The Comic Cave – Secret Invasion

The Comic Cave is a bi-weekly feature where we spin the Wheel of Comics and see what graphic novel story it brings up for us to deep dive into! This week we take a look at the Marvel Comics cross-over event Secret Invasion, a story that ushered in The Dark Reign.

There was a time when Marvel Comics used to be light on company wide cross-over events. There was Secret Wars in the mid 80s, along with its sequel, the Infinity Trilogy in the early 90s, and that was about it for the earlier decades of Marvel’s time. However, the early 2000s saw a gradual shift in direction. It began with House of M in 2005, then we had Civil War and World War Hulk a year later (they liked wars that year), and Secret Invasion in 2008.

We then had a years gap as Marvel built up towards Siege, but from there things come thick and fast in the 2010s as we get an event each year with Fear Itself, Avengers vs X-Men, Infinity, AXIS, Secret Wars, Civil War II, Inhumans vs X-Men, Secret Empire, War of the Realms, Empyre, King in Black, Devils Reign, and so on. It’s fair to say that Marvel got event fever, and whilst they’d saturate their universe with such events (the ones named are just the big ones and there are more that happened) one that’s fondly remembered by readers is Secret Invasion by Brian Michael Bendis, Leinil Yu, Laura Martin, Emily Warren, and Christina Strain.

READ MORE: Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation – A glimpse into a zero budget Indiana Jones

Compared to a lot of the big named events, which tend to get a month or two of build-up before hitting shelves, Secret Invasion is a book that seems to have been laying the groundwork for a long while before. In 2005 Bendis launched an Avengers book called The New Avengers that brought together  new team of heroes including Avengers mainstays like Captain America, Iron-Man, and Spider-Woman, but also introduced characters that have never served on an Avengers team, such as Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Luke Cage. During the early issues of the series there are hints that there’s something weird going on in the background of the Marvel universe, that there’s some kind of conspiracy afoot, and it looks like Spider-Woman is a part of it.

Over time these early hints would shift and change, and when going back to re-read these parts after the events of Secret Invasion it doesn’t completely add up or make sense. For example. Spider-Woman is the Skrull Queen, but during the first story arc of The New Avengers is taking orders from Madame Viper, who is a Skrull, Now, we don’t know that about Spider-Woman at this point, and it’s possible that they’re sticking to their cover stories about her being a Hydra agent working for Viper, but it’s pretty clear that the shifty stuff going on here is in reference to Skrulls, and they’re not playing pretend for an audience (except if they know we’re there), so it’s more likely that Bendis hadn’t yet finalised his ideas and figured out at this point that Jessica Drew is the most important Skrull around.

Despite some jankiness like this in the early parts of Bendis’ plans, you can see that he’s moving pieces around the board, and is getting things in place for his big plan. Sadly, it does seem like some of his plans were disrupted by Civil War which forced the creation of two different Avengers teams, as well as removing Steve Rogers from the board fully. But comics are nothing if not an ever evolving medium, and so with a few tweaks Bendis was able to continue with his plans, and was even better able to justify certain things in the build-up to Secret Invasion.

READ MORE: Savage Squad 6 #1 – Comic Review

As with the Disney+ television series of the same name, Secret Invasion deals with the alien shape-shifting race the Skrulls, who have been secretly planting their people in key positions around the world in order to facilitate a take over of the planet. Other than that, however, the two couldn’t seem to be more different if they tried (only one episode has aired at this point, but it’s already a thousand miles apart from the book). Whilst the show is treating the story as an espionage tale, where you can never be sure who to trust, the comic forgoes almost every aspect of that very quickly.

The main title, the eight issue series, follows the two Avengers teams, the wanted criminals of the New Avengers, and the government sanctioned Mighty Avengers, as they receive word that a Skrull transport ship is headed towards the Savage Land. Having already learned that the Skrulls have found new ways to mimic humanity, having discovered that the ninja assassin Elektra was replaced, the two teams are convinced that there are more Skrulls out there in hiding, and head to the crashing ship to learn more. At this point we’re not too far out from the events of Civil War, and the two teams absolutely hate each other because of this.

READ MORE: Godzilla: The Best of Rodan – Comic Review

The New Avengers, consisting of Spider-Man, Wolverine, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Ronin, and Echo are convinced that the government team has been infiltrated by Skrulls, and don’t trust Tony Stark, whilst the Mighty Avengers, Iron-Man, Ms Marvel, The Sentry, Ares, Black Widow, Power Man, and Spider-Woman, hate their former friends for being criminal heroes who won’t register with the government and seem determined to send them to prison.

The events of the Civil War comic were not like the film, and there is a very clear line in the book between right and wrong, and Stark not only crossed it but danced on that line as he performed awful crimes such as building gulags for his enemies. As such, it’s easy to see why tensions are super high at the start of Secret Invasion, but the unfortunate result is a group of people who are supposed to be heroes acting like they want to kill each other constantly, and it starts the book on a really crappy tone.

Upon finding the crashed ship, the Skrull attack begins. Iron-Man and his systems are incapacitated with a virus, which leads to S.H.I.E.L.D. falling apart and the crash of the helicarrier (it wouldn’t be a Bendis event without that thing crashing), The Fantastic Four’s building is destroyed and half the team lost in the Negative Zone, supervillain prisons are broken open, S.W.O.R.D.’s space station is blown apart, and the Thunderbolts facility comes under attack. And then the Skrull ship opens and a bunch of heroes from the 70s come out, including the previous style of Beast, first appearance Wolverine, under-arm webbing Spider-Man, and Steve Rogers’ Captain America.

