood the new leader of the Thunderbolts. He tells the Dark Avengers how they’ll be granted their freedom if they succeed in Asgard.
Yet, here he is, shooting himself in the foot. At no point in his moments of clarity did it dawn on him that this whole Asgard mission is political suicide. The President already wants him taken down the moment he declares war on Asgard. Even if Osborn was successful in his siege, what kind of victory was at risk here? He killed off his general, the Dark Avengers would split, few HAMMER agents would be loyal enough to turn on the country in Osborn’s name and the Hood’s gang would be losing their promised reward for serving him. All he has left is the Sentry/Void and Bendis had gone through two Dark Avengers stories to explain that having someone that powerful try to play King of the Mountain is a fool’s errand because someone is going to come up with a plan to stop them.
I guess I can just chalk it up to him being crazy and manipulated and being too out of it to notice the gigantic mistakes, but the idea of him doing this for the sake of fulfilling a mission that’s relatively unimportant to him lacks a certain punch.
His just desserts, where he’s wearing Goblin facepaint, gets punched out by an annoyed Spider-Man and ends up in a prison cell surrounded by his Goblin visions is the perfect way to finish off his role.
The next big subplot to be wrapped up is the curious mixture of Bob Reynolds, the Sentry and the Void. It’s a story that’s been ten years in the making and we’re finally getting the big finale. I’ve actually been surprised by how much hate the Sentry gets on the internet based on the responses of Siege. Personally, I thought he was a great character, but Siege #4 treatment has the power of a million exploding chokes.
Let’s toss aside Paul Jenkins’ use of the character for just a minute and focus on Bendis. For all the flaws, Bendis has been absolutely fantastic in terms of creating lead-up tension. Really, look at how he’s been setting up the Sentry for the past several years. A lot of it boils down to, “You know how he’s powerful? Turns out he’s really, REALLY powerful!” but it works extremely well.
In New Avengers Annual #1, there’s the brilliant moment where the Super-Adaptoid steals the Sentry’s powers and begins to freak out over the inherited Void aspect within her. The Sentry stands firm before her and explains how much willpower and strength it takes on a daily basis to keep the Void at bay. It’s too much for her to bear and the Sentry comes off looking like a complete badass. We’re so distracted by how badass he is that we don’t realize he’s explaining how ultimately easy it would be for the Void to take over.
Then there’s the time Sentry fought the Collective. They fight to a standstill and Tony Stark commentates that the Sentry is the underdog here because the Collective hasn’t completely come to terms with how powerful he is. Only now do we know that Tony’s opinion may well have been wrong. Also, looking back at it, I’m not entirely sure if the face that looks back at the Sentry from the sun is the Collective energies itself or the Void taking a second to taunt Sentry.
Things start to kick in with Mighty Avengers after Lindy Reynolds is killed by Ultron and she miraculously comes back to life. The Sentry is shown to be afraid of his own powers because as powerful as he already is, he isn’t comfortable being able to be even higher on the food chain. During all the Skrull speculation, Lindy whispers to Tony Stark that he needs to figure out a way to kill her husband. That’s entirely fucked up and it leads to two parties of speculation. On one hand, the Sentry might be a Skrull. On the other hand, Lindy might be a Skrull. That made plenty of sense at the time. She came back from the dead and she wanted the most powerful Avenger out of the picture.
Neither was a Skrull, making the entire thing even scarier. The woman Sentry loves more than anyone knows enough about him to see what a major threat he is to all life. This is a pretty big deal, but it’s all forgotten about due to all the Skrull drama.
As an aside, different issues of What If and a story in Marvel Team-Up featured the writers’ ideas of what it would take to kill the Sentry. Thor snapping his neck, Black Bolt speaking, a massive explosion from the future that vaporizes the other New Avengers but leaves a smoking husk of the Sentry’s remains and even the satellites from World War Hulk causing a massive gamma explosion instead of depowering Hulk and Sentry. Dark Avengers tosses all of that out the window.
Dark Avengers also takes the terror of the Sentry and the Void to a new level. It isn’t so much about what kills him, but what doesn’t kill him. The series starts off playing with the Sentry as being the team’s Superman. Just like Superman, he flies into every threat first, gets bested and shows both his limits and how powerful the enemy is. That’s the cliché Bendis initially feeds us.
It doesn’t last.
