With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Leinil Francis Yu
Issues: Secret Invasion #1-8
For these Final Thoughts I also included the following tie-ins and limited series:
Avengers: The Initiative #14-19
Mighty Avengers #12-20
New Avengers #38-47
Secret Invasion: Dark Reign #1
Secret Invasion: Inhumans #1-4
Secret Invasion: Thor #1-3
Secret Invasion: War Machine #33-35 (from Iron Man)
Secret Invasion: X-Men #1-4
“He loves you.”
“Um, he who?”
“Yeah? Well my God has a hammer!”
If Avengers Disassembled lead into the modern Marvel era of massive crossover events, then the time period in 2008 could be its pinnacle. From ’07 the Planet Hulk revenge story/sequel World War Hulk and the cosmic sequel Annihilation: Conquest ravaged parts of Earth and the entire universe respectively. Without even catching a breath the X-Men experienced their biggest crossover in years with the epic Messiah Complex event. Directly afterward Marvel played their biggest hand yet: the skrull-powered Secret Invasion mega-event.
Spanning most of 2008, bringing together nearly every ongoing series at the time, and completely changing the ongoing structure and politics of the Marvel world for the following year, Secret Invasion was as big an event as Marvel had ever run. To pull off the long con, Marvel architect Brian Michael Bendis had to start crafting years in advance, sowing the seeds for the violent and shocking return of the shape-shifting alien skrulls as far back as 2004-05 – ironically the time period I chose to jump back into Marvel comics with.
The event had been teased and prodded in several issues of both Might Avengers and New Avengers – especially New Avengers #31, when the team kills Elektra only to find a dead skrull in her place. A similar shock occurs in the final issue of New Avengers: Illuminati. Black Bolt, leader of the Inhumans is revealed to be a skrull sleeper agent. Though he fails in killing the rest of the illuminati, the seeds of distrust and concern do their damage, breaking up the clandestine group of super-leaders.
From there the event moves into full swing. Like most major Marvel Events before it, Secret Invasion received its own special series that brought in just about every active Avenger at the time. This leaves the actual Avengers series scrambling to include relevant tie-ins, leading to a surprisingly eloquent solution of using those series to detail more of the skrulls’ backstory. The two main Avenger trades at the time all delved into the lead-up to the Invasion and how thoroughly ingrained the shape-shifting alien goblins were in our society throughout the last few years.
The biggest skrull surprises reveal main villains Spider-Woman and Hank Pym (Yellowjacket). Spider-Woman had been Bendis’ pet project for years; a relatively minor D-lister who was elevated to an interesting and compelling character that ended up joining both active Avenger squads at various points.
It was all a lie, as she’s revealed to be Queen Veranke, leader and religious figurehead of the skrulls. I found it quite fascinating that the skrulls were not simply alien invaders but religious fanatics that truly believed the Earth was theirs by right. All the skrulls repeat the line “He loves you,” and it’s quite shocking when we learn that they are referring to God.
Although the skrulls’ main tactic was to infiltrate and take over Earth from the inside, the main series starts with a bang as they attack with a full-blown assault and invasion while the bulk of the Avengers are mired in the Savage Land. A skrull ship crashlands and out walks a bunch of Avengers in old costumes from the 70s, a classic alien abduction story-telling device that reminded me of the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Unfortunately our heroes spend way too long dealing with this weird development as both sides yell “No, you’re a skrull” before devolving into a battle royale.
Meanwhile back in New York (the only place alien invasions really take place), the defense of Earth is left up to the Young Avengers, and they have a hell of a time against the newly super-powered skrulls. Not only have the skrulls developed technology to remain completely undetected, but they can also replicate just about every superpowered person in the Marvel Universe. Apparently the costume is part of the package deal, so our heroes fight skrulls dressed as Cyclops, Thor, and even Galactus, leading to some incredibly epic and fun battles.
It helps that the art is absolutely fantastic. I’d commented before that Leinil Yu’s art was very interesting and pencil-heavy on New Avengers. Here it evolves into a nice balance between evocative, detailed faces and explosive colors. His style lends to a slightly polygonal shaping to figures which I kind of dug, making it distinct without becoming too distracting. After Secret Invasion, Yu may have become one of my favorite Marvel artists.
