QUICK FIX DOUBLE FEATURE: Secrets Illuminated!
TONY STARK versus SKRULLS
Where: New Avengers: Illuminati #1 When: February 2007 Why: Brian Michael Bendis & Brian Reed How: Jim Cheung
With the total lack of recent purchases, you'd be forgiven for missing the supposed underlying theme of reflection in the Infinite Wars. Apparently, or so Haseloff keeps trying to tell us, the Infinite Wars are attempting to reflect the year as a sort of obscure, sport league style time capsule.
Icelandic pop sensation, Björk, theorises that there's an inevitable tangibility between all decisions made within the space of a year. That regardless of conceit or design, hindsight will reveal a commonality between all events and junctions within the span of a certain time period. Obviously one has to allow the opportunity for transition, but it's a nice way of supposing that even without a weekly bombardment of spent pennys, the Infinite Wars remain relevant by accident.
Long winded introductions aside, today we are looking at a couple of issues that very much represent a force from within 2007. Though divided they were on both sides of the Civil War, and it was their actions that led to World War Hulk.
In case you've been living under a rock, or been victim to their conspiracy, I explicitly refer to them as The Illuminati!
I would begrudgingly acknowledge the subtle brilliance of retro-fitting a secret super-society of intellectuals and power players into the Marvel Universe. It's with some chagrin, because lord knows we haven't yet learnt to stop worrying, and love the Bendis -- particularly where the milieu of the Marvel history is concerned.
Fortunately this mini-series that explores the team introduced in the pages of the first incarnation of New Avengers, carries with it the placebo of co-writer, Brian Reed. Yes, that's co-writer. Brian. Reed. Something I feel the need to put particularly emphasis on, because even the most credible sources seem to be completely dismissing Reed's involvement, to talk, good and bad, about Bendis.
I, of course, will only be talking bad about him.
If you place any weight on the reviews hidden beneath our fight club antics, then it's a damn good thing I've waited nearly a full year to review these issues, because the immediate reaction was not good. Not good, at all.
Essentially the only linking qualities of this series is the conspiratorial nature of the team, and the way these pages lift the curtain on their operations. Stories feature events from present and past, illuminating subtle reprieves experienced, and yet to come. And it's that future aspect that makes leaving this review until now such an important quality.
We now know in intimiate detail that a Skrull invasion is coming to the Marvel Universe, and it's in the pages of this first issue that we learn much of the history involved. Sure, the Skrulls have always had a naughty desire to invade our planet, but the Illuminati's behind-the-scenes intervention during the 1980's crossover event, The Skrull-Kree War, highlights a personalized layer to this latest incursion. Not only that, it reveals how the Skrulls may have found ways to evade the most efficient of detection means, including; Dr. Strange's mystic prowess, Mr. Fantastic's technology, and Wolverine's nasal dexterity!
We're still running late so to spin things along; essentially the gang teleport into a Skrull mothership, tell the Skrulls to bugger off and never come back, and then set Black Bolt on them for some Inhuman killer-karaoke. Chaos ensues, the team struggle to escape, and after Namor enjoys a slightly premature and psychotic celebration of the carnage, find themselves captured.
As though they'd been swapping architectural recipes with Dr. Doom, the Skrulls just happen to have a set of customized traps ready to incapacitate the Illuminati. A giant barbecue for Namor; a massive bondage machine for Reed Richards; the usual odds and sods once keeps on an evil alien spacecraft.
We enter the scene with a naked Tony Stark; the most easily debilitated of the team, given the removable nature of his power source.
In between fighting off the shrinking chill of deep space, and dealing with a heart condition maintained by constant use of his armor, Stark finds himself confronted by a rescue brigade of Avengers. Cool! Nah?
See, the problem with running a secret club behind the backs of your mates is, when you get captured by shape-changing space aliens, noone knows where you are to save you. This was the eighties, too, so you can forget text messaging.
Being a pretty seasoned chap, Stark is full aware of the Skrull's cerebral warefare, and sees through the ruse, incurring the wrath of Skrull-Thor.
In an illness defying scene of Rocky 4 proportions; Stark proves he's more than tin cans and string, opening an addictive can of whoop ass on those Skrully bastards. A roundhouse and a few naked spin-kicks later (try not to visualize), and Stark stands triumphant.
I've got whole other issue to talk about yet, so I might just abruptly wrap this up here with the picture of naked Stark. Sure, that's maybe not what you came here for. Maybe that's not what the major sites are doing. Maybe that's just a little too cutting edge for you, but you know what? That's what I do.
