Robot 6

The Fifth Color | Bendis’ Perilous Throne

normanthroneIt’s probably unnecessary to say this, now that my readership has dropped back into the threes of sixteenths (Hi Mom), but at face value, the title ‘Siege’ has nothing to do with the Siege Perilous. Sure, it’s the pun I’d put as the front runner for Overused Title by Bloggers (I had to stop from using it myself, so catchy!) Talking about Marvel’s Latest Event Book, but in that context, it doesn’t even mean the big swinging alpha hero fight we’re coming to love and enjoy. Siege has its roots as the word through Old French and Latin as the word ‘to sit’ or ‘seat’. It’s obsolete in use as a ‘seat of distinction’, but once was the most famous seat in all of chivalric tales. The chair was given to Arthur by Merlin for his round table and ruthlessly reserved for the ‘perfect knight’, the one who would eventually go get the Holy Grail. Anyone else who sat in it would erupt into flames, so this both acted as an indicator for the quest and as a sign to the Knights of the Round Table that they, despite their accomplishments and great deeds, were not perfect and greater men were still to come. A nice little talking point for humility and humanity for what is man, if not imperfect?

But, like I said, the use of the word Siege as a seat is long out of use. Nowadays, it summons up great armies clashing and some walls to embattle, siege weapons and general’s tactics. A siege is essentially a waiting game: if you cannot take a location by force, you surround it, isolate it and then wait them out for weakness or surrender. This waiting game could last moths, or even years so it all comes down to planning and timing.

If you look at it from an angle, one could even say that the heroes of the Marvel Universe have had villainy sieged for about, oh say seven years. Villains had already moved into positions of trust or complacency with the new millennium of storytelling, so the heroes could have just backed off, waiting for the villains to grab all this power and enact all their plans at once so that the center could not hold and eventually the heroes would win out. In New Avengers, Spider-Man has said this expressly about Norman Osborn, you can’t fight him head on. You wait until he makes his mistake (and he will) and then take him down.

If the current and final chapter in Bendis’ story arc is more a metaphorical Siege than just the taking of Asgard, I think it’s the most poorly planned and timed siege since the Turks at Vienna.

Wiki the historical reference above or just roll your eyes and click below to hear some thoughts on what Brian Michael Bendis tells us about writing and ourselves.

And, for the record, this isn’t going to be about sales or fan reception or the over-arcing theories behind Event Books as a whole; better men have take on those issues this week. This is about reading two issues that took maybe an hour or two’s worth of fictional time over two months. New Avengers #62 came out after Siege #2 and since shipping schedules made me read it out of order, my own pacing is thrown off by being dragged backwards through real time for fictional time. This is about doing the same stunt that kicked off Civil War, but without the issues of thought provoking debate and lead-up to the government action which divided loyalties that took up quite a few issues for just Norman Osborn throwing himself at an outrageous target in a couple pages. This is about ending Siege #2 in a dramatically suspenseful note and ending Siege #1 on an guy startled out of his chair. This is about all the hugging in New Avengers #62.

Hang on a minute, I like to think you’re asking yourself. Siege just started! Stop with the nitpicking! But lets take a look at Bendis’ track record on Event Books and and note some symptoms: Avengers: Disassembled started out of nowhere and the destruction of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and ran screamingly through three issues (at least on the Avengers title). House of M was about three issues too long and dragged in comparison to the story that got them there in the first place. New Avengers and Mighty Avengers were used as complicated clip shows during Secret Invasion, bouncing from the present to the past irregularly while Secret Invasion itself lead up to an ending that barely solved its original premise if at all. Dark Reign has been going on for a year and I don’t think I’m alone in saying it’s more than worn out its welcome.

The stories have been great. This is fact. We continue to see the Marvel Universe through Bendis’s unique viewpoint. His voice had moved Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. No matter what storyline issues I may have, there is no doubt that the style and the storytelling have been rock solid from an exceptional writer. Love it or hate it, he’s been incredibly consistent in tone and theme on the Avengers for around six year, not something to take lightly. His Spider-Man is so good (how good is it?), it’s so good that fans immediately went to his Ultimate Spider-Man the moment the wall-crawler’s movies announced their revamp. He is so solid (how solid is he?) that even Ultimatum could no shake the foundations of the Ultimate universe he built.

So what’s the deal? I love his writing, but I hate the timing and pacing of his event books. When Captain America died, Brubaker and the editorial above him were still able to work around and with all the issues dedicated to memorializing Steve Rogers and, up until Reborn, were never overtaken by the scope of their story. Bendis himself wrote one of the finest runs on Daredevil, an opus that moved through symphonic movements in carefully crafted and executed story arcs that are all part of the whole. When he needed to use Bullseye, he had to wait for Kevin Smith who at the time was promised the next showdown between Daredevil and his deadly nemesis. He waited, his stories continued without pause and when Bullseye was finally released to him, all of what he’d been waiting to say with the character and the task of bringing Bullseye up to the present was told in a vicious extended fight scene and everything moved on to the next aria.

This tells me that one man can make a difference. Daredevil’s stories could be managed as a thematic whole, like a man who juggles chainsaws expertly, but when more characters in a dozen different flavors are being used to tell a larger epic as well as their own private stories, then you’re juggling with chainsaws, torches, bowling balls and balancing on a unicycle. Make no mistake, chainsaw juggling is awesome but the more you add spectacle to it, the more difficult the trick becomes.

