Many years ago, in Marvel time, the Avengers defeated the Skrulls and brought the Kree-Skrull War to a close. Since then, the Skrulls have plotted revenge... and their nefarious plan is about to reach fruition.
Three years ago, in real time, Brian Michael Bendis came up with the idea for a Skrull invasion story, and began seeding his 616 titles with clues to what was coming. That nefarious plan is also about to reach fruition.
The story opens in the past, apparently just after the conclusion of the Kree-Skrull War. Some Skrull refugees cross a crimson landscape and approach a mysterious cloaked figure. They tell her of the calamities that have befallen the Skrull Empire, and their tale prompts her to point out that the Scripture was right. Agreeing, they bow before their Queen, who begins to tells them what they shall do now.
Queen, eh? I thought the Skrulls had Empresses. Curious, huh? Appetite whetted, we cut to the present, where Tony 'Iron Man' Stark is briefing his colleagues Reed 'Mr. Fantastic' Richards and Hank 'Yellowjacket' Pym on the Skrull threat, and furnishes them with the corpse of the Elektra-Skrull as proof. Stark wants his colleagues to work with him to establish just how the invading Skrulls are making themselves undetectable, a capability they've never evinced before.
Curiously, Stark speaks and acts as if Richards is unaware of all this, even though Stark put him in the picture regarding the Skrulls as recently as New Avengers: Illuminati #5. Even more curiously, he doesn't refer to the conclusion that he and Richards reached at the end of that issue, namely that the two men couldn't trust one another or work together any longer, given that either one could be a Skrull in disguise. I guess Bendis found the idea of Stark briefing other heroes as a useful expository device, which it certainly is, and it's written in such a way that you might conclude Stark is only briefing Pym on the developments. But why does Stark think he can trust Richards, and vice-versa? We really need that reason, especially when we see how this issue ends.
But it's not on offer, so let's continue. Stark is called away from the research lab by the news that a Skrull ship has crash-landed in the Savage Land. Word of this development spreads quickly:
One crash-landing in the Savage Land later—fulfilling the dictum Spider-Man uttered way back in New Avengers #4 that trips to the Savage Land always end in crash-landings—the team is ready to roll. Cage's team rubbernecks a bit at the dome where the New Avengers had their first battle, and wonder why the place is a newly-smoking ruin. No time to worry about that now: the Mighty Avengers have arrived, and if Luke is going to open up the Skrull ship, he'll have to do it right away. As he tugs on the craft's hatch, a light mounted on the side of the ship begins to glow an eerie green.
Many things happen at once.
Up in space, Dum-Dum Dugan, eyes glowing green, mutters "He loves you," and blows up the SWORD satellite. In Avengers Tower, Jarvis the butler also mutters "He loves you," and transmits a computer virus that immediately disables Starktech computers worldwide. The SHIELD Helicarrier begins to fall out of the sky, right over Manhattan; cell doors at the Raft and the Cube supervillain penetentiaries roll open; and Tony Stark's armour goes haywire, paralyzing him. Captain Marvel breaks into Thunderbolts Mountain, for no obvious reason. A Skrull, whose shapeshifting powers easily grant her access, breaks into the Baxter Building, intones "He loves you," and throws open the portal to the Negative Zone, imploding the upper storeys of the building... and maybe more, because the yawning rift appears to be warping neighbouring buildings as well.
None of these events distracts the two teams of Avengers from Stark's plight. No, it takes the opening of the Skrull craft to do that. Out of the ship pour a score of Marvel heroes, all dressed in classic (read, 1970s-era) costumes: the Scarlet Witch, Thor, Beast, Captain America (!), Mockingbird (!!), Jewel (!!!)... plus Spider-Man, Power Man, Iron Man, Ms. Marvel, and Wolverine. These last five, of course, are also among the shocked Avengers staring at the newcomers. 1970s-Ms.-Marvel asks "Did we make it back to Earth?" 1970s- Wolverine asks, "Who are you guys supposed to be exactly?"
