KC Column: Siege Mentality

Siege #1 Director's Cut

Siege #1 Director's Cut

SPOILER WARNING: I will be discussing Marvel Comics’ Siege #1 and associated books this week. If you have not read these comics yet, you may want to skip this column until you do. Don’t worry. It’s the internet. It will still be here when you come back. Also, don’t forget to refrigerate your comics when you are done with them, as they spoil easily. And creators: Always strive to make cool comics to help prevent spoilage. Thank you.

If you’re not reading this column right now, may I suggest that you go here where there’s a monkey riding a Segway.

by KC Carlson

A “siege mentality” is frequently described as “an overly fearful state of mind which often includes feelings of defensiveness, helplessness, and victimization” – all of which I felt, in various degrees, while reading the opening salvo in Marvel’s latest event: Siege.

In the first pages of Siege #1 (printed as a preview in various Marvel comics in the last few weeks), Loki (behind-the-scenes) provokes an encounter, in Chicago, between Asgardian comic-relief Volstagg the Voluminous and the unremarkable U-Foes, villains so lame – albeit powerful – they aren’t even identified in the story. Things get quickly outtahand, and Soldier Field is completely destroyed, in the middle of a (Bears, presumably) football game. Assuming that the game is well-attended, like most NFL games are, this means that about 60,000 people – not to mention the entire Chicago Bears football team and unidentified opposing team – were killed in the “incident”. This figure is a little over 2% of the current population of Chicago, not an insignificant number.

As Loki points out, the attack on Chicago is premeditated to cause a reaction to a larger problem, similar to the inciting incident used to set off Marvel’s Civil War event (written by Mark Millar). What’s exactly similar about the two events: B- (or C-) level heroes and villains battle, leading to an out-of-control situation that causes much destruction and death. The major difference: Scope. The death tolls: CW – over 600, including 60 children; Siege – possibly over 60,000. In real-world terms, just under 3,000 people died during the events of 9/11. More on this in a minute.

Siege #1 is a 40-page comic book, priced at $3.99. For your four bucks, you get
•    a 23-page story (six pages of which you’ve probably already read elsewhere)
•    a recap page
•    three pages of Cup o’ Joe where the EEK! tries to sound all “gosh wow this is great!” but actually comes across as spewing hack-hype for more than a dozen reprint collections (Yeah, Stan Lee was known to hype occasionally as well, but Stan could sell Ben Grimm sun block and Norrin Radd airline tickets. Joe Q. is no Stan Lee.)
•    a six-page preview of Hulk #19, the first big blast of Fall of the Hulks
•    and a four-page Ares War Plan Transcript text feature with reprint illustrations – page three of which repeats the text from page one (as Josh pointed out here a few days ago). Marvel has since announced that corrected pages will be in Siege #2, and the corrected pages are already online.

The date indicated for the Aries War Plan Transcript, 4/5/2010, would seem to indicate that Marvel has accidentally screwed up the transcript of the event, months before the actual event takes place! This must be some kind of record– for making a mistake before it actually happens! Or may secretly indicate that someone is behind-the-scenes manipulating time. Dr Doom messes with time, right? (nudge nudge wink wink)

Actually, specifically dating the Ares War Plan is somewhat problematical in another way. If the Dark Avengers are arguing about the invasion of Asgard on the 5th of April, that would date the attack on Soldier Field on the 4th (which just happens to be a Sunday). However, not a lot of professional football (like, none) is played in April. So my estimates for casualties above may be way off if this is just some kind of exhibition football game, where the potential total attendance may be way down. Which would also lessen the impact of the event. So far, Siege is pretty lax on details of the event. They don’t mention the Bears by name, nor the NFL, nor any specific team at all, and only mention the casualty count in terms of vague “thousands”.

Of course, being vague on the actual details of the event turns it into just another “summer movie blockbuster” event where we routinely see the destruction of entire cities (and national monuments) without really seeing any of the emotional content that such events should entail, as we saw in the devastatingly real destruction of 9/11 or even in the recent natural disasters of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake/tsunami or 2005 Kashmir, Pakistan, or 2008 Sichuan, China, earthquakes. Or even Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

“Upping the ante” is a great American tradition, and Siege was just following along in the tradition, seriously upping the body count from Civil War (“only” 600 dead – but 60 of them were children!, as we kept horrifyingly being told). The “thousands” dead in Siege, seemingly without consequence, makes the whole sordid affair seem “comic booky” – a sad commentary on the huge backslide of gains of dramatic realism that have occurred in comics over the past several decades. It once meant something that a single individual died – Uncle Ben, Ma and Pa Kent (in the original Superboy story), Gwen Stacy, Supergirl (in Crisis), even Captain Marvel succumbing to cancer. Now, thousands of deaths occur just to initiate a battle between comic book villains (pretending to be heroes) and gods.