I don’t know about you, but I just can’t wait for Siege to come out in trade. I’m sure it’d be better and less frustrating to wait and see how this all plays out in one big swoop, but I’m impatient and probably far too attached to my Marvel Universe. I also can’t stop looking at Bendis’ past works as a road map for what’s to come. I know where it could go wrong, I’ve seen it before, but it’s not fair to the unknown future. However, knowing this about myself, my expectations and pre-judgments, I can not only understand a little something about the interaction between a reader and the writer and recognize my own limitations, but I can learn to work around them and eventually overcome them.

After all, no one is perfect.

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Comments

8 Comments

I here you. His events has been way to drawn out and overblown. He does spin a good yarn but, I think his pacing is off. He knows what he wants to do and he’s a great visionary but, when it comes to execution…meh. He might just want to plot out a story arc and give it to capable hands like Hickman, Brubaker etc..And we still have the Heroic Age to look forward to.

This reminds me a little bit of some criticism I read years ago about Neil Gaiman. That his works like Black Orchid and Sandman had tremendous build up of character, conflict and setting, but then always fizzled a bit in an anti-climactic ending.

I think that’s somewhat true of Bendis as well. He can tell an amazing story, but at the end of so many of them, I always felt a little unfulfilled. The buildup ends in a whimper instead of a bang…

Calling anything Bendis has done “great” could never be considered a fact. An opinion, sure. A popular opinion, ok. But a fact? Please.

I only read New Avengers for Stuart Immonen’s art. And as soon as he’s off the book (and that’s what it looks like now) i’m out of there. It was the first Bendis book i ever read and he didn’t make me want to come back for more.

On the other hand Siege is promising to finally end Osborne’s “reign” and a lot of the darkness in the current Marvel universe with it. I’m looking forward to that, because i’m fed up with things going downhill constantly.

I have to take issue with your issues re Bendis’s storytelling skills. His skills as measured by his ____ AVENGERS series, are nonexistent. NEW AVENGERS #62 has been shredded by readers in a CBR forum thread who have noted the timeline inconsistencies. The sequence with Cap, et al. that has someone saying on TV, “Word from Osborn’s camp is that this is in retaliation for the Chicago incident last night”, eliminates any vestige of realism from the decision to invade Asgard without Presidential authorization. So much for the CIVIL WAR analogy.

Spider-Man’s dialogue in NA #62, in which he dismisses the Griffin as a worthless opponent, can be read as Bendis dismissing superheroes and their stories generally as junk. Once Spider-Woman overcomes her mind control, she and Spider-Man dispose of their opponents with minimal effort. The villains are written as jokes. NA #61 and #62, instead of being dramatic, are mostly filler, with the only meaningful material being Cap reuniting with his friends.

Some of the most damning criticisms leveled at Bendis’s ____ AVENGERS series have been based on logical inconsistencies and factual (scientific) mistakes. The retcons he’s relied on so heavily are deliberate logical inconsistencies. He’s resorted to idiot plots several times; “Avengers Disassembled” (the Avengers supposedly failing to notice that the Scarlet Witch was experiencing schizophrenic hallucinations, etc.), SECRET INVASION, NA: THE LIST, and NA ANNUAL #3 wouldn’t have seen print without them.

Instead of assuming that since his issues sell, there must be some virtues in them, consider the possibility that his critics, who fault his inattention to details, are at the very least reading the material more closely and are possibly more intelligent overall. Realizing how abstract concepts relate to each other, and either conflict or form a pattern, is analogous to the pattern recognition that chess grandmasters rely on. When there are multiple conflicts in a story, its entertainment value is lost. All those detail-oriented readers see are the conflicts.

SRS

I am in no way a regular Marvel reader, and I’ve given “Siege” and its tie-ins very little attention. The only book that has spun out of “Siege” I care about has been “Dark Wolverine,” and that is a direct result of Marjorie Liu writing it. She has taken a character that seemed wholly derivative and unoriginal, and made him an interesting person unto himself; Daken may be Wolverine’s son, and may have claws and a healing factor, but the similarities end there.

As for Bendis, I have certainly read stories of his that I considered good, but “great” I’ve only assigned to him once, and that was for his Image book “Jinx.”

“Civil War” is a glaring bit of evidence to his inability to successfully end a story in the style and manner his writing has naturally led to. I have heard the argument that his story naturally led to some form of a truce, but I disagree wholeheartedly.

My biggest complaint is that this bit of criticism seems to only go 80% of the way toward the destination it is naturally headed. What seems like your disinterest or disappointment with “Siege” and other event books written by Bendis is undermined by your statement that, “The stories have been great. This is fact.” Great stories are only as great as their endings. “Civil War” had the potential to be great, but its ending crippled it, and categorized it as something right around “just okay” to “good.”

The test will be the ending. Until then, “Siege” is an interesting story with potential. We’ll see if Bendis capitalizes on the stories he has at his disposal.

A couple of corrections, If I may.

Austin, Civil War was by Millar from Bendis’ “idea”. Your argument still stands though, merely replace “Civil War” with the title of any other book by Bendis.

Ms. Hoffman when you wrote “The stories have been great. This is fact” I think you meant to say “I think the stories have been great. This is fact.”

Sorry, but, this article basically tells me that a Bendis fan likes Bendis’ output. It does not really address any of the numerous criticisms of his stuff. Still, nice writing.

“The stories have been great. This is fact”

If you feel the need to state it like that, perhaps, deep down, you’re wondering if the Steven Stahls of the world aren’t right, Carla.

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