On the first Wednesday of December 2008, "Secret Invasion" #8 shipped, concluding that event and beginning "Dark Reign," so it's fitting that, one year later on the first Wednesday of December, the book that begins the story that will conclude "Dark Reign" comes out. "Siege: The Cabal" kicks things off well, setting up a clear point of conflict not just between Norman Osborn and the heroes, but also between Osborn and other members of his Cabal, most notably Dr. Doom.
The instigating factor of the conflict is the floating city of Asgard, which is currently floating above Oklahoma, something that the, er, Green Goblin thinks Osborn should deal with. Calling a Cabal meeting, the issue is tabled when Doom confronts Osborn over the inclusion of the Taskmaster in the group and Osborn's treatment of Namor. Doom is at his arrogant, entitled best, while Osborn actually comes off as reasonable by comparison. The conflict escalates when Osborn introduces his secret weapon to the group and things get messy for all involved.
The resulting conflict is handled well and is on par with the fight between Iron Man and Namor that ended the Illuminati group. It's interesting to see Bendis imply parallels between the two groups and how neither could keep it together despite it, possibly, being in the best interests of all involved to keep that alliance going. And, much like the Illuminati, a falling out between some members doesn't necessarily mean the group is dead as new alliances form.
Normally, these special issues are done by Bendis and Alex Maleev, but with Maleev drawing "Spider-Woman," there's no better artist to take his place than Michael Lark, who brings a similar sensibility to the art, grounding these characters in a dark reality. Lark's art is less realistic, more impressionist, using shadows and suggestions with his line work, and the results are stunning. His handle on Osborn in particular is great, depicting him in a variety of emotional states, all looking real and believable. Too often, 'crazy Norman Osborn' is overplayed and falls into heavy melodrama; thankfully, Lark knows that you can still convey that sense of insanity and losing one's grip without going over-the-top.
As a prologue to "Siege" and the turning point of "Dark Reign," "Siege: The Cabal" works quite well. While there are some convenient storytelling choices, like never seeing how Osborn's secret weapon is directly, it's a good way to kick things off. "Siege" is apparently the last of the big Marvel events for a while and it's looking good so far.