Retro-Review: Invasion! By Keith Giffen, Bill Mantlo, Todd McFarlane & Bart Sears For DC Comics

Invasion! #1-3 (December ‘88- January ‘89)

Plot and Breakdowns by Keith Giffen

Script by Bill Mantlo

Pencilled by Todd McFarlane (#1-2), Keith Giffen (#2) and Bart Sears (#3)

Inked by P. Craig Russell (#1-2), Al Gordon (#1-2), Joe Rubinstein (#1-3), Todd McFarlane (#1), Tom Christopher (#2-3), Dick Giordano (#3), and Pablo Marcos (#3)

Spoilers (from twenty-six years ago)

Since I started doing these ‘Retro-Reviews’ in the summer, I’ve pretty much only focused on Marvel comics, taking two long looks at The Avengers and X-Factor.  I felt like it was time to balance things out better with some DC Comics, and immediately thought of diving back into my most beloved era of the Legion of Super-Heroes, the 5YG series written by Keith Giffen.  The thing is, I re-read those books about seven or eight years ago, and they were still a little fresh in my mind.  Instead, I decided to tackle a different book that was related to it – LEGION ‘89 (and ‘90, ‘91, etc.).

That title, however, was launched through an event, Invasion!, which appeared in the fall of 1988 (cover dated a little later), and I thought it might be fun to revisit that event, which I believe was a pretty big deal at the time.  There were a variety of comics that tied-in to this event.  The first issue had seventeen tie-ins branded “First Strike! Extra!”, while the second issue had ten tie-ins branded “Aftermath Extra!”.  The final issue advertised four follow-ups, the first issues of Justice League Europe and LEGION ‘89, a one-shot featuring the Blasters, and a story arc beginning in The Spectre #27.  I didn’t read any of the tie-ins for this article, although I do believe I own all of them (I had a lot of disposable income at thirteen).

The first thing that needs to be discussed about this series is the expanse of it.  All three issues were 80 pages in length, and nicely squarebound, while still printed on the standard newsprint of the day.  There were no ads aside from a house-ad in the inside back cover, and the cover price was $2.95 in the US, and $4 here in Canada.  As a point of comparison, this series is equivalent to twelve issues of a modern-day Marvel or DC comic, for the cost of three of them.  Re-reading this series the last few nights took a nice chunk of time.

The writers of this book are pretty notable.  That Keith Giffen was driving this project was not really a surprise, but I was shocked to see that Bill Mantlo scripted it.  Did he ever do work for DC before this?  He’s a writer that I always associate with Marvel, particularly the Micronauts, Rom, Alpha Flight, Hulk, and a lot else.  Weirdly, this still reads very much like a DC book, without a lot of Marvel influence.

The story is really all over the place in this series.  Giffen and Mantlo have a very big story to tell, and they don’t spend a lot of time focusing on any one main character.  It’s an ensemble piece, with characters appearing and disappearing as needed, with many individual story arcs left to be resolved in a cross-over issue (if ever).  It’s a little frustrating to read it like this, because there are just too many moving pieces that never really feel all that important.

The general plot is that the Dominators view Earth as a threat, so they put together a very large, very aggressive alliance of alien races to attack the planet, with the goal of gathering all the metahumans and powered individuals, for their own ends.  They (of course) plan on betraying their allies at the first opportunity.  After a blitz-like attack on Australia, the Earth’s heroes (and a few villains) gather under Captain Atom’s command, to fight them back.  After the Alliance retreats, a low-caste Dominator sets off the Gene Bomb, which sickens every hero on the planet, almost causing their death.

Let’s look at the events of this series in more detail, with commentary as I go along:

