Bendis’ Avengers: Secret Invasion

Secret Invasion was the first Marvel event which I followed as each issue was released. Naturally, following such a massive event filled me with recurring feelings of excitement. Every month, picking up the next issue of Secret Invasion, I continued to speculate about what was going to happen next. The covers were beautifully ominous, the stakes were high, and the whole Skrull invasion had been building from the beginning of Bendis’ New Avengers series. Secret Invasion, as an event, felt all-encompassing, involving all of the big names from the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. Characters appeared in Secret Invasion who hadn’t been involved in the broader Marvel Universe for years, including Nick Fury, Thor, and Bucky Barnes as Captain America. Even smaller characters, such as the Young Avengers and the Thunderbolts, were included in the action. Secret Invasion felt like the largest event ever. Obviously, this leaves me looking at Secret Invasion with rose-tinted goggles. I remember all of the epic, blockbuster moments, and exciting pay-off from Bendis’ New Avengers which captivated me as a kid. Even considering my own personal nostalgia, while Secret Invasion is not perfect, it holds up pretty well.

Secretly pretty good?

Within the context of Bendis’ Avengers run, Secret Invasion feels like the pay-off for years of set-up. Ever since Avengers Disassembled, Bendis built up an atmosphere of uncertainty and division in the Marvel Universe. In Disassembled, Bendis tore down Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, subsequently removing Nick Fury from the board in Secret War, decimating the mutant population in House of M, dividing the superhuman community in Civil War, and confronting the heroes with their sins in World War Hulk. While Bendis did not personally write all of these events, he shaped the environment in which they took place. In the pages of New Avengers and Mighty Avengers, Bendis formed a tense and morally gray world. This new, unstable era for the Marvel heroes left the Avengers divided and unsure of themselves. Additionally, series such as New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, and New Avengers: Illuminati all slowly revealed a secret infiltration of the Earth by the Skrulls, a shape-shifting alien race. This infiltration caused a spread of mistrust and paranoia in the superhuman community, isolating the outlaw New Avengers and sending Tony Stark on an obsessive hunt for the Skrulls. In light of the Skrull infiltration, one major player remained under suspicion: Spider-Woman. Throughout Bendis’ New Avengers run, Jessica Drew constantly shifted allegiances, between S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA, Nick Fury, and the Avengers, leaving her true loyalty unknown. Furthermore, Jessica defected from the rebel New Avengers to the pro-registration Mighty Avengers, leaving those on both sides uncertain of her motives for doing so.

A rather tense state of affairs

After years of building up an environment of uncertainty, a Skrull infiltration, and Spider-Woman’s suspicious behavior, Bendis uses Secret Invasion as the culmination of these plot threads. The Skrulls finally make their move on Earth, moving from a surreptitious infiltration to full-scale invasion. Every major line of defense is disrupted, stranding the Avengers in the Savage Land, sending the Fantastic Four’s headquarters into the Negative Zone, crashing the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier into the ocean, blowing up the SWORD space station, attacking Thunderbolts mountain, infecting all Stark technology with a virus, and capturing Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic. Each of these actions is carried out by a different Skrull agent, posing as a key player in the Marvel Universe. Skrulls pose as trusted individuals, such as former Ant-Man Hank Pym, or the Avengers’ butler, Jarvis. These sudden betrayals expose the vulnerability of the Marvel Universe, taking advantage of years of trusted relationships. The Skrulls take advantage of the little trust left in the divided superhuman community. Out of this invasion, humanity must come together in order to regain control from the Skrulls. Old friends must return, old alliances must reform, and heroes must become the shining beacon of hope they once were. This call for action is answered in the most unlikely of places, such as the Young Avengers, the fifty-state initiative, and Nick Fury’s Secret Warriors.

