Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Peter David Delivers A Small Corner Of The Marvel Secret Invasion With She Hulk: Secret Invasion!

The Good: Good second half, Decent plot progression.
The Bad: Missing elements, Erratic artwork, Light on character development.
The Basics: Peter David’s She-Hulk: Secret Invasion puts She-Hulk and X-Factor in an important position to thwart the Skrull invasion that was a major Marvel storyline . . . though it does remarkably little other than that.

A few days ago, I was filling out a new online account profile for something or other and as a matter of course, the website had me create security question answers for when I (inevitably) lose or forget my password. One of the security questions was “Who is your favorite author?” From fourteen to about twenty, the answer to that question would have been very clear for me: Peter David. I fell in love with the works of Peter David and his narrative voice and his intellectual cleverness grabbed me at a time in my life when I was impressionable and eager, but still very creative and brimming with talent. I would even admit now that the thrill I got in studying the way Peter David pieced together the disparate elements of the Star Trek universe led me to become a writer myself. So, it was somewhat exciting for me to realize that as part of my She-Hulk Year, I would be reading brand new (to me) material from Peter David as he had a fairly recent run of the She-Hulk comic line.

My first volume written by Peter David is She-Hulk: Secret Invasion. She-Hulk: Secret Invasion has the unfortunate status of being a piece of a much, much larger story. To date, all I knew about the Secret Invasion storyline from Marvel came from a single scene in a Daredevil book where Elektra, after being killed, is revealed to be a Skrull. So, as much as it is a natural component of my She-Hulk Year, She-Hulk: Secret Invasion is also my first taste into the Secret Invasion storyline . . . and now I think I’m hooked. I have already started hunting down books in the main storyline because the ideas presented in She-Hulk: Secret Invasion were so intriguing.

. . . And annoying. Like so very many graphic novels that are only a part of a major crossover event, She-Hulk: Secret Invasion has rather obvious pieces missing, most notably how halfway through the book, the setting suddenly shifts to Minneapolis and alludes to a broadcast that was not seen in the book (nor, rather inconveniently, summarized on a page that simply notes “here’s what’s missing”). While the book begins with a quick recap of what has previously occurred in She-Hulk (which is handy because I have not yet gotten my hands on Volume 5 and this is Volume 6 or 8) andX-Factor (which I, honestly, had no interest in whatsoever, but David was writing concurrently and this volume is a crossover with), there is no middle recap, but there is something important missing, which is alluded to but not adequately enough to explain Jennifer Walters’ sudden emotional distress.

She-Hulk: Secret Invasion opens in Detroit. There, the mutant detective group X-Factor is hired to find a mutant, whom they quickly realize is Darwin, a mutant with the ability to evolve almost instantaneously in order to survive. As the detective agency closes in on him, so too does Longshot (who has never appeared in any of the other Marvel books I’ve read). Longshot, however, is revealed to be a Skrull replacement when She-Hulk and her Skrull outcast sidekick Jazinda appear on the scene. After an admittedly pointless fight, She-Hulk and X-Factor join up to capture the Skrull, who is the Talisman, the religious leader of the Skrull who might have the potential to end the Skrull invasion before it destroys humanity.

Taking custody of the Talisman and leaving Detroit, She-Hulk and Jazinda are knocked off course when they witness a Skrull herding ship abducting humans for use or disposal. Jennifer rashly leaps to action to kill the Skrull aboard and that draws the attention of a Super-Skrull who has absorbed the powers of the members of the Fantastic Four. When the Talisman regains consciousness and turns the tables on Jazinda, the Super-Skrull is revealed to be her father and Jennifer Walters finds herself in the middle of an old family conflict that she may be uniquely suited to help resolve!

She-Hulk: Secret Invasion is a strong enough book – though it opens in such a way that I found myself not caring one way or another what might happen – that I was intrigued by how it might fit into the larger crossover story and while it seemed like She-Hulk might play a pivotal role (based on her having a storyline with the one person who could simply call off the invasion and another guy who was powerful enough to start a military coup, not to mention her sudden sidekick who is both Skrull and has the ability to resurrect), by the end of the book, it is clear that her story is only a tangent in the larger story. It’s a shame; Marvel could do worse than having a crossover story that ultimately hinged on how Jennifer Walters reacted.

Despite the abruptness of Jennifer Walters being a fugitive and having a sidekick, She-Hulk: Secret Invasion works (when it does) because her character remains interesting. She is unable to stand by and let innocent humans be taken by the villainous Skrull and as soon as she realizes that the conflict between the story’s three primary Skrull is one that she can try to talk her way out of, she does just that. Sure, there is plenty of ass kicking in She-Hulk: Secret Invasion, but most of the conflict is resolved by Jennifer Walters, not She-Hulk and that keeps the otherwise formulaic plot feeling fresh enough to read and enjoy.

What is unfortunate in She-Hulk: Secret Invasion is the artwork. The artwork is incredibly erratic and it bounces between well-drawn and colored panels that look nothing like what they are supposed to and almost cartoonish pages that look stupidly simple. The latter chapters that are just from She-Hulk become more consistent, but in the beginning, the artwork is distractingly bad. In fact, after six months of study of She-Hulk, I sat looking at the final panel of the first chapter in She-Hulk: Secret Invasion and wondered who the hell the character was supposed to be. The jaw was too angular, the green too dark, and the ears slightly pointed, so I thought she was a Skrull. Interestingly, the very next page (from the subsequent chapter) has different artwork (though she is in the exact same pose from the exact same moment) and it is clearly She-Hulk.

What is missing from She-Hulk: Secret Invasion is Peter David’s sense of humor. While there is a nice gag in the first chapter about the X-Factor offices not being bugged (when there are government employees performing surveillance upon them) and a later line that breaks the fourth wall, most of the book is devoid of quips and commentary that fans of Peter David’s works will recognize as his distinctive narrative voice.

It is not enough to sink She-Hulk: Secret Invasion, but it is enough – in combination with the artwork and lack of strong character development – to keep the book in solidly average territory as it is a very standard trade paperback anthology.

For other works by Peter David, please check out my reviews of:
Triangle: Imzadi II
I, Q
Star Trek Archives 1: The Best Of Peter David


For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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