Review by KC Carlson
I’d been initially warned away from Secret Invasion by a number of friends, but a recent stack of really bad DCs put me off most of their titles for a while, so I was looking for something else to read. It was time to check up on what’s going on in the Avengers-related titles (my nostalgic favorite long-running Marvel title), plus I was actually excited by the return of Nick Fury (in person) to the Marvel Universe (my nostalgic favorite long-running Marvel character). And while on vacation in Wisconsin, I finally cracked open my Avengers Assemble hardcovers (reprinting the near-classic Busiek/Perez run in a very pleasing eye-friendly size!) and really got into re-reading that great run. So I was raring to dive into a big yok of new Avengers goodness. Hopefully…
… And was pleasantly surprised at how much of the past few years worth of major Marvel storylines dovetail together into the whole Secret Invasion concept. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that a good portion of those previous storylines were originally choreographed by SI author Brian Michael Bendis, but nonetheless, it was good to see some reasons for Bendis’ sudden obsessive fascination for Spider-Woman, as well as some missing motivations from House of M and Secret Wars (and more to come, I suspect).
It’s this kind of fictional universe-building that really takes the story to another level and a thing that Marvel usually does very well. Although, I have to say that when I found out that the story actually goes waaaaay back to FF#2, it began to worry me because the Skrulls in the early 60s were that wacky band of lovable intergalactic losers who just couldn’t put a workable plan together. (That was the issue where Reed Richards actually hypnotizes three captive Skrulls into thinking that they are cows who spend the next several years eating grass and passing gas until the Kree-Skrull War wakes them up. Not that Reed was much better in those early days. He completely forgot that the FF were originally attacked by four Skrulls – not three! Oops! See the Kree-Skrull War for details.) And was it really any wonder that these guys actually lost the Kree-Skrull War? Leave it to Bendis to figure out that after all those years of humiliation, that these guys were pissed! And especially at Reed!
(And, of course, the Skrulls’ plan in Secret Invasion wasn’t completely without its “D’oh!” moments: During the caper where the Skrulls conspire to release a gaggle of super-villains from the Raft, they inadvertently create the New Avengers by bringing together Cap, Shellhead, Spidey, Luke Cage, The Sentry, and Spider-Woman. D’oh, indeed!)
I haven’t read all the tie-in series yet (although it seems that I must track down the SI: Fantastic Four issues as there’s something nasty afoot there, as well as being pencilled by my buddy Barry Kitson, fresh from the late, lamented The Order), but for me, the best of the bunch have been the single-issue, backstory-heavy issues of both New Avengers and Mighty Avengers, all written by Bendis and drawn by some of Marvel’s best artists.
Here’s the rundown: New Avengers #40, drawn by Jim Cheung and John Dell, featuring backstory on the Skrulls and the aftermath of the Illuminati’s visit to the Skrull homeworld; New Avengers #41, drawn by Billy Tan, the only Avengers issue (to date) providing a direct in-the-minute tie-in to what’s going on in the Secret Invasion title, and featuring a side-adventure with Spider-Man, Ka-Zar and Shanna; New Avengers #42, art by Chung and Dell, telling the secret history of Jessica Drew (Spider-Woman); Mighty Avengers #12, art by Alex Maleev, recapping the Secret War and explaining what Nick Fury’s been up to; Mighty Avengers #13, art by Maleev, the return of Daisy Johnson and the recruitment of Fury’s underground strike team; Mighty Avengers #14, art by Khoi Pham and Danny Miki, backstory on The Sentry and a sinister meeting of Skrulls (and a sliver of the current story); Mighty Avengers #15, art by John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson and Tom Palmer, the very sad story of Hank Pym’s latest fall from grace; and Mighty Avengers #16, art by Pham and Miki, reveals how the Skrulls swapped out Elektra, as well as the original’s fate.
