by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Michael Lark (pencils), Stefano Gaudiano (inks), Matt Hollingsworth (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: The Cabal implodes and lines are drawn.

What’s Good: The issue’s strongest point is its characterization.  Dr. Doom is written well by Bendis.  He’s the same absurd bad guy who insists on referring to himself in the third person. but, as usual, Doom backs all that egotism up in a big way.  In this issue, his self-righteousness and arrogance actually make him feel somewhat jarring as a character, unrealistic even, yet Bendis’ display of Doom’s power validates it.  Doom feels like he doesn’t belong because he doesn’t; he functions on a different level from Osborn.  He’s the all powerful, cackling old school villain while Osborn is something more convoluted and modern and Bendis’ depiction of this collision is well-played.

Speaking of Osborn, Bendis does a fantastic job on him as well.  Compared to Doom, Osborn actually sounds realistic; a scary thing, when Bendis essentially cements this month that Osborn’s sanity is bound to implode any day now.  The fact that Osborn’s fear of the Asgardians is based largely on advice from the Green freaking Goblin is evidence of that, and it also makes for a fantastically written conversation.

Overall though, this issues functions just as it should, truly feeling like the beginning of a slow collapse, as Norman’s finally confronted by limitations to his power. Publically, he’s reminded that he isn’t the President of the United States.  Privately, he’s bitten off more than he can chew with Doom.  And he seems to be in denial on both these points.  In probably the most beautiful bit of dialogue in the issue, he accosts Doom for making a “huge, dumb, arrogant mistake.”  When I first read that line, I thought Osborn was speaking of himself and apologizing to Victor.

Art-wise, there’s absolutely nothing to complain here.  With his signature dark, scratchy feel, Lark ably captures the action and the tense conversations with ease.  It’s a good looking book, and I couldn’t expect much more.

What’s Not So Good: For the start of Marvel’s last major event for the foreseeable future, I expected the start to have a bit more of a bang to it.  A character death perhaps, or at least a major event that leaves some sort of irreparable damage.  That I didn’t get either was a bit disappointing.

And it’s not like Bendis didn’t have his opportunities, he just seemed hell-bent on holding himself back.  Take for example the attack on Avenger’s Tower, which basically sparks off the Siege event.  There’s a beautiful illustration by Michael Lark that makes it look as though the Tower itself is on the verge of collapse, as though it were being eaten away.  I loved the idea of the Tower being destroyed.  I mean, damn, that is a way to start an event!  Of course, a couple pages later, and Norman’s back in his office and the Tower is just fine.

Well, at least Bendis can fulfill the promises Marvel has laid out in its ads and solicitations for this issue by revealing his secret partner, right?  Of course not.  Instead, we just get some glowy, vaguely humanoid shape letting loose with a couple of energy blasts with no major hint as to his/her/its identity. Great…

Bendis puts all the characters where he wants them and does what he needs to do to get an event started, but he just doesn’t bother to shoot any higher.

Conclusion: It’s an entertaining issue with very solid character work, but it could’ve been more.

Grade: B –

-Alex Evans