Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Super-Powered Comics: Avengers the Initiative: Secret Invasion

I have meant for a couple of years to share my opinions about the Marvel crossover Secret Invasion. It is the only one of the big two comic publishers’ crossovers I have bought in the last decade. I never got around to it for a variety of reasons, though it is still floating around my stacks of comics I want to review.

But my local library did have the trade of the Avengers: The Initiative issues that tied in to Secret Invasion. So after reading it, I decided it was worth a review. Maybe it will get me off my butt to review the actual core limited. That being said, I think this work may actually be much better done.

One of Marvel crossovers events’ weaknesses are their need to try to cover the over-arcing storyline only. Character pieces are left by the wayside as they become plot driven pieces of boredom. Avengers: The Initiative: Secret Invasion provves to be the exact opposite. It tells the complete tale of the invasion, while putting its focus on three leads, all regulars in the series.

The 3-D Man (the former Triathlon) is the true star of these six issues as he gets the goggles of the original 3-D man. With them, he learns about the skrull forces just before the invasion begins. The skruls have infiltrated the teams of the Fifty States Initiative, a project designed by Iron Man and Yellowjacket (secretly a Skrull himself) to put super-teams in every state. 3-D Man sets out to stop them all.

Meanwhile at the Initiative’s home, Camp Hammond, two Robert Kirkman creations, the Crusader and the “Irredeemable” Ant-Man, both become embroiled in the invasion as well. Crusader is a Skrull himself, but with no link to the invasion and a love of Earth. When he realizes that Yellowjacket is a Skrull, he is left to question what action to take. He loses his choice when the invasion begins. He travels to New York with the base’s other heroes to join in the massive battle between Earth’s heroes and the Skrulls.

Ant-Man cowardly avoids going in to battle, only to be at Camp Hammond when the Skrull armada arrives to take control of the base. He helps his allies in the Shadow Initiative fight the base’s invaders. They fail, but Ant-Man escapes to give 3-D Man’s forces information on a Skrull secret weapon based in the Fifty States Initiative’s bases. My only real gripe comes with the writer’s scripting of Ant-Man’s personality. While his actions mirror his behavior in his own series, his dialogue often proves way more crass. But Robert Kirkman and Phil Hester created a unique character with their Ant-Man. His voice is almost certainly hard to nail.

The story spans dozens of characters (even reintroducing the Skrull Kill Krew), but never loses focuses of a narrative driven by its main three heroes. It works wonderfully at continuing the story’s forward momentum.

What doesn’t work as well is the art. Marvel has become much like the later years of the otherwise solid Ultraverse of late, with each issue seemingly by a different art team. “Regular series artist” Stefano Caselli provides art only for the first and third issue in the trade. Harvey Tolibao (whose art does resemble Secret Invasion artist Leinil Yu’s work) does the second and fourth. The fifth is by Steve Kurth and the sixth is by both Tolibao and Bong Dazo. So no two issues look the same. It is truly a credit to writers Dan Slott and Christos Gage that the art doesn’t completely derail the rest of the project.

Despite its flaws, Avengers: The Initiative: Secret Invasion shines past what a usual crossover tie-in would give us. It is truly a story in its own right while still dovetailing perfectly with the book it spins off from. Even without reading Secret Invasion, I think readers could find a lot to love with this book. Recommended.

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