The recently ended Secret Invasion arc in the Marvel universe was, we may as well say it now, a bit of a disappointment. Planned and built up to since 2005 and eventually executed late last year, the basic premise for it all was simple – those shapeshifting alien bar stewards, the Skrulls are back.
Or, rather, not back. As it turns out they may have been around for a long time and it isn’t until Elektra the Ninja Assassin bites the bullet and is revealed to have been a Skrull agent that the Avengers figure out they may have been utterly infiltrated. Nobody knows who to trust and, when Iron Man opens the collected paperback by meeting with Henry Pym and Mister Fantastic he makes it abundantly clear that he’s flying blind.
Luckily though, a great big Skrull ship drops out of the sky and gives him a lead. Him and those other heroes who’ve been illegally operating since the vastly better Civil War arc of a few years back. The two groups race to the Savage Land to head off the Skrull ship and, when it does finally open, all hell breaks loose.
Unfortunately though, hell doesn’t break loose in a good way for either the heroes, nor the readers. It quickly becomes clear that even though the main focus of the arc should be betrayal and subtle plotting, it’s actually just going to be grand-scale violence in a framework that jumps around all over the place. Even by comic book standards the story is riddled with holes and, with Mister Fantastic and Tony Stark quickly assigned minimal roles until the finale, there’s nobody around to stop the madness.
At first, things look good. The Skrull lifeboat opens and out crawl a bunch of heroes, many of whom were thought to be dead – old-style Beast is there, as is Songbird and a handful of others. Rather than grabbing the chance for some character exploration though the heroes turn to a mass battle with little actual dialogue and, though there are a few twists along the way, it pretty much doesn’t stop until much later on.
The real fault of the collected paperback however isn’t in the smash-centric pacing, but in the way the story jumps about. The fact that everything would all end in a big fight is the joyous point of a comic book and something the medium excels at portraying, but the reader isn’t really ever given a chance to appreciate the nuances of each battle as Marvel has attempt to give an epic feeling to the invasion. One moment you’re watching the brawl in the Savage Land, the next Nick Fury and the Commandos are trying to retake New York, then Captain Marvell’s in space, then the action leaps to the S.W.O.R.D. unit, etc.
As a narrative device jumping around like this works well once or twice when readers need to be shown that their personal favourite heroes and villains aren’t simply being left out, but it’s massively overused. Anyone who’s not immediately familiar with everyone enlisted in Pym’s Initiative will quickly be awash in a sea of faces.
Fortunately, it’s not all downhill though. Once the story moves to a climax and the Skrulls are mostly revealed the action starts to kick up a notch and the heroes start to assemble and work together, which prevents any jumping about. The big finale is a pretty important event in Marvel lore too, seeing the death of some fairly important characters on both sides of the fence and some wheels set in motion that should have lasting effect on the Marvel universe. It’s these long-term repercussions which promise to be the great boon of the Secret Invasion arc, with the currently running Dark Avengers series being a massively important rework of the Marvel ‘verse – but we won’t spoil it for you.
The artwork is laudable too, and while the script and editing is all over the place, the art does an amazing job of tying it all together and making every panel count. Every detail, from the tears that pour out of The Sentry, to the sweat that runs down Iron Man’s face is splendidly captured and superbly inked. Visually it really is a tour-de-force, even if it does feel a little light on personal style.
In the end though, while the invasion might have been a secret to the forces of S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s all pretty transparent to readers. Secret Invasion is mainly another comic book death workaround that works to reintroduce a handful of presumed-dead characters and hint at the eventual glossed over return of others.
The included stand-alone stories in the trade paperback, which cover a micro-adventure shared by Beast and Wonderman and the efforts of a certain S.W.O.R.D. agent to avert the invasion, are an excellent but unfortunate reminder of what Secret Invasion could have been if Marvel had gone the other way.