Book of Doom:
Secret Invasion: Dark Reign #1

This week we took a look at Secret Invasion: Dark Reign #1, the book that carries us from the closing pages of Secret Invasion #8 to everything else that comes next. The end of Secret Invasion left me intrigued, but I’m not sure how much I’ll be following along. Now that the Marvel Universe has changed fundamentally and many comics are going to be $3.99 per issue every month, I doubt I’ll be keeping up on former regular books like New Avengers or sampling new ones like Dark Avengers. So I pretty much judge this book on “Will I feel like I’m missing out on something?” as opposed to “Will I keep buying this?”

I was actually pretty reluctant to pick this, because I know Fin Fang Doom isn’t a Bendis fan, and if you’re not a Bendis fan, the idea of a comic book that is very little more than a group of people sitting around a table and talking is probably the exact representation of what you would hate most. But at the same time, at least it’s not just a Brave New World or DC Universe #0 where it just charges you for 3-page ads. It’s an actual story that acknowledges there’s some explaining to do.

For what it was, I really liked it. It creates an easy-to-follow road map of where the Marvel Universe is and where it’s going. There is a cohesive umbrella over everything, and individual books will be able to function under this umbrella without having to do something drastic, such as making the world be overrun with anti-life zombies for a few issues or risk seeming disconnected and irrelevant.

A lot of the ambiguity from Secret Invasion #8 is cleared up, but the mystery of what’s about to unfold hasn’t been ruined. Emma Frost isn’t necessarily a secret villain; she’s just in a position of power with a history Osborn thinks he can exploit by way of understanding. Namor’s not totally a bad guy, but he’s enough of a tweener with an obvious longing that makes him subject to manipulation.

I also like that it’s not just a gang of villainous masterminds; the characters are there not because they want to conquer the world or be the most powerful mean guy or because they hate love or they’re willing to overlook their villainous ways to become the best Team of Villains or whatever — it’s because they are people who want things, and based on what they want, they’re subject to a level of control from a guy who is capable of letting them think he can give them what they want, regardless of whether or not he actually can. Then at the same time, he’s not nearly in as much control of himself or the others as he wants everyone to think. So the drama’s coming from all angles, and there’s plenty left under the surface.

As much as I admire this from an editorial perspective, I do find myself a little underwhelmed as a reader. I think I chalk that up to the simple awareness that I’m not going to be reading as many comics as I used to, and so I just won’t be reading a lot of these stories. It’s hard to get as wrapped up in the setup when you know you’re not going to see the end.

Regarding the art, I don’t know what’s up with Namor. Good for Maleev for trying to give him a unique look, but he looks like a hungover Mediterranean clubber, and now that he’s being associated with Atlantean terrorism, is this recasting or laziness? Or are they just going all-out now with the obvious Black Adam parallels? Forget disregarding decades of visual continuity — what about disregarding the Namor Maleev drew on the cover of this issue?

On to the rest of the gang, this week including Jason @ Legend and Doom Deluise:

Jason @ Legend Comics:
I won’t make any secret of my dislike for the way Secret Invasion ended. From killing a founding Avenger in a flashback to the all too convenient return of the missing heroes it was full of plot holes and eye-rolling clichés. The biggest problem with the ending of Secret Invasion for me was Norman Osborn being put in charge of some kind of new SHIELD-like peacekeeping force (never mind that SHIELD is an international organization that the US President has no real authority over). How do you put the guy that was publicly revealed as the psychotic Green Goblin in charge of something as important as that? I can understand the general public being snowed, but the fact that NOBODY in the chain of command thought to say, “Uh, maybe this isn’t such a hot idea?” is a little silly. It makes me wonder if the whole Dark Reign story is Bendis’ commentary on current events, in particular the safety versus freedom issue that America has struggled with over the last 7 plus years. So that leads us to Dark Reign…

It begins just before the scene shown in Secret Invasion #8 with Namor, Emma Frost, The Hood and female Loki all arriving at Stark Tower separately. It becomes clear that this will be a trademark Brian Bendis “talking heads” comic pretty quickly — whether or not that is a good thing will depend on your personal taste. For me, I love it. I have no need to see crazy action in every comic I read and character development is the most important thing in any fiction I read or watch.

Bendis does a pretty good job of making this particular combination of characters work. My first question when I saw this group of “Evil Illuminati” or whatever you want to call them was how is this group going to co-exist and why would they listen to Norman Osborn? Also, why is Emma even there? What is their agenda? How is this different from Acts of Vengeance from 20 years ago? All of these questions are answered at least reasonably well.

Others have commented on Namor’s dialogue being rather out of character-other than the awkward moment when he hits on Emma Frost, I thought it was good. Bendis gives reasonable motivation for Emma to be there, even if he has admitted his first choice was Magneto. Osborn has an unrevealed means of keeping everybody in line with his agenda (my guess is the god-awful Sentry, based on February’s Punisher #1 cover) that is only shown as a shadowy figure. There are some Emma-related threads that seem quite interesting and her involvement is what I will be watching the most. Also, this doesn’t play out as a “let’s team-up and rule the world” clichéd story.

As far as Alex Maleev’s art…um, I don’t even know what to say. This is BY FAR the worst effort I’ve ever seen out of him. Namor in particular is hilariously bad. Who is that scrawny and disheveled dude? Normally I am a huge fan of Maleev — his Daredevil run in particular. Maybe this was rushed to meet deadline?

As a bonus you get previews of several upcoming series, including Secret Warriors, co-written by Bendis and my current favorite writer in comics Jonathan Hickman (a name you will be hearing a lot of in the next few years).

I am certainly still unsold on the concept behind Dark Reign but there are a few things I am definitely excited about including the new Avengers teams and the resolution of the Emma Frost story threads that begin here. Grade: C.

Doom DeLuise:
Boy, am I glad I didn’t waste any money on this.

After reading through this pile of crap, I really don’t even have the slightest desire to write a review for it. A bunch of poorly-drawn idiots sit around and talk. Yipee!

I didn’t buy this issue, because I’m staging a spectacular protest against $3.99 comics. A protestacular. I have no earthly idea why this was priced so high, so I’ve decided that I need to keep at it and never again pay that much money for such garbage.

Enjoy Dark Reign, fan boys. I will not be participating.