The Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to dive into one of the more interesting long-form stories they've told in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: The Secret Invasion.
The comic book series took place throughout most of 2008, and was a sloppy, divisive mess with a lot of very cool moments and ideas buried under a pile of mediocre plot points and side stories. The main series was a bit of a turd, especially given how promising the build up to it had been. But the build up and then the fallout were some of the best bits of storytelling Marvel has done.
I'm going to present this story three ways. First, All Of The Trade Paperbacks That Have Secret Invasion Somewhere In The Name. There are twenty-seven of them, and I'm going to give you a brief run down of all of them in as close to a satisfying chronological order as is possible, given Marvel's complicated relationship with how time functions.
Next, I'm going to cut everything down to The Best Ten Books Of The Series. You might notice that the order is slightly different and that's because it doesn't have to track with a bunch of dull side-stories. I hope the upcoming series is similar to this core set of books.
Finally, are the books surrounding Secret Invasion that tell a Marvel-encompassing story. It's my own continuity. All but one of the books on the list I consider to be four or five stars and they do build up to The Secret Invasion, and then give you a cool epilogue.
Most of the reading guides I've encountered suggest you read the main title, Secret Invason, first, and then expand your knowledge by reading all the side stories. I politely disagree. The main volume of Secret Invasion is a jagged mess of continuity that tries to incorporate the main storybeats of the tie-in volumes which mainly take place in New York, while also telling the story of The Avengers and New Avengers dealing with a Skrull infestation in the Savage Land. I think the main title works best as a recap engine rather then setting up the story. S0 here's how I would read All Of The Secret Invasion Tie-Ins, if I had to.
1. The Complete Marvel Secret Invasion
1. Captain Marvel Secret Invasion
This volume begins back during Marvel's Civil War, where we discover that the Kree warrior, Captain Mar-vell, who has been dead in canon since the 1980s. No longer infected with the lung cancer that killed him many years ago, Mar-Vell is living in France where he obsesses over a painting in the Louvre. Soon, the outside world becomes aware of his seeming ressurection. A cult pops up. Tony Stark, the current head of SHIELD wants to know how Mar-Vell is alive again. Mar-Vell's mentee, Carol Danvers (herself, a future Captain Marvel) tries to help him understand his place in the world. Oh, and the Skrulls seem to somehow be involved, which makes Mar-Vell very nervous. This is one of the best books in the whole Secret Invasion line, and it shows a lot of heart and reverance for Mar-Vell and the universe he inhabits. It's on all three versions of my Secret Invasion list.
2. Secret Invasion Infiltration
This is a prelude anthology featuring several of the issues that lead up to the actual Secret Invasion. Shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer used to do pre-credit teasers to remind you of the important storybeats that led you to the current episode. And some series (I think "Lost" might have done this) do an entire full episode where they recap the series highlights just before the final episode. This is collection is like that. Here are four of the most important stories that set up Secret Invasion, stretching all the way back to the first appearance of The Skruls in the 1960s. It's a decent collection, and certainly does its job at setting up the event.
3. Secret Invasion: Inhumans
A book of diminishing returns, this book focuses on the Kree-created inhumans who've discovered (as we did in Secret Invasion Infiltration, that one of their own has been replaced by a Skrull. While the Skrulls engage in a massive invasion of the Inhumans' base, a core group of Inhumans go off in search of revenge, and to discover what happened to the person who was replaced. There are some nifty art choices, but this was the first disappointing book in the series
4. Secret Invasion: Thor
If you like mediocre Thor stories, this is every one issue mediocre Thor story extended into three issues using extensive narration boxes. It's supposed to be a feel good story about how the people of Midgard come to the aid of their Asgardian neighbors but it's really just an excuse to involve Asgard in the Secret Invasion. It's written by Matt Fraction, who must have been busy with other projects because this is one of his least impressive books.
5. Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four
Read the second half of this volume first, it includes a couple of issues that set up the first half of this book (Marvel's trade collection editors are notoriously awful at understanding how narrative structure works). Once you've read the 20th century stories, flip back to the beginning and see how The Thing and The Flash, the Richards children, and the top of the Baxter Building end up in The Negative Zone, and what that has to do with the sudden influx of Skrulls in the Marvel Universe. I think this is one of the better Secret Invasion books but that opinion doesn't appear to be unanimous among Marvel fans.
