Time to discuss the Avengers titles, up to and including "Siege". As with "New Krypton", I think it would be boring to be evasive about the ending, and the hardcovers are out now. For those of you waiting for the trades, I'll continue after the jump so that nobody visiting the home page is accidentally spoiled.
Avengers: The Initiative 31-35: #31 is the last pre-Siege issue, giving the details of how Taskmaster was recruited to join Osborn's cabal. I like the way Chris Gage portrays Taskmaster as a working class guy who's pretty happy with his job and isn't sure if he's more excited of or scared by getting a promotion. (To Constrictor: "You're like me, Frank. Realistic. We never tried to take over the world or make Iron Man kiss our feet...We were happy gettin' rich...You see all these dudes, they got it made, and then they ruin it by overstepping...I don't want to be that guy.") Of course, accepting Osborn's offer -- not that he really had a choice -- means he gets drafted into the siege of Asgard in #32, which he rightly recognizes as a suicide mission. Anyway, there's too much going on in the last few issues to go into detail or we'll be here all day, but I love the way Gage's story takes place in between the pages of Siege, and his use of Taskmaster and Diamondback (especially after she sees Steve Rogers) as his point of view characters there. Also going on in these issues are the assault on Camp Hammer by the Avengers Resistance (basically the surviving New Warriors + Tigra) and some of the original trainees from the early issues (who Dan Slott moved off the stage because the original plan was for the Initiative to get killed at Asgard, and he wanted to protect them.) Longtime "New Avengers" fans won't want to miss Tigra getting her revenge on The Hood in the last issue. Overall a great conclusion to a great series and I'm also enjoying its replacement, "Avengers Academy". (But that's a topic for another day.)
Captain America 602-607: This title isn't affected much by Siege, even though both Caps are a big part of that story. Basically they've left Brubaker alone to do his thing, which was the right choice. Since his characters are front and center in "Siege" there isn't much "behind the scenes" for Brubaker to tell that wouldn't feel like filler. Really, other than wondering what's up with the outfit Steve Rogers is wearing in #606-607 you could read this without knowing anything about Siege. Anyway, I liked the Bucky/Falcon partnership in #602-605 which sort of inverts the traditional relationship with Falcon being the more experienced hero, and I love the idea of Zemo Jr. as an enemy specifically of the new Cap in #606-607. Normally the fact that a lot of Zemo's development over the past few years is being glossed over would annoy me, but I see why Brubaker thought this was too good a story to pass up. Luke Ross' art in #602-605 is great, but Butch Guice and Mitch Breitweiser are amazing on the current storyline. I also like the Nomad backups, which apparently is a bit of a controversial opinion. (I actually like "Nomad" better than "Young Allies", even though they have the same writer, but that's a discussion for my "Heroic Age" blog entry.)
Dark Avengers 15-16: #15 is a surprisingly intense issue, spelling out once and for all who the shadowy figure was that Osborn used to control his cabal way back at the beginning of "Dark Reign" and showing the sad fate of the Sentry's wife. #16 is actually a "Siege" epilogue, and it's must reading -- they should have included it in the "Siege" collection for the conversations with Victoria Hand and Norman Osborn in custody. As usual, Osborn has a point: "People put on costumes and just decide, all by themselves, that they are the savior of the world."
Invincible Iron Man 20-27: Wow, I didn't realize it had been so long since I've written about this book. This title -- which continues to be one of Marvel's smartest and best books -- is a little more connected to "Siege" than "Captain America" by necessity, since Stark is a bigger player than Bucky, but it still can pretty much be read on its own. I was a little dubious about setting Tony's memories back to pre-"Civil War", but I've come around to thinking it was pretty much Fraction's only move -- it absolves Tony of responsibility for his bad decisions, while still allowing him to learn from them. And I like how Tony's being portrayed as not having fundamentally changed -- witness how he inadvertently pushes Maria Hill away in #26 (Tony: "Knowing me, I'd do it all again." Hill: "You would, too, wouldn't you? (walks out)).
