Editor's Note: Secret Invasion #1 arrives in stores tomorrow, April 2.
Secret Invasion #1 is one of the most eagerly anticipated comics of the year, and with that anticipation comes a high level of expectation on the part of its readers. Whilst I'll always try to judge these "event" comics in the same way that I'd judge any other book, there are inevitably differences between monthly serial comic books and a finite summer crossover "event" comic. Most significantly, a superhero "event" comic usually utilises an established cast and builds on ideas that have already been established in the regular monthly comics, allowing it to get straight to the action and set up its key elements quickly, with the goal of instantly snagging the reader's attention without the burdens of in-depth character exploration or extensive backstory. With this in mind, Secret Invasion #1 succeeds pretty well, introducing a large cast of characters and spelling out the concept of the miniseries briskly, whilst also making time for several plot twists that begin to deliver on the Skrull paranoia that has been running through the Marvel Universe for the last couple of months.
In comparison to the first issue of Brian Michael Bendis' other recent "event" comic, House of M, this is a far more immediate and attention-grabbing read. The writer seems to have learned lessons from the relatively weak opening of that series, and has made sure to get the core plot under way far more quickly here, packing the story with big, spectacular moments. There's an effective sense of impending doom created by this issue: whilst Bendis has spoken of 1950s alien invasion B-movies as a heavy influence on the series, this issue feels as though it has just as much in common with 1970s disaster movies. We still don't really get to see the full scale of the Skrull infiltration of Earth's heroes just yet, but we do see how quickly they are able to create utter chaos and disorder for the superhero community, which sets them up as an effective threat. There's also a neat reinforcement of the idea that the Skrulls are invading Earth as a result of their religious zealotry, with an opening quotation and a repeated motto ("He loves you") that gives them a creepy edge as well as a reasonably convincing motivation. Those who have bemoaned the weakness of the antagonists in Bendis' previous Avengers stories will surely be happy to see the writer finally introduce an enemy who seems worthy of taking on the "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" here.
Although he's building on ideas that have been established over the past few years of his Marvel work, Bendis manages to make this issue fairly accessible for new readers, too. Unobtrusive labels identify all of the key players with a minimum of fuss, and some concise (albeit slightly clunky) expository passages fill uninitiated readers in on the current status quo of the Marvel Universe and the Skrull threat. These sections contain a lot of information but are brief enough that regular readers shouldn't feel too bored. The fact that there's little to no in-depth characterisation might make it a little difficult for new readers to get attached to the characters, and the very large cast might be slightly intimidating (even once you know all of their names) but at the moment, the book seems more concerned with ploughing ahead with the overall plot anyway. It doesn't look as though this is going to be the place to come for emotionally resonant character moments: those will probably be left to the numerous tie-in issues (the first of which are detailed in a mammoth checklist at the back of the issue). No, on the strength of this first issue, Secret Invasion is designed to be more of a twisty-turny alien invasion popcorn blockbuster - and taken on those terms, it's not at all bad.
For longtime readers of Bendis' Avengers work, there are a couple of moments here which may inspire renewed confidence that the writer might just have a solid overall plan for the books after all, as he returns to some of the locations and story threads that were featured way back in New Avengers #1. There's still not much of a sense that he's really delivering on these plot points, though, as he seems more preoccupied with including as many shocking moments as possible - and some of them will definitely get people talking, even if they don't really mean anything in terms of the story just yet. One such reveal in particular seems like an obvious red herring, overplaying the "everything you know is wrong" card a little too heavily to be really convincing. We know that Bendis has been given a considerable amount of latitude in reshaping and retconning the Marvel Universe, but the implications of the big "twist" scene involving the two Avengers teams are just too impractical (and downright illogical) to make sense in the context of the wider Marvel continuity.
In fact, if there's one major flaw with the issue, it's the sense that there are too many "big" moments for any one of them to feel really meaningful. Bendis' slight fumbling of the pacing of these moments is reminiscent of his misstep with the multiple splash pages which kicked off "The Collective" arc, way back in New Avengers #17: if everything is urgent, nothing is. The fast and furious nature of the twists and "big" moments in the issue - especially in the second half - makes it difficult for any of them to feel resonant or to be explored in any depth, and the result is a slightly hollow spectacle. As with Civil War, I expect that the in-depth examination of the consequences of Secret Invasion will be carried out in the tie-in issues of Marvel's regular monthly books, with the core title used almost exclusively to keep the plot moving forwards.
Leinil Yu's artwork takes on a new lease of life here, as he's paired with inker Mark Morales, who brings more definition and a cleaner finish to Yu's pencils than we saw in the artist's previous (uninked) New Avengers work. Yu's grasp of form gives the book a consistent look and feel throughout, and that's no mean feat when you consider the wide scope and grand scale of the book. None of the large cast feels short-changed by Yu's pencils, and he doesn't take too many time-saving shortcuts, with detailed backgrounds and fully rendered characters present in most of his panels. Finally, Laura Martin's colours give the pages an extra sheen and even more definition, with some very sophisticated colouring effects in places (particularly in the otherworldly opening sequences). The whole package comes together beautifully, with standout shots including a full-page one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier and a two-panel sequence involving the Baxter Building (which I won't spoil here). If Yu wasn't considered an A-list talent before, this series will surely turn him into one.
I'm surprised that I enjoyed this issue as much as I did, as I haven't always been the greatest advocate of Bendis' Avengers work, especially lately. That said, I've stuck with the books over the last year on the promise that Secret Invasion will retroactively enrich them, and that Bendis really does have a plan for where this is all going. Whilst this issue hasn't completely convinced me just yet - it's a lot easier to write a strong opening issue than it is to craft an equally satisfying complete story, after all - it's a good start, and has allowed me to hope that this series could make good on its promise to tie together the New and Mighty Avengers series into a more cohesive whole than I expected. Much depends on how the story plays out, of course, but this is a solid first issue that delivers enough in the way of twists and big reveals that those who have been looking forward to the series for months shouldn't be disappointed. Just don't expect anything more than a bombastic, colourful, action-packed crossover event set squarely in the Secret Wars tradition.
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