He’s magic’d away by Morgan Le Fay? He’s back with no explanation by the end of the story. Molecule Man takes him apart piece by piece? Not only does he come back, but he comes back to save the day in one of the most pants-shittingly awesome moments. His wife shoots him in a face with a super alien death ray? Not only is he back, but he’s back by the next issue with zero explanation. Making things even scarier is that there are several moments where Sentry would snap out of a blackout and be genuinely confused and scared over what’s going on. The most notable is Moonstone thanking him for saving her life and with an innocent touch in his voice, he seems genuinely freaked out that he just saved her life, as if he has no memory of it.
Another aside, I do like how Lindy Reynolds at one point namedrops Superman, who tends to exist in the Marvel world as a fictional character. It suggests to me that when Bob Reynolds created his superhero identity, he specifically based himself on Superman himself. I thought that was pretty cool.
Now, then. Sentry/Void is shown to be a completely godly force of nature. One issue of Dark Avengers reveals that the Void himself is a dark force that existed in the old biblical days. He’s the Spectre of Marvel. Lindy comes up with a theory that explains the Sentry/Void’s powers: Bob’s DNA mixed with the special serum from his origin turn him into a window of sorts to allow the Void to exist on Earth. Void laughs at her stupid theory, but it’s really the only thing that makes any sort of sense, so it’s what I go with. Besides, it goes with Jenkins’ concept that the Void was first and the Sentry was created out of Bob’s inherent goodness to counter him.
The Sentry has been built up so well that it’s easy to forgive Bendis for the overly-predictable mystery about who Osborn’s secret weapon was. God, what was the point of that?
“Norman Osborn has a special enforcer and you’ll never guess who it is!”
“It’s the Sentry, right? That’s not a surprise. He’s right there.”
“You’ll never guess!”
“It has to be the Sentry. Who would be a bigger deal and make more sense?”
“I’m not telling you who it is! You’re going to have to guess!”
“It’s the Sentry! Just admit that it’s the Sentry!”
“Is it the Sentry? Or could it be someone else?”
“Fine! It might not be the Sen—“
“It’s the Sentry! Surprise!”
Then in Siege, he’s allowed his chance to shine. Ever since Mighty Avengers started, people have been waiting for Sentry and Ares to throw down. They finally do and Ares is killed. Hey, serves him right for not having the balls to stand up for his friends. Over the course of the miniseries, we get tastes of Thor vs. Sentry, which is another dream match among comic fans. Osborn is defeated and his entire house of cards goes crashing. That leaves the Void to show his True Form of the Week and go nuts on all the heroes. Everything’s working so well up to this point.
Here it is. Everyone wonders how the hell these heroes can possibly defeat someone as powerful as the Void. I know I was excited.
Bendis creates a great out by using Loki and Hood’s use of the Norn Stones to power up the good guys instead and give them the pepper needed to smack Void around. Had it happened several pages later, it would have made for a satisfying enough way to end it. Then that whole concept is taken away as Void kills off Loki. They really, really should have released Siege: Loki a week after Siege #4 because not enough people get the idea that LOKI PLANNED FOR THIS.
It’s the death of the brother that Thor never got along with that causes Thor to get seriously pissed (as opposed to when his home and friends were killed a few minutes earlier) enough to keep the Void grounded with his lightning attacks. You know, even though the Norn Stone lightning attack from earlier did little other than annoy the Void. But with the Void on the ground, this gives Iron Man the opening to hack into the HAMMER Helicarrier and missile it straight into the big monster. This would be fantastic if this wasn’t the 56th Helicarrier destruction scene in the last five years.
Void is reduced to a confused and naked Bob Reynolds who is panicked over what he’s done and pleads to be killed. Thor refuses due to his need to have Bob punished for his deeds, Bob turns into the Void again, gets hit with another dose of Mjolnir and is finally a roasted skeleton. The Sentry is dead. …Yay?
All that lead-up and the way he’s beaten is being clobbered to death by Thor? I mean, I was able to reach hard and come up with my own explanation as to WHY this worked in killing the Void. Bendis has since explained that it’s because Bob is crazy and knew survival was a dead-end in this situation so he let himself die. As a Grant Morrison fan, I know I shouldn’t be complaining about not having things spelled out better in a comic book, but after all that Sentry/Void hype we’ve been given, telling us, “Here, he’s dead. That somehow stopped him. I don’t know, I’ll let you figure out what that worked,” just doesn’t cut it. It falls so short.
I had read a lot of speculation based on the idea of Phobos showing up despite Fury’s orders and putting a wrench into the Void’s actions by staring him down with his fear powers. We’ve seen the Void fear before, so it isn’t outside the realm of possibility. It would have allowed Phobos revenge, would have made Nick Fury appear more badass because he already endured Phobos’ powers AND it would have given a point to having the Secret Warriors there in the first place. Seriously, why give them an entire typed up conversation at the end of an issue if you’re not going to do anything other than use them as background noise?
