Friday, March 14, 2008

Four Color Fiend: Marvel's Secret Invasion Saga

(If you don’t care at all about this, you are welcome to skip this entire post. I promise not to be offended.)

SECRET INVASION SAGA (SIS) does little but set up the up coming eight-issue ‘event’ in various Marvel titles, so I’m not going to toss in the usual Spoiler warnings. If you’ve read any of the promotional stuff Marvel has put out or been reading comics related websites & blogs you already know anything I’m going to reveal. The one-shot covers the history of the Skull race interaction with Marvel heroes since their introduction in FANTASTIC FOUR #2 through recent events.

As I have said before I stopped reading most Marvel comics probably about four years ago. There was a two-year gap where I didn’t read any comics at all; except for the occasional TPB from the library, and when I began buying & reading comics again, I started with DC’s COUNTDOWN titles. Right now I have probably have forgotten more about the DCU than I ever knew about the Marvel Universe when I was reading those books. What I do recall is mostly from the 60s & 70s, so my knowledge of the last couple of decades is sketchy and second to third hand.

I don’t think I started picking up FANTASTIC FOUR until the third or fourth issue, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was my initial introduction to the Marvel titles, and so my first look at the Skrulls was probably in an annual that reprinted that initial story. The idea of a shape-shifting race had been used for years in comics, and even Marvel/Atlas had used that concept in their old fantasy/suspense titles before returning to super-hero books as their bread & butter. Considering that Stan Lee & Jack Kirby ended the threat of a Skrull invasion by having the aliens turn themselves into contented cows I doubt they thought they would be going back to the concept very soon. It was the introduction of the Super-Skrull a few years later that brought that race back and set them up as an on-going threat.

Over the past four + decades the Skrulls, individually and as a race, have shown up as a menace to just about every Marvel hero or group. Whether traveling to Earth to seek out the heroes, or happening upon them in deep space the Skrull/Earth history has been a troubling one. When writer Roy Thomas used them in the Skrull/Kree war he expanded on the history of the race, making them a true cosmic threat, known for their brutal ways. Given their natural ability to turn into a duplicate of anyone or anything it was no surprise that the Skrull race was viewed with justified suspicion.

The premise of SIS is that Skrulls have been impersonating a number of heroes and villains for an uncertain period. When one of these impersonators is killed, reverting to true form at the end, Tony Stark and others begin to wonder if there are more Skrulls in hiding. As CIVIL WAR showed everyone, Stark doesn’t trust anybody (rightly or wrongly, he’s the Bruce Wayne of the Marvel Universe) so he begins secretly gathering information on what is known of the Skrulls in hopes that he can figure out what they may be up to now.

The book is written by John Rhett Thomas with apparently a half-dozen editors listed looking over his shoulder. Maybe one of them should have pointed out how ham-fisted his dialogue was and had him come up with a different concept for the book. Since I can’t write dialogue to save myself (the reason I haven’t attempted to write fiction in close to thirty years) I’m probably the last one who should say anything, but I’d like to think that after reading comics for almost fifty years I can tell the difference between good and bad exposition. This sucks major!

As bad as the dialogue is on the first page, between Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill, the rest of the book is supposed to be Stark’s internal monologue.

“Even Wolverine’s acute senses couldn’t sniff this out, nor Doctor Strange’s magicks”

This from a caption only a couple of pages in, but I think you get the idea. If I caught myself thinking about anything in this fashion I hope I’d have sense enough to ask Donna to help me in getting therapy immediately. Imagine thirty pages of this, sometimes with half a page of illustration covered by Thomas going on and on like this?

Personally, and of course I’m not a highly-paid comics “professional”, I think it would have been better to have Stark take somebody into his confidence so he wouldn’t be ‘thinking’ all this. Then again, considering how bad the first page was with a second character, maybe dialogue isn’t Thomas’ strong suit in any fashion. Another writer perhaps could have made this interesting, considering the artwork used which includes panels and some full-pages by some of the best artists that ever worked at Marvel. Beginning with Kirby from those early FF books to stuff from recent ANNIHILATION series we see how the Skrulls have appeared over the years.

Maybe if the book had been presented as just a ‘fact file’ created by Agent Hill for Stark it would have given us all the information but Thomas’ attempts at humor and pathos wouldn’t have distracted the reader from learning what she or he needs to know. It’s probably fortunate that SIS was a freebie, since I think even fans waiting for this series would have been unhappy paying a few bucks for this.
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