  • The series opens with the Dominators and their Khundish allies planning on killing a group of fifty humans as a way of seeing if they have powers.
  • As it turns out, six of them have abilities, which somehow protect them from being killed.  This doesn’t make a lot of sense, as it suggests that people develop powers when put in danger, which at this rate, would have the DCU more filled with superhumans than Genosha.  Also, one of these humans is Snapper Carr, who used to hang out with the Justice League, and was presumably put in danger with great frequency.
  • The Dominators go about building their Alliance, and start having former Green Lanterns murdered as a way of protecting their plans or something.  I guess there weren’t a lot of GLs at this time (which does not explain G’Nort).
  • As the Alliance builds, they collect prisoners from various worlds (for experimentation of some sort) and house them on a gigantic Starlag.
  • The planet Rann doesn’t want to get involved, so Adam Strange volunteers to give himself up to the Alliance, knowing that when his Zeta Beam wears off, he’ll be transported to Earth with important information.
  • We learn that the Alliance is made up of the Dominators, the Khund, the Durlans, the Thanagarians, the Gil’Dishpan, the Okaarians, the Citadel, the Psions, and strictly as observers, the Daxamites.  It’s interesting to me how some of these races do not change or evolve as societies in the thousand years between this time and the 31st century of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
  • We meet Garryn Bek, who later becomes a founding member of LEGION.  He is Adam Strange’s cellmate, and plays the role of skeptic and whiner quite well.
  • The Omega Men are captured by a group of Durlan and taken to Starlag.
  • We get our first glimpse of Vril Dox, who later becomes the leader of LEGION.
  • The aliens position their armada to attack the Earth, making use of a moon base they have taken from a Doom Patrol villain who looks like an overweight Brainiac.
  • Adam Strange’s Zeta Beam wears off, transporting him to Earth, where he discovers that the Khund are on his secret island, and have destroyed his helicopter, making his entire sub-plot useless.
  • In retaliation for Strange’s escape, the Okaarians slaughter a group of prisoners on Starlag.  We are to be impressed with the fact that Vril Dox didn’t look nervous.
  • We learn that the Dominators are holding a bunch of special prisoners, like the Omega Men, in a section of Starlag called the Black Module.
  • Dox ends up being Bek’s new cellmate, and he wants to plan an escape.
  • The Alliance attacks Australia rather brutally.
  • The Daxamites discover that they have powers when they are on the Earth’s surface.  They become more than observers, as they start trashing some buildings in Sydney.
  • The Spectre is called away by the Lords of Order, who demand that he not get involved in the Invasion, and that he sideline all the other magic users of Earth (which doesn’t explain why Dr. Fate is on the cover of issue 3).
  • The Invasion forces start rounding up humans, and get their hands on the Tasmanian Devil, who is apparently the only hero in all of Australia.  They also learn about Justice League teleportation tubes, which surprises them.
  • Amanda Waller is not happy to learn that Maxwell Lord is telling her to keep the Suicide Squad from getting involved in Australia.  Lord also wants the League to sit things out for a bit.
  • The Dominators demand that all heroes be handed over to them, but the UN decides to fight back instead, and issue one ends with a shot of the cover of the Daily Bugle telling the aliens to ‘drop dead’.
  • When issue two starts, we presume that all seventeen tie-ins have happened.
  • We are given a general briefing on the situation in Australia, and learn that the Earth’s resistance is being run by General Wade Eiling (armed forces), Amanda Waller (intelligence), Maxwell Lord (advisor), and Captain Atom (who is in charge of the super-powered forces).
  • There is a quick recap of where different heroes have engaged alien forces, and we learn that Superman has arranged a temporary cease-fire, allowing the heroes twenty-four hours to give themselves up.
  • We see that there is some disagreement in the Alliance ranks, as the Dominators really shouldn’t be trusted ever.
  • A large group of heroes led by Superman attack the aliens’ base in Australia while Aquaman and the Doom Patrol attack the Gil’Dishpan base under the ocean.
  • Superman is surprised by the appearance of the Daxamites, who can hold their own against him.  Later in the fight, he figures out that they are being poisoned by our atmosphere and takes them to space, where they have a change of heart.
    Lex Luthor has created a bomb in a body that looks like the Flash, which takes out a Dominator ship.
  • Giffen manages to work a very small cameo by Ambush Bug into the fight, as he’s hanging out with the Suicide Squad, who are going up against the Khunds.
  • I think it’s interesting that Captain Atom, who is one of the DCU’s most powerful characters, doesn’t actually fight, hanging back with Lord, Waller, and Oberon to command.  It seems a little wasteful, especially since he’s never been established as a leader before or after this.
  • We learn of the lower-caste Dominator’s plan to set off the Gene Bomb, in a bid for glory, a bigger dot on his forehead, and maybe even a name.
  • The Flash’s father goes on a suicide mission in Cuba, blowing up a Durlan base and himself in the process.  I presume this was a big deal in the Flash’s own title, but it’s not given much space here.
  • The Daxamites switch sides, and help attack the Alliance’s moon base, supporting the Green Lanterns (Jordan and Gardner) and Firestorm, and of course, Superman, who is now their buddy.
  • Vril Dox manages to spark a riot on Starlag, and we meet the Durlan who becomes a founding member of LEGION.  Among the escaped prisoners, we see Strata and Lyrissa Mallor, who also become members of that organization.  These prisoners free the Omega Men and the other sentients being held in the Black Module.  A couple of the Omega Men are killed.
  • A large group of Daxamite troops arrive in space and attack the Alliance.  Things fall apart very quickly for the
  • Dominators and their allies, and Deadman forces the Khund leader to kill himself.
  • The remaining aliens surrender, and we get a few pages of news broadcasts letting us know what has happened all over the Earth.
  • The aftermath of the invasion is explored in number of tie-in issues.
  • The third issue opens with the Gene Bomb detonated.  Immediately we see a number of heroes adversely affected by this.
    Major Force gets sick in a bar while Captain Atom almost explodes while flying through the sky.  Some people fighting Starman (Will Payton, of the hideous costume) go nuts, as does Firestorm, and Tempest (of the Doom Patrol).  We then see a bunch of other heroes lose control of their powers in single panels, establishing that this is a problem.
  • General Eiling and Dr. Megala, who is a torso with metal arms in a wheelchair pushed by a big guy, talk about what to do.
  • A lot of time and space is given to sick heroes.
  • In space, the Omega Men are in a ship with the Earth metahumans from issue one, who are now calling themselves the Blasters, for reasons that are not clear until the end of the issue (they got their powers by being blasted at.  Seriously).  The Omega Men agree to take them all home.
  • We learn that the sick heroes are being housed at Mediplex, a former Lexcorp facility that has been repurposed to treating them.  Eiling and Megala appear to be in charge, but Max Lord and Amanda Waller are around too.
  • A lot is made of the fact that Superman is not around.
  • A group of heroes are being sent to the Dominator homeworld to find a cure to the Gene Bomb problem.  They are Green Lanterns Jordan and Gardner, Martian Manhunter, Rocket Red, Starman, and Robotman, because none of them have been affected.
  • In space they run into Superman, who is just floating around being all mad at the Earth or something, and the Omega Men and Blasters.  They agree to go together to get the cure, since apparently no one on Earth has a spaceship now, and they need the one the Omega Men stole.
  • Maxwell Lord also gets sick, which I guess is a clue that he’s a metahuman (I don’t know if readers knew that at this point or not).
  • Tempest, the Doom Patrol kid, dies from the Gene Bomb.  I’m still not sure if it unleashed a sickness, or what it did to them all.
  • It’s lucky that Snapper Carr has teleporting powers, because now the entire rescue mission to the Dominator homeworld can be carried out by the Martian Manhunter and him.
  • We learn that the Gene Bomb brought Metamorpho back to life.
  • There is a whole page given over to some guy named Redditch who is sick, presumably from the bomb, and goes to the hospital.  I have no idea who this guy is supposed to be.  Anyone?
  • Martian Manhunter teleports back to the Dominator world, with Robotman, to interrogate the lower-caste Dominator.  He doesn’t even have to talk to the guy, because he’s a telepath, so this is the least exciting resolution to a plot point ever.
  • Leaving the planet, our heroes get made by the Dominators, who attack, but are beaten really quickly.
  • Our heroes then go to Starlag, where they have to get something to fix everyone.  There’s more of a fight here, but it’s short-lived, and then the Khunds show up and blow up the Starlag, just after our heroes escape.
  • Everyone gets back to Earth, but Superman refuses to go to the planet, staying in space, but not explaining himself to Hal Jordan, which is kind of odd.
  • The cure is another Gene Bomb, or an anti-Gene Bomb, which is detonated, and then we learn that everyone’s okay.  The end.