6. Mighty Avengers Vol 3: Secret Invasion
A really enjoyable pre-Secret Invasion book, this volume contains four behind-the-scenes skrull activities set just before/at the beginning of The secret Invasion. Nick Fury in hiding. Nick Fury and Quake (yes, from the Agents of SHIELD show) recruit and form The Secret Warriors, the Skrulls fuck with the mentally unstable Sentry, and Hank Pym is targeted. Each story is solid, and gives insight into some of the impending storylines from the main series. It's definitely worth reading, no matter how involved you would like to get with Secret Invasion. It's a top tier side story collection.
7. Avengers The Intiative Vol 3: Secret Invasion
The Initiative was a post-Civil War book that threw 50 new teams together and tried to follow cool characters from several of them. It was too crowded with ideas and characters, and apart from a few interesting issues, it was mostly just a book to test out new characters as it waited to be canceled. Here, we got two interesting characters to focus on, and an ending that could have been really impactful is nerfed by bad pacing and general sloppiness. Even the timely return of Skrull Kill Krew went from oooooh to ewwwww pretty quickly. Feel free to skip this one
8. Secret Invasion: War Machine
Spinning out of a scene in Avengers The Initiative 3: Secret Invasion is this story about how Rhodey (aka War Machine) deals with the Skrull infiltration. It is, by far, the worst of the Secret Invasion books. It doesn't have any interesting concepts, there are no impactful character beats, it's a very generic superhero story focused on a character that isn't given much personality. It could seriously kill the momentum of someone who's enjoyed this Secret Invasion readthrough thusfar, so if you do read it and are thinking of tapping out, know that it never gets worse than this book
9. Noval Vol 3: Secret Invasion
Kieth Giffen, Dan Abnett, and Andy Lanning brought Marvel's cosmic universe characters back to relevance around the time that Civil War and Secret Invasion were dominating the Earth-focused stories. The space soap opera does a great job at explaining alien races' goals and interrelationships. In this volume, Marvel's top space cop has to deal with failing technology, Galactus, and intergalactic politics, and THEN he becomes aware of the impending Skrull invasion. There's an effortless flow of plots in this book that makes me want to go back and read the entire 21st century Marvel Cosmic stories
10. Captain Britain & MI3 Vol 1: Secret Invasion
This is the first volume that had to over come one of my prejudices. I just don't care about the British portion of the Marvel Universe or its magical/historical aspects. This book didn't help me win me over. It's filled with really melodramatic British nationalism, including a character being resurrected by a bunch of British flags weaving themselves together in the air. The only part of the books I found interesting was another Good Skrull storyline.
11. New Avengers Vol 8: Secret Invasion
Perhaps the strongest anthology style volume, so far, as Bendis shows us the setup to Secret Invasion through the eyes of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Wolverine, Maya Lopez, and the Skrulls on homeland. Each story is interesting but the first two are especially strong. There's also an issue that takes place in the Savage Land during the midst of the main series. That issue is a mess, and hard to follow, even if you have an A in Marvel comic reading.
12. Secret Invasion: Who Do You Trust?
A waste of paper. This should only be bought if you have a serious completist fetish. It has barely any stories in it, mainly devoting pages to Marvel Encyclopedia style information about the characters in the Secret Invasion. There is a brief story about Captain Marvel that comes after the excellent Captain Marvel Secret Invasion, and it's not great, and certainly not good enough to justify paying for the rest of this book.
13. X-Factor Vol 6: Secret Invasion
This is the first part of a crossover with She-Hulk that I'm calling Secret Invasion: Detroit, it has a promising sense of story. There's a focus on recent X-Men character, Darwin, the return of Longshot, and an intriguing connection to the Skrull Invasion. Unfortunately, it's saddled with what may be the worst art in the history of Marvel Comics. Larry Stroman was talented. His work on David's 90s X-Factor run was very much of the era but with an interesting sense of style. His work here looks like he metaphorically and literally took a dump on a page and then ran his fingers idly through it. It's unreadable.
14. She-Hulk Vol 8: Secret Invasion
Part Two of Secret Invasion: Detroit, there's some overlap here, as we see She-Hulk's friend, a reformed Skrull warn her of the impending Secret Invasion before they end up caught up in X-Factor's madness. This is followed by The Good Skrull battling her father and her past. It has some real cheesy moments but the idea behind the story is interesting.
15. Secret Invasion: Young Avengers/Runaways
Part one of Meanwhile In New York. A messy crossover of two previously excellent books. Brian K Vaughan's Runaways was fantastic, as was Jim Cheung's Young Avengers. Neither of them workd on this book. Each team has Good Skrulls (TM) on them so it should lead to some theoretically interesting twists but it's just a boring paint by numbers Marvel adventure with some Skrull action sequences.