From infiltration to invasion

Out of everyone in the event, Iron Man is hit by Secret Invasion the hardest. Secret Invasion represents everything which Tony Stark tried to prevent. Throughout Civil War, Mighty Avengers, and the Illuminati, Stark worked to protect the Earth from disasters like the Kree-Skrull War, while staving off public mistrust of heroes. Yet, while Stark is the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the leader of the Avengers, he is still rendered defenseless against the Skrull invasion. Stark’s technology is crippled, he is impaired by an alien virus, and the Avengers are stranded from the rest of civilization. Despite seeing the invasion coming, Stark remains unprepared for its impact. More importantly, Stark’s actions to protect humanity ironically caused the invasion. The Illuminati’s actions have once more come back to haunt them, leaving humanity to pay the price. Ultimately, Stark must rely on others to save the world, rather than take matters into his own hands like before. It is the other Avengers which help Stark escape the Savage Land, and it is the unification of the Avengers, Young Avengers, Secret Warriors, the Initiative, the Thunderbolts, and even some super-criminals, which stops the Skrull invasion. Through this united front of heroism, Stark remembers what being an Avenger is all about.

Teamwork!

Several other Avengers are deeply impacted by Secret Invasion, including Clint Barton, the former Hawkeye. Barton illustrates how drastically the environment has shifted around superheroes in recent years. As a classic Avenger, Hawkeye represented the old-fashioned, simpler times of heroism pre-Avengers Disassembled. Now, as Ronin, Barton has become jaded by his own death and resurrection, along with recent events such as Captain America’s death and Civil War. There is a certain lure for Barton to return to the simpler times of the past. For example, when the Avengers encounter a ship full of retro-style supeheroes in the Savage Land, no one knows if these heroes are real or Skrulls. Barton wants to believe that heroes like his mentor, Captain America, and his wife, Mockingbird, are still alive. Indeed, Barton is so convinced that the woman on the ship is Mockingbird, that when she is revealed to be a Skrull, he shoots her in a fit of rage. His hopes dashed, Barton has to accept the reality of the world in which he lives. Resolving to defeat the Skrulls, Barton is able to focus on the true enemy, finally taking him back to simpler times as Hawkeye. For example, when Kate Bishop, the new Hawkeye, is injured, Barton takes her bow and begins firing arrows like the old days. This brief character moment shows how Barton has returned, if only for a moment, to his glory days. In order to resemble his old Hawkeye persona, Barton must accept his current situation and work towards the future.

Hawkeye returns

Between both the New Avengers and the Mighty Avengers lies Jessica Drew, aka Spider-Woman. At long last, Jessica’s true allegiances are revealed. Spider-Woman is revealed to be Queen Veranke of the Skrull empire, the true mastermind behind Secret Invasion. Making Spider-Woman a facade for the queen is a clever move on Bendis’ part. Throughout his New Avengers run, Bendis kept readers guessing as to Spider-Woman’s loyalties, slowly peeling back the layers to the character. Additionally, no one in the Marvel Universe knew much about Spider-Woman’s backstory, so making her the Skrull queen is a move which no one would suspect. Of course, as soon as Spider-Woman defected from the New Avengers to the Mighty Avengers, it became pretty apparent to the readers that she was a Skrull. Yet it was still unclear that she was the queen, or what her motives were. Playing both Avengers teams against each other is also a clever move, further dividing the already fractured superhuman community. Generally, Veranke’s tactics are well executed, playing off of the uncertainty and mistrust in the Marvel Universe. From there, the united Skrull front can take over from the divided humans. While Queen Veranke is very clever and manipulative, I wish Bendis had fleshed out her motives a little more in the main Secret Invasion series. Overall, she came off as a typical megalomaniac, with desires of world conquest. The tie-in issues in New Avengers and Mighty Avengers do a much better job developing Veranke’s character and motivation, so I would recommend reading the main series alongside these tie-ins.

Up to no good…

One of the smartest tactics of the Skrull invasion was removing Reed Richards from the equation. As the smartest man in the Marvel Universe, and the most formidable foe of the Skrulls, Richards poses an immense threat to the shape-shifting aliens. Capturing Richards not only removes the expert in dealing with the Skrulls, but is also separates Mr. Fantastic from the rest of the Fantastic Four. Dividing the Fantastic Four, much like the Avengers, removes more of Earth’s defenders from the board. What the Skrulls do not count on, however, is the intervention of Abagail Brand, director of SWORD. As an alien expert, Brand is able to infiltrate the Skrull armada and rescue Reed Richards. More importantly, it is the cooperation and trust between Richards and Brand which ultimately saves them. Working together to escape the Skrull fleet and return to Earth, Richards and Brand demonstrate the necessity of unity in the face of invasion. When Richards returns to Earth, he spreads this sense of unity to the rest of the heroes. By developing technology to detect Skrulls, Richards unites the Marvel heroes against their common enemy. It is only appropriate, as the leader of Marvel’s first family, that Richards is the one to unify the heroes against the Skrull invasion.