The Fix: 3.5 The Issue: 4
Winner: Tony Stark
This first issue of the Illuminati mini-series details events occuring behind the scenes of the Skrull-Kree War. Though it's by no means required reading to appreciate the short amount of story contained within the issue, it wouldn't hurt to splurge this Christmas and get some history before the Invasion! Know the enemy!
NAMOR/STRANGE/XAVIER versus THE MIND GEM
Where: New Avengers: Illuminati #2 When: March 2007 Why: Brian Michael Bendis & Brian Reed How: Jim Cheung
I mentioned in the previous fix initial concerns that were central to my first reading of the first couple of issues, and to a certain degree they remain.
Essentially these first issues, while very nice in concept, deliver little that we haven't seen before. Before knowing the specifics of the coming Skrull invasion, one could be forgiven for panning the series as a dull tour through retroactive history, devoid of any real purpose or scope.
Unfortunately, there remains a hint of truth to this assessment, even with a greater goal in mind. Certainly as an element that was introduced through a special, there was a lot of unexplored territory in the Illuminati's clandestine operations, but invariably one can't help but feel there needs to be more at work, even in the asthetics, than a tour through neo history.
Staring down this issue's cover, it would be unfair to say the book was without repercussions. Inherently the title immediately fails if it alters established history, but by playing with the present, the Illuminati are conceptually enabled as they gather the veritable pandora's box of power that is the Infinity Gauntlet -- another call back to the eighties and nineties of Marvel event comics.
Those who don't know Brian Reed may adopt an air of cyncial suspicion when they learn his entry into comics essentially came from penning the Ultimate Spider-man game with his Illuminati co-writer, Brian "How much for the rabbits?*" Bendis.
Reed has since entrenched himself in the Marvel writing staff with a sturdy run on the well sponsored, but inherently B-list, Ms. Marvel solo-title.
Continuing the theme, Reed has now expanded into even less admirable territory, taking up the writing chores of the resurrected, and conceptually maligned, Captain Marvel. More surprising than that, some say he's actually doing a pretty damned good job of it, too.
Now, I'm going to attempt to bend logic in ways even the infinity gauntlet would struggle to do, but stay with me here. We devolve into an abridged version of the Brian Reed history, because there's an important note to be made of Illuminati.
Given the collection of characters involved and the conceptual potential of their adventures, New Avengers: Illuminati does read dramatically under par, but even so, it holds on to a steady mediocre because of reasonably solid characterization. A skill monsieuer Reed appears to have adopted from his contemporary writing partner, who also, despite repeatedly bashing his chromed head against a wall built of his weaknesses, is undeniably competent when characterization is concerned.
Though not especially shown off by this particular scene, these slightly underhanded compliments lead us to our battle in-question, featuring the [spontaneously fan-favourite] Sub-Mariner, Professor X, and Dr. Strange.
Attempting to traverse sub-spacial concept, the trio split from their fellows in the hopes of obtaining the Mind Gem. Having apparently lodged itself outside of reality, into the collective consciousness of the universe, the Mind Gem is not without it's defenses against those who would use it's power for evil.
In an apparent sea of awareness, Dr. Strange warns Namor to pluck the crippled Professor into airborne safety as a giant acquatic behemoth bursts from the blue [pictured above].
Picking up on Dr. Strange's philosophical descriptions of the plane in which they stand, Namor recognises that the potent reality created within the Mind Gem may in fact be of his own doing. Thus, Namor does what he does best, barrelling head-first into the maw of peril!
Namor disappears into the beast's gullet, earning a dramatic "NOOOO!" from Dr. Strange. As if he needs an excuse to be theatrical. Oh yes. Went there!
Not surprisingly, Namor re-emerges from the sea-creature, and gets down to a good socking, while Dr. Strange lends the vital assist with some magickery.
Professor Xavier should be noted as present, but hopefully to the delight of the feminists, purely in the role conventionally occupied by the damsel in distress.
The Fix: 3.5 The Issue: 4
Winner: Sub-Mariner (w/ Dr. Strange)
It's 2:30am, so I shant delay in wrapping this up. If you're done with the Kree-Skrull War, and you want to read-up for some more perspective, move your Christmas purchases on to the Infinity Gauntlet, which inspired the beautiful Jim Cheung cover here. Lots of love to Reed and the gang, and stay tuned for more Infinite Wars, Friday!
*Not an actual nickname for Brian Bendis.