Dramatic! But Bendis isn't done yet. Up in space, Agent Brand, wrapped in some sort of emergency space-survival foam, calls to SHIELD for help. She's only got ten minutes of air, but that's not her only problem: a Skrull armada is emerging out of the darkness of space and entering Earth orbit.
More dramatic! And now for the topper: Reed Richards, working in the lab, figures it out. "You know what the Skrulls did?" he asks excitedly. "I do actually," says Pym. Pym proceeds to pull a raygun and shoots Mr. Fantastic in the face, melting Richards into a stringy blob of fleshy goo. Pym looks down and says, "He even loves you."
This is an exciting story. Action follows action follows action: secrets revealed! Property destroyed! People killed! Skrulls revealed! Invasion imminent! Hints that many heroes we've been following are actually Skrulls! Hints that heroes we've thought were dead are in fact alive, folks like Mockingbird!
(Though the way that everything was timed to the opening of that craft very strongly suggests that these heroes aren't refugees, but just more Skrulls in disguise.)
It looks like an exciting story to come, with the added bonus of rewarding longtime readers with reveals of things seeded long ago. The Savage Land, the super-Super-Adaptoid, Nick Fury and the Secret War: all of these things are going to pay off, apparently. This sort of story, which draws in new readers while offering subtle rewards to long-term fans, is not just good storytelling, it's the sort of storytelling necessary to keep the comics industry viable, and I salute Marvel for providing it.
But with all of this plot development, some other story element just had to give. And indeed one has: character. Cage seems to think that bringing the Skrull situation brought out into the open will help him get his wife and daughter back. Why would he think that? I read New Avengers #38, so I know that Jessica Jones left Cage because of his refusal to abide by the Superhuman Registration Act, not because of the lurking Skrull threat.
I also read New Avengers #32, so I also know that Jessica Drew defected to Tony Stark, and abandoned Luke Cage, because she trusted Stark to deal with the problem. But now she doesn't, it seems. It's just plausible that these characters would behave this way, but it would be nice to have their motives and attitudes spelled out a bit more. But, just like with Stark and Richards earlier, the story is moving at too rapid a clip to stop and tease any of this out. Too bad; but as the first issue in a summer-long, company-wide crossover, it has to bring the action and suspense immediately to hook the readers. So I'll let the small stuff slide.
But there`s big stuff too. The opening page, rather than providing a backstory recap, instead presents a pseudo-King-Jamesian passage from something called The Book of Worlds. On the very next page we have Skrulls referring solemnly to Scripture. And peppered throughout the story are Skrull suicide bombers who intone something about love for their enemies before pulling the trigger.
So the Secret Invasion is driven by religious leaders who interpret the cosmic order by means of a text, eh? And who inspire their followers to fight for their beliefs by blowing themselves up and taking a lot of other people with them? My spider-sense tells me that Marvel is returning to the same well it drew from in Civil War: the company is making thinly-veiled allusions to contemporary geopolitics in an effort to create controversy and attract attention from the world outside comics.
Now me, I liked that Civil War did those things. But what I liked was that the storyline used the political stuff to point to genuine political and philosophical debates: the value of liberty versus the value of security, and so forth. That is to say that Civil War didn't just gesture at the contemporary scene in an effort to seem relevant; it actually engaged the issues it pointed to and had something substantive to say about them. Based on what I`ve seen so far of Secret Invasion I`m not confident this series is going to do more than gesture.
But we`ve only had build-up, and a single issue: I`ll give it the benefit of the doubt for now.
This story aims to grab readers by the lapel and make them care enough to read all the related issues that Marvel can produce. And it hits what it aims at. If we judge this story by how well it succeeds at what it`s trying to do, then we have to give this one five webs.
Let`s hope future entries are just as successful on their own terms.
Memo to Marvel: for heaven's sake, it's "Whom Do You Trust?" Bad grammar makes me cry.