And where are our heroes? Pointedly, none of them show up in the aftermath of the attack on Soldier Field – just Norman Osborn’s “Dark Avengers”. So we are to believe that on 9/11 (an event that supposedly also took place in the Marvel Universe), the heroes dropped everything they were doing to help with the rescue/recovery effort. Yet, for an event we are being told is potentially much more devastating, not a single hero showed up – not even the Great Lakes Avengers!

Later, Thor is brought down in Siege #1 by a handful of evil Marvel power players (really?), and Tony Stark (Iron Man) lies virtually brain dead, of his own making, trying to keep his secrets away from the megalomaniacal Osborn. Captain America (the real one), having been removed from the playing field through his own fake death, is shown watching the events unfold on TV. And unintentionally coming across like Abe Simpson (Homer’s father), virtually and ineffectually shaking his fists at the TV like the old man he really is. Not supposed to be a funny scene. And yet…

Siege: Embedded

Siege: Embedded

I was hoping that Siege: Embedded would get into a little bit of the human drama lacking in the actual Siege book, but no such luck. Again the actual details of the Soldier Field attack are kept vague, with the story more intent on dealing with a sadly befuddled Volstagg wandering the Chicago streets in a daze. (I’m afraid that this once-great character will not recover from his use here as unintentional harbinger of doom. I hope at least that his ultimate fate will be better than that of Robbie “Speedball” Baldwin, now known as the horrible self-mutilating Penance, following the events of Civil War). I was also not pleased to see a character -Todd Keller – vaguely based on Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, having enough of that type of nonsense in the real world. (Although this character could potentially be a good foil for the liberal Ben Urich if handled correctly.) However, I did enjoy the cameo of Thor-frog on a viewscreen on page 2 of the story. Less politics, more amphibians!

I get the feeling Siege – like Secret Invasion – will feature most of its good bits (excepting the big climax) in the pages of the tie-in books, most probably the Brian Bendis-written New Avengers and Dark Avengers. Some of the best (and now rare) stand-alone comic books of the past few years were the fill-in-the-gaps stories that filled the pages of New Avengers and Mighty Avengers during Secret Invasion.

We already know one of the outcomes of Siege, as it’s been hyped to death for months (and on the cover of Siege #1) – the “real” Avengers reformed around the core of Captain America (Steve Rogers), Thor (Dr. Don Blake), and Iron Man (Tony Stark). Interestingly, all three of these characters have been “dead” in one way or another at least once since this storyline started in Avengers: Disassembled, seven years ago. We’ve also been promised that Marvel will enter into some kind of new “Heroic Age,” which has also been hinted at in the pages of Mighty Avengers of late.

It’s about damn time.

It’s actually way past time for heroes that act like heroes again and for heroes that we can believe in. In other words, I’m sick and tired of the Marvel Universe being sick and tired.

Let’s see if it sticks.

It’s not going to be all sunshine and rainbows, however. In April, Marvel is publishing a book tentatively called Fallen, which implies that another hero or two will die in Siege (as if a couple more beyond 60,000 is going to make that much of a difference). It also seems likely that Norman Osborn will be out of power, after having his nervous breakdown (too much foreshadowing not to) and possibly dead at the hands of Ares (foreshadowing, again), but probably not before taking a hero or two with him (the hapless Sentry, for instance, who foolishly trusts Norman).

And then, there are a couple of wild cards. Bendis has spent too much time on the new Marvel Boy to just abandon him to limbo. And if questions from Avengers: Disassembled and House of M are really going to be answered, that can only mean one thing – Wanda (aka the Scarlet Witch) must return.

So, despite the sad lack of detail and utter lack of emotional content (gotta skip over that to get to the big fight!), I still think Siege might be worthwhile in a summer popcorn movie, doesn’t really mean anything kind of way, despite its disappointing start. If it can restore the Marvel Universe – and actually bring back heroes that matter – it will be all worth it. I could live with it being a means to a better end result. The next few months should be interesting.

KC CARLSON SEZ: Besides, a mere explosion couldn’t kill typical Chicago Bears fans, considering what they regularly eat: Chicago-style pizza, hot dogs, brats, BBQ ribs, Italian Beef, and beer – lots of beer! Being blown up would probably just feel like minor gastrointestinal distress to them! Also consider: brownies and Twinkies were both invented in Chicago. And the city is a hotbed of ethnic food delights! Go Chicago! Home of Da Bears! And more fun than a barrel full of monkeys (on Segways)!


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