Not so fantastic now…

Before Richards can return, however, some unlikely characters step into the spotlight, holding the line against the Skrulls. After a four year absence from the Marvel Universe, Nick Fury makes a triumphant return. Fury’s appearance evokes a sense of nostalgia, as the former director of S.H.I.E.L.D. rallies the troops against a common enemy. A glimmer of hope emerges from the resurgence of old heroes like Fury. It’s also funny to see how Fury’s reveal during Secret Invasion mirrors that of the Skrull invasion. After years of secretly monitoring the Skrull infiltration, Fury comes out of the shadows for one glorious assault, just as the Skrulls emerged after years in the shadows. Fury’s new team, the Secret Warriors, is also an exciting new addition to the cast. In a sense, Fury seems to have found the perfect blend of heroes and secret agents. On one hand, Fury no longer is bound by the bureaucracy of S.H.I.E.L.D., free to act autonomously. On the other hand, Fury has his own trained assault squad, rather than a group of heroes who wouldn’t normally answer to Fury. Additionally, this group serves a noble purpose, guiding young superhumans in using their powers for good. Fury’s return is monumental, revealing much about the character’s development over the years.

Fury and his lil’ commandos

Finally, there are always going to be those who take advantage of a situation such as Secret Invasion. In this case, Norman Osborn, the former Green Goblin and head of the Thunderbolts program, wastes no time in furthering his own goals. Bendis writes Osborn quite well, showing how when people like Tony Stark and the Avengers are unable to defend humanity, unexpected characters will step up. For example, when a Skrull posing as the original Captain Marvel attacks Thunderbolts mountain, Osborn uses his persuasive tactics to convince this Skrull to revolt against his people. At first, it seems as if Osborn is indeed developing into a noble and selfless hero. Seeing a former villain fearlessly run into the battle alongside the heroes is an inspiring sight to see. Yet, the ending does reveal how opportunistic Osborn’s motives truly were, waiting for the right moment to publicly display his heroic feats. In doing so, Osborn visually manipulates his way into the public favor to win more power. If the heroes were more united earlier on, people like Osborn would not have the opportunity to grab power.

Seizing his moment

Re-reading Secret Invasion, I was surprised at how many themes Bendis addresses. The most obvious question Bendis tackles is that of trust. After years of building a tense, uncertain environment in the Marvel Universe, Bendis reveals the Skrull infiltration. This infiltration hits the foundations of the Marvel Universe, including the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, S.H.I.E.L.D., and even the intergalactic agency SWORD. It is the lack of trust perpetuated by the initial infiltration which continues to divide the Marvel Universe, until the Skrulls are able to initiate a full-on assault. By this point, with two Avengers teams who cannot even trust each other, the Skrulls have manipulated humanity’s divisions enough to strike. The truly fascinating aspect of the Skrull infiltration is that they merely preyed upon the already existing tension in the Marvel Universe. While many heroes, such as Clint Barton, hoped that the Skrulls were posing as larger figures, such as Captain America or Iron Man, the truth is that the heroes created their own divided circumstances. Ultimately, the Marvel heroes must accept their mistakes, rather than blaming the Skrull infiltration. Furthermore, in the wake of the invasion, Bendis poses the question: who is left to defend humanity? Removing major players like the Avengers and the Fantastic Four allows unlikely heroes to emerge. In the Earth’s most desperate hour, old friends return, including Nick Fury, Thor, and even Bucky Barnes’ Captain America. Additionally, lesser known/experienced characters step up, from the Young Avengers to the Initiative. Even villainous characters, such as the Hood and his gang, emerge to fight the Skrull horde. It is the rise of so many defenders which encourages the reunion of the Avengers, even after all of their differences. Personal politics and the status quo must be put aside so that the heroes of Marvel can unite to protect their planet.