16. Secret Invasion: Home Invasion
I tend to enjoy books where you see a superhero universe through the eyes of a reporter or some random schlub. This is a random schlub story about an unimportant girl whose brother turns out to be a Skrull, even though he doesn't appear to be anyone worth impersonating. She escapes to her prom to meet up with her bf, and then they're chased by Skrulls until they run into The Young Avengers (but no Runaways), Binary, and Nick Fury. It's a very melodramatic teen book which wasn't my favorite but doesn't deserve the wrath I've seen other reviewers direct towards it. Part 2 of Meanwhile In New York.
17: Secret Invasion: The Amazing Spider-Man
Except it's not Spider-Man because he's in The Savage Land fighting The Secret Invasion so this book, the third Meanwhile In New York story follows relatively new Spider-family member, Jackpot, and some of Spidey's other B characters from the time. This is an inoffensive and unimpressive book that isn't necessary to follow the events of Secret Invasion, but it's a fun read.
18. Secret Invasion: X-Men
The Skrulls in San Francisco think they'll have it easy until they realize that the mutants have recently settled in Utopia, an island off the coast of California. This book does an excellent job of using many characters but using them well, and tying into previous storylines that have nothing to do with The Skrulls but that become important to how they free The Bay Area from Skrull concentration camps.
19. New Avengers Vol 9: Secret Invasion Book 2
The best of the Secret Invasion anthologies, we see the setups and crises of Secret Invasion through the eyes of specific New Avengers and their rogues gallery. This volume is Bendis at his best.
20. Secret Invasion: New Warriors
The previous New Warriors team was responsible for the incident that caused Marvel's Civil War. This newer roster is mainly just a bunch of C-grade or less characters thrown together. I just didn't care about anything that happened in this book
21. Incredible Hercules: Secret Invasion
Despite the "Secret Invasion" label on this cover, it's referred to as the "Sacred Invasion" within the story. I found this story about various human gods versus various Skrull gods absoutely impenetrable. I would really have to struggle to care less about a single character or plot detail in this book. It has zero effect on the overall secret invasion story.
22. Carol Danvers: The Ms Marvel Years Book 2
The Secret Invasion focused portion of this book is long out of print, but this book stretches from the birth of The Initiative (which plays heavily in Secret Invasion anyway) to the aftermath of the invasion with a strong focus on some scenes from the main Secret Invasion title where Carol Danvers, a well-known Kree warrior, is believed to be a Skrull
23. Thunderbolts: Secret Invasion
Norman Osborn is about to be The Big Bad of the Marvel Universe at the end of Secret Invasion. Here we see his team of supposedly reformed criminals trying to get good PR by fighting The Skrulls. Apart from a brief Captain Marvel scene (which also appears in the main Secret Invasion book), this is a story of some pretty good ideas, poorly written.
24. Deadpool: Secret Invasion
For a better book explaining Osborn's rise to power (though he barely appears in the book), Deadpool is the way to go. It's a silly Wade Wilson vs Skrulls and Super Skrulls book that manages to include a key plot to the setup for Dark Reign that doesn't appear in any other book. This was the very beginning of Daniel Way's run on Deadpool, which is probably the best run in the title's history.
25. Mighty Avengers Vol 4: Secret Invasion Book 2
Marvel made some strange editorial choices when it came to telling the Secret Invasion story. This book is one of them. This is not the story of what The Mighty Avengers were going through during The Secret Invasion, it's five major events of The Secret Invasion that all took place behind-the-scenes of the main book. The only connective tissue is that Skrulls are involved. Each book focuses on different characters and at very different points in the main storyline. I love it, but it's not really connected to The Mighty Avengers.
26. Secret Invasion: Front Line
One of two Secret Invasion books that focus on the point of view of non-superheroes, there is a lot to like in this collection. Ben Urich of one of Marvel's great background characters, particularly when he shows up in Daredevil. Here, he's doing an interview when the Skrull invasion hits and has to reckon with his mortality, his relationship with his wife, and his commitment to his job. We also see a police officer trying to do the right thing and a daughter trying to connect with her father during the crisis. There are a few great emotional beats in this story. It does suffer from some of that good old accidental racism of early 2000s comics. Why do we need to have a gang pop up in the middle of this story? Why do they have to be Black? What purpose does that story tell that couldn't have been more compelling if it were a group of skinheads or just a random assortment of people consumed by the chaos of the invasion? It took me out of the story for a few pages as I thought about why that particular storyline needed to be injected into this narrative. Otherwise, this was a solid read.
