The Mighty Avengers, the New Avengers, the Young Avengers, the Thunderbolts, the Secret Warriors, and all sorts of solo heroes like Thor and the new Captain America have engaged the Skrull army in battle on the fields of Central Park. Earth's defenders were winning until the Skrulls used one of their secret weapons. Months ago, "Hank Pym" concealed a hidden biological weapon in the Wasp's growth formula. They have just triggered that weapon, and the giant-size Wasp has begun to glow and emit Kirby dots, which have enveloped our heroes...
In a departure for this title, the point-of-view for this issue is that of two unknown figures, whose conversation recalls the final battle against the Skrulls even as we the readers see that battle play out. The interlocutors recall the Skrulls' triggering of the biological weapon, and how it would have been the end of Earth's heroes, had it not been for the intervention of Thor. Thor, with gritted teeth and squinted eyes, says "I will avenge thee, fair Janet," and (as near as I can tell) envelops her in a mystic vortex. I'm not sure what Thor does, or how it works, but the result is that Earth's heroes are saved but Janet is gone, consumed utterly by whatever poison or energy the Skrulls tricked her into absorbing.
The Skrull Empress, jaw unhinged from Ronin's arrow-shot last issue, watches in horror at the ruination of her plans. I had thought that that arrow-shot had been fatal, but it seems not. Too bad; it would be better for her had she died earlier. Now, she not only has to come to grips with the failure of her invasion, but also has to face down the defenders of Earth, who have recovered from the Wasp-weapon and are enraged that the Skrulls have succeeded in killing one of the founding Avengers. She stares as the angry heroes charge her, mumbling to herself "he loves me... he loves me..."
Not enough, though. She's about to die, for sure. By Thor's hammer? Ares' axe? Captain America's shield? Wolverine's claws? No. She is taken out by a blast from an energy weapon: Norman Osborn made the kill shot, and thanks to a nearby news camera, the whole world sees him do it.
That's the climax of the issue there. Everything else is wrap-up.
The heroes take out the warships hovering over the city, and in orbit around the Earth. Iron Man, who has conveniently found an uninfected suit of armour, uses his snazzy sensors to detect that one of those ships has humans abord, and he forces it to land in Central Park. Aboard are all of the humans whom the Skrulls impersonated: Dum Dum Dugan, the Invisible Woman, Hank Pym, and more.
Spider-Woman is there: she wonders why all of the heroes are staring at her so. Hank Pym is there: he wonders where Janet is. Dum Dum Dugan is there: he wonders why Nick Fury teleports away from him without saying a word. Mockingbird is there, and she's grateful to be reunited with her husband. He seems happy to see her too, but we readers have to wonder what he's thinking. The Invisible Woman is there: she and Reed return to the Baxter Building, where they are reunited with the rest of their family.
Most disturbingly of all, Jarvis is there. That's disturbing because when Jessica Jones came to join the battle, she left her baby in the custody of "Jarvis," now obviously a Skrull impersonator. She returns to Avengers Tower at full speed, but to no avail. Both the Skrull and the baby are gone.
Back on the battlefield, Tony Stark is giddy with victory, so much so that he buttonholes Thor, convinced that the Thunder God has forgiven him for what has gone before. Tony is mistaken about that. "I came here because I was needed," Thor snaps. "I abhor what thou has become and I'm sure I will not be the only one who finds the blame in all this to fall square on thy shoulders."
Thor is right about that. Managers of professional sports teams get fired when their teams lose a few games. Tony Stark screwed up a lot more than that. He was given incredible power and latitude, so that he could keep the Earth safe... and he failed. So it's no surprise that he's given the boot. What is a surprise is who gets to replace him: Norman Osborn.
Osborn is given control over the Avengers, the Fifty-State Initiative, and the successor agency to SHIELD. Proof that no good will come of this is seen by his first act as top cop of the world: he convenes a secret meeting in the basement of Avengers Tower with Dr. Doom, Loki, the Hood, Prince Namor, and the White Queen. "Thank you for meeting with me," he says. "It's a new day. So listen carefully... this is how it's going to be."
The Secret Invasion is dead. Long live the Dark Reign.
So this is the conclusion of the big event of 2008. As a conclusion, it leaves something to be desired, because so many threads were left to the end. What threads? Why, the Skrull armada in orbit around Earth, the fate of the people the Skrulls were impersonating, the fate of the Wasp and the Skrull Empress, to name a few. Wrapping all of that up, while also planting seeds for future series involving Nick Fury, Spider-Woman, the Young Avengers, Ronin and Mockingbird; setting up the future plotline of New Avengers, which will presumably revolve around Luke and Jessica's missing baby; and finally setting up the Dark Reign: it's a lot of water for one issue to carry. It's surprising that the issue works as well as it does, given the weight it has to bear.
I know that some readers have complained that the final result of the series is implausible: why would the President give Osborn, a known psychotic killer, the keys to the kingdom? Surely everyone knows that Osborn is crazy and malevolent and is the last person to be trusted with real power. Personally I don't find it so hard to believe. Osborn is indeed the one who killed the Skrull Empress, an act which would indeed give him an awful lot of credibility. Beyond that, though, the salient fact is that he is a known psychotic killer. Writer Brian Bendis seems to be arguing that in the Marvel Universe, Americans think that they want their defenders to be hard men capable of using whatever means necessary. That, I can believe. The reasons why are left as an exercise for the reader.
The issue as a whole gets four stars: it's too busy setting up future plotlines in other books to give its own plotline the attention it deserves. That said, the Secret Invasion arc as a whole gets five webs. It was exciting, interesting, supported many, many other supporting titles, and kept me hooked for all eight issues. Good stuff. Kudos to Bendis and Marvel for producing quality work.