Friday, April 04, 2008

Termite (Sequential) Art: Secret Invasion #1

Yeah, it's a film blog. Guess what: I like comics too. Also, this post contains SPOILERS where noted.

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils by Leinil Yu
Inks by Mark Morales
Colors by Laura Martin
Letters by Chris Eliopoulos

Every year or so, it seems, the big comic book companies (that'd be DC, the guys with Superman and Batman and Marvel — our subject for this post — who have Spider-Man and the X-Men) throw one of these big hoo-hahs that changes the entire landscape of comics for a year until the next one of these ring dings comes along to right everything and then changes it once again. The latest is Secret Invasion from one of my longtime favorites, Brian Michael Bendis, in collaboration with the fine artist Leinil Yu.

The story, which Bendis has apparently been sowing the seeds for since at least 2005, centers around an alien race known as the Skrulls, who were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby all the way back in Fantastic Four #2. As Marvel concepts go, they're as old as they come; predating even the Fantastic Four's signature costumes (when they clashed with the Richards clan for the first time, the book was still more science-fiction than super-hero, and the characters still dressed in street clothes to fight evil). These green-skinned extra-terrestrials with lumpy chins have the ability to change their shape to perfectly resemble anyone or anything, from the President of the United States, to a desk lamp in the offices of Bear Stearns, making them ideally suited for stories about paranoia, which is exactly how Bendis is using them. In the past, their abilities were limited in certain ways: they could mimic someone's appearance, but not their powers, for instance. But a few months ago in one of Bendis' regular monthly series, The New Avengers, our heroes found that when the ninja assassin Electra was murdered, she transformed into back into a Skrull. Somehow this new breed of Skrull had evaded Wolverine's heightened sense and Doctor Strange's spells. Eventually, more Skrulls are revealed and the Avengers fear that a full scale invasion has begun. Worst of all, everyone and anyone they know could be a Skrull. So, who do you trust?

The idea of an enemy hiding among us, and the dangerous effects of the fear of such an enemy, is obviously one that has a lot of cultural weight nowadays (The title of the series, Secret Invasion, seems an obvious nod to the famous invasion of a certain race of interstellar body snatchers). And from the very start, Leinil Yu's art reinforces the idea of masks and hidden identities: Iron Man's full-page introduction on page 3 is a series of images that show his armor's faceplate lifting up to reveal his human face underneath. It's a beautiful and subtle encapsulation of a lot of Secret Invasion's motifs, one I hope is repeated with each issue.

The sense that you can't trust anyone on the page, even beloved, decades-old characters, is heightened by the fact that Bendis' comics, like most nowadays, do not employ thought balloons. Once a standard device used to allow readers inside a character's head, thought balloons have almost completely vanished from American comics. Now when a character wants to bring us inside the protagonist's head, he's much more likely to use some much less invasive captions. Thought balloons may strike some as a simplistic device, but there's also something quite intimate about them. And if you're hearing a character's thoughts, it's difficult for them to shield duplicitous intentions. But the hidden villains of Secret Invasion don't have to worry about such things anymore.

(NOTE: Interestingly, after eschewing thought bubbles for most of his career, Bendis revived them for his recent book Mighty Avengers, one of the series that directly led into the events of Secret Invasion. It should be fun in the coming months to go back and reread the book with this very idea in mind, to consider which characters' heads we get inside, what we think they're sharing with us and what remains hidden.)

This issue contains several more Skrull outings and after reading the issue twice I have an interesting and potentially wackadoo theory as to how to identify a few more (and thus here come the SPOILERS). Of the characters who are revealed in Secret Invasion #1 to be Skrulls, all appear at least once in the foreground of a panel, completely in shadow. These images are, without exception, completely unmotivated by the lighting in the scene. I'm talking specifically about the shot of Dum Dum Dugan on page 6, panel 2, the one of Jarvis on page 6, panel 4, the one of Sue Storm on page 31, panel 1, and the one of Hank Pym on page 39, panel 4. Here's an example of what I mean:

The character in question is the one on the left. Notice that he's completely in shadow in the top panel, yet in the next panel he's perfectly visible, even though the camera has done little more than pull back slightly to reveal a guy sitting at a computer console. There's no diegetic reason for Dugan to be completely dark there, but it could be a rather literal case of foreshadowing.

Every character who is revealed to be a Skrull gets one of these odd little moments. But, then again, several characters who aren't turned also get them as well: Wolverine on page 10, panel 1, and again on page 16 panel 5, Johnny Storm on page 31, panel 2, and the Sentry on page 34, panel 3. Does that mean these characters are Skrulls? Could this be an elaborate red herring? Either way I think small little choices like this aid in the effectiveness of the book: the invasion, after all, is based around the fear the characters now have for one another. They look for clues in the smallest of places. And basically, these odd little shadow figures had me doing the exact same thing.

We'll have to see how this shakes out in future issues. I, for one, will be reading.

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Blogger comicsprof said...

Good eye - I didn't notice the shadow thing. But then again, I often appear in shadow myself for absolutely no reason...

3:37 PM  

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