Greetings, and welcome to another edition of Mania.com’s Comicscape. Before reading this week’s column about Marvel’s Secret Invasion, know that the issue is spoiled down to the last detail. If you haven’t read it yet, then skip to the listings below.
The first issue of Secret Invasion, Marvel’s summer crossover, hit comic shops last week. As expected, the first run quickly sold out through Diamond, the main distributor for comic books to the direct market—that is, comic shops as opposed to newsstands or other retailers. A second printing has already been announced. The series stands as the culmination of several years’ worth of storytelling from the publisher, much of it by its favorite son, Brian Michael Bendis. The events of New Avengers, House of M, Annihilation, Civil War, and Illuminati all portend a Skrull invasion, culminating in the death of the ninja assassin Elektra Natchios in New Avengers #31. Anyone that ever complained that Matt Murdock’s former love should’ve stayed dead effectively got their wish. After Maya Lopez—otherwise known as Echo—stabbed Elektra to death, her body returned to the form of the Skrull that had replaced her. Following that revelation, Marvel teased the coming Skrull invasion for a few months, before unleashing hell in the first issue of Secret Invasion—again written by Bendis, with art by Leinil Yu.
In the opening issue, Bendis reveals a handful of Skrull imposters, including S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Dum Dum Dugan, Sue Storm of the Fantastic Four, Hank Pym, and Edwin Jarvis—the Avengers’ butler. When a Skrull ship crash-lands in the Savage Land, the rogue Secret Avengers highjack their legitimate counterparts’ Quinjet to investigate. The Initiative-approved Avengers pursue them there, where the teams stand face-to-face at the crash site. As the two argue, the Skrull imposters unleash an alien virus that takes out the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, the S.W.O.R.D. Peak—its satellite headquarters, the Fantastic Four’s Baxter Building, and Tony Stark’s Iron Man armor. Hank Pym also blows Reed Richards into a stringy, rubbery mass. At each act of destruction, the revealed Skrull imposter utters, “He loves you.” Needless to say, things aren’t looking up for the Marvel Universe. But, the issue’s end proves most intriguing for its everything-will-change twist: when the downed Skrull ship opens, a squad of Marvel heroes in their 1970s and ‘80s costumes emerges, with many of the modern-day counterparts standing before them on either Avengers team. Among them stand Thor, Spider Man, Luke Cage, Wolverine, the Vision, the Scarlet Witch, and Jewel—the superhero identity of Jessica Jones, Cage’s wife.
It should be noted, first and foremost, that the long buildup to Secret Invasion highlights one of the great difficulties of comic book criticism. With each instance of a perceived continuity error, wild mischaracterization, or questionable plot point—accusations regularly hurled at Bendis—readers and editorialists will cry foul. They will cry foul, presumably, until a future issue resolves the problem. American comic books hit stores in short installments, and no reader will patiently withhold judgment until a story arc concludes. They’ll have even less patience for three years worth of stories that cross the Marvel Universe. That puts writers and publishers in an awkward position, where they must beg fans to “wait and see,” and do so without revealing too much by saying so. It stands as a shortcoming of the serialized format, and one not likely resolved anytime soon. Remember, dear readers, to have patience. However, that plea for patience comes with limitations. While the effort and coordination required to build to something like Secret Invasion should duly impress everyone, it comes off as over-inflated and too big for its own good. The back of the first issue mentions just a few of the numerous hints and related plot points spread through the Marvel Universe over the past few years. While Secret Invasion will no doubt stand on its own merits, the buildup leaves many readers with ostensibly independent stories that, we learn now, have dangling plot threads. You may not have liked House of M, but that thing about it you hated was for a reason that will only be resolved now, three years later.
The implications of the end of the first issue hint at answers—perhaps misleadingly—to many of the complaints about the Marvel Universe from the past few years—many of them directed at Bendis. In fact, the cast that emerged from that ship stands as a “who’s who” of fanboy ire. Consider the following possibilities. The Scarlet Witch never went insane. Jessica Jones never appeared in the 1970s—as her retconned story suggests—because she was gone. Wolverine never turned into a brooding psychopath. Spider-Man never made a deal with Mephisto to save Aunt May and reset his life. Iron Man never became a neoconservative. Luke Cage never lost that awesome metal headband. Hawkeye, Thor, and Captain America never died. All of them were replaced by Skrulls, thus explaining away nearly everything that readers have complained about en masse over the past several years.
