This week, Marvel begins "Siege", an event that they've branded as "Seven Years In The Making". It's hard to refute the claim as, Secret Invasion aside (as it turned out to be little more than a sharp blip and then return to status quo as far infiltrating Skrulls went), Marvel has done a very fine job at knitting its entire line together into a cohesive and propelling forward narrative. Civil War actually created a strain of outlaw heroes that remained outlaws for actual years. Norman Osborn is actually in charge of National Security. Nick Fury has been underground for half a decade. This gives a hefty event book like "Siege" a little more gravitas, as you can sense the greater universe around it. We only see Tony Stark for a few panels, for example, but the events of his own storylines are perfectly maintained.
What "Siege" is about in particular, is Norman Osborn being goaded by Loki into invading Asgard. On paper, it's possibly not the most thrilling caper ever described. After all, Norman's army is a bunch of jerks. Who cares if they get eaten by Volstagg or whatever? What makes this story work, though, is Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales and Laura Martin's tremendous work on the page. Thanks to the last year or so of "Thor" comics, Asgard is now currently floating above the American Heartland, and the art team does a fantastic job of envisioning Norman's gambit as a full scale and dangerous assault on blue-skied, plains-dappled middle America. Coipel is also deft at managing both the scale of the conflict and the close-quarter consequences of it.
Like a lot of Marvel's books lately, "Siege" thrives on the sheer pulp insanity of a lot of its concepts. Thanks to the newest wave of Marvel's writers, such as Hickman and Fraction and Remender, Marvel has become a much stranger place when the seeds for "Siege" were planted in a very young new century. The kingdom of the Norse gods is currently hovering over Kansas and is about to get invaded by the Green Goblin in an Iron Man suit. Volstagg just blew up Soldier Field. As "morally" dark as "Dark Reign" might have been on paper, it gave birth to a whole lot of crazy pulp scenarios that were light years apart from the kind of grim stuff that came out of the immediate results of "Disassembled" and "House Of M". This makes "Siege" a much more widescreen and engaging work. It's just a bit too crazy to get bogged down in the kind of gritty moping that previous Marvel events often fell victim to, and it's a much better read because of it.
As a first issue, it's very much just setting the stage. There's a lot of action and some pretty bad-ass playground set-pieces ("Thor could kick Norman Osborn's ass!" "Nuh uh!!"), and it's altogether a more satisfying read than "Secret Invasion," so far. This is undoubtedly thanks to the fact that it's a much more external conflict. There are no covert secrets to decipher, just a whole lot of gorgeously rendered punching and explosions. It's also just 23 pages of actual story, which is a bit disappointing as far as event books go. ("Blackest Night" usually tips the scales closer to 30.) It's padded with a transcript of Norman and his Avengers at the end of the book (which in this reviewer's copy was drastically misprinted, repeating one page in place of another that is nowhere else to be found), which, while amusing in Bendis' often Sorkin-reverential tone, still isn't as satisfying as more great pages by Coipel, Morales, and Martin would have been.
So, while it may not be the biggest or most eventful Event Book around, "Siege" #1 is certainly one of the best looking, and thanks to Marvel's commitment to crafting a coherent universe for its characters, signals the start of a major shift in its status quo. It's an interesting, almost television-like approach to take. Seeing the current status of Iron Man or Thor or Captain America in the book doesn't rely on arcane continuity from decades past, but rather simply rewards Marvel's current readers, the way a reveal in the seventeenth episode of a season of, say, "LOST" will call back to the season's second or third. It really allows Marvel to strengthen its line without alienating people who haven't read through every volume of "Essential Spider-Woman" and it allows what otherwise might be viewed as a bit of a slim read to have some implied weight beyond its pages.