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 Kelly Kanayama
Secret Invasion #8 is a grubby, slippery comic, isn’t it?
I mean, all of Secret Invasion made my soul feel kind of dirty, but as a final issue, #8 had to tie up loose ends, set the stage for future Marvel universe shake-ups, and reiterate the rightness of its superheroes, all within the parameters of thinly veiled post-9/11 Islamophobic paranoia. As a result, it comes off not only dirty but slimy too, slipping away from attempts to make anything really stick to it and leaving you slightly unclean for having encountered whatever it’s doing.
Granted, Bendis does try a little bit, I think. At the end of the issue, S.H.I.E.L.D. is decommissioned, Stark Industries is taken off the US military payroll, and Norman Osborn is named Director of what will become H.A.M.M.E.R. That’s where all that gung-ho paranoia really gets you. If this turn of events had been more effectively foreshadowed, or hinted at in any detectable way whatsoever, throughout Secret Invasion, it could have been a nicely punchy moment of critique: the public being distracted by secret-invader paranoia enables the Norman Osborns of the world to take over, and by the time you notice, it’s too late to stop them.
What we actually get, though, is a brief “The end….or IS IT?”-type setup thrown in at the end, not quite an afterthought but certainly nothing approaching a natural evolution of the narrative. For the most part, Secret Invasion #8 is mostly dedicated to justifying something insidious and troubling.
Take the big superhero reveal, for instance. After the Avengers, Thunderbolts, etc. vanquish the Skrulls (more on that later), Tony Stark uses his proprietary tech to open the doors of a Skrull ship, which as it turns out has been housing a whole host of superheroes – namely, the ones whose forms the Skrull infiltrators had assumed. Whew! Spider-Woman was never a Skrull after all! Neither was Hank Pym, or the Contessa, or Hawkeye, or any of the multitude of heroes pouring out of the ship! They don’t even seem that upset, considering. It is implied that their friends might have some trouble trusting them for a while; Nick Fury turns his back on Contessa and Dum Dum Dugan without even speaking to them when they exit the ship. But overall, we the readers can rest assured that our favorite heroes, plus the ones we don’t really care about, are just the same as they’ve always been. See? In mainstream comics, change continues to be just an illusion! Nothing here to upset you at all!
Even Hulkling, who actually is a Skrull, albeit one raised outside the culture (Skrullture?), takes care to remind us that the experience hasn’t sparked any real change in his worldview. In response to Kate Bishop asking if he’s okay, he tells her, “Kate, even with the little bit I know about my heritage, I know this isn’t what the Skrull Empire stands for. This was extremism. This was terrorism.” In other words, he’s One Of The Good Ones.
Such a Good One, in fact, that although his facial expression does become a teensy bit troubled after hearing that the Skrulls – or should I say his fellow Skrulls, in terms of descent if not in cultural ones – have been “decimated” and that their homeworlds “no longer exist” and that their invasion of Earth was a last-ditch attempt to keep their people from completely dying out… he ultimately doesn’t seem to give that much of a shit about the circumstances that led up to this point. If you’re One Of The Good Ones, you’re not allowed to think too hard about it. An entire civilization, an entire race, a dozen planets have been all but eradicated, which in any other case would at least be a cause for concern, but because they oppose America Earth, who cares? Hulkling sure doesn’t!
And he’s a Skrull himself, which means you, a non-Skrull, don’t have to care, either!
In fact, the Skrulls are so unworthy that the desire to blast them into tiny bits – I mean, to stop the invasion in the pursuit of peace, whatever – unites Avenger and sketchy business weirdo alike, with Norman Osborn, director of the Thunderbolts, standing with Wolverine and Thor and all those guys in what is presumably supposed to be a super cool face-off. The inciting event is the death of the Wasp, which leads Osborn and Wolverine & co. to unite not as superheroes or sketchy business weirdos, but “as humans” who are now “insanely ticked off”. Then Osborn kills the Skrull queen, who has not quite successfully shifted into the form of Spider-Woman, by blasting her with a shotgun, and the shot is seen on live news by “everyone on the planet”. A triumph of humanity!
I don’t know why the choice was made to draw only male characters here, given that there are also numerous female superheroes fighting the Skrulls; it makes quite the tableau when you view it as a bunch of angry men staring down a lone female character before murdering her in front of the entire world.
I also don’t know why Bendis leans quite so hard into the “human” thing, given that several of the characters in that image are gods or mutants. How do you account for them? Unless by “human” he implicitly means “American,” which considering where they are (New York) would make sense – even the god of thunder is on America’s side, you see – and which means that being un-American, so to speak, means being….
But I’m sure he didn’t mean that. Well, except that the entire comic does essentially mean that. And except that this moment reminds me of nothing so much as the time Marvel did a 9/11 memorial issue that’s mostly remembered for making Dr. Doom cry.
In it, Dr. Doom, dictator and supervillain, stands among the wreckage of the Twin Towers and muses on how this specifically American tragedy has united “those we thought our enemies […] because some things surpass rivals and borders”. He also thinks about how “the story of humanity is written not in towers but in tears” and “in the voice that speaks within even the worst of us, and says this is not right”. Then, “because even the worst of us, however scarred, are still human” (once again, some of them literally aren’t; this is a universe where gods, mutants, robots, and aliens are kicking around), he weeps for “the random death of innocents”.
The problem isn’t that Doom cries. The problem is that Doom hasn’t ever really cried before, not for the wars, genocides, terrorism, and other atrocities going on around the world. Why now and not then?
Because this is America, dammit. America is just more human than any of those other countries, which is why Doom doesn’t shed one solitary tear for them. America’s Americanness is so powerful that it overcomes Doom himself – a man whose first appearance in comics involved trying to destroy the Baxter Building, i.e. a huge tower in New York populated by thousands and thousands of innocent people who would definitely have died if he’d succeeded. But because America was attacked by outsiders, Doom cries.
It’s this same sentiment that reverberates through the big standoff with the Skrulls in Secret Invasion #8. Americanness/Earthlingness (Secret Invasion does not differentiate between the two) is just so damn strong that it brings enemies together. It makes Norman Osborn heroic. It shows the world what we’re made of, dammit. And then it assures us that the Good Ones never ask questions, that we don’t have to see those people as worthy of life. Nothing has to change, not really, it hints. Not now. Not ever.
Secret Invasion #8
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.
Kelly Kanayama is a writer and comics scholar who is literally writing the book on Garth Ennis. Don’t believe me? Have a look at her Patreon page here! You can also find Kelly on Twitter here, highly recommended.
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