The conclusion of the first issue of Secret Invasion presents readers with three possibilities, easily summed up as all, none, or some. The first suggests that all of the heroes on the downed craft are the original, authentic versions, and several prominent Marvel heroes were replaced years ago by Skrulls. The second indicates that the emerged heroes are themselves Skrulls, and that the opposing teams of Avengers—and the other absent heroes—are the real ones. The third points to a mixture of the two—some of the recently arrived heroes are Skrulls, as are some of those that have been with us this entire time. How they ended up in their respective positions remains to be seen.
With the first possibility, we have the mother of all retcons. A fix for practically everything anyone hasn’t liked about Marvel in the past few years emerged from that ship. Every mischaracterization, continuity error, and out-of-left-field plot point has been the result of the Skrull invasion. If Marvel speaks the truth, then everything readers have ever complained about has had a purpose, which will stand revealed over the next eight months. This seems both convenient and unlikely. It would undermine years’ worth of storytelling. Fans would feel slighted in the same way they did after Spider-Man’s One More Day story. “Never mind, it didn’t happen” rarely goes over well. Despite the litany of issues this might fix, the ends might not justify the means. In the minds of a lot of readers, Marvel has wandered away from their childhood memories and out into left field. This might indicate a return to a more innocent tone in line with Bronze Age storytelling, but don’t bet on it. It seems more likely that Marvel wants readers to assume that the new heroes indicate a massive in-story retcon is coming, only to reveal something else entirely.
In the second possibility, we have a more natural—if still somewhat unlikely—story. Marvel and Bendis think readers will fall for the idea that they will address several complaints with Secret Invasion. But, the story will reveal that the downed Skrull craft contains, in fact, Skrulls impersonating heroes. Their reasons for appearing as the characters’ Bronze Age counterparts remain unrevealed, but it stands as a red herring meant to stir up message boards and raise sales. It seems unlikely, though, that Marvel and Bendis would tease such a story and then completely abandon the idea.
The third possibility seems the most likely: some of the heroes on the ground are Skrulls, as are some of those that emerged from the downed craft. The logistics of this remain as yet unexplained, but the deftness with which the creators unravel them will define the story. Consider that things will never really change at Marvel. Every crossover purports to take its Universe into new and uncharted directions, only to reset once it has wandered too far into left field. The comic book characters must bear some resemblance to their counterparts in licensed media. One More Day proved that in spades. But, Marvel can only carry a retcon so far before it loses credibility. Then again, refer back to One More Day. It seems like a compromise of sorts lurks on the horizon, and readers can only wait to see how it unfolds. Who can you trust? Wait and see. But remember that in the end, nothing really changes for very long.
By all means, enjoy Secret Invasion. It will set the tone for the next few years’ worth of storytelling at Marvel. The first issue plays out well enough, roaring forward with action like a car with no brakes, culminating in an admittedly unexpected twist. Leinil Yu provides some nice art that brings a level of grit and nastiness to a story that suggests something sleeker and more commercial. But ultimately, Marvel has to keep its stories and characters alive to make money. No one should begrudge them that, because otherwise they’d be in the business of releasing self-contained graphic novels, a la Top Shelf or any number of other independent publishers. The real mystery remains in how much of the past three years’ worth of stories will stand on their own after Secret Invasion concludes. If Marvel and Bendis can’t write their way out of that one, they may lose readers who don’t appreciate having the wool pulled over their eyes.
The Spinner Rack
By Ben Johnson and Kurt Amacker
DARK HORSE COMICS
Aliens Vs Predator Vol 2 Civilized Beasts GN (Res) $6.95
Alien: Excuse me?
Alien: Would you have any Grey Poupon?
Kurt: My God Ben, you are lame.
BPRD 1946 #4 (Of 5) $2.99
Chickenhare TP Vol 02 Fire In The Hole) $10.95
Kurt: I had fire in the hole once. I went to the doctor and he gave me a prescription. Cleared it right up.
Conan HC Vol 05 Rogues In The House $24.95
Criminal Macabre My Demon Baby #4 (Of 4) $2.99
Evil Dead #4 (Of 4) (Pp #806) $2.99
Kurt: The unbounded awesomeness concludes.
Goon #23 $2.99
Groo Hell On Earth #4 (Of 4) $2.99
Serenity Better Days #2 (Of 3) $2.99
Kurt: I’d like to point out that I had a sweet bit of Whedon-bashing for this one, but I’m keeping it to myself. Nerd rage is contagious.
Star Wars Episode V Empire Strikes Back Photo Comic $9.95
Ben: If I was the screen writer I would sue for compensation. But then I’d be George Lucas and I would also hate myself to death.
