First off, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: I don’t much care for this Dark Reign business coming out of Marvel. Even though it’s only been going on for about a year or so, it feels like about a decade, due to the crazy overexposure of Norman Osborn and his team of Dark Avengers. One week, I swear to Galactus, there was something like 18 issues that featured appearances by those jerks. I’m not exaggerating, I’m pretty sure the number was 18. Anyway, with the announcement of Marvel’s Siege event, it looks like the whole thing is coming to an end, and not a moment too soon for me. As glad as I am to see the ass end of this crossover/event/cash grab, I’ve noticed a funny thing lately—some of the tie-ins to this series have actually been pretty good. REALLY good, in some instances. Take the series of one-shots that make up Dark Reign: The List, for example. These special issues all focus on Norman Osborn’s Nixonian “Enemies List”, and detail his plans to incapicitate or destroy those who would stand in the way of his evil plans. I scoffed at the books when they were announced, even though I was intrigued by some of the creative teams. Now, however, when all of them but one has been released (still waiting on the Spider-Man special, but Adam Kubert’s drawing it, so that could take a while), I find that most of them have actually been pretty cool. Not all, but most. Let’s have a look at these awkwardly-named issues, shall we?
Dark Reign: The List: New Avengers: See what I mean about awkward? Anyway, everything got off to a bit of a rocky start here, with this Bendis-written, Marko Djurdjevic-drawn issue that sees Ronin (AKA Clint Barton) attempting to carry out his promise to kill Norman Osborn. Not much happens here—it’s pretty much a sterling example of how today’s writers take an entire oversized issue to achieve something that would have taken a few panels in the Sixties and a few pages in the Seventies, Eighties, or Nineties. Basically, Ronin (AKA Clint Barton, but don’t get me started on that) breaks into Avengers Tower to kill Norman Osborn, but is captured instead. It doesn’t really fit with what’s going on in the main Avengers title, and it’s a pretty unsatisfactory read overall. I’m not a big fan of Djurdjevic’s interior art either—I prefer his painted covers--so there really wasn’t much here for me to begin with.
Dark Reign: The List: X-Men: Now this was just plain awesome. I’ve been dipping in and out of Matt Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men run, stopping in to read the Terry Dodson-drawn issues but getting the hell outta Dodge whenever Greg Land draws an arc, so I’m only sort of peripherally aware of this whole Utopia-X jazz that’s going on now. However, that did not detract from my enjoyment of this issue one bit, where Osborn uses Namor’s ex-wife Marrina, who has been transformed into a sort of sea dragon that is actually much closer to her alien origins than the humanoid form that joined Alpha Flight, to destroy as many Atlanteans as possible. Namor and his new teammates in the X-Men (makes sense that he’d join the team—after all, he’s technically Marvel’s first mutant, I think?) draw the beast into a final confrontation. Fraction seems to have a great grasp of how to write this kind of multi-character slugfest—the mutant combatants all get appropriate little introductions and cool interactions, and the way they fight together as a team is well-handled and pretty exciting to watch. Fraction’s Namor is proud, arrogant, and hates to ask anyone for help even when he really needs it, which is a combination of traits that makes him very enjoyable to read. And the art is by Alan Davis, who, unlike many of his contemporaries from the Eighties, seems to only get more dynamic and versatile with age! This was a great stand-alone read that not only made me interested in how Fraction’s X-Men run was going, but also made me want a Fraction/Davis Namor ongoing.
So there you have it. The Spider-Man issue is still pending, but it’s written by Dan Slott so I’m not too worried about it. Otherwise, not a bad crop of issues—out of the seven we’ve seen, two of ‘em (X-Men and Wolverine) were great, two of ‘em (Daredevil and Punisher) were quite good, two of ‘em (Hulk and Secret Warriors) were so-so with nice art, and only one of them (New Avengers) was, for me anyway, kind of a waste of time. Two of them (DD and Punisher, again) were quite important to those characters’ ongoing series, and three more (X-Men, Secret Warriors, and Punisher yet again) made me curious to check out a monthly title I wasn’t currently following. All in all, not bad for an event I first turned my nose up at. It’s also a pretty decent “State of the Union” kind of event, for readers curious to see what the heck’s up with the Marvel U these days. I guess the lesson here is to never underestimate the healing power of a nice cleansing Reign!