SPOILERS, SPOILERS like a mutha...
This following is for fans of old school Fantastic Four:
- Reed Richards: "You -- you killed my family. You're not here to save us. It's all lies. You're here to punish us."
- Skrull Queen: "Well, you should have thought about that before you found it funny to turn our brothers into cows."
You've got Jim Shooter to thank, yeah, for the Big Company Crossover Event-itis which has been plaguing both the DC and Marvel houses for years now. Shooter started it off with 1984's quite friggin' awesome SECRET WARS maxi-series. DC's CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS promptly followed, and the glut was on. More than two decades later and me feeling a mite crossovered out, here cometh SECRET INVASION, which links the more recent Marvel's big events into one extended, semi-cohesive story arc. Years in the making is Secret Invasion, remarks bald-pated writer Brian Michael Bendis. It has ties with House of M and Civil War, and extends back to the very first issue of the New Avengers title and to who knows how much further back and how all-encompassing. Personally, I'm now thinking, Jack "King" Kirby... SKRULL!!
So after long teases and build-ups and massive promotion by the House of Ideas, we finally get to it: SECRET INVASION, eight issues written by the Bendis and drawn with awkward, jangling energy by Leinil Yu. And it's... okay. I thought Bendis did a terrific job setting things up in the first issue, rendering me all kinds of intrigued. Briefly (and I'm lying when I say "briefly"), in issue #1, a Skrull spaceship crashlands in the Savage Land, necessitating a look-see by both New and Mighty Avengers. By the way, I do like how the renegade New Avengers gain transport to the Savage Land, as it's so a poke in the eye at the Mighty Avengers. Anyhoo, Avengers, New and Mighty, bump into each other, get to squabbling but before that comes to a head, Tony Stark collapses and a horde of surprising someones pour out of the Skrull ship.
One wonders why it took this long for the Skrulls, given their shape-shifting nature, to hit on this particular ploy. But they finally have. And because of the Skrull's long-range, carefully contemplated behind-the-scenes tweaking of events and their thorough infiltration of the super-powered community, paranoia and dissent have greatly weakened Marvel's mightiest heroes. The Scarlet Witch has decimated mutantkind. The Hulk is out of commission. And so the Skrulls finally come out of hiding. Skrull sleeper agents, long in place, engage in simultaneous assaults on the Baxter Building, on key facilities run by Stark Enterprises, and even on Thunderbolt Mountain. Reed Richards and Tony Stark, deemed to be two of the biggest threats to Skrull Happyville, are dealt with. Second stage is global invasion, as armies of Super Skrull variants pop up all over the world, although the comic book tends to focus on Skrully doings in New York. With the main Avengers stuck in the Savage Land, the Young Avengers and the Initiative scramble to take on the New York invaders. They don't do so well, and are lucky to get their behinds saved by...
Okay, if it seems dire for the good guys, that sounds about right. Bendis is perfectly fine in how he sets up the conflict, and you can feel the peril and can cut the tension with a knife. Predictably, the Sentry - possibly the most powerful being on Earth but, to me, a useless tool - is easily disposed of. Skrull Queen Veranke, in her guise as Spider-Woman, mindf*@%s Tony Stark so convincingly that it had me wondering, is he Skrully? Ronin is reunited with a loved one (but is she Skrully?), and retro-costumes make a comeback.
I do like that the Skrulls also wage a media assault on the Earthlings, in which they justify their actions. Their shapeshifting ability rendering them experts in espionage and subterfuge, it makes sense that they would also resort to more cerebral gambits, and not just restrict themselves to blatant displays of force. Their TV air time (probably sponsored by RC Cola, if you're up on your "Super Skrull" song) assures us that they have come to save us from ourselves. And it's realistic to me that there are actually folks who buy into that, as Bendis demonstrates in issue #6. Having said that, other than many uttered "He loves you"s, there's barely a mention here of the prophetic Skrully Scriptures, which have long guided the Many-Clefted-Chinned-Ones in their staging of the invasion. You pretty much have to check out the past year's issues of NEW AVENGERS to get the lowdown on Skrull religion. By the way, I did get a chuckle when Reed is being taken out and the Skrull sleeper agent tells him: "He even loves you."
