I've made no bones about my misgivings about Bendis, but I've never really explained them. I figure this week, with Siege wrapping up, it would be a great time to really examine my issues with his work.
Let's get it right out in the open, shall we: Bendis has some fantastically awesome ideas. They're imaginative, insightful, and earth-shattering in a way that could truly change how you perceive your favorite characters. That is, if he could actually execute any of these ideas. Case in point is Siege # 4.
The idea behind Siege is a sound one. Norman Osborne, drunk with power, decides to go after this foreign entity on his country's land (after some prodding from Loki, of course) using all the 'heroes' at his disposal. This, naturally, doesn't sit well with the real heroes, prompting them to jump into the fray to protect their Asgardian allies. Ultimately a larger threat is revealed (The Sentry) and the heroes have to pull themselves up to stop this devastating force.
With the defeat of Norman Osborne, The Sentry finally lost control and the Void officially took over; our heroes were at his mercy. It was a sincerely great cliffhanger, one that left me legitimately excited to see what was going to happen next. I should have known better.
Siege #4 starts with our heroes mid-beatdown, but we only see their struggle as Loki has the mic. Loki laments that things went too far, that he never wanted Asgard to come crashing down, he just wanted his fellow gods to learn a lesson. Poor Loki then has a hero turn, using what was left of his powers (and taking back the Norn Stones from The Hood) to power up the good guys against this ultimate evil. It should be totally awesome, but it just falls flat and it's all in the execution.
Bendis has a habit of doing this and it always drives me crazy (obviously). It's a great device to use once you've built up to it, but it requires the ability to control the pace of the story and that's something Bendis can't do.
Let's break it down.
The issue starts with the heroes mid battle, which would be great if the previous issue ended with a fight, but instead it ended with a reveal. To get to that point of the heroes in total dire straits, we needed to be 'in' the moment of that fight. To come in mid way works if our perspective is a hero on the ground getting his ass whooped, but then you lose that Loki moment. So then the answer is to end the previous issue with The Sentry standing triumphant over the heroes. He doesn't even need to be totally triumphant, just get a few good hits in so we can tell that he means business and the heroes are way out of their league, THEN you can start the fourth issue with Loki yammering on as the good guys go down.
Speaking of Loki, after super-charging the champions, The Sentry kills him. Rips him in half and Thor has a spark of sadness.
Of course this scene would have been way more effective if Loki was actually a part of the whole series. Sure he was the impetuous for the whole thing, and appeared briefly in issue one to remind us, but other than that he was suspiciously absent throughout the whole shebang. You want me to care about a character who's about to make a face turn and promptly get ripped in two? PUT HIM IN THE BOOK! Let me see his change. Let me see him take in the horror of what went down. I need to see the key story bits through his eyes to make me identify with what he's going through, otherwise it just seems tacked on and I have no emotional connection.
Horrible Bendis execution strikes again. He's in such a rush to get to those moments, he ignores the foundation that he needs to built to make them really work. Unless, of course, it's one of his pet characters then he's normally pretty good about it.
So you would think that The Sentry, being one of Bendis' pet characters, would have a great death, right? Right. With Loki in pieces, the troops are pissed so they pull out all the stops. Thor hits The Sentry with some lightning (but bigger this time!) and then Iron Man throws a helicarrier at the crater.
So in the end it's not the heroes appealing to the good side of The Sentry, or some kind of 'Love will save you' bullshit that defeats this ultimate enemy, it's just hitting him harder. Sigh.
The dust clears to reveal a very naked Bob Reynolds begging the assembled to kill him. They refuse, citing the same ol' 'Heroes don't kill Mantra' that people make fun of comics for, only to realize that Bob needs them to kill him because he can't control the power inside of him.
He attacks! Oh NO! What last ditch trick can our heroes pull out to stop the unstoppa....
Or they can just hit it. Again. Double Sigh.
This death almost has the opposite problem than the first, which shows that Bendis is just full of surprises. Here's a character that he's really worked with, one that we've seen change and become this horrible creature, but one that had a good guy underneath. So instead of highlighting the hero that The Sentry was in this death, by having Bob struggle against it and give the heroes the chance to strike, Bendis highlights the weakness, having Bob helpless to stop anything that's happening to him or his friends. By doing it this way, Bendis again weakens the impact of a potentially iconic moment for The Sentry.
We'll end this on a good note. What Bendis does nail really well is the epilogue. It seems that he's finally found that balance between giving us a satisfactory wrap up, but still leaves things open for future stories.
It only took him three big crossovers to get it right....
Here's hoping that in the upcoming Heroic Age, Bendis does what he does best (big ideas and great character moments) and leaves the massive crossovers to someone who can better handle them.