There had to have been a better way Bendis could have handled the Void’s defeat. Heck, you know what would have made that scene a hundred times better? A simple change that would have gotten Bendis’ point across easier while being a more striking visual? If Bob’s plea to be killed had him lash out at Thor as the Sentry instead of the Void. At least we’d be able to accept it as some kind of Sentry sacrifice and final victory over the Void.
This leads into Sentry: Fallen Sun by Paul Jenkins, where Scout (Sentry’s sidekick who hasn’t shown up in ten years) goes to visit Bob’s tombstone, soon followed by a bunch of other superheroes. They all tell their little stories about what a great friend the Sentry was and I facepalm because I can’t believe they are fucking doing this.
Let’s ignore the silly reveal that Sentry made a woman out of Rogue. Let’s ignore the two scenes that were actually good – Thor talking with Bob’s mother and Cloc showing Reed Richards as much venom as its programming will allow. Let’s focus on how everyone acts like the Sentry was their bestest friends in the world.
You can’t do that right after the last five years. When has anyone been the Sentry’s friend outside of the Hulk? Think back to his appearances from ever since Bendis brought him back. After he joined the New Avengers, his appearances have been nothing but taking orders from other heroes. Nobody ever tried to really help him with his sorry mental state. In fact, Iron Man and the X-Men were shown as aggravating it as a way to fight him.
He’s actually a really tragic figure, when you look at it. His so-called friends don’t appear to care about his well-being and he’s left in the clutches of a man who initially tries to help him out, but then mentally spirals out of control and takes Bob with him. Then when he’s at the mercy of his former friends, they speak down at him for making the wrong decisions instead of the reality of being possessed by God’s killing force and he tries to put an end to this madness.
“I’m crazy and I can’t stop this! Please, kill me!”
“Fucketh you, buddy!”
“What if I try to kill you?”
“When you put it that way…”
Then once he’s dead and buried, everyone’s shooting off about how they were such great friends with him.
The last subplot that Siege is meant to deal with is the… um… I don’t know what to call it. The Bendis Era? No, Bendis is still writing Avengers comics. The New Avengers Era? No, that comic still exists. The Disassembled Era? The Registration Era? The Hero vs. Hero Era? The Anti-Trust Era? Eh, I’ll go with that one. What I mean is the series of stories that started with Avengers: Disassembled.
It’s an era where there are so few bad guys on the prowl that the heroes have to resort to beating each other up. Just about every event from the last few years has been based on the good guys beating each other up. A major part of it is how the big three of the Avengers – Captain America, Thor and Iron Man – are split apart during all of this. This leads to the Dark Reign and the Dark Reign gives way to the Heroic Age.
So how is Siege on this front? I’ll say that what works best is how this is one of those event stories that isn’t about the heroes defending themselves, but proactively being heroes. Thor has to protect his land, yes, but Steve Rogers and the rest are making the conscious decision to go off and save Asgard. That’s good.
Fittingly, Iron Man, Steve Rogers and Thor are the only heroes who do anything huge against the bad guys in Siege. Spider-Man and the rest fight Hood thugs and HAMMER agents in the backdrop, but it’s Steve and Iron Man who bring down Osborn, while Thor and Iron Man bring down the Void. Another nice touch.
I also think it’s a good move to kill Ares, since he has no place in a Heroic Age.
I’m going back to the well, but it’s that victory against the Void that works against it. This whole era started with the Scarlet Witch going crazy and then being beaten in an anti-climactic way before everyone whines over how they failed her and split up. Years later, it’s the same thing, only they decide to get back together in the end because that’s what the next era is about. There’s been no growth. No real victory. In fact, Thor KILLING Bob makes this even worse than with what happened to Wanda. They repeat the climax, add murder and suddenly it’s time for the Heroic Age! Yeah, it makes sense in-story, but it’s thematically flawed.
There’s nothing about the Void’s defeat that makes these guys seem heroic enough to start off an age named after it. If the Sentry aspect of Bob did something to help out it could have worked. Steve Rogers talking him down for this would have been perfect.
So there you go. Is Siege a good way to bring closure to the Anti-Trust Era? Possibly. I guess. Is it a good way to bring closure to Norman Osborn’s tenure as a government bigshot? I suppose. Maybe. But by completely botching the Void’s endboss battle, the story loses its exclamation point.
I wouldn’t call it a bad story, but I wouldn’t call it an especially good story. It’s just an average Avengers story that doesn’t deserve the marquee it’s been given.