Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chronic Breakdown: Siege # 4

Siege # 4
Marvel Comics

Script: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Olivier Coipel

30 pages for $3.99

So I finished Siege, and I ended up where I started...underwhelmed. I'm not so far gone that I can't render props where they are due. Kudos for keeping the damn thing to four issues instead of eight, as an example. Sure this thing is way overloaded with meaningless splash pages, but at least they gave us 30 pages of that for $3.99 instead of the usual 22. It says something I suppose that in this era, we victims are thankful for our rape when the bindings aren't too tight or overly chafing.

There were certainly plenty of monumentally explodey moments. I'm sure there's someone out there brain damaged enough to lament the "loss" of Ares for the four minutes he'll be gone. Asgard is basically rubble, Osborn is ousted and fully outed as a nutbag, the registration act is rescinded, and the heroes are back in charge. Yay?

Rationally, I can recognize that things happened in Siege. I have a difficult time caring about any of it, though, because it all felt less like a story and more like a corporate conveyor belt. By now we all know how these things are supposed to work. You paint a way too large picture of heroes in preposterous poses looking all menacing. They spout cliched dreck to show how tough they are. You'll need a dozen or so splash pages of powerful people hitting each other with stuff in place of any actual drama. A couple people "die", and then you erase everything that came before you so you can move on to the next Big Thing, which by the way won't remember you.

It's all been done, and that might actually work if it was done well, but this wasn't. Let me show you what I'm talking about:

The Dialogue Sucks

Everybody has their own laundry list of things they need out of their comic reading experience. I need dialogue. I need it to sell me on the characters, people's speech tells us who they are. Speech patterns should be distinct and appropriate to the character's history and environment. Occasionally, it should make us laugh, make us cringe, or surprise us.

So here's Nick Fury, the overconfident cigar-chomping military guy who's forgotten more trauma than most heroes will ever see. He should have a better rejoinder than "You bet you will." It's boring, and it's beneath the character. I don't think "toots" is a very clever choice, either. It's not a crime, but when the rest of it is so dull, it comes off to me as a dirty shortcut. You want to write an old school character? Write old school attitude, not "toots". It's lazy.

Here's Thor all irritated after the Sentry supposedly blew up his brother:

Again, it's boring. It's stock. If you showed a sixth grader a copy of Journey Into Mystery and then asked him or her to write that scene, that's the dialogue that would get written there. "Take that, vile fiend!" And you know what? I get that it's difficult to have a real good handle on all of those different characters, and I get that not everybody can be Gail Simone and just knock it out of the park every time.

But dialogue is supposed to be Bendis's wheelhouse - what the hell happened? Here's your major comedic moment in an unnecessary splash page featuring Spider-Man:

That isn't funny, or clever, or interesting. If you're going to waste that kind of space for a "zinger", make it count. This is the best we could come up with for our special event? This is the filet mignon of comedy? Let a dozen 8th graders re-write the line, and I bet eight of them score more laughs.

Here's the thing that bothers me the most, though...

Unsupported, Unfulfilling, Illogical "Big Moments"
Here's Steve Rogers passing the torch at the end of Siege:

Where the hell does that come from? Did I miss something? What happened that told Steve that Bucky is the guy now? It certainly wasn't anything that happened inside of Siege proper. Steve certainly seemed to have things under control when he was holding a casual conversation with Nick Fury while doing battle inside of the Siege: Secret Warriors one shot.

You can't have an impactful epiphany with no set-up. Captain America has been a huge part of Steve's life for a long time. He's not going to give that up on a lark. It needs to make more sense than "Well, we have this Secret Avengers book coming out next month." It's fine if you have that....but then tell the story in such a manner that the transition seems natural, even imperative.

Siege did nothing of the sort. It's irritating to read that scene, because it's telling me that I'm an idiot who should just roll over and accept whatever is said. Well... no. I'm an entirely different kind of idiot. You can't just say it, at least not on my watch. It has to make sense inside the story, or it feels like a cheat. And this was a cheat.

Same thing goes for registration, frankly. True, Osborne probably put a sour taste in people's mouths over his stewardship of the law....but that doesn't make the law illegitimate. That means you don't hire somebody with a clinical psychosis to run the damn thing.

Siege didn't build up a case inside the narrative that would lead me to believe the public would suddenly abandon the concept of responsible, accountable use of powers. This is not as egregious and out of left field as the Cap thing. There are people who would recognize that it was the unlicensed heroes who stepped in and stopped the chaos that the licensed folks caused.

To me, though, there is no case for the obvious abolishment of registration. There is an obvious case for Marvel wanting to return to the status quo and forget all the earth shattering "never be the same" moments of 2005. But inside the story, it feels hollow to me.

In the end, Siege reads like a giant action piece, full of sound and fury, and signifying the next step in the conveyor belt of money. This was not a story. This was a series of explosions designed to distract us from the fact that we paid $15.96 for a commercial about the next 19 Avengers books they want to sell us. Color me unsatisfied.

- Ryan

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