Comics, Film & TV

What is Marvel’s Secret Invasion?

In preparation for the highly anticipated Secret Invasion series on Disney+, we dive into the cosmic storyline that shook the foundation of the Marvel Universe.

Secret Invasion 2 by Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu
Image: Marvel
By: Javier ReyesJan 31, 2024, 1:52 AM

Secret Invasion is set to be among the next big MCU series to release on Disney+ in 2023. The series is based on the comic book crossover event of the same name about how the shapeshifting Skrulls invaded Earth under the noses of Marvel’s greatest heroes. Based on the trailer released by Marvel last September, the Disney+ series is taking a darker and more grounded direction while still focusing on the mystery and fear of who could be a Skrull walking among humans.

Within comics, many fans consider Secret Invasion a modern classic and one of Marvel’s best crossover events. It delivered a compelling story that felt tense throughout its entire run. Both readers and heroes alike were never sure who was a Skrull at any point. But the true brilliance of this story arc is that it served as a turning point for Marvel in an era when comic books were picking up plenty of steam. Before the release of the highly anticipated Disney+ series, let's take a look back at how the classic storyline unfolded in the comics:

Secret Invasion #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu

Seeds of War

The story was set into motion when Elektra, the famous assassin for hire, was killed and revealed to be a Skrull in disguise. But the true horror of this moment was that this Skrull had gone by undetected. Not even the advanced technology of Iron Man or the world-bending magic of Dr. Strange gave off a single hint that a Skrull was in their presence. It was at this point when the seed of doubt gets planted. Discovering the Skrull brought the realization that the alien race had evolved and that there likely are more lurking throughout the world.

Elektra from Secret Invasion #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu

An Attack on a Fractured Marvel Universe 

From a narrative perspective, the Secret Invasion happened at the perfect time. The event took place in 2008 with the creative team of writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Leinil Yu. The Marvel Universe was still reeling from the cataclysmic events of House of M and Civil War. The mutants were on the brink of extinction while the Avengers splintered. Earth was hardly in a state to protect itself from an alien invasion, let alone from one planned out so ruthlessly and methodically.

Using their newly enhanced shapeshifting abilities, the Skrulls effortlessly infiltrated the Earth’s major defensive systems. The Peak, the base of the Sentient World Observation and Response Department (S.W.O.R.D.), was destroyed by a Skrull impersonating trusted S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Dum Dum Dugan. Reed Richards was stunned and captured by a Skrull posing as Hank Pym. Then lynchpin of the whole plan was a Skrull that took on the persona of Jarvis, the beloved butler of Tony Stark. The Skrull was able to upload a virus into the Stark Enterprises mainframe that swiftly took down the entire network of S.H.I.E.L.D. and all of Tony’s Iron Man suits in one fell swoop. Within a single issue, the Skrulls were able to destabilize the Earth to prepare for their arrival.

From Secret Invasion #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu

As devastating as this multi-pronged attack was, it was only a single step in the grand scheme the Skrulls had in place to take over.

Sowing Fear and Distrust Among Heroes 

One of the major themes throughout the storyline was the careful balancing act between trust and betrayal. The Skrulls showing their hand with the death of “Elektra” was an intentional move to give humans a glimpse of their new powers. Knowing the Skrulls could now shapeshift free of detection made it very clear that anyone could be a Skrull. Even with their backs against the wall, the heroes could never truly trust each other.

This deadly game of who’s who came to a head when a mysterious Skrull ship crashed into the Savage Lands. After being tipped off by Spider-Woman, who was the Skrull Queen Veranke in disguise, two teams led by Iron Man and Luke Cage set out to investigate the ship to find answers on how to reveal the identities of Skrulls. Naturally, the teams distrust each other, thinking they are Skrulls in disguise looking to secure whatever is in that ship. Little do they know, what’s waiting inside that ship is a group of superheroes that look just like them claiming to have been captured by the Skrulls for decades.

Spider-Woman from Secret Invasion #3 by Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu

This dynamic of distrust among heroes was a very fresh take on the conflict. In Civil War, ethics and beliefs defined the battle lines between heroes. But in Secret Invasion, the tension between heroes stems from fear of the unknown. Everyone understands how massive of a threat it is to have the Skrulls knocking on Earth’s door. But even as much as they’d like to trust their companions, the Skrulls made it abundantly clear that they can effortlessly disguise themselves as anyone. Trust was simply a luxury the Marvel heroes could not afford. The Skrulls managed to manipulate the Marvel universe to their will.

Overcoming the Unknown 

Deep into Secret Invasion, the situation had become so dire that it became a case of all hands on deck to protect Earth from world domination. Conflicting heroes and villains put their squabbles aside to help find ways to keep Skrulls from invading. The story brought about team-ups between Iron Man’s Mighty Avengers and Norman Osborn’s Thunderbolts. Everyone put their life on the line to turn the tide against the universe’s most terrifying invading force.

Secret Invasion #6 by Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu

When the dust settled after the final battle, Iron Man was held accountable for why the invasion got as bad as it did. As the leader of both the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D., it was Iron Man’s duty to keep Earth safe. Not only did he fail as Iron Man, but it was also Stark’s poor management of S.H.I.E.L.D. that played a critical role in Earth’s downfall. Had StarkTech not been integrated into the S.H.I.E.L.D., then the organization would not have been so swiftly compromised. After seeing how much of a liability Tony can be, he was kicked out of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the organization was dissolved. Then this is where Norman Osborn steps in.

Norman Osborn from Secret Invasion #8 by Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu

But why Norman Osborn of all people? At the story’s climax, it was Norman Osborn who fired the kill shot against the Skrull Queen and effectively ended the war. That’s right. It was not Iron Man, Thor, or Black Widow that ended the conflict, but Norman Osborn. But, of course, Osborn made sure the cameras were rolling. With that one act, the man gets viewed around the world as a war hero. Osborn then used this new notoriety to manipulate his way up the US government ladder and be appointed the leader of H.A.M.M.E.R, the replacement of S.H.I.E.L.D.

With Tony Stark’s fall and the rise of Norman Osborn, we see another drastic shift in the status quo. It’s made immediately clear to readers that this is still very much the Norman Osborn we all know him to be. The moment he’s appointed the leader of HAMMER, it shows him stepping into a meeting with the likes of Dr. Doom, Namor, Emma Frost, Loki, and The Hood. This immediately puts into motion the events of Marvel’s next major story in Dark Reign.

Secret Invasion #8 by Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu

What to Expect from Secret Invasion on Disney+

While the scale of the series will be much smaller compared to the comics, Secret Invasion will be a big piece in Phase 5 of the MCU. With the introduction of Abigail Brand, played by Emilia Clarke, and the expansion of Skrull lore, the series is laying the foundation to explore more of the cosmic-themed corners of the Marvel Universe. Like its source material, there's plenty of intrigue around how Secret Invasion ties into the greater story of the MCU, with how they've been building up the Skrulls in the background for years now. That mystery behind what's going on with the Skrulls will be what keeps up tuning in when the series finally drops sometime this year.

Emilia Clarke as Abigail Brand
TAGGED: Marvel, Avengers, Secret Invasion
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