Marvel’s next event launches next week, with the Siege: The Cabal prologue. The event proper begins in January and runs for four months. The goal of this article is to covers the basics I’d expect people to need to pick up on it (assuming my own expectations are accurate.)

Siege looks to be an Avengers-centric event. There have been multiple teams of Avengers since they first appeared in 1963.

The Classic Avengers

DC had struck comic gold with Justice League of America, a title which took their 7 most popular superheroes and put them all in the same book. Marvel did almost the same as a marketing response, leaving out the Fantastic Four (who already were a team) and Spider-Man, who seemed to work best on his own. The first issue saw Loki, God of Mischief, devise yet another plot to have someone else attack his archnemesis and half-brother Thor, God of Thunder. Feeling that the Hulk had the power to defeat Thor in combat, Loki broadcast a message out over radio waves claiming the Hulk was on a rampage, hoping his brother would step in and get smashed. The message was accidentally received by Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Hank Pym (Ant Man at the time), who also decided to intervene. Hank brought his then-girlfriend Janet Van Dyne (the Wasp) along with him. After the requisite battle, the heroes realized they were being manipulated and turned the tables. Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Ant Man and the Wasp became the founding Avengers. (Rick Jones wasn’t an official member, but did hang out with them a lot, much like the Justice League’s Snapper Carr did.) By the end of the second issue, the Hulk had quit the team, as he wasn’t much of a team player. Hank Pym had also developed and adopted his Giant-Man identity. In the third issue, the remaining Avengers fought the combined threat of Namor the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk. In the process, they broke loose a piece of an iceberg that had a person inside. In issue #4, they thawed the ice, and found a perfectly preserved Captain America, whose exposure to the Super Soldier serum allowed him to survive. He became a full member almost immediately, and was later given retroactive founder status. He led the team into combat and to victory more often than any other single member.

The team roster changed a lot over the years. By issue #16, the team was made up of Captain America and three former villains, Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Not a single founder remained. Members came and went almost as often as Hank Pym’s sanity, but a core few stuck around through most of the team’s history: Captain America, the (original) Wasp, Thor, Scarlet Witch, her android husband Vision, and Iron Man. Their villainous counterparts, the Masters of Evil, had almost as many roster changes to match.

The Substitute Avengers

In the late 1990s, Marvel contracted out the Avengers, Captain America, Iron Man and Fantastic Four titles to a third party for a year. The readers saw Onslaught. Professor X and Magneto managed to combine into a single, malevolent entity, and the Avengers and Fantastic Four sacrificed their lives to save the world from the threat. In their absence, a new superteam called the Thunderbolts started to appear as guest characters in books such as The Incredible Hulk, only to have their own title launch months later. It was at the end of the first issue of their own title that their true nature was revealed (which is impressive, given how many spoilers the marketing people leaked to boost sales): the Thunderbolts were none other than the Masters of Evil, pretending to be heroes in order to forward their plans for world domination. In time, many of them found that they actually enjoyed being heroes and started to work towards redemption. Others, such as Moonstone, enjoyed the villainous life more right to the end.

The New Avengers

Over time, the Avengers returned from the Onslaught epic (having been hidden in another dimension for a while) and even won enough of the world’s respect to be given a seat at the U.N. represented superpowered humans everywhere. Forty years after the team was created, Brian Michael Bendis was given the chance to start his run with issue #500. Feeling compelled to have a heck of a bang in that first story, and kicked everything off with Avengers: Disassembled. In that story, the Scarlet Witch lost control of her powers and her psyche, and created a series of artificial attacks by the team’s greatest enemies that left the Vision in pieces, Hawkeye and Thor dead, the Avengers mansion in ruins, and the team devastated to the point of dissolution. After that, a breakout on the Raft prison island caused a new team of heroes to form, composed of Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Luke Cage, Daredevil and the Sentry. Daredevil left immediately, while Wolverine and Echo joined almost as fast. This team had some indications that things weren’t all as they seemed. International terrorist group Hydra and international law enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D. both had Spider-Woman on their payroll as a secret agent, and were starting to sort some of the mess out when the Civil War broke out.