These issues have seen Bendis restrain himself of his usual excesses of dialogue and tell some stunningly detailed, mostly stand-alone stories of great drama, mood, and pathos, which will surely stand among his best. And the issues by Chung & Dell and JR Jr., Janson & Palmer in particular are absolutely gorgeous.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the Secret Invasion book itself. Starting off as a rambling mess, by issue #4 it has calmed down a bit, but the nature of these mega-crossovers in the modern age means that there will always be too much ground to cover, too much plot to break, too many other stories to set up, too many characters to place, and too many “voices” to nail properly to please everybody. Despite the extra-length story in #1, it still seemed as if it wasn’t enough to set everything up and still have a coherent story. And I’m really not sure about the arrival of the almost original Secret Wars-like appearance of the doppleganger heroes.
I have been worried from Day 1 of the announcement of this series that this is the way Marvel would “fix” the Captain America storyline by revealing that the dead Cap was a Skrull all along, which would go against the “ground-level” storytelling (with certain fantastic elements) that Ed Brubaker has been doing for years over in Cap’s title (and doing extremely well). The recent announcement that the conclusion of SI might feature the “return” of Cap, Iron Man, and Thor to prominence in the Avengers hasn’t made me feel any better about that. For once, I hope I’m wrong.
The selection of Leinil Frances Yu as the artist for Secret Invasion was an unusual, and brave, choice. Not that he isn’t a great artist, but he’s such an incredible stylist, and not of a style that lends itself to piles and piles of super-beings. Being the old guy that I am, his work here reminds me a lot of Mike Sekowsky’s Justice League of America work back in the 60s — somewhat reviled in its day, but now warmly regarded as classic work. Neither artist is as adept as George Pérez at filling the panels with characters (and who is?), but they share a certain charm in the choreography of the many-faceted fight scenes.
There are a couple of things that I do like about SI the series, including the seeming return of Mockingbird and the fannish fun of the all-new Super-Skrulls and their amalgam-like flavor. (“Mmmmmm… Amalgam.”). I enjoyed the appearance and prominence of the Young Avengers and the Initiative in the main fight, but I am worried that they are there to up the body count. And I’m loving the “is he or isn’t he a Skrull?” stuff that’s going on with Iron Man, especially since it would be so very easy to write off Tony’s last couple of years as a Skrull, but I don’t think that’s what is going to happen. And the return of Nick Fury: “Okay, ya punks, let’s wrap it up!! I got things to do!!” Perfect.
Other SI tie-in highlights: Dan Slott is taking his own twisted view of the Invasion over in Avengers: Initiative with one of the creepier final panels of late in #14… SI: Who Do You Trust? has a couple of notable short stories including a transitional story of Captain Marvel, wrapping up some business from the miniseries; an intriguingly weird Agent Brand tale; a very pretty but ultimately inconsequential Wonder Man and Beast story; and a thoughtful Agents of Atlas story by Jeff Parker, Leonard Kirk and Karl Kesel… As these Marvel Universe big events go, some of the best moments are hidden away in the human-level stories in the Front Line series, and that looks to be the case for Secret Invasion as well, as we follow the adventures of reporter Ben Urich in the trenches of SI… Secret Invasion wouldn’t be the worst excuse to pick up Ms. Marvel, one of Marvel’s most underrated titles. Since Ms. M’s powers originally come from the Kree, she’s a natural target for the Skrulls. There’s some very nice artwork within these pages by the team of Adriana Melo and Mariah Benes, and the rollicking story by Brian Reed is equal parts big action and crazy soap-opera. (The book’s better than the cheesecake covers suggest.)
As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t bought or read all the tie-ins, which is my biggest complaint of Secret Invasion — as well as most of the mega-series of the modern age from any company. There are too many crossovers for all of them! The Big Two especially have much to answer for in their seemingly never-ending-battle to blast the other guy off of the playing field, with the end result being that completist fans end up frustrated that they can’t afford it all (and food and rent and gas!). And the real losers in the battle are ultimately those really good but largely unrecognized comics that keep biting the dust at an alarming rate — some of which are published by the very companies publishing the mega-events and just don’t get their share (or any) of promotion and marketing that is being lavished on the events that are already going to sell.
So remember the mega-crossover in the back of your head the next time your favorite marginal title is canceled or takes a severe turn in direction or is forced off the stands by overwhelmed retailers or sadly folded by self-publishers who can no longer afford to go on. That may be the “real” Secret Invasion. Or Final Crisis.