Siege: The End of an Era
But right now, I acknowledge that it is, without a doubt, the blockbuster conclusion that we have been promised.
For the past however-many years, Bendis has had control of the Marvel universe, guiding it through major events and redefining it. Mainstream press was attracted to Spider-Man's unmasking in Civil War, to Captain America's death and eventual return. From Avengers: Disassembled on, Bendis has told a massive story that completely changed how readers viewed the Avengers. For the first time in a very long time, these characters, these icons in the Marvel universe, have topped the charts--and they haven't gone away.
I've had my criticisms of these stories. More than a few, actually. I don't think that they hold up on rereads, and I usually feel that they're a connection of big moments loosely linked together by a flimsy narrative. That is not that sort of story I want to read. For many people, however? These are the books that matter. I respect that.
And when Bendis has a big moment, he presents it in a way that gets people talking. The death of Ant-Man in Disassembled started everything, but from there, we had the famous "No More Mutants" in House of M, the reveal of the Illuminati in New Avengers, and the body of Elektra decomposing into its true Skrull self, kicking off a period in the Marvel universe where nobody could be trusted.
Secret Invasion had its fair share of these big moments--the collapse of Tony Stark's armor, the destruction of the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, the "lost heroes" emerging from a Skrull ship, Clint Barton's vow to destroy the Skrulls once and for all, and--ultimately--the headshot that took out the Skrull Queen and positioned Norman Osborn as the mover-and-shaker in the Marvel Universe for 2009.
I had more than a few complaints about the stories in Dark Reign, but as a concept it was wonderful--for the first time, everybody in the Marvel universe would know what it felt like to be Spider-Man. Even if they won, they lost. When the Avengers were removed from power and replaced by some of Marvel's greatest villains, you could feel the complete shift in tone. 2009 was a very dark year.
We've heard teasings of The Heroic Age for months, but Siege finally brings us there--with one of the darkest events we've seen in a long time. The other events--House of M, Civil War, Secret Invasion--they all had major effects, setting up Marvel for the next big story, but Siege is a conclusion.
For evidence of this, we don't have to look any further than one of the big characters of the past several years--the Sentry. He was originally created by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee as a "forgotten hero" in Marvel's publication history, but after his initial miniseries, that was it. And it was a good story--certainly better, in my opinion, than DC's earlier attempt at a similar concept (Triumph), but after his "revival", the Sentry was once again forgotten. When Bendis launched New Avengers, he brought the Sentry to the forefront of the Marvel universe, and for a time, it seemed like he was being positioned as the Superman of the Marvel universe, in a time when Thor was out of commission. Jenkins returned to do another miniseries with the character, with master artist John Romita Jr., and I enjoyed this even more than his work with Jae Lee. A highly recommended title that really captured what made the Sentry work in the context of the greater Marvel universe.
As time marched on, however, it became clear that not everything was as it seemed with the Sentry. His brief appearances in Civil War reinforced the separation he felt from everyone else, and his role in Mighty Avengers strongly suggested that he was significantly more powerful--and more disturbed--than we'd ever suspected. It wasn't until Dark Avengers, and now Siege, however, that his story was fully defined.
The Sentry is one of the most chilling characters I've seen. I've always had a fondness for the unbelievably powerful being, one that the heroes cannot begin to stand against. Obviously, they must succeed--but it becomes clear that it won't be without cost, in one way or another. In Siege, Bendis has transformed this character--this character that we thought might be Superman--into one of the most frightening villains we've seen in a very long time.
Olivier Coipel proves his status as one of Marvel's biggest artists by reinforcing this point--that the Sentry is utterly terrifying. My blood went cold when I saw some of these panels. I haven't seen such raw fear and darkness in Coipel's work since his breakout hit Legion Lost, and although I've loved his work since then, I haven't felt like this. Comparing the image above by John Romita Jr.--the Sentry as a golden guardian, radiating light and hope--to the panel below by Coipel, we can see just how far the Sentry has fallen.
There is no way for the character to come back from this. He continues to devolve in the third issue of Siege, to the point where he's no longer recognizable. This is his end, and with him goes the past six years of the Marvel universe.
From here, we move onto The Heroic Age, and a relaunch of Avengers by superstars Bendis and Romita Jr., among many, many other titles. We're promised a lighter tone, an emphasis on what it means to be a superhero. I'm sure that there will be loss, tragedy hardship--Marvel has always been a soap opera, and dramatic entertainment requires pain--but I think that 2010 will be very different than 2009.
I do not know if I'd read Siege again. But right now? I'm captivated.