The Civil War

A team of teenage heroes, the New Warriors, made a mistake on national television that resulted in the deaths of over 400 civilians (many of whom were school children) along with all but one of the Warriors. The country reacted almost immediately, demanding that superpowered individuals surrender their secret identities to government agencies and receive formal training from S.H.I.E.L.D. or a similar agency. The heroes were split down the middle on this, some siding with Iron Man in favour of the legislation, and others with Captain America in opposition to the legislation. The Civil War resulted in a few changes in the Marvel landscape. In order to bring the rogue heroes in as quickly as possible, Iron Man’s side developed the technology needed to put an electronic leash in captive supervillains, and they were then sent out after the heroes. To lead this group, the government chose Norman Osborn, a master manipulator who had convinced some of them that the psychosis that turned him into the Green Goblin had passed. He proved so effective a leader that he was left in charge of his team under government purvue after the Civil War ended with Captain America’s surrender and subsequent assassination.

The Initiative

In the wake of the Civil War, Tony Stark was left in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the identities of the registered superheroes. He formed his own Avengers with Ms. Marvel, including the (original) Wasp, Wonder Man, Sentry, Black Widow and Ares. Meanwhile, the government started training new heroes in the Initiative program, as detailed in Marvel’s Avengers: The Initiative title. Some of the Avengers who sided with Captain America in the Civil War stayed on their own team, published as The New Avengers, and continued that way. The two teams were at odds with every meeting until the Secret Invasion was revealed.

The Secret Invasion

The Skrulls are shapeshifting aliens who don’t particularly like humans. A splinter group of them felt that Earth was their home by the divine right of their scriptures, and started infiltrating the world by replacing heroes, villains, and others in power to set the stage for a full scale invasion. Replacements had been happening as far back as Avengers: Disassembled. Among the replaced were Hank Pym, Elektra, Spider-Woman and more. Spider-Woman was actually replaced by the Skrull queen who was running the entire invasion. Infiltrated from within, the teams of Avengers were unable to trust each other, and were almost crippled when it came time to fight off the invasion. In fact, the only superteam not crippled by distrust in the whole invasion was the Thunderbolts; they never trusted each other to begin with. Norman Osborn kept his team under tight control, protecting targets with press coverage, eliminating the invaders with incredible efficiency, and even making the final kill shot against the Skrull queen in the last stages of the battle. With the general public unaware of his history as the Green Goblin, Norman Osborn was placed in charge of a new law enforcement agency known as H.A.M.M.E.R., which had the combined roles of the hero training Initiative, former agency S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Commission for Superhuman Activities.

Dark Reign

Since the Skrull invasion ended earlier this year, the heroes no longer seem to care if other heroes registered during the Civil War or not. They all recognize Osborn as the greater threat, particularly since he’s not alone. He formed a cabal almost immediately after taking over H.A.M.M.E.R., and populated it with Loki, Namor, the White Queen, the Hood, and Dr. Doom. He even has a relationship with some entity kept in shadows whose presence can keep a man like Dr. Doom in check. (We don’t yet know exactly who was in that closet, though we were promised the answer would come in December. I’m betting Siege: The Cabal is where we’ll find it.) Two of those individuals have since defected to the other side, but Osborn still holds a lot of power, and his own team of Avengers. He didn’t have the list of secret identities for registered heroes; that was kept only in Tony Stark’s brain, which Stark has since deleted to keep the information out of Norman’s hands. (It wasn’t a selective deletion, either; Stark is currently in a persistant vegitative state as seen in the “Invincible Iron Man” title.) Osborn’s grip is slipping, and he’s moving into the final stages of his plans.

The Major Players

That brings us up to date on the major events in this drama. Now for the major players.

