The Invaded and the Invaders

There’s a poetic quality to All-New Invaders‘ opening sequence. A group of aliens (the Kree) standing over the fallen bodies of a troublesome enemy and two comrades amidst a desert. The backdrop is exotic and desolate, with ventifact rock formations which look ready to topple under their own weight, exquisitely detailed by artist Steve Pugh. With James Robinson’s narration (“The first time the Shi’Ar Imperial Guardsment fell, the Kree thought the battle won. It took two more times before he finally died”), the scene takes on the scope of classic space opera like Frank Herbert’s Dune, just before the rug is pulled out from under readers: the Kree are on Earth (Egypt’s Farafra Desert, to be precise), looking for some ancient super-weapon, on a world as alien to them as they are to us (one remarks “I’ve no fond memories of Earth”). The misdirection implies “Invaders” will be a double entendre: the trademark-friendly name of a group of supermen–Captain America, Bucky (a.k.a. “Winter Soldier”), Namor the Sub-Mariner, and humanoid robot Jim Hammond (the Human Torch not from the Fantastic Four)–who will be the heroes of this latest Marvel comic book, as well as what the alien antagonists are. That the team were previously members of a group called the Invaders (named for their World War II exploits, taking the fight to Nazi-occupied territory) further suggests an ironic reversal–otherwise they’re the Defenders (another Marvel supergroup)–and consideration for how the moral view of invasion is always subjective.

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This potentially fascinating subtext, however, sputters (if not completely dies) once the focus shifts from the Kree to Hammond. Looking to make a quiet life for himself, he plays mechanic in a small, Midwestern town, ingratiating himself to the locals over sips of coffee and bites of pie (just enough for a waitress to not ask too many questions). Hammond’s outward appearance of blonde-haired, blue-eyed, All-American certainly helps (the same waitress declares “we like you being here.”), but the strangeness Pugh draws into the opening pages are absent, taking the quotidian aspects of rural Americana at face value. The walk-back Pugh takes in aesthetic matches that of Robinson’s script: Earth is no longer alien and hostile, just the Kree–who show up to destroy the new life Hammond made for himself.

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While the resulting action scene is professional (Pugh’s crisp style is a worthy successor to that of Nicola Scott, the artist for Earth 2, the similar superheroes-vs-aliens comic Robinson wrote sixteen issues of for DC), it’s also perfunctory. Hammond’s status in the community gets little mention (bystanders only exist in seven panels), and the opening’s notion of a dangerous Earth is long gone. Instead of two strangers–a Kree warrior and Hammond–in a strange land, it’s the usual superhero/supervillain fisticuffs over an idyllic, American setting, complete with melodramatic dialogue to define the characters (Hammond yelling, “Nooo! No more dying!”). By the time two other heroes enter with a blandly glorifying splash page, it’s clear the intrigue of those opening pages were a fluke, Robinson being smart with tropes. Would be better if he were intelligent with them.

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