Our Savage Land, Avenger-skrull problem is dealt with by Agent Abigail Brand of SWORD, Earth’s liason into space (sort of a cross between SHIELD and the Men in Black). Brand was actually created by Joss Whedon back in Astonishing X-Men, an awesome half-alien, no-nonsense woman with green hair and some minor powers.
Her ship is blown to hell when the skrulls invade but she manages to get inside another one and single-handedly free the captured and tortured Mr. Fantastic. Together she and Reed Richards fly down to the Savage Land where Richards’ quickly assembled super-device (as he does) reveals all the skrulls in an area. Drama ensues, fights break out, and our heroes finally get back to New York where the real giant battle commences.
Meanwhile Nick Fury has finally revealed himself, and he has his own team of Secret Warriors he’s assembled himself. Fury was one of the few people on Earth that sensed the skrull threat, and had been off the radar (and written out of most Marvel comics) since his Secret War event in 2004. The twist that he’d been working on fighting the eventual skrull invasion this whole time is a neat idea, and I liked that he was just as ornery, grizzled, and unlikable as I remember him. The backstory on his ragtag team of new heroes is detailed in one of the Mighty Avengers tie-ins, and they eventually spin off into their own Secret Warriors series, which I’ll definitely be reading.
The final battle is supremely satisfying, with issue #7 just one gigantic battle between the superpowered skrulls and all the various Avenger teams, as well as Red Hood’s street-villain group and Norman Osborn’s government-approved Thunderbolts. Lots of crazy cool moments leap off the page, like The Watcher showing up, Marvel Boy crashing in, and Hawkeye wielding a bow and arrow for the first time in years to shoot Veranke in the face.
The skrulls get the last laugh, however. Remember how Hank Pym was really a skrull? He’d previously given his ex-wife Janet (The Wasp) a new growth formula that was actually a deadly biological bomb. Skrull-Pym uses his dying breath to activate it, and she suddenly grows with a strange energy. Thor is forced to put her down using tornadoes to blow her particles away to save everyone else. Our heroes are not pleased, but it’s Norman Osborn, the recovering Green Goblin turned government man and leader of the Thunderbolts that gets the killing blow on Veranke.
From there the skrulls finally surrender and the war is over. The government praises Norman Osborn and his team, dissolves SHIELD, and puts Osborn as head of a new world order. Osborn immediately gathers together a secret team of would-be super-villains – the anti-illuminati, as his Cabal. He tells Namor, Doctor Doom, Loki, Red Hood, and Emma Frost that they can work together, and as the man on the inside he can let everyone get away with it.
Without yet reading the Thunderbolts tie-ins, Osborn’s sudden rise to power felt a bit rushed at the end, but I am intrigued by this new world that embraces the Freedom versus Security theme that Marvel had been exploring for years. Dark Reign sounds like we go full on 1984!
While the two main Avengers trades covered various backstories, Avengers: The Initiative went in a crazy side-story direction. Delroy Garrett the, er, 3-D Man, pulls a They Live when he realizes his special hand-me-down goggles can see who’s really a skrull. Around the same time Camp Hammond, home to the main Initiative training base and recruitment is fully taken over by skrulls, led by skrull-Pym, and 3-D Man embarks on a crazy odyssey to warn the other Initiative teams around the country and fight the skrulls.
The weird thing about The Initiative series is that all the original characters I enjoyed all graduated and went their separate ways in the last volume. The Secret Invasion issues solve that problem somewhat by having 3-D Man meet up with many of the members, now dispersed amongst their own various state-sponsored super-teams. Most of them are incredibly dorky with some of the lamest superhero costumes and concepts you’ve never heard of.
The story goes in some weird places and eventually ends in an climactic multi-stage battle involving skrull-Pym’s plan to use a weapon of mass destruction – which you never hear about in the main Secret Invasion story. It’s completely ancillary and very skippable, though the art is quite nice and the story remains entertaining, even if it involves the most D-list of D-listers.