There's a lot of stuff going on here, a host of sub-plots. And I guess that's one downside to large company crossover shindigs, that these little sub-plots get kinda glossed over. The Bendis just has too many spots to cover, and in only eight issues, most of which apparently has to be devoted to punchfests (issue #7 alone is essentially one extended "You hit me, I hit you"). Or so it seems. The impression left is that it all feels too busy, too rushed; Bendis doesn't slow down enough or allow enough reflective moments to give the reader time to let all this sink in, before the brouhaha picks up again. Nick Fury (and his huge honking gun) and his spanking new Howling Commandos pop in and out to save New York, but since I don't get a peek at the times in between the fighty fights, I'm not as invested in them. For someone whose long-awaited return I've been anticipating, my reaction to Nick Fury was surprisingly "meh." As well, I would've liked to have seen more of the Hood and his criminal posse and how they fared. Thor shows up for a mo, with his hammer and his thees and thous, and I dig that he disses Tony. Alas, Bucky Barnes, one of my new favorites, gets even less screen time. And did I see Daredevil in the background? I guess, if you want the full Secret Invasion flavor, you have to pick up the various tie-ins and associated mini-series. Corporate Marvel is really intent on maximizing their profits here.
The stakes are huge, and there's even an Uatu joke to that effect. The scale is epic, and I guess that's my beef with tapping Leinil Yu as SI's penciller. I liked him on the NEW AVENGERS title, as he added an interesting quirky twist to the storytelling. But, on a massive, widescreen venue like SI, Yu to me just doesn't have that polished style and appropriate sense of grandeur. I don't dig how he draws the Skrulls when in their mid-change, either. And there are times when Yu's storytelling gets a bit murky, to the point that I found myself having to go back to see what exactly he was trying to convey. Bryan Hitch, Salvador Larroca, Stuart Immonen, I can't help but feel that any one of these cats would've rocked this series.
I'm not sure that this next thing is even a complaint, as much as it is a resigned observation. The Skrulls have accessed techonology which now renders them undetectable to Earth's warning systems, magical, mutant, or technological (just how is chronicled in NEW AVENGERS #44). Yet Reed is able to pretty briskly whip up a countermeasure device, and, just like that... detectable. Seeing as Reed himself was sorta instrumental in the Skrull's newfound undetectability, I guess this is apropos. Still, it smacks of too convenient a deux ex machina.
By the end, there's a shuffling of the status quo (And if you're not a fan of Tony Starks, then you'll relish this series, as start to finish dude gets kicked around). New comic book titles will spring from SECRET INVASION, formerly dead characters will resurface, etc. But the rawest punch in the gut is the death of a major classic superhero. I don't mind it when a character dies, by the way, so that an "event" can be even more relevant. But please do it right. CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS did it right and with verisimilitude with the deaths of Supergirl and Barry Allen. In SI, I don't feel that the character's death is given the weight and moment it deserves. Bendis carries this out almost in a nonchalant manner. And, for some reason, one panel bugged me to bits. So this character croaks, and an ensuing caption reads that, because of this death, "whoever survived... whoever was left... would be insanely ticked off." Norman Osborn, the Hood, and Bullseye are in this panel, with many of Marvel's superdupers, but why would these three particularly give a hoot regarding this hero's passing? Yeah, I know, this is nitpicky stuff. But I don't buy it (And Daredevil in this panel looks really, really anguished). Anyway, I still think that Steve Rogers is coming back. Same with this character.
As someone who doesn't bleed money, I'm having to ease off on purchasing comic books. Not that big of a deal since, for a while now, both Marvel and DC haven't been impressing me with these company events. SECRET INVASION ends as an ominous set-up for the next big Marvel extravaganza, called Dark Reign, and I'd be more into this if Lex Luthor hadn't already walked this road. As it is, as I've said, I'm scaling back.
But, despite the artwork and Bendis's underwhelming execution, SECRET INVASION does have its moments. Bendis still has his knack for dialogue, so there's some snappy banter going on here. Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Luke Cage, and Clint Barton get a lot of screen time, with Spidey here and there doing his wiseacre schtick. Clint, especially, gets a chance to cut loose. There's one awesome sequence in which he takes up the bow and arrows from the fallen Young Avengers' Hawkeye and rapidly takes out a gaggle of Skrulls. There's a nice reconciliation scene between Luke and Jessica (in the middle of a massive Skrull throwdown, natch). And the return of one favorite female crimefighter has got me pumped, as this hints of an addition to the New Avengers' roster. But, mostly, I'm just relieved that my main man Spidey isn't a Skrull... or is he?