REVIEW: Secret Invasion

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Art: Leinel Francis Yu, Billy Tan, Khoi Pham and others

Publisher: Marvel Comics

The invasion is over.

Following years of planning, a genius concept, and one of the finest opening issues I have ever read (see my review of Secret Invasion #1), this year’s Marvel summer (as summer as you can get ending in December!) blockbuster event has reached its conclusion with #8 of the Secret Invasion mini-series. Given the monumental initial successes of this storyline (in my opinion at least), does the reflection on the whole live up to its incredible promise?

Given the expectations generated by the above, it is probably not unsurprising that the answer is no. But even putting the hype to one side, the series failed on so many levels that I am finding it hard to formulate the words to explain this rationally.

This review of the entire SI event is based upon all eight issues of the main mini-series, as well as the accompanying issues of New & Mighty Avengers (I have managed to steer clear of the additional tie-ins, and don’t feel that much has been lost because of this).

I really feel like I need to provide some wider context first. I am a big believer in the quality of Bendis’ writing, and I never thought I would have been an Avengers fan until he took charge of the book. I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything he’s done for Marvel prior to SI, and I am so excited about the Spider-Woman series he is creating alongside Alex Maleev which finally looks set to see the light of day in early 2009.

I am also a fan of long range story plotting, something that made me such a devotee of Claremont’s original X-Men run. Seeing the threads for the Skrull invasion planted as early as New Avengers #1 brought me back to excitement of those days spent re-reading and re-analysing the various plot threads and interludes winding through dozens of seemingly unconnected events.

So, before Secret Invasion was even officially announced, it had a lot going for it. And in the course of the event’s span, there were some real highlights: an opening issue that provided the perfect blend of widescreen disaster movie blockbuster with character exposition, and some in-general excellent tie-ins in the Avengers titles that explored the emotional resonance of the developments if the series, including the impact of betrayal and distrust, as well as filling in some of the more interesting blanks of the long-term Skrull plot.

Not only did the series start well, it also ended on some incredibly exciting developments that should play very positively into the Marvel Universe as part of the Dark Reign era. Most of these themes and plot threads should create some really dynamic storytelling opportunities for at least the rest of 2009. To this extent, it can be argued that SI achieved its goal with flying colours.

But – and there is a hell of a but looming. Because the eight issues that comprised the Secret Invasion mini had to be more than just a segue from one regime into another; it should be a coherent, worthwhile, and relevant story in its own right. And here, even including the Avengers tie-ins as a wider whole, the storyline almost degenerated into a meandering and overlong battle report, rather than the sort of innovative narrative that I have come to expect from Mr. Bendis.

After the success of the first issue, #’s 2 & 3 kept a pretty reasonable pace, Returning to the Savage Land (the scene of the early threads of wrongdoing in the MU back in New Avengers #1) was inevitable, and the initial confusion caused by the arrival of Skrull imposter heroes made sense within the larger paranoia of the Invasion. Moreover, the implication that Tony Stark may have been a Skrull plant all along was an intriguing idea. But the Savage Land battle was needlessly expanded over a couple of SI issues as well as two installments of New Avengers, without any resolutions worthy of the page time, while the Stark-as-Skrull possibility was unrealised potential, never resolved to any satisfactory proportion.

And from there, the rest of the mini-series just descended into one big military movement as Earth’s saviours and the Skrull army moved monotonously towards the final confrontation. Yes, there were some minor twists and turns along the way, and eventually the obligatory death of a relatively major character, But as a compelling and dynamic adventure, the series had pretty much burned out by the half way point.

All these weaknesses could still have been mitigated by a killer final chapter, but unfortunately #8 just served to heighten the disappointment with a series of very damp and uninspiring events. Topping this list was Iron Man’s discovery of all the original heroes kidnapped and replicated by the Skrulls on one of the ships in the invading armada, which just seemed so convenient and simplistic in a way that I would never have expected from Bendis. Ok, so there are still intriguing stories to be told regarding re-integrating these heroes back into the their original lives, dealing with continued levels of mistrust and the unknown, but I was certainly expecting a more satisfying reveal.

There were a couple of nice moments in the final installment, most notably the political and social allegory in the serendipity of Osborn’s rise to power and prominence as the man who makes the final kill of the Skrull Queen / Spider-Woman within milliseconds of Wolverine striking his own final blow – the whole Marvel landscape would be different had Osborn not been in the right place to become the hero of the hour.

A word must also go to the artwork of Leinel Yu. His fluid but gritty style, which had been gracing the pages of New Avengers prior to this point, was generally top notch throughout, and really fitted nicely with the tone and style of the Invasion. There were times when some of the panels did look a little rushed, but considering the range and depth of characters that Yu had to squeeze into most panels let alone every issue, then I think he can hold his head up high, producing exactly the quality expected in such a major Marvel epic.

While the Avengers tie-in issues could be viewed as the event’s biggest success in terms of dynamism and narrative impact, they can also be seen as a microcosm of the wider failings of the overall structure and storytelling of the event as a whole. In order to understand the emotional implications of the Invasion, and therefore to really become invested in the roller-coaster journey that the mistrust and paranoia of the Skrull plot created for the heroes involved, the Avengers books were essential and required reading. I cannot imagine having read SI #1-8 in isolation and had any sort of satisfying character-driven experience. Because I did, I can see the great potential that Secret Invasion had as a really powerful and stimulating story – and perhaps this has only served to heighten my disappointment further.

As a means to achieve a transition from the Civil War era to Dark Reign, opening up a range of new story opportunities, then Secret Invasion can be judged a success, and I certainly am excited by the potential possibilities for 2009. But as a fulfilling narrative adventure in its own right, I can only view Secret Invasion as a disappointing failure.

Rating: 5/10