Like many Marvel events Secret Invasion launched with multiple limited series, allowing characters and teams to be involved without taking over their current series (a welcome strategy). Of the half-dozen or so limited series, I read X-Men, Inhumans, and Thor, as well as the end of the then-current Iron Man series which is taken over by a brief but fun War Machine arc that spins off out of Avengers: The Initiative. Whew!
James Rhodes wasn’t a big character at the time but I really enjoyed his brief spotlight, which includes using a giant mech-satellite to kick skrull spaceship ass, then going to Russia and helping out their superteam against the skrull invaders. I had no idea Rhodey was now a cyborg who needed the armor to live, and combined with brief flashes of him as a bullied but stalwart teen made War Machine a pretty fantastic character to read about. I’m looking forward to reading the official series that starts up next, though it looks like it only lasted twelve issues.
Secret Invasion: Thor was definitely the strongest of all the limited series tie-ins I read with fantastic art and a short story that respects what J. Michael Straczynski is doing with Thor in his then-current series. Thor’s first job is to protect Asgard, and following that it’s to protect the people of Broxton, Oklahoma, where Asgard currently resides.
Thor shares a body with Doctor Donald Blake, and Dr. Blake delivering a baby amidst the stormy crisis of the skrull invasion juxtaposes wonderfully with the war the Asgards wage against the alien threat. It also brings in Thor co-star Beta Ray Bill, aka that weird alien horse Thor who’s all kinds of awesome, and they spend the majority of the comic fighting their own super-powered skrull. It’s short and sweet, but also action-packed and intense – a wonderful tie-in.
Secret Invasion: X-Men was unfortunately the weakest, with a dull, bland art that made many of the X-Men look eerily similar to the goblin-like skrulls they were battling. The skrulls invade the X-Men’s new home of San Fransisco, and they respond accordingly. Everything’s fairly boring and predictable until the final issue, when Cyclops pulls off a rather hardcore biological attack, infecting the skrulls with the same Legacy Virus plague that nearly wiped out mutants years ago. Cyke’s willingness to do whatever it takes nicely reflects his recent character evolution, but the whole adventure just came off super forgettable. Sorry X-Men, you’ve got plenty of your own problems!
The Inhumans series is a bit of a mixed bag. It starts out well enough, with the royal family still reeling from the knowledge that Black Bolt was a sleeper agent skrull for some time. Just as the seeds of suspicion are planted, the skrulls openly attack the moon-based Attilan. While everyone fights, Medusa, Gorgon, Triton, Karnak, and Crystal (the only Inhumans that are ever really given any personality or recognition) mount a space-faring journey to rescue the real Black Bolt, who’s currently being tortured and weaponized by the skrulls.
Medusa ends up meeting up with Ronan the Accuser and forges an alliance, which has interesting repercussions going forward. Things get a little crazy as we split up into three teams to go to three different planets and gather McGuffins to track the skrulls. Eventually Black Bolt is rescued in the nick of time, and the Inhumans declare their official alliance with the Kree, and their continued distaste of Earth and all its problems, leading the Inhumans to enter the more Cosmic-side of Marvel stories going forward. It’s an interesting development and makes Secret Invasion: Inhumans quite important, but as its own story it’s just okay. None of the characters are interesting or compelling and the plot and action are just too much to squeeze into a four issue arc.
While Secret Invasion relies heavily on its initial surprise twists and reveals of ‘They were a skrull the whole time,’ the story of an explosive alien invasion with a lot of premeditated planning is a fun event for the Marvel-verse to tackle. The mostly lame skrulls are used in awesome and terrifying ways, though the actual consequences of the war don’t feel nearly as harsh as Civil War‘s. I loved their religious fanaticism and Queen Veranke (as Spider-Woman) is a fun villain – the quick scene where she tries to convince a sick Tony Stark that he’s their top skrull agent is absolutely delicious, and I wished the story had gone more in that direction. Instead we end up getting a fairly standard, albeit awesome battle at the end, and Yu’s art is phenomenal. I’ve generally been a fan of Marvel’s events thus far, and Secret Invasion definitely didn’t disappoint.