Embrace change! Shelfdust has been invaded! For the next eight weeks, we’re looking back at Marvel’s 2008 event storyline “Secret Invasion” and how the eight-part storyline changed Marvel. It’s a “SeCritic Invasion!” taking over comics criticism this Summer! But… are we working alone? Is Shelfdust the only place the Skrulls have taken over? Who do you trust…?

By Tim Maytom

When I think of Secret Invasion overall, I think of wasted potential and needless wheel-spinning, and issue #2 is where both of those factors really come into play. Issue #1 took a wide-angle lens to the start of the conflict, showing the Skrull Starktech virus devastating SHIELD, numerous super-prisons and more, as well as Skrull attacks on the Baxter Building, Reed Richards and The Peak, SWORD’s orbital HQ. This, in many ways, was the tantalising promise of Secret Invasion: a sudden devastating attack by Skrull infiltrators who had wormed their way into Earth’s defences over years.

Unfortunately, the other thread of the storyline – and the one that issue #2 is mostly concerned with – is both teams of Avengers travelling to the Savage Land, where they open up a crashed Skrull ship to find a bunch of heroes in old-school costumes, claiming to be the real deal. This takes up 18 of the 22 pages of the issue, with only a short scene at the end returning to New York, where a Negative Zone rift is threatening to consume the Baxter Building as an armada of super-powered Skrulls descends on the city. If that sounds a lot more interesting than watching a bunch of heroes talk about whether an obvious distraction is, in fact, a distraction… well, you’d be right.

I truly don’t understand what Bendis was hoping to achieve with this plotline of Secret Invasion, beyond removing the Avengers from the frontline battle for the first two-thirds of the event in the stupidest way possible. Any reader with an ounce of sense knows that Marvel is not going to undo decades of continuity and undermine hundreds of stories by revealing some of their key heroes have, in fact, been alien sleeper agents. The only character who he even attempts to sell this premise with is Mockingbird, who has at this point been dead for 15 years.

As superhero comic fans, we often have to set aside our disbelief (beyond what you’d expect in a genre filled with radioactive spider bites and benevolent billionaire vigilantes). We know that the status quo is usually king. When characters die, we know that there is a clock somewhere counting down to their resurrection. But sweeping changes and deaths allow for interesting stories to be told, and for characters to react in ways that reveal their hidden depths. The Skrull ‘twist’ presented here is so obviously a misdirect that, instead of wanting to see how the heroes involved will address it, our first reaction is frustration at their stupidity. Of all the assembled heroes, only Ares is smart enough to see the Skrull impostors for what they are: a time-wasting device (and when Ares is the smartest person in the primeval jungle, you know you’re in trouble).

One also has to wonder about the wisdom of placing this storyline as the focus of issue #2 in the event. Granted, any line-wide crossover at this point in Marvel’s publishing history is going to be primarily concerned with the Avengers, so the story following their actions seems to make sense. But when the whole of Earth is facing a covert invasion, tightening the focus so quickly to a bunch of superheroes playing Guess Who? in the Antarctic makes the invasion feel small, without the accompanying care that’s needed to make it feel intimate or personal. If you’re going to send your main characters off on a wild goose chase for a while, why not leave them chasing geese and switch the focus to something that’s actually interesting. Pushing this issue further back in the event would also serve to heighten what little mystery there is regarding the retro dopplegangers.

It doesn’t help that issue #2 is filled with some of the more irritating hallmarks of Bendis’ Avengers run. The high-speed patter is almost constant, yet does little to move the plot forward or demonstrate character in any meaningful way. Bendis struggles to provide anyone with a distinctive voice, and for certain characters, this makes their lines stick out like sore thumbs – I really can’t picture Black Widow telling someone to “shut it!” or Emma Frost calling her allies “guys”. (In fact, why would Emma Frost even be in space with these heroes in the ‘80s?)

As for Yu’s art, the layouts feel very busy, cramming in the massive cast of characters to compensate for the fact that only a few get to speak. The battle between the Avengers and the Skrull impostors feels cramped, like the closing fight from Endgame squeezed to fit onto your local amateur dramatics stage. With so many heroes in the mix, there’s little continuity of action between panels, and no room for characters to use their abilities in interesting ways. 

The one moment that the issue chooses to highlight is Clint Barton picking up a bow and arrow again after several years of playing ninja in the Ronin costume, but even this feels rushed and of little consequence in the grand scheme of things. When a T-Rex arrives to end the battle, scattering the heroes and Skrulls, it’s almost a relief. Yes, it’s another artificial roadblock meant to stop the plot progressing too fast, but at least it involves a dinosaur.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Yu, and I think this issue could definitely have benefited from someone with a better range of facial expressions, especially once the action slows down and Bendis attempts to ramp up the paranoia and confusion. He also has an annoying habit of rendering eyes as simply patches of black, especially on Luke Cage, which lends characters a sinister edge I don’t think they’re intended to have.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this issue, and Secret Invasion in general, is that the Marvel universe at the time was ripe for a paranoia-tinged storyline that questioned if our heroes were really who we thought they were. In the wake of Civil War, online forums and letter columns were full of complaints about heroes acting out of character. The suggestion that a hero might have been swapped out for a Skrull imposter 18 months ago, rather than 18 years, would have held more water, even if it proved to be ultimately false. 

Perhaps the intention with these retro heroes was to confront the Avengers with their mirror images from a “simpler” time, the same way Bendis did years later when he (and renowned war criminal Hank McCoy) brought the original teenage X-Men forward to the present. However, Bendis eliminates any chance for contemplation or reflection by sequestering the cast away in the Savage Land and pushing them into a fight straight away.

What could have been an interesting story is reduced to a box full of action figures being shaken up, and it turns out that once the disguise that showed so much potential has been cast aside, the true form of Secret Invasion is, frankly, underwhelming.

 

Secret Invasion #2
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Drawn by Leinil Francis Yu

Inked by Mark Morales
Coloured by Laura Martin
Lettered by Chris Eliopoulos
He loves you.

 

Tim Maytom is a writer and critic who has spent a lot of his time thinking about The Wicked and The Divine. You can find more of his writing here alongside Alex Spencer – and you can follow Tim on Twitter here!

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