The Good

  • Captain America – His assassination wasn’t what it seemed. Steve Rogers’ former sidekick Bucky Barnes has been fighting the good fight in Cap’s name with Cap’s shield since Steve was shot, but has recently learned that the bullet that hit him didn’t kill him, but instead froze him in time. Although that story hasn’t finished playing out in Captain America: Reborn yet, it is assumed that Steve Rogers will be back in time to take command during the Siege.
  • Iron Man – His brain may be pudding now, but he’s in good hands. Bucky Barnes, Pepper Potts, and others stand at his side while he’s in the medical care of Dr. Donald Blake, who is better known to the world as the Mighty…
  • Thor – Also returned from the death, Thor has been exiled from Asgard after Loki’s machinations. Asgard the land is now hovering a few feet above Oklahoma, populated only by Thor and his companions the Warriors Three, while Asgard the community has found shelter under the wing of Dr. Doom in Latveria.
  • Spider-Man – Longtime enemy of the Green Goblin. If anyone on any team of Avengers wants a personal piece of Osborn, it’s this guy.
  • Ronin – Formerly called Hawkeye, he was leading the New Avengers for a while until his capture at the hands of Osborn.
  • Spider-Woman – Returned after the invasion and blamed for her replacement’s actions, she’s ready to tear a piece out of anyone right now. It would be an interesting and amusing symmetry if she had the “kill shot” against Osborn in this conflict.
  • Wolverine – Ready to take out Osborn, if only because Osborn recruited his son Daken.
  • Mockingbird – Ronin’s ex-wife, taken as an early Skrull replacement.
  • Ms. Marvel – Carol Danvers, imbued with superpowers after working closely with the original Captain Marvel, is also ready for any fight. She’s got a gripe with a member of Osborn’s Avengers, too.
  • Wasp – After Janet Van Dyne’s death at the end of Secret Invasion, Hank Pym assumed her persona and took control of his own team of Avengers.

The Bad

  • Norman Osborn – Calling himself the Iron Patriot and wearing stolen Iron Man technology painted patriotic colours, he’s working a private agenda.
  • Ms. Marvel – Formerly known as Moonstone, when Osborn assembled his own Avengers using the names and costumes of established heroes, he had Karla Sofen take on the persona Carol Danvers made famous. Carol isn’t happy about that.
  • Hawkeye – Formerly known as Daredevil’s archnemesis Bullseye, he’s a marksman without peer or conscience.
  • Wolverine – The son of the famous Wolverine, Daken took the job to piss off daddy.
  • Spider-Man – Mac Gargan was known as the Scorpion before he won the Venom symbiote from a dying Eddie Brock at an auction. Now he uses it to pass as Spider-Man, which also drives Peter Parker around the bend.
  • Loki – A member of Osborn’s cabal, he’s been manipulating cabal members to varying degrees of success from the start. He’s also managed to strike a deal with Dr. Doom.
  • Dr. Doom – Harboring the residents of Asgard, he may not be happy with Osborn’s future plans.
  • Taskmaster – A supervillain used to train heroes in the Initiative, he’s gotten Norman Osborn’s attention.

The Unknown

  • Ares – The God of War, he originally signed on with Osborn out of respect for the tactician. Not only has some of that respect been lost, he’s gained more respect for some of his opponents, and could end up fighting on either side of the conflict.
  • The Hood – An unmitigated villain up to this point, he may be angry enough at Osborn lately to change sides for the purposes of this conflict.
  • Sentry – One of the most powerful individuals out there, his psyche is sadly fragile. Osborn made sure his evil persona, the Void, has been the one in the “driver’s seat” since the Secret Invasion.
  • Captain Marvel – Noh-Varr comes from an alternate reality where the Kree are conquerors. Originally known as Marvel Boy in the Grant Morrison miniseries, he decided to conquer Earth in the name of the Kree, but was captured. While a captive, Iron Man and others encouraged him to take on a more heroic path, following in the footsteps of the original Captain Marvel. He broke out of prison during the Secret Invasion, and still hadn’t figured out our society when Osborn offered him a spot on the Avengers. He hasn’t been seen since he was seduced by Ms. Marvel/Moonstone, who let slip that Osborn’s Avengers really are the bad guys. I expect to see him come down on the side of the heroes in this fight.

The Wrap-Up

Siege starts properly in January and runs through April. I’m speculating on what the important background is; if you pick up an issue and have questions, post them in that week’s comic discussions. If it’s tied to a Marvel event, aside from a couple of X-events, I’ve almost certianly got the answer in one of these boxes if the answer’s been given at all.