Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Comics! Secret Invasion: Dark Reign!

Well, the mega-crossover-event that has convulsed the entire line of Marvel Comics for the last few months, the "Secret Invasion" storyline, is now over. For those of you who quite rightly abandoned the whole mess early on, it goes something like this: the evil shape-changing alien Skrulls find a way to flawlessly mimic several dozen Earth people (including several superheroes and super-villains) in preparation for a full-on invasion of Earth. Innumerable plot complexities follow, and in the end Earth repels the invasion - with two big pieces of fallout: first, Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) resigns as head of the uber-governmental agency S.H.I.E.L.D., and second, arch-bad guy Norman Osborn (whom my generation knew as the villainous - and thoroughly dead Green Goblin) gets the job and becomes, essentially, the most powerful man in the world.

Once he gets the job, he does what any reputable super-baddie would do: he convenes a table-full of the world's other super-baddies, raises his glass, and says, "Gentlemen - to evil!"

Not really, but damn close enough. He summons a choice roster of guests: Emma Frost, the mind-reading mutant White Queen and current leader of the X-Men, Doctor Doom, deposed ruler of Latveria and long-time arch-nemesis of the Fantastic Four, some gun-toting loser named The Hood (apparently, he's the new leader of the underworld gangs once ruled by the Kingpin), Loki, the now-female (formerly male) evil Asgardian god, and Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner. And he makes these guests an offer he hopes they can't refuse: in exchange for 'hitting' whatever he wants hit, no questions asked, he'll use his newfound power to give them whatever they want - Doom wants to be restored to power in Latveria? Done! Emma Frost wants to keep her fellow mutants out of concentration camps? Done! The Hood wants his thieves and drug-runners to operate free of restrictions? Done! Loki wants to rule Asgard? Done!

Yah, the whole thing screeches to a halt right there, doesn't it? I know, I know - I noticed it right away too. But let's limp on a little anyway and come back to it later.

Anyhoo, Norman Osborn is nothing if not thoughtful. He tells his guests "We all know that our best moments have been private ones ... while our defeats have been very public. I say, instead of pushing against that fate, we embrace it. Let's keep our wins quiet. Let's keep our victories between us. Let's do it in a way that works to our strengths."

It's not a mutual admiration society he's gathered, however, and The Hood points out the natural problem: "OK, but say when it's time to pay the goblin, and we tell you to go @#$% yourself, because that is, historically, what we do ..."

Osborn has a response ready: he gestures to a shadowy figure in the doorway, his "friend," and threatens that anybody who doesn't play ball will get a dire visit from that individual. He asks Emma Frost to read his mind and verify that he's telling the truth, and she does, but neither he nor she nor writer Brian Michael Bendis feels compelled to blurt out the "friend"'s name, so we never find out who that person is. All we know is that Osborn thinks it's someone who could threaten even a Norse god. The meeting breaks up shortly after that implied threat, with nobody in formal agreement with anybody else about anything.

The comparison is explicitly obvious, of course. This one-shot issue is supposed to be a mirror image to Bendis' 'Illuminati' series of a year ago, in which the secret leaders of the good guys gather around a table to cut deals and exchange gossip. 'Illuminati' and 'Dark Reign' have two things in common: Prince Namor, who's on both rosters (this is fascinating, despite the fact that Maleev here draws Namor as a bald, unshaven homeless man), and .... a fairly large degree of implausibility.

With the heroes, the implausibility wasn't quite so bad, but with the villains, it rises to nuisance level. Doctor Doom, for instance, doesn't just want Latveria back - he wants the world, and he doesn't want to share it with the likes of Norman Osborn. And as powerful as Doom is, he's even more arrogant (and fearless) - there isn't a character in the Marvel universe who could be invoked as Osborn's mysterious 'friend' who would intimidate him into cooperation. And Emma Frost doesn't just read minds - she also controls them, which would again be bad news for this 'friend.'

And that brings us back to Loki. The Asgardian god with the ability to turn Norman Osborn and everybody else in the room into toadstools - and the ability to flawlessly mimic them, should she/he ever feel like doing so. This Loki says she wants to rule Asgard, and Norman Osborn tells her they want the same thing - but what the heck could he do to even begin bringing it about, except maybe cast an absentee ballot? And what possible coercion could he bring to bear against a god, to keep her in line?

I'm worried that there's only one answer to that question: another god. I'm worried that Osborn's mysterious 'friend' is Thor (or worse, much worse, Odin). I'll just have to pray I'm wrong.

A slew of new titles and story lines are going to spring from this one-shot, and if Marvel's success rate recently is any indication, they'll all suck like a kid on a crazy-straw. The basic concept is fascinating: what if the bad guys were running the show for a change. And the story lines that should result would be great. We shall see.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Call him Norman Osborn, call him Green Goblin - the character is just not at the same level as the likes of Doom, Namor, Loki - no matter how fondly a certain writer wants to relive his childhood comics-reading. Will a generation of comics writers surface who grew up on 80's comics like myself take over at Marvel soon? Or will the torch be passed straight to fans of all things Venom, Carnage, and Bone Claws (don't get me started)?

I flip through the Marvel Previews so fast these days, you'd think my name was Wally West.