Facing their past

The overall plotline of Secret Invasion has its ups and downs. Secret Invasion starts off very strongly. The coordinated, almost orchestral, assault on the Earth’s defenses is rendered beautifully. Bendis does a nice job showing just how deeply the Skrulls have infiltrated humanity’s organizations. The sub-plot of the Avengers on the Savage Land starts off strong, but loses steam by the end. It is exciting to see the Avengers face off against older versions of themselves, showing how much times have changed. Yet, it becomes clear over time that all of these retro-Avengers are Skrulls, eliminating the most fascinating part of this battle. Still, getting the Avengers off-board so that heroes like the Young Avengers and Secret Warriors can step into the spotlight is a good move. Fury’s return is momentous, and seeing smaller-time heroes come together is a nice change of pace. The last few issues turn into a giant action set-piece, devolving into “humans vs. skrulls” once Richards arrives with a Skrull-detector. The fight is massive, beautifully illustrated, and contains some iconic character moments. Yet it feels like most of what Bendis wants to say has been said at this point, so the fight doesn’t need to last as long as it does.

Seriously, there’s at least 4 of these splash pages

Looking back, Secret Invasion has a very intriguing premise, with some excellent build-up on Bendis’ part. The pay-off, for the most part, is very engaging, especially when all of the heroes finally unite to battle the Skrulls. I also enjoyed the fact that there were fewer Skrull infiltrators than expected. Very few readers enjoyed this aspect of the event, but I think it says a lot about how the Skrulls did not cause the heroes’ divided and bleak times. Rather, the heroes screwed things up, and the Skrulls just took advantage of this. Placing more responsibility on the heroes is a nice twist. I also loved seeing the return of major players to the Marvel Universe, such as Nick Fury, Thor, and Bucky-Cap. The final fight was very exciting and fast-paced, and including so many characters made it a pleasure to read. I do wish, however, that the series had been a little shorter, as the middle issues dragged a bit. For example, much time is wasted on the Savage Land, when the heroes could have left much sooner. Secret Invasion also feels more like a transitory event when it was set-up as a major climax for Bendis’ Avengers run. Considering that Bendis built-up this whole environment of tension and hostility, finally paying off in Secret Invasion, the reunion of the Avengers feels like the natural conclusion to this event. Yet, in the end, the heroes go their separate ways, making way for an even darker, more uncertain status quo. While I am a fan of Dark Reign, in hindsight, it doesn’t feel quite natural for Secret Invasion to end on such a dour note. Regardless, I enjoyed Secret Invasion more than I expected to.

Now that’s assembled

Out of Secret Invasion, a brand new status quo emerges. The lineup of the New Avengers, for example, changes almost as dramatically as it did following Civil War. At the end of Secret Invasion, everyone replaced by a Skrull is found, including Spider-Woman and Mockingbird. Both returning heroes join the New Avengers, as Spider-Woman must find her place in the world, and Mockingbird struggles to reunite with her husband, Clint Barton, after so long. Ms. Marvel also joins the New Avengers, along with Bucky-Cap. Many exciting adventures continue with this roster in the pages of New Avengers. Additionally, Tony Stark is now ruined in the public eye. After failing to defend the planet, Stark loses his position as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., his company is bankrupt, and he is no longer the leader of the Avengers. Despised by the public, Stark is sent on his way as he becomes a greater pariah than ever. Finally, a new world order is established, under the reign of Norman Osborn. Killing the Skrull queen on live television, Osborn is entrusted as the head of the new organization HAMMER, and gains his own team of Avengers. From this point forward, the Marvel Universe heads into its darkest era yet, as the villains have the keys to the country’s security. Villains are on the Avengers, Osborn has his own, darker Illuminati, and unregistered heroes are treated more like criminals than ever.

Out of the frying pan…

That’s all for today. What did you think about Secret Invasion? Am I just blinded by nostalgia? Or is it actually pretty good? Share your thoughts on Twitter @book_column and be sure to share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check back in tomorrow, when I look at Bendis’ New/Mighty Avengers tie-ins to Secret Invasion!

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