The Skrulls have reaped the benefits of their secret invasion: Earth's defense technology is crippled, and its defenders have been isolated in the Savage Land, far from the beachhead the Skrulls have established in Manhattan. As those defenders—SHIELD, SWORD, the Avengers—try to regroup, new players enter the fray: Nick Fury and his Secret Warriors (or, as I prefer, his Young Howling Commandos), who appear suddenly in Times Square and engage the invaders.
Things are grim. Reed "Mr. Fantastic" Richards, imprisoned on a Skrull warship, suffers humiliating torture at the hands of machines that are slowly pulling him apart. Outside, Agent Brand drifts through the void of space, her safety-gel cocoon quickly losing its potency. In Manhattan, Carol "Ms. Marvel" Danvers fights the Skrulls: she is mighty, but they are many. (See Ms. Marvel (Vol 2)#28 for more details.) She's as surprised as any when Nick Fury appears. The Secret Warriors do battle with the Skrulls, but when Ms. Marvel attempts to join up with her old commander, Fury takes her for a Skrull and blasts her with a laser rifle. Then Fury and his band, having done "what [they] came here to do," teleport away, leaving a groggy Ms. Marvel at the mercy of the Skrull horde.
In the Savage Land, the Skrull Empress, in the guise of Spider-Woman, attempts to persuade Tony "Iron Man" Stark that he is in fact a Skrull sleeper agent, unconscious of his true loyalty but acting for the benefit of the Empire anyway. Stark isn't sure whether to believe it, but the possibility paralyzes him. Natasha "Black Widow" Romanov, eavesdropping outside, knows it isn't true: it's just psychological warfare, aiming to punish Stark in as excruciating a manner as possible.
Hmm. I wonder why Stark gets the subtle psy-ops treatment, while Richards gets brute-force torture? Don't the Skrulls hate both Illuminati equally? Seems not.
Anyway, Romanov is about to shoot the Empress from hiding, but is interrupted by the arrival of the Phoenix and the Beast who lately arrived from the Skrull ship. A burst of automatic weapon fire from Romanov's gun slays these two, revealing them as Skrull impersonators, but the distraction alerts the Skrull Empress to her danger, and she escapes. Stark recovers his equilibrium—the shot of adrenalin the Widow administers to him helps in that regard—but while the pair is out of immediate danger, their overall position hasn't changed. They're still stranded, without benefit of any Stark technology. Only Reed Richards, they think, can save them now!
Little do they know.
Meanwhile, in space, Agent Brand recovers from two issues of floating aimlessly and takes charge of her situation. Somehow she travels through the vacuum, without benefit of any propulsion system I can see, and breaks down the door of a Skrull warship merely by giving it a swift kick. (What's she braced against?) Inside the ship, no alarms go off, so she is able to sneak through the ship's corridors and into its communications centre, which is conveniently empty. There, she sees Reed Richards on a TV screen, but before she can do anything about him she is surprised by armed Skrulls, who don't seem happy to see her.
We conclude with some quick cuts:
Lots of plot in this one, which is a welcome change after the excesses of eye candy in the last two issues. Too bad the plot doesn't make much sense.
Just what did Nick Fury achieve by teleporting into Times Square, beating up some Skrulls, and teleporting out again? And now that he's revealed himself and his team to the Skrulls, can't they imitate them without much trouble? It would be nice if he's given up the one advantage he had—secrecy—for something valuable, but it isn't obvious at all what that might be.
I'll mostly pass over the Agent Brand stuff, given that over-the-top competence comes with the territory of being a superspy. I'll just note for the record that this approach, in which Agent Brand demonstrates casual invincibility, doesn't mesh well with the grim-and-gritty realism Bendis has taken with the rest of this storyline.
Speaking of which, that grim-and-gritty realism, as expressed in the voiceover that runs through the first half of the issue, is the issue's best feature. It seems to be the Skrull Empress speaking, explaining that the Skrulls have taken the Earth, and that they've done this merely because they want the planet and they have the power to take it. In this, she adds, the Skrull invaders are no different from humans, who also take what they want. The Skrulls can claim the moral high ground in that they are honest about their motives, rather than cloaking them in high-minded rationalizations. What's more, while the humans may have some tricks up their sleeves—like Fury with his Secret Warriors—in the end the Skrulls must win, because the Skrulls can rely on their comrades, but the humans cannot. The humans can't distinguish foe from friend, and thus will not be able to mount a successful defense.
This rings true, both the sociological stuff and the tactical stuff, and they're both grim. It does suggest to me how this is going to end, though. Richards said back in Secret Invasion #1 that he knew how the Skrulls were making themselves undetectable, and in this issue Stark has indicated that he can't save Earth on his own, he needs Richards. And Agent Brand is conveniently placed to free Richards from durance vile. My prediction? Richards, once free, will use his funky superscience to prevent the Skrulls from shapeshifting any more. Bendis has made it clear the success of the Secret Invasion relies on the uncertainty that shapeshifting induces; without that uncertainty, SHIELD and the superheroes will be able to repel the Skrulls from the planet.
Of course, doing that while also paying attention to all of the subplots should take about four more issues. Sounds about right.
Strictly okay. More plot is good, but confusing or implausible plot is bad, and we've got both here.
On top of this, while previous issues of this title ended with a real bang, this one offers up a really lame cliffhanger: Thor and Cap? Really? and if really, so what?
I was really excited to pick up this issue and the last two, to see what happened next. Suffice to say I'm not feeling so excited to read the next one.
I see why Nick Fury is on the cover, but what are the Young Avengers doing there? They don't even appear in the issue!