New Avengers #44
Brian Michael Bendis, writer
Billy Tan, artist
Marvel, August 2008
I’ve been following Marvel’s Secret Invasion event somewhat with the half-hearted interest of someone who mainly wants to know what went wrong. The primary miniseries going under that title has seen six issues come and go, during which time virtually nothing has actually happened that can’t be described with the sentence “The Skrulls invade, but not hard enough.” Nick Fury and His Howling Characters No One Cares About have been battling the Skrulls’ Mighty Marvel Mash-Ups in New York City for what seems like three years, Avengers both New and Mighty gathered in the Savage Land for an inconsequential fight with an entire shipful of head-fake superhero impostors, Reed Richards got captured but now he’s free with his de-Skrulling gun that he made on the way back from Outer Space, Thor broke free from J. Michael Straczynski, and Bucky dropped in from a better comic. There you have it! It’s sort of the apotheosis of problematic Brian Bendis event comics, with lots of people and lots of people standing around and sounding kind of the same and kind of out of character, a lot of things happening but none of it really mattering, and in general all of it being far less successful than his more focused, solo-character-based superhero work, which treats the superhero idiom like the world’s strangest psychological coping mechanism and/or mental breakdown.
The real Secret Invasion action, in terms of enjoyable comics, has mostly come in the primary tie-ins, New Avengers and Mighty Avengers. This particular issue shows Bendis doing what he does best–”going there.” I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that when big-deal villains show up, they should always majorly fuck up the lives of the heroes they fight, every time. It should be a rule. Granted, the Skrulls we see at work here are doing what they’re doing to lab-grown clones of Reed Richards so as to probe his mind for secrets they need for their Invasion to be successful–it’s not Richards himself–but man oh man, do they ever show how far they’re willing to go in service of their plans. Instead of standing around and talking like the world’s most violent Scientologists, or dressing up like random assemblages of other Marvel characters and shooting Human Torch fire or Cyclops lasers outside the borders of their double-page spread, they’re systematically creating human life only to torture and destroy it. Now that’s the kind of villainy I can get behind! Take it together with the other issues in these ongoing series, which tend to focus on “what’s up with So-and-So and how did the Skrulls get to him/not get to him” questions with precision, perverse imagination, and unsparing ugliness, and you have to wonder if some of this material couldn’t have been present in the main mini. If you’d shoved aside all the explosions and summary executions, you could have made room for the serious-business character crises that made Bendis the superhero writer to read in the early part of this decade, and still make Powers and Ultimate Spider-Man among my favorite genre titles.