I vaguely remember that the Gene Bomb was used to explain a few new heroes showing up (kind of like the Terrigen Bomb in recent Marvel comics), but I don’t think it lasted long as a plot device.

In a lot of ways, I feel like this series would have been a lot more effective had it ended after the invasion was routed.  The first issue is all set-up, but the second one is pretty exciting and, as so many cities and countries are trashed, feels pretty consequential.  The third issue does not pay off, and muddies the whole event.

This series finishes with some unresolved questions:

  • Where is Adam Strange at the end of all this?  Why did we never see him again?
  • Where did Dox and his group go?  They aren’t with the Omegas anymore (I know that the answer is in LEGION ‘89 #1, but it’s weird that so much space was given to them, and then they just disappeared).
  • How do the Daxamites not want to hang out in our solar system when they discover that it gives them such great powers?

I am a huge fan of Keith Giffen’s art, and always find it interesting to see other artists draw over his breakdowns.  Todd McFarlane drew this just before hitting it really big, and you can see him fighting against the constraints of Giffen’s tightly-designed and cluttered panels, especially on the pages he inked himself.  Bart Sears’s work, also just before he became a big name, is almost unrecognizable here, as he’s paired with some very journeymen inkers.

Despite having a large number of inkers and three pencillers for this event, Giffen’s breakdowns give this series a consistency that it would have otherwise lacked.  I like that kind of consistency in things.

In all, this might not have been the most memorable of event comics, but I appreciate how tight it was, taking up only two months of the year, and being structured in such a way that the tie-ins could have been skipped easily.  The size of the comics gave this a very big feel, and allowed for a lot of little moments that were pretty cool.

It was a trip seeing some characters that no longer exist in the DCU again, and now I’m thinking of visiting Manhunter or the Suicide Squad for some future retro-review columns.  For now, though, I’ll be following Dox, Bek, Mallor, and company on their journey to form, run, and eventually, flee the LEGION.

Tags: , ,