Saturday, September 06, 2008

Crisis of Infinite Secret Invasions

So, enough with politics. Back to the safety of comic book realities.

I’ve been tracking the convoluted continuities of the DC and Marvel Universes for years, and find that they run hot and cold, one ascendant while the other stumbles. Both make heavy use of “Crisis Events” – big things that happen in the core universe which are supposed to have ramifications through all the other books. The modern manifestation of these in the books is a "core" limited series, along with various one-shots and tie-ins through existing books (usually the less-popular ones).

And both companies have been hard at this for the past few years, with crisis upon crisis, until the reader suffers crisis fatigue. DC is unspooling the “Final Crisis” while Marvel is presenting a “Secret Invasion”. And I’m finding myself reading the FC books first, just to get them out of the way, while I’m saving the SI books for last, since I'm really enjoying them.

Final Crisis is about … well, I’m not quite sure. The evil Darkseid takes over the world, finally, and the good guys lose. I think. They’re about three issues in on the core comic, and they are still mired in Act 1.

(Basic dramatic framework in three sentences:
Act 1 – Chase the hero up a tree.
Act 2 – Throw rocks a him.
Act 3 – Get him down.).*

And the supporting books aren’t much help, either. There isn’t that much co-ordination going on this multiverse, so if you pay too much attention, you can’t figure out if the story takes place before one of the major stories, after it, or both simultaneously.

Worse yet, DC has to juggle its ponderous multiverse of infinite earths, but it does not seem to have a master list. The main DC universe is sometimes Earth 1, sometimes New Earth, and there is an Earth-0 hanging around. So there are 52 Earths or 53? And how many times has Earth 51 been destroyed?

And then there is terminology. The current DC crisis has embraced technobabble to a degree that would make the engineering department on the Enterprise blush, flavored by pseudo philosophy and sociology.

And lastly, there is some metatextural level going on. The idea of additional levels of reality have been evolving here, going way back to the age when Silver Age writer Gardner Fox created the Silver Age Barry Allen Flash, based on Barry reading the Golden Age Flash’s comic book when he was a boy. But the Russian dolls of reality within reality has gone berserk. Who is reading who?

Oh, and add time travel to the plot as well.

The end result is a hash, a dog’s breakfast. I am assured that there will be much heartbreak and destruction of heroes which will in the end make their triumph even better, but right now it is a complete mess.

Marvel, on the other hand, has raised phoenix-like from its ashes with its Secret Invasion. Not too long ago, the universe was all crisised out, and if you want a full recap, they did a free giveaway comic summarizing all of it (out last week – may still be in the local shop – recommended).

But the concept of the SI is neat and discrete. The Skrulls, shapechanging pace invaders from the days when Marvel’s big book was “Where Monsters Dwell”, are back, and they have infiltrated the earth with undetectable duplicates.

And they’ve been following the classic three act series. In act 1, they chased everyone up a tree (the Skrulls are revealed! The powerful members of the superhero community are neutralized! The invasion fleet arrives!). We are now in the midst of Act 2 (Heroes face their dopplegangers! Friends prove to be foes!) and just verging into Act 3 (The powerful heroes escape! Vengeances are at hand!).

It’s that simple – a good comic story. And, what they’ve done with the supporting books is pretty smart as well. The Avengers books are actually back-story, revealing how the Skrulls infiltrated in the first place (big problem – the duplicates are SO good they think they are the real heroes), and a lot more of their culture. The smaller books in the line get to deal with particular small nuances of the invasion. "Hercules" gets to do a God story. "She-Hulk" and "X-Factor" gets to play with another piece of the religious puzzle. The improbably named "Captain Britain and the MI-13" deals with the invasion of England and the restoration of British Magic (Oh, and skrull version of John Lennon, who rebels against his establishment). All of these have been, at their hearts, well-written stories which build off the central crisis without invalidating it.

And it fits with continuity. The entire operation fits in a very small space in the time of the universe, doesn’t revise the entire universe between panels, and most of all, makes a modicum of sense. I mean, it’s a comic book universe where people in long underwear fly, but internally it makes sense.

And the characters feel right. After the weirdness of Marvel's Civil War, where everyone had to pick sides and characters you liked were justifying really stupid things, they have brought them all back together without declaring too many of them to really be Skrulls. AND they even redeemed Tony (Iron Man) Stark, which given his movie has become a must-do.

So, Secret Invasion – so far, so good. Final Crisis – Nod and smile and hope that they make sense of it eventually.

More later,
*Clarification: This is not an original thought. I wrote this entry, went to a play, and they USED this line in the play. However, an original cite would be appreciated, if anyone knows it.