And here it is, the four-part series we're told will end the reign of Norman Osborn in the Marvel Universe. In an echo of the event which ignited the Initiative - superheroes being blamed for the destruction caused by super-villains - the Asgardian Volstagg is tricked into unleashing godly forces to fry a stadium full of sports fans. He's been attacked by the radioactive U-Foes and given that Volstagg isn't known as a bearer of cosmic juice, I'm taking it they added some firepower to frame him. Osborn, persuaded by Loki, believes the incident will guarantee public support for the invasion of Asgard they're planning.
So it's off to Oklahoma with the combined forces of the Dark Avengers and the Initiative, where battle commences. It's Thor and co versus an army of villains and misguided heroes and things are looking bad. Thank God Iron Man and Captain America are stirring . . .
This is good stuff. Brian Bendis writes a fantastically manipulative and quietly menacing Loki and illustrator Olivier Coipel meets the challenge, making him loom high above Osborn, ethereal and haughty. Osborn tries to convey that he's in charge but you can see the front crumbling as he begins to realise just who is the puppet, while maintaining enough self-belief to think he can turn things around. Brian reigns in the mannered chitchat so that all the conversation is meaningful; everything serves the story, building the drama so that when the 23pp instalment closes there's disappointment. Especially when you remember this is a $3.99 book - but more of that later.
So nice one Brian, for producing an episode with fine forward thrust. And Olivier Coipel grows with every assignment. Here he captures the quiet majesty of Asgard, the waving wheat of Oklahoma and the panelled walls of power in Washington. Volstagg's courage and confusion are evident, while under-pressure Norman can't lose the Green Goblin look even when he's out of costume. Credit, too, to Laura Martin, who weighs up the mood needs of each scene and applies the colours to do the job. The page showing Don Blake joining the battle is particularly effective. Letterer Chris Eliopoulos controls the Asgardian font that annoys me so, along with the lovely, happy regular speech typeface. Together, the creators provide quite the ride.
So, what's filling the rest of the book? A preview/advertisement for some irrelevant Hulk nonsense; a three-page recap of the last seven years of Brian's Marvel Reign by Joe Quesada, telling us why we should buy the book we've most likely already purchased; and four pages of script filling out a story scene in which Osborn persuades the Dark Avengers that invading Asgard is what they should be doing.
Ah, that's why the strip is free of the back and forth dialogue many readers, admittedly, enjoy. It looks heavy as heck laid out in blocks here, but I thought, well, show some courtesy, give it a chance, perhaps glean some extra information and insight. It turns out there's nothing here that's really necessary, so congrats to Brian, editor Tom Brevoort or whoever decided to keep it out of the main run.
But, Marvel chaps, do actually read the thing yourself before sending it to press - the entire third page comprises repeated dialogue from pages 1 and 2. Not too impressive when this stuff is already filler - how about more story pages of the quality we get earlier in the book?