Invincible Iron Man Annual 1: I don't want to give away too much about this, because the discovery is part of the fun, but this is a story about the Mandarin's origin (sort of) in which Tony Stark doesn't even appear. There's some sly social commentary in it too, and it's one of Matt Fraction's best stories of the year. Don't miss it, even if you don't like what he's doing in the monthly book -- it's not connected to that storyline at all yet.
Mighty Avengers 32-36: I wrote the above sections in a few sittings over a couple of days in June, and then I got stuck here for weeks. I think I just so adored this book that I was afraid I'd either ruin that feeling by analyzing it, or gush over it to the point that you'd all be like "what's he on about"? But to heck with it, I'm going to do a quick reread of these issues and give my impressions, and leave the rest to the psychologists. #32 follows from the team's appearance in "Realm of Kings: Inhumans" -- I love how Quicksilver gets his hollow "redemption" -- and has some really good Osborn and Loki scenes that I had forgotten, including Loki's reappearance as the "Scarlet Witch". Loki plays Norman's and Pym's teams against each other in #33 (even though they're working for a common goal) with some nice character moments for everybody. This is also where the team starts to fall apart, with a PR victory for Osborn when he most needs it, the start of the Ultron subplot and USAgent getting fired. (Or more precisely, Pym's callous reaction to Walker's absence. Herc: "So how do we get Walker back?" Pym: "No idea. I'm onto something else.") #34 is maybe the best issue in Dan Slott's run, really showing off how creepily obsessive Pym can be -- or as Tim Seeley writer/artist of the upcoming "Ant-Man & The Wasp" mini says, "his intellect often gets in the way of his humanity" (a quote which actually may explain my affection for this book but I said I wasn't going to go there) -- as he manages to capture Loki but interrogate him so disturbingly that he comes into conflict with Thor, and when he's given the chance to get an honest answer about Wanda he instead asks Loki the most shocking question possible which completely alienates everyone. (Loki: "The man's a lunatic!") #35-36 have the "Siege" banner, but they (mostly) don't take place in Broxton. Instead, Pym's Infinite Avengers Mansion is under siege by Ultron, destroying his relationship with his last remaining allies: Jarvis, who leaves after Pym turns down Steve Rogers' summons and Jocasta, who realizes she's been used when she sees the shocking foundation the Mansion is built on and realizes its purpose. (Hint: The man loved his wife.) And yet, at the same time it features one (arguably two) of the greatest "Avengers Assemble" moments ever. Sadly, this is the one Avengers book that didn't get a direct replacement in the "Heroic Age": its original Bendis incarnation lives on in "Avengers" and some of Slott's characters are in "Avengers Academy", but the quirky sensibility of this book is gone for now. I hope some of you will pick up the trades of these latter issues and let me know what you think.
New Avengers 60-64, Finale: Moreso even than "Siege" itself, these last few issues are the culmination of a masterpiece of long form storytelling by Brian Bendis. Comic writers have often tried to pull off long term story plans with limited success -- see for example the mystery of the Hobgoblin's identity way back when -- but it seems that the business is finally stable enough and the market concentrated enough that it can be pulled off with some reliability. I'm a fan of this kind of storytelling -- it's why I prefer TV series to movies -- and I'm thrilled that it's been done so well lately in my favorite medium. The Sentry's arc comes to a close in Siege, but the arcs that finish up here are the rise and fall of the Hood, and what Like and Jessica and their baby's life are going to be like together. There's too much going on in these issues to summarize, but my favorite highlights are Stuart Immonen's incredible art (and Bryan Hitch's in "Finale" not to mention all the guest double-page spreads at the end), Bendis' first opportunity in years to write Steve Rogers, the arrival of the Secret Warriors, and the classic Avengers villain that appears in "Finale". (Those of you old enough to remember who Madam Masque is related to will probably not be surprised by his identity, but it was fun to see him again.) Since the same cast is in "Siege", Bendis focuses on the actual events of that day in that book and focuses on the characters here. A classic run, and Bendis' rationale for a version of this team to still exist in the new "New Avengers" #1 works for me. (Also a discussion for another day.)
