So Marvel Comics has just wrapped up Secret Invasion, its mega-crossover for 2008. Shape-changing alien skrulls secretly invade earth, taking the place of many of your favorite superheroes. You can’t trust anybody anymore. An old but fun premise with lots of potential, especially in the hands of talented writer Brian Michael Bendis. Sadly, it concluded with a whole bunch of Whahuh? moments. Spoiler-filled, highly editorial discussion below the fold.
So the build-up to Secret Invasion – “the infiltration” – was pretty cool. The Avengers are battling Elektra, she gets killed and in her death she turns all Skrully. Not even Wolverine with his enhanced senses or Dr. Strange with his fancy all-seeing Eye of Agamatto (sp?) picked it up. This is why the Skulls had been loser villains for decades – they were shape-shifters, but there were dozens of telepaths, supersensory people, and mystics (not to mention Reed Richards’ zillion inventions) that could see through the disguise. which made them sort of not-at-all-threatening. But now the Skrulls figured out a way around that, and suddenly our heroes all start wondering which among them are Skrulls. Of course, this has been done before, even in media SF (Deep Space 9 and Battlestar Galactica come to mind), but it was fun watching this particular trope play out with these characters. There was a great moment early on where the Avengers were all accusing each other of being Skrulls, and one of them says, “Iron Man? Iron Man’s been acting the Skrulliest of anybody.” (And it was true, he was acting the Skrulliest of anybody.)
But then the official big-event Secret Invasion crossover started, and the Skrulls revealed their master invasion plan, and things got much less interesting. I’m a big fan of Bendis’s writing – he has witty dialogue, strong characters, and has done a great job bringing superheroes into the 21st century. But his slow-paced style seems better suited to the teen melodrama of Ultimate Spider-Man than to the big climactic events. OR – maybe more accurately, when he’s writing the big events, he focuses so much on trying to make it big and climactic that he ends up leaving out a lot of the stuff that makes his other work so enjoyable.
I would have loved to see a bit more of the distrust issues carried through the climax of the story in a more meaningful way – the way we have on Battlestar Galactica with several leading characters having to cope with the unexpected revelation of their own Cylon identities. There were a few hints in this direction, like Captain Marvel discovering he was a sleeper Skrull agent, but none of them seemed to fully pay off. Also would have loved to see more done with Skrull good-guys, like Hulkling, to see how they reacted to the invasion and how the other superheroes reacted to them, but very little was done with that.
On the whole, though, I found the whole saga fairly enjoyable, up until the final issue, which was mostly a series of wha-huh? moments for me. In the opening pages, the Skrulls have triggered the Wasp to release a deadly toxin, killing herself and everybody, and Thor does…. something… to stop it. And the Wasp sacrifices her life to save the world. Which might have been a powerfully tragic moment, if not for the art/storytelling being so weak that it totally obscured what was happening. Not quite a Supergirl Crisis send-off for Janet Van Dyne….
But then there’s the big Wha-huh?: Somehow all of this leads to Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, taking over the Marvel Universe. Mostly because he shot the Skrull Queen on live television. But don’t a lot of people know that Norman Osborn is, um, evil? If Osama bin Laden had shot Saddam Hussein on national television, I still wouldn’t want bin Laden to run the CIA. Or did the whole world forget that Osborn is the Green Goblin because of the recent bizarre re-write of Spider-man’s history? I’m so confused.
Now I’m a big fan of a classic oh-no-the-evil-mastermind-already-has-taken-over-the-earth-what-do-we-do-now story, but this one seems out of left-field. As with House of M, the closing of Secret Invasion doesn’t seem to have much to do with the story itself, but with the new shaken-up status quo that the editors want for the Marvel Universe.
So now the Dark Reign has officially begun, the supervillains are running the Marvel Universe. The set-up seems silly to me, but maybe it will turn out to have some interesting turns, like when Lex Luthor was president of the U.S. in the DC Universe. If there are some decent stories in it I’m willing to roll with almost anything….