Sunday, January 31, 2010

Longbox Special: Under Siege

Last week we got a look inside some of the histories and motivations of two of Norman Osborn's Avengers, Daken and The Sentry. This week we get a look at what's on the mind of Osborn's newest inner circle man, Taskmaster, as well as finding out what Captain America's Avenger's are up to.

Avengers: The Initiative #32 is another good character piece with subplots that carry on from outside the “Siege” storyline. This time, the focus is on Taskmaster, man in charge of the Fifty State Initiative and recent addition to Norman Osborn’s cabal of super-villains following the departures of Emma Frost and Namor. Taskmaster is another character I only know about in passing and this issue fleshes out his history and motivations. I just wish it would explain why he wears a skull mask and a LARPer outfit.

Taskmaster has come to realize just what it is that keeps himself and other lower-tier villains from the kind of greatness that Venom, Bullseye, and the like enjoy. Craziness. He has decided that the siege on Asgard is his chance to take a hold of greatness as opposed to his usually playing it safe. Taskmaster used to make his money by training the thugs for others while keeping below the radar and out of the way of jail time and the fists of heroes.

This issue continues to explore the relationship of Diamondback and Constrictor, two members of the Initiative who sit on different sides of the fence. Constrictor is a close friend of Taskmaster’s and so has enjoyed some of the perks that go along with being buddies with the boss. Diamondback, however, is a mole for the Avengers that have gone underground. To complicate matters even further, she’s gotten involved with Constrictor. Both of these characters try to come to terms with their relationship and just want the assault on Asgard holds for them.

Thirdly, because there’s always a third thing, there’s the subplot of the Avengers Resistance made up of former Initiative members Tigra, Night Thrasher, Justice, and Ultragirl. The amazing thing here is that these b-players have been taken and actually have something interesting going on. They managed to get information that connects the incident at Soldier Field to Norman Osborn. Of course their plan is not just to expose Osborn, but to stage an attack on camp H.A.M.M.E.R and shut it down.

The issue concludes with the repelling of Thor’s intervention at Asgard and brings the Diamondback/Tasmaster story-lines to a convergence.

New Avengers #61 is set just before the siege on Asgard and puts The Hood back into play as the man to take down Captain America’s Avengers. Unlike the other “Siege” tie-ins thus far, this is less of a character piece and more of a straight up action segment. What we have are The Hood’s syndicate of criminals getting powered up by the Norn Stones, a gift from Loki to The Hood, and going after Cap’s Avengers.

Captains America are looking over the recently demolished remains of Steve Roger’s former headquarters. There’s not much time for talking before Steve and Bucky are attacked by The Living Laser and The Corruptor. The Corruptor uses his newly enhanced abilities to control the minds of others to pit Bucky against Steve in what could be considered a cliché fight between heroes. The conclusion looks to be typical for the set up but that seems to be something saved for the next issue.

Also going on Spiders-Man and -Woman stand watch on a nearby building monitoring activity at Osborn’s Avengers Tower, where things seem to be ramping up for something big. This is actually the more wordy of the two stories going on here and probably the more interesting. Jessica (-Woman) asks Peter (-Man) about Osborn since he’s fought him so many times in the past. This turns into a reinforcement of the idea that it’s just a matter of time before Osborn loses it and the empire he’s created for himself comes crashing down on his head. What else is kind of interesting here is that there are a bunch of throw away tie-in references to stuff like S.W.O.R.D and the Spider-Woman comic as well as the possible undoing of the Brand New Day storyline that’s going to be revisited this year. Before long, the two are also attacked by a duo of newly powered up criminals Madrill and Griffin, who I’m assuming are bottom of the barrel characters that Bendis likes to grab at times like this to add some flavor to the mix. It’s another mind controller, Mandrill, who gives Spider-Woman the order to kill Spider-Man and then to give him the location of the other Avengers.

I have to say that once again, these are two well done tie-in books that don’t rely so heavily on the main title. I’ve been very impressed with how Marvel has managed to address stuff that’s been going on in these titles, keep that stuff moving forward, and still connect it to the event without making either critical to the other for understanding. If you’ve been reading this books before “Siege”, you’re still going to enjoy Gage’s and Bendis’s work on them. If you’re only hooking in for the event book, you’ll get some nice spice added to the stew. Hopefully they can keep this up in February.

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