READ MORE: SubOrbital7 (John Shirley) – Book Review

The reveal of who’s inside the Skrull ship is a great ending to the first issue, as it implies that not only have more people that we suspect may have been replaced, but that it may have happened a lot longer ago than we think. It also raises the possibility for Marvel to do some ret-cons. Don’t like cat Beast? Fine, the real one is back and the cat guy was a Skrull the whole time. Wish that Jean Grey or Steve Rogers was back from the dead? We can do that. Think that Tony Stark has been a massive dick the last few years? No problem, he was a Skrull the whole time. It also offers the chance to add some ‘which is the real one?’ mystery as the two groups come face to face and there are some doubles in each. However, not only does this not happen, but there’s not even an attempt to create tension or mystery.

Once the two groups in the Savage Land start fighting it almost doesn’t stop for the next seven issues. Whilst the Avengers teams are dealing with the fake heroes in the Savage Land until the end of issue five, New York City comes under attack from a Skrull armada that releases hundreds of Super Skrulls that exist to make combos of existing heroes. There are Skrulls that combine Black Bolt and Doctor Strange, one that’s Wolverine, Collosus, and Cyclops in one, and another that’s giant. Every hero or villain that you can come up with is incorporated into these Super Skrulls in some way, and we then spend several issues seeing heroes like the Young Avengers trying to beat them. Eventually there’s a small lull in the constant fighting at issue six that allows the heroes to regroup and launch a final assault against the Skrull army in Central Park.

READ MORE: Chester 5000 (Jess Fink) – Graphic Novel Review

And then you get the conclusion to the book, a huge fight featuring as many heroes as possible that results in a founding Avenger dead with little fanfare, Norman Osborne getting put in charge of the world’s heroes because he got the kill shot on the Skrull Queen, and the hero community even more fractured than ever before.

Now if you’ve read through that and thought ‘you forgot to mention where in the book everything is explained’, I didn’t, because Secret Invasion doesn’t really bother doing that. The book is essentially an issue of build up, seven issues of crowded, boring fight scenes, and an issue of wrap-up, all of which fail to address how the Skrulls have been doing what they’re doing and why. If you want to know any of that you need to read the tie-ins.

And that’s perhaps the biggest problem that I have with Secret Invasion: the book itself is boring. The story is incredibly thin on the ground, and at times feels like a five issue series stretched out to eight. The pages where the heroes aren’t being dicks to each other are so jam packed with stuff going on that it’s hard to follow at times; there’s no moment that feels like a stand-out action beat because so many panels are so crammed that it puts you off wanting to give them much attention. The really interesting parts of the story happen in other books. So if you’ve heard what the plot is and thought ‘that sounds interesting, I’ll check it out’ you won’t actually get much from the main title. And, something that might not bother everyone but felt pretty bad to me, the heroes kill. Heroes who normally have a no kill rule brutally murder Skrulls because I guess murder doesn’t count when those sentient beings are green. Good job you’re only half Skrull Hulking, otherwise Iron-Man would blow your head to pieces too.

READ MORE: Hello, Bookstore – Documentary Review

To learn why the Skrulls are doing what they’re doing, and how they’ve managed to better replicate humans you need to read the tie in books for both The Mighty Avengers and The New Avengers, each title having two tie-in books (so four volumes in total). But these aren’t the only tie-ins. There are mini-series for titles such as Inhumans, X-Men, and Spider-Man, though these vary wildly in quality, and tend to tie in to the main event very lightly. Even most of the ongoing books at the time that had to give over several issues to connect to Secret Invasion in some way seem to do so grudgingly. In total there are twenty nine separate graphic novels that cover the entirety of Secret Invasion, yet none of them rank any more than just ‘fine’.

Whilst the writing on Secret Invasion is somewhat ‘questionable’, the art is absolutely a big selling point for the series. The book looks gorgeous. Leinil Yu does a superb job on the art, whilst Laura Martin, Emily Warren, and Christina Strain’s colours make the book dynamic and engaging. Whilst I complained earlier about how messy some of the action scenes are in execution, that is in no way down to the art. Every single panel in the book looks good, and those action scenes are full of characters who are all doing something; the problem arises when there is so much that you have no idea where to look.

Yu seems to be doing the best that he’s able with the script that he’s given, and when you’re told that the big splash page needs to have fifty characters in it you can’t do a whole lot to not make it look messy; as such, it’s the smaller moments in the book that tend to stand out, such as the scene where Spider-Woman is trying to mess with Tony Stark’s head whilst he’s attempting to fix his armour, or the moment when the Baxter building is sucked into the Negative Zone and we get to see it from a distance.

READ MORE: Godzilla: Here There Be Dragons #1 – Comic Review

There has been some discourse on social media since the airing of the first episode of Secret Invasion, where it was revealed that the cast and crew were discouraged from reading the book. People asked why you wouldn’t choose to read the story you’re adapting and taking inspiration from. But everything that the show is trying to push to the forefront – the mystery of who could be a Skrull, of the tension of never being sure who you can trust or if you’re actually in danger of betrayal – just isn’t in the book. The original book was built upon the concept of ‘anyone could be a Skrull’, and just did nothing with it, and instead chose to make a story that if it was adapted faithfully would take the final fight from Avengers: End Game and make that last for five of the six hour run time.

Secret Invasion has a cool concept, but fails to execute it. It also feels like the final nail in the coffin for the build-up to big, bombastic Marvel events that have little substance to them and come along almost every year. Whilst there is some interesting stuff to be found here, it’s hard to pick out in the thirty books that make up this complete story. But, if you love big super hero fights and get bored by the character drama and story this book might just appeal, so go give it a try.

Secret Invasion was published April – December 2008 by Marvel Comics.

Next time on The Comic Cave – Batman Universe by Brian Michael Bendis and Nick Derington.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: