I have this picture in my head of Brian Michael Bendis and Joe Quesada sitting around one day and watching the first season of Battlestar Galactica. Joe Q. sees the sleeper cell Cylon idea and flips out about how it is going to be just like Secret Invasion, and how the metaphor will have been beaten to death. Bendis just grins at him and says something along the lines of “Don’t worry…I’ve got it covered.”
Indeed this as one of the big controversies going into Secret Invasion (to paraphrase Kelvin Green): Skrulls impersonating stuff, and not knowing they are stuff. BSG has done it; especially season 3, and they did it really well. They explored the Cylons as a metaphor for the enemy that you cannot detect in your own midst. It is apt for how the Western world, especially our media outlets, presents enemies to us today. This theme can be applied to a number of different allegories: Organized crime, drug havens and terrorism. As a result of BSG, the impact of Secret Invasion was threatened, and has even bring out calls of “rip-off!” from the online audience.
Well, I am here to tell you that this is a very different story. One that I cannot discuss without revealing some plot details, which is something I strive not to do in my reviews. So be warned reader, here is where the spoilers start.
Secret Invasion is different from ever other approach to this topic that I have seen. The “traditional” approach is to reveal that there are a few enemies in a bigger group and make the audience guess who the villains are likely to be. This worked in BSG for 3 seasons, and worked in more classic works such as Tolkien’s villain within the Fellowship of the Ring. In this issue, Bendis throws this idea on its head.
It begins with the usual reveals of the select few villains admist our heroes disguised as their closest allies. Elektra, Black bolt, and everyone is suspicious of how many Skrulls are in their midst. Bendis cleverly uses Luke Cage as a narrator of the thoughts of many fans: Get on with it already! If the invasion is coming, fine, let it come, but stop making us wait for it.
This all seems kind of yawn worthy, until you get to a small detail: A Skrull ship that crashed in the Savage Land. When both teams of Avengers arrive the reader is presented with the usual posturing, and it again, seems to have all been played before. Then the hammer drops as Luke Cage (again acting as the voice of many readers who are fed up with Stark being a gold plated dictator) rips open the ship. The whole game changes in that moment.
Dum Dum Dugan blows up the S.H.I.E.L.D. satellite. An impersonator of Sue Storm takes out the Baxter Building. Tony’s loyal butler Jarvis infects all of Stark-tech with a virus disabling everything from S.H.I.E.L.D. to Tony’s own suit.
Finally, to show us how deep the conspiracy runs, Hank Pym, one of the architects of the Negative Zone prison and all the badness that went along with it, is revealed to be a Skrull, disabling Reed Richards (in a particularly cool but gruesome way). Each of them makes the statement: “He Loves You.”
However, this still sounds like the tried and true tradition, until you find out what is in the ship: 17 of the most popular heroes in the history of the Marvel Universe. Extending from all corners of Earth-616, reaching every team imaginable, and dressed in a variety of costumes from throughout history (some notably from the Kree-Skrull war era).
All of a sudden, there are four possibilities in this invasion that the reader now must consider:
- Any one of the heroes on the ship could be the real deal.
- Any one of their Earth counterparts could be the real deal.
- Both sets of characters could be Skrulls.
- There are still lurking Skrull agents in the heroes that are not represented in the ships
Personally, I think that is kind of a fun twist on the idea. There are so many Skrull possibilities that the reader is baffled, but you know for certain that there are at least 17 Skrulls.
I think the best way to deal with this issue is to summarize the good and the bad in a couple of quick lists:
- While I am not partial to a lot of the dialogue that Bendis writes, in this issue he is in his comfort zone. He writes characters he likes and has a good feel for: Tony Stark, Spider-man, Luke Cage, Spiderwoman, and Ms. Marvel. The dialogue is convincing on those characters.
- The plotting held together throughout the book even though the pace was quite fast. There were a lot really nice cuts from setting to setting that kept the story from dragging. Seeing all of the different Stark influenced facilities trying to cope with chaos was very well done.
- At the end of the book there is a shot of an armada of ships on their way to Earth. This is important because it puts the emphasis on moving past the conspiracy into the “saving the world” stuff that Marvel comics is desperately in need of these days.
- The end game for Tony Stark has started. I truly believe that this story arc is about Tony. It is similar to the story told of Superman at the beginning of the Justice League cartoon by Timm and Dini: what are the consequences of putting too much power in the hands of one person. Basically, it creates a single point without redundancy that can be attacked and dismantled. This story will ultimately come down to Tony’s own hubris, that he believes he can anticipate all outcomes.
- The art drives the story. Each scene is rendered in amazing detail, with single panels being able to communicate both the dispassionate faces of the Skrulls while they execute their final directives as well as the passion and frustration in our heroes (and would be heroes in the case of the Thunderbolts). Environments look great, with the destruction of the satallite and of the Baxter Building being high on the list.
- Dialogue connected to characters that Bendis is not passionate about fall flat. Maria Hill, Johnny Storm and especially Agent Brand all fail to be convincing.
- A number of characters are missing, in particular Dr. Strange. Where is he? Why isn’t he shown? Also, where is the Thing?
- Inking is very heavy in some scenes, which robs detail from the faces and the defining pencils.
- Why did Spiderwoman call the New Avengers in front of Jarvis? Given what we know so far of the invasion it seems very unlikely that they would know that they are Skrulls (assuming that Spiderwoman is one … which she may not be … ow … I think my eyes just crossed).
- Why does Skrull Elektra still have black hair? This is just bugging me so I thought I should list it.
Overall, I think the issue is very solid. Much more solid than I expected given the last 5-6 issues of New Avengers and Mighty Avengers have been.
Okay Marvel, I can’t believe I’m saying this: You got me. After the train wreck of Civil War and the lack of an ending to World War Hulk, you have me back for another event. Just don’t end this series with a one shot panel of a shifty green eyed guy in the back corner of the Avengers Mansion or something…okay?
For the record, of the 17 heroes mentioned above, people I want to have been Skrulls on Earth: Beast, Phoenix, Jessica Jones, Hawkeye, Spider-Man.
People I don’t want to have been Skrulls on Earth: Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine, Ms. Marvel, Luke Cage, Susan Storm, Thor, Scarlet Witch, Emma Frost, Wonder Man, Vision, Mockingbird
People not pictured I want to be Skrulls: Cyclops.
What did you think of this book?
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