After 29 movies, seven Disney+ series, and nine tangentially connected television series, we know the characters of the MCU pretty well. We know that Nick Fury is the one-eyed man with all the secrets. We know that one-time Captain America Steve Rogers retired after traveling through time to return the Infinity Stones used to defeat Thanos. And we know that good boy Peter Parker is rebuilding his life as Spider-Man after the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home.
But what if we were wrong? What if the characters we thought we knew and understood were all a lie, secretly using their positions in the public trust to launch a world-dominating attack? That’s the central hook of Secret Invasion, a long-in-development Disney+ series that may have major repercussions for the MCU.
The First Invasion
As is often the case, the series takes its name from a previously published Marvel comic book. But where Civil War, Age of Ultron, and Infinity War only tangentially adapted the comic stories that came before, Secret Invasion seems more tightly connected to the original story. Written by Brian Michael Bendis and penciled by Leinil Francis Yu, Secret Invasion ran from 2008 to 2009, right after the Civil War storyline that saw the death of Captain America and the Avengers broken into two very different teams.
Secret Invasion reveals that the Skrulls, shape-shifting aliens who have existed in the Marvel Universe since 1961, have placed sleeper agents on Earth, many of whom have been posing as superheroes. After the destruction of the Skrull Empire in the Annihilation storyline, Skrull Queen Veranke stokes religious furor among her people, convincing them that Earth is divinely ordained as their next homeworld. Thrown by the revelation that Skrulls are working among them, the already divided Avengers must find a way to work together and repel the invasion.
The events of Secret Invasion reshaped the Marvel Universe for some time, leading to the Siege storyline, in which Norman Osborn (aka the Green Goblin) makes a power play that puts him in the national spotlight. To a public tired of superhero infighting and disillusioned by the Skrull invasion, Osborn’s decisive action against the aliens seems trustworthy, allowing him to take control of SHIELD and change it into the more aggressive and totalitarian HAMMER. In the guise of the Iron Patriot, Osborn leads a new team of Avengers (known as the Thunderbolts or Dark Avengers in the comics), in which villains take the place of heroes (Bullseye as Daredevil, Venom as Spider-Man, etc.)
Invading the MCU
Thus far, we know that Secret Invasion will follow the comic’s basic plot when it comes to the MCU. The Disney+ series stars Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill, who have been off-planet since sometime around Spider-Man: Far From Home, working on a massive unknown project. Their positions on Earth are covered by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) and Soren (Sharon Blynn), two trustworthy Skrulls introduced in Captain Marvel. Somehow, the quartet will discover that Queen Veranke (played by Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) has initiated a Skrull invasion, which has already infiltrated vast parts of the population. Together with War Machine James Rhodes and others, the team seeks to repel the invasion before the rest of the world finds out.
Clearly, the series will have some clear differences from the comic book forerunner. It’s not the Civil War that has destroyed the Avengers, but Thanos’s attack in Infinity War and Endgame. Most of the new heroes introduced in Phase 4, such as Shang-Chi and Moon Knight, remain largely disconnected from one another, not ready to come together and fight the invasion.
Perhaps the most compelling change for the MCU involves the portrayal of the Skrulls. The shape-changers made their first appearance in Fantastic Four #2, making them one of the oldest villains in the Marvel Universe. They have been at the center of numerous major stories, including The Kree/Skrull War and Empyre. But Skrulls came relatively late to the MCU and were introduced as sympathetic refugees hiding from the totalitarian Kree in Captain Marvel. Even if we can believe early reports about Talos and Soren working with Fury, the Secret Invasion will feel like a great betrayal for those who only know the Skrulls from the MCU.
What Will Secret Invasion Mean for the Avengers?
Although the timelines announced at SDCC confirmed the disappointing news that Secret Invasion won’t hit Disney+ until Spring 2023, it also indicated the story’s importance. Secret Invasion will be the second entry in Marvel’s Phase 5, coming on the heels of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which will give us our first full look at the new big bad Kang the Conqueror. Coming off the close of Phase 4 with the mournful Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and building toward the “Dark Avengers” team in capper Thunderbolts, Phase 5 will likely show the development of malevolent forces who arrive to assert order in a post-Endgame world.
As in the comics, the Secret Invasion will prove instrumental in allowing those forces to gain public trust and placement in positions of power. As a mini-series instead of a movie, Secret Invasion has more time to unfold its plot, slowly uncovering the depth of the Skrull’s infiltration and the inability of the heroes to stop it.
Perhaps the most compelling thread here involves Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, the SHIELD agent played by Julia-Louis Dreyfus. We’ve seen the Contessa drop in several times to recruit USAgent and Yelena Belova, leading many to speculate she’s putting together the black-ops team that will become the Thunderbolts. If Secret Invasion follows the comics, there will need to be a superhero team to come together to fight the Skrull invaders. In this case, it’ll very likely be the Thunderbolts.
While the team will likely not be fully formed by the time of Secret Invasion, it’s possible we’ll see an early version of the Thunderbolts show up to fight the Skrulls and perhaps even “save” the day. Which could be the moment that the Contessa’s new team is accepted by the public as the next generation of the Avengers we’ll follow throughout Phase 5. But these are nonetheless the Thunderbolts, which means darker things will likely be afoot behind the scenes.
For example, in addition to being a long-time SHIELD agent in the comics, the Contessa also played a key role in Secret Invasion after divulging that she had long been a Skrull in disguise. The new heroes of Phase 5, who seemed ready to fill the gap left by Captain America, Iron Man, and Black Widow, may already be pawns of forces working to disrupt Earth’s defenses.
Mistrust drives Skrull stories, constantly throwing off not only the characters but the viewers as well. The Skrulls have been working to create dissolution, and we’re sure to learn that Skrulls have been imitating characters we’ve come to love. We might even see characters that we’ve thought we lost return in the form of Skrull imposters.
In other words, the lack of clarity in Phase 4 may in fact be part of a larger plan, one building toward not only bad actors asserting their control in Phase 5 but also the return of the real Avengers in The Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars. But when Skrulls are involved, who can know for sure?
Secret Invasion releases on Disney+ on Spring 2023.