Siege: Captain America: I like Christos Gage's story: the portrayal of the dysfunctional family feels very honest, and I like the exploration of why Steve and Bucky choose the roles that they do after "Siege". The art, however, is surprisingly terrible by modern Marvel standards. (Mostly the figure drawing -- the actual story isn't hard to follow.)
Siege: Young Avengers: A nicely done chapter for fans of these characters. (Of which I am one.) Sean McKeever has the characterizations down perfectly, and Mahmud A. Asrar deftly makes them look like themselves without ripping off Jimmy Cheung. I didn't love it as much as I did Paul Cornell's recent miniseries, but it's pretty close.
Siege: Loki: The most essential of these tie-ins from a storytelling standpoint, as Kieron Gillen gets into Loki's motivations and manipulations in a way that there just wasn't room for anywhere else. He also adds some new Norse mythology (to Marvel; I assume they're based in actual myth) that he later follows up on in "Thor". Jamie McKelvie, whose work I have not always been kind to on this blog, handles this mythic material perfectly. The art is beautiful where it needs to be and creepy where it needs to be. It's worth buying the "Siege: Battlefield" collection for this issue alone.
Siege: Secret Warriors: Jonathan Hickman's story here is not directly tied into the intricate plot in the main "Secret Warriors" title, which I guess is why it's not in the latest SW hardcover, but this is the place to go for son Phobos' reaction to Ares' death. The flashback scene with Ares and Phobos is moving, and Phobos' actions after Ares dies are terrifying. (As befits the god of fear.) Also worth buying the collection for.
Siege: Spider-Man: Every good Norman Osborn epic needs a great Spider-Man episode, but this isn't it. It's not bad, and it's nice to get some resolution to Venom-as-Spider-Man but I was never a fan of the Spidey and Ms. Marvel flirting. I loved Brian Reed's "Ms. Marvel" ongoing and his "Sinister Spider-Man" mini, but he somehow manages to combine the worst of both here.
Siege 4: What can I say about the shocking and tragic end of the Sentry that hasn't already been said? Nothing really, except to note that I wondered if maybe Bendis would find some other way out of what seemed inevitable but I admire his willingness to stick to it. My only tiny little quibble with the "Heroic Age" setup is that I'm not convinced that superhuman registration would get repealed at all, let alone so quickly -- witness how little of the 9/11 knee-jerk legislation has gone away -- but I guess 6 issues of "House & Senate Bill Reconciliation Tales of Suspense" wouldn't have been that interesting, and it can't really be a "Heroic Age" if the bulk of the heroes are still fugitives so I'm cool with it.
Siege: Embedded 4: Much, much better stuff from Brian Reed here, and I've already gushed about Chris Samnee a few times in previous entries. By far the most successful companion series since "Civil War: Frontline". (Which comes off as a backhanded compliment, but I don't mean it that way. Definitely buy this.)
Thor 606-610: This book should be essential reading since "Siege" is Asgard-centered, and Kieron Gillen Billy Tan and Doug Braithwaite (in #610) deliver on that promise. The supporting characters are well focused on while Thor and Loki are off in the main book, and the last of JMS' subplots are resolved. The sad figure of Heimdall quietly proclaiming "We won" over the ruins of Asgard on the splash page of #610 is one of my favorite images of the entire event. (The two-page summary of "Siege" at the front of #610 is pretty kick ass too.)
Edited to add: Oops, I forgot to mention Sentry: Fallen Sun, a farewell to the character by Paul Jenkins and Tom Raney. The affection Jenkins has for his creation comes through in every page, lending an authentic melancholy feel to the proceedings, but the fact that we didn't share the experiences with the Sentry that the characters relate made it feel a little distant to me.