Friday, August 17, 2012

Earth's Secret Weapon: The Marvel Wrap-Up

The Secret Invasion series and crossovers did a good job of showing that Marvel can pull one of these crossover events off, when it puts its collective mind to it. For once, I wasn't annoyed with this kind of sales gimmick--I frankly enjoyed how entertaining the whole thing was. That certainly wasn't my feeling going in--if memory serves, I was a little cynical of the series. Yet everything flowed pretty smoothly. You'd think that all the writers of the various books involved actually sat down and compared notes for once on the sequence of events and how the characters were going to be handled. I could name at least a half-dozen prior crossover attempts which could have benefited from the same treatment.

The only thing I wasn't looking forward to was the wrap-up. Prior to that, the Skrulls had informed Earth's population and governments that Earth was now part of the Skrull Empire. And you know something? Earth should now be a part of the Skrull Empire. For the most part, this invasion had gone by the numbers (assuming Skrulls use numbers). It was meticulously planned and executed, with just about every eventuality dealt with. Add to that the fact that the invading force can assume any shape or identity, without fear of detection, and you've got a slam-dunk. Earth's super beings were infiltrated and effectively neutralized, though they rallied for the gratuitous big battle; and by all rights, the heroes should be wiped out there, too, by Skrulls possessing their own abilities.

So why didn't Earth fall to the Skrulls? I mean, this was a successful invasion. Well, for one thing, as intriguing a concept as "invaded Earth" stories appearing in Marvel's comics for a year or two is, I doubt Marvel could afford to have all its characters go underground as resistance fighters. That's a hell of a long time to coordinate all those books under a single concept. Secret Invasion works as a limited crossover event, but not as a theme. With a theme, you're asking buyers to be interested in the Skrulls, for every one of the titles you sell. That locks out too many readers who really don't give a damn about "all Skrulls, all the time."

For another, frankly I don't think Marvel would have the balls. The Skrulls prepared for every point of resistance except one--Marvel itself. If the Hulk can take an entire series to impossibly conquer every opposing force that Earth has to offer, only to be taken out by a satellite in the final issue, we could probably expect something similar for the Skrulls. Because the rule of thumb in a Marvel mini-series is this: big buildup, letdown ending. How did you feel at the end of Civl War when Cap basically tossed in the towel? Just as in World War Hulk, we were left to pick up the pieces for ourselves in other titles. With something of the magnitude of Secret Invasion, we'd probably be asked to swallow a lot when this series closed. I never guessed that it would come down to just another huge "us vs. them" battle, one that rendered all the meticulous planning on the Skrulls' part moot. I hope Brian Bendis enjoyed his mint julep on the beach in the Bahamas he was probably lounging on. It must be nice to just phone in your scripting and stories. "Nah, we'll just end it with one of those big battle issues, and that will be that."

As thorough as the Skrulls had been in planning and executing their strike against Earth, does it seem like they would chuck all of that--all of the many and varied pieces and plans they've carefully placed around the world--in favor of an all-out ground assault?? That would be like al Qaeda tossing their strategies, putting on easily-identified uniforms, and meeting American forces on the battlefield. For Secret Invasion to give such a build-up, only to end so easily and predictably, is not only a cop-out--it makes you wonder why Bendis bothered with the build-up in the first place (well, aside from huge cross-over sales). For all the good that laying all that groundwork did, why not just dump the composite Skrulls into New York in issue #1, drop the "Secret" from the title, and let everyone just have at it for a few issues?

In addition, hasn't "the world of the Marvel universe changes drastically" been the unfulfilled promise every one of these little mini-series has made? So why couldn't we have at least one series that owned up to that? An Earth conquered by the Skrull empire? It would have been a dramatic ending that would have made this series shine. Instead, we got what we always get--a quick wrap-up. Beats me what the off-stage running line of the series, "Embrace Change," has been all about. The most I saw of the concept wasn't in Secret Invasion, but instead in unexplained two-page insertions in Marvel books across the board. If you equate Skrulls living on Earth with the kind of change a successful invasion would have brought about, there's really not all that much we need to embrace.

I also rolled my eyes a little at Norman Osborn's little power-hungry cabal that he formed post-invasion. Aside from the ludicrous notion of Osborn--of anyone--riding herd on Doom, what alliance of major villains has yet to self-destruct? And how much disbelief must we suspend to swallow the fact that the government remains clueless about who Osborn is getting in bed with, to say nothing of Osborn himself?

On the positive side, the crossover titles were wonderful reading. They made the Skrulls interesting--and ruthlessly competent. I don't know how Marvel is going to dial back this new ability of theirs to duplicate the powers of others, rather than merely imitating them as they did before. I can't see the Skrulls losing interest in such a tactical advantage--though if they didn't fare well with it this time, when all the odds were in their favor, they may consider it a failure. But if their goal is still to conquer other worlds, it's an enormous asset that I would think they'd want to perfect. It's a pity that in this series, Marvel has mainly used it for show. "Ooo, look! We'll give this one Black Bolt's antenna, and we'll dress him in Dr. Strange's cape, and we'll add Wolverine's claws! And he'll still lose! But he'll look great charging into battle!"

It's been one of Marvel's better invasions. I think it deserved better than to have one of Marvel's typical endings.

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