Star Wars Episode VI Return Of Jedi Photo Comic T $9.95
Star Wars Tales O/T Jedi Omnibus TP Vol 02 $24.95
Batman Confidential #16 $2.99
Batman Death Mask #1 (Of 4) $2.99
Kurt: This is done in the Manga art style, but not the format, by Japanese artist Yoshinori Natsume.
Batman Lovers And Madmen HC $24.99
Kurt: This collects Batman: Confidential #6-12. Don’t be fooled.
Booster Gold #8 $2.99
Captain Carrot And The Final Ark TP $19.99
Ben: Shooting to the top of the sales charts.
Cartoon Network Action Pack #24 $2.25
Countdown To Final Crisis 3 $2.99
Kurt: Three more weeks until I get to take a week off from Comicscape!
Exterminators #28 (MR) $2.99
Gen 13 #19 $2.99
God Save The Queen SC (MR) $12.99
John Simon Ritchie: I’m dead.
Johnny Rotten: The fascist regime!
Green Arrow Black Canary #7 $2.99
Green Lantern Corps #23 $2.99
Justice League Unlimited Ties That Bind TP $12.99
Justice Society Of America #14 $2.99
Ben: Best team book again since the X-Men took a dive again.
Number Of The Beast #1 (Of 6) $2.99
Ben: I always assumed it was 666.
Kurt: Dude, it’s my phone number.
Presents Vol 03 (MR) $12.99
Showcase Presents Superman Family TP Vol 02 $16.99
Ben: Volume 2 includes the controversial “Baby with Krypto” arc.
Simon Dark #7 $2.99
Ben: My new favorite DC book.
Kurt: This is pretty f—king good, actually.
Supergirl And The Legion The Quest For Cosmic Boy $14.99
Superman Confidential #14 $2.99
Tears Of A Lamb Vol 02 $9.99
Tiny Titans #3 $2.25
Kurt: Does Al Brown still read this column?
Titans #1 $3.50
Ben: And they are going to kick Zeus’s ass
Un-Men #9 (MR) $2.99
Wonder Woman #19 $2.99
Young Liars #2 (MR) $2.99
Ben: How old are you Kurt?
Kurt: I’m at the ripe old age of 27. You?
Aqua Leung GN Vol 01 $17.99
Screamland #2 (Of 5) $2.99
Kurt: The bedroom of any woman that invites me in. What can I say?
Scud The Disposable Assassin #23 $3.50
Suburban Glamour #4 (Of 4) $3.50
Amazing Spider-Girl #19 $2.99
Amazing Spider-Man #556 $2.99
Ben: The best book on the market! Love it! Can’t get enough of it! I’m not collecting a check from Marvel!!
Kurt: I’d like to point out that Ben has been replaced by a Skrull. The real one was piloting that ship that crashed in the Savage Land.
Avengers Fairy Tales #2 (Of 4) $2.99
Civil War Chronicles #10 $4.99
Criminal 2 #2 (MR) $3.50
Ben: Sharing more than just a cell.
Kurt: Your reign of coprophilia must come to an end, Ben.
Dead Of Night Featuring Man Thing #3 (Of 4) (MR) $3.99
Ben: You can’t tell me this isn’t porn.
Fallen Son TP Death Of Captain America $13.99
Fantastic Four #556 $2.99
Ben: As a total aside, with the new release system on Amazing Spider-Man it will pass Fantastic Four in issue number with its next release.
Hedge Knight 2 Sworn Sword #6 (Of 6) $2.99
Iron Man Poster Book $6.99
Kurt: When reading comics becomes too difficult!
Last Defenders #2 (Of 6) $2.99
Marvel Adventures Hulk #10 $2.99
Marvel Adventures Hulk TP Defenders Vol 02 Digest $7.99
Marvel Adventures Spider-Man TP Vol 09 Foes Digest $7.99
Marvel Zombies HC Dead Days $29.99
Kurt: Sue me, but I have yet to read any of the Marvel Zombies stuff past the first issue of the first series. Maybe I’ll get around to it now that everything’s been collected.
New Mutants Classic TP Vol 03 $24.99
Nova #12 $2.99
Ben: Marvel’s best solo book.
Punisher #56 (MR) $2.99
Kurt: Nah—THIS is Marvel’s best solo book.
Twelve #3 (Of 12) 2nd Ptg Weston Var $2.99
Ben: I love this so much I’m pulling a Kurt and saving it for a read through.
Kurt: You know, I hope when people say “pulling a Kurt” a few years from now, it means a lot more than that.
What If TP Civil War $16.99
Wolverine #64 DWS $2.99
Wolverine Prem HC Death Of Wolverine $19.99
Kurt: Spoilers ahoy, but he doesn’t really die. That is all.
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