Gentle Reader, in the afterglow of the fallen year that lies some days past behind us, and the all new, all different decade we have taken our first few steps with, isn't it appropriate that Marvel has escorted us into 2010 with an Event book and her banner book spawn? This is it, it's a new year preparing for a new way of looking at the Marvel Universe, the branding of what's to come as the Heroic Age, an epic tale that's been (*gulp*) seven years in the making. All of the last decade? Tiddly-winks to what's coming up next.
It's incomparable, inconceivable that you could read the first issue of this mega event and know what is to come. The first piece of the puzzle isn't going to tell you what the picture's looks like, even if it's a corner piece. So what do we do, friends? Do we read Siege #1 and give it a value judgment, based on what we know and have heard? Or do we sit back, bag it up, place the issue into the long or short box and wait for #2 the way hard men swallow their emotions only to find themselves teary-eyed at a championship sports event?
Or do we compare it to Star Trek?
(WARNING: ... actually no spoilers for Siege below, but some for first season TNG's Encounter at Farpoint. Awkward. If you hate Star Trek, you'd probably want to turn back now.)
Believe it or not, this has nothing to do with my Distinguished College's fantastic treatise on how to fix Star Trek: Generations, though the timing was impeccable. Instead, it's because I recently got my very own copy of Memories of the Future, Wil Wheaton's high school yearbook of his days on the set during the first season of Star Trek: the Next Generation. A long sentence to describe a very simple book, Mr. Wheaton brings his childhood memories alive and makes them a part of yours; he also takes a few jabs at the script in a way we all know to means that we like them. It's a great book (a fantastic podcast too!) and it's reminded me how much I love Star Trek's second crew. So I popped in Encounter at Farpoint, the first two-parter for the very first season of an all new, all different Enterprise and saw a malevolent trickster god amuse himself with the weaker points of the human condition and a little light bulb dimly went off above my head. While Q judges and tests a leader to see if he is worthy despite his savage and violent past, The Siege has Loki who has already knows his leader of choice, Norman Osborn, is savage and violent, but it will certainly test the rest of the heroes to see if they can overcome their splash page battle tendencies, take a step back and learn who's really behind it all.
Not following me? Let's look at some some real threadbare comparisons: Encounter at Farpoint is a two-part episode that heralds the arrival of an all new show that will follow in the footsteps of its predecessor, Star Trek from the late '60s. Siege is a five-part mini-series than heralds its own new age of '60s favorites; while Encounter at Farpoint pt. 1 has no cliffhanger and sort of passes the torch between the old and the new, we'd be foolish to think we could get something like that from the first issue of anything, let alone a big event. Big events end in splash pages, people jumping, secret reveals that arrogantly demand you pick up more comics to make heads or tails of them. TV shows don't get that luxury so they have to act like an appetizer and get you hungry for more.
Here's another one: the infamous 'Years in the Making' subtitle. Star Trek: the Next Generation came about because fans of the original series worked their fingers to the bone to create one of the first modern fandoms of our lifetime. TNG wasn't the direct result of this but the idea was formed from a combination of fans, marketing and box office success. Parts of TNG were old scripts or plot points from the discarded Star Trek: Phase II, the TV show idea that was shelved to do Star Trek: the Motion Picture instead. By the time Encounter at Farpoint was aired, a lot of stars had aligned and a lot of hard work had come to rest. Siege had a similar sort of hodgepodge background and beginning; I don't think the road from seven years ago to now is as clear and as true as some might have you believe. While Bendis could easily have had this endpoint in mind the moment he put pen to paper all those years ago, I think he has been and other books have been shaped by their surroundings. Parts from this discarded idea, character motivations from another storyline or effects from this or that mega event have all come to this point, time and story, I would even go so far as to say the shortening from the eight part minis he's done before to the five-parter he's got in front of us today might have been shaped by we fans who want a tighter, less expensive story.
Both Siege and Encounter at Farpoint give us familiar positions and roles to play, just with new actors and new character motivations. Right from the start, Captain Picard is no James T. Kirk, though both serve their function as Captain of the Enterprise with flying colors. Kirk's a more hands-on guy, Picard likes to talk things out and keep the phaser fire to a minimum, but both are leaders of men. There's a super-smart science guy, a heart-on-their-sleeve doctor, danger and discovery, all of these basic facts let us know we're watching Star Trek, it's just the details that make the show its own creation. Siege, likewise, has very familiar roles: the whole opening six-pages are even noted as the same premise for Civil War; Norman Osborn gets a war the same way America started its 'civil war' for the Superhuman Registration Act. Captain America, while different and most likely changed from his death experience, will most likely take a side in this and will drastically effect how we readers see this battle. In fact, if you think about it, there's been a subtle little formula to these mega events, starting with Avengers: Disassembled. What our heroes are fighting is rarely the cause of their fight to begin with: the Avengers fought a variety of personal and external catastrophes to learn that the Scarlet Witch was behind it all. In House of M, they fought the machination of Magneto, thinking he used the Scarlet Witch to create this other world when it was Quicksilver all along. The Hulk fought the Illuminati and the 'world' (essentially New York) only to learn that he'd been set there to conquer because of war buddy Miek's deception. Y happens because of Z when it's really X the whole time; in this latest case, it's Norman leads the fight against Asgard because of the trickery of Loki. Could it be that simple, that the formula is so well laid out that we can skip that part and go right to the story rather than the surprise or will this be the triple axel comic event writing and there will be this third figure manipulating even Loki? While we certainly know everyone's place and position, it's hard to tell what they're going to do.
Another trope that Encounter at Farpoint and Siege share is that oh so very frustrating lack of closure. Encounter at Farpoint isn't meant to tell you a whole story, beginning, middle and end. It's supposed to put everything in place for the season to come, then throw out some themes and ideas that are interesting enough to the viewer that they'll come back to see how those themes and ideas are used for the next however many seasons. Q shows up with an unanswerable quest of proving humanity is more than just their history, the great mystery was pretty mild in terms of scope and the Enterprise just sort of shrugs its shoulders at the end of the show and shuffles off. Not explosive or climactic to say the least, but it does what the first episode or pilot should do, start something greater than itself into motion. Bendis is a fantastic pilot writer, able to take a lot of new ideas and themes and character motivations and put them all into place. I'm not that sold on his ability to end a story coherently (Avengers: Disassembled: Magneto collects his daughter and leaves, House of M: all a 'dream', Secret Invasion: left fielder Norman Osborn catches the ball and runs with it for a year, Skrulls give up), but I do trust him to tell us all a little something new about the familiar places and setting of the Marvel Universe.
Most importantly, and this is the problem I run into a lot with the first week of a mega event, is that you really can't judge anything by anything anymore. Out of Civil War, could you have guessed how much that would lead to events in Secret Invasion? Could anyone have known at the start of World War Hulk that the incredible Hercules would have his own fantastic breakout new series? If viewers had judged Encounter at Farpoint as the end-all and be-all of Star Trek: the Next Generation, then we would have never have gotten the Best of Both Worlds, Yesterday's Enterprise, Chain of Command and countless other eye-poppingly fantastic TNG episodes. Looking at Encounter at Farpoint again and the series finale, 'All Good Things...', you can see how far we've come. The seed was planted and the final tree is majestic and beautiful.
Let's hope Siege flourishes.