27. Secret Invasion
In professional wrestling, there are all sorts of different type of matches. There are technical masterpieces, strong style sluggers, hardcore violent matches, and spotfests, to name a few. In comics, I'm usually a fan of technical masterpieces. Stories that build up to a complex confrontation with twists, and turns. Even when you can easily guess the outcome, it's fascinating to watch the journey. Secret Invasion is Brian Michael Bendis's spotfest. It's less a story, and more of a bunch of cool reveals that bounce you to the next surprise plot point. It never really settles enough for you to get invested in the characters because it's always And This Person Is A Skrull And That Person Dies And This Person Is A Skrull And Look At All These Skrulls Who Is A Skrull Now Oh My God What Will Happen Now That We Know That Person Is A Skrull.
2. The Best Of Marvel's Secret Invasion
All of the descriptions for this list are in the above entry. This is just the streamlined order for people who don't have time to read the mediocre to terrible books.
1. Captain Marvel Secret Invasion
2. Secret Invasion Infiltration
3. Mighty Avengers Vol 3: Secret Invasion
4. Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four
5. Nova Vol 3: Secret Invasion
6. Mighty Avengers Vol 4: Secret Invasion Book 2
7. New Avengers Vol 9: Secret Invasion Book 2
8. Black Panther: Secret Invasion
9. Secret Invasion
10. Frontline: Secret Invasion
3. The Marvelous Secret Invasion
Here's a look at a few of the most important storylines of 21st century Marvel, with some preamble, a focus on The Secret Invasion, and an epilogue that ties up some loose ends that don't, necessarily, involve Skrulls.
The ultimate classic retelling of the early days of the Marvel Universe from the Golden Age of the 1930s to the early Silver Age of the 1970s, Kurt Busiek gives an in-depth study of the world's initial reactions to superheroes, mutants, and the mid-twentieth century science boom through the eyes of photographer Phil Sheldon. This is densely packed primer on Marvel history by one of its best writers. It's also the series that introduced the world to Alex Ross. Long gone are the days when I was interested in his endlessly static and uninspiring covers, but in this book, you really get a sense for why he was such a big deal when the world was first exposed to his art.
2. West Coast Avengers Epic Coll Vol 3: Vision Quest
A spin-off of the Avengers series, the West Coast Avengers were a chance for writers to explore some of the less popular but equally interesting characters. So, no Iron Man, Captain America, or Thor but Moon Knight, She-Hulk, Hawkeye, Vision, and Scarlet Witch. There are several stories of varying quality in this collection, but for us, there's the problem of The Scarlet Witch's children. Where they came from, who they are. This book is the inspiration for WandaVision, as well as some later books on this list. It's a fascinating conceit.
3. The Death Of Captain Marvel
Marvel's first ever graphic novel, this is the story of how an early hero succumbs to cancer as a result of his superheroing career. It features a bunch of Avengers, and other hero cameos.
4. Skull Kill Krew
Two of the biggest writers of early 21st century comics, Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, cut their Marvel teeth on this violent mini-series where the Skrulls who were turned into cows way back in Fantastic Four #2 are slaughtered and served as beef, infecting the human population who became heroes who hunted down Skrulls who were already, in the mid-90s, infiltrating the Marvel Universe.
5. Marvel Boy By Grant Morrison
A Kree warrior is on a quest to kill Skrulls when he gets caught on Earth, and loses all of his friends and loved ones and has to start his life over after being a prisoner of one corporation, only to be re-imprisoned by SHIELD. It's there that he declares war on Earth.
6. Avengers Disassembled
Brian Michael Bendis is the main architect of Secret Invasion, and this was the first huge Marvel event by him that caught my attention. The Avengers are in a flux period, their roster isn't exactly The Best Team Ever. At a pool party, someone inadvertantly mentions an event from the past that ends up completely destroying the team.
7 & 8. New Avengers Vol 1 & 2
Six months after Diassembled, a breakout at a supervillain prison called The Raft means that a new, all-star team of Avengers comes together, featuring Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Spider-Woman, and The Sentry. And once the supervillains have been rounded up, the new team must figure out who exactly The Sentry is, and whether they can help him stay sane.
9. & 10. House Of M Prelude: Exclaibur, House Of M
While discussing staying sane, Wanda is stil recovering from Disassembled, and her father, Magneto, wants to protect her from the rest of the world. Professor X and a small team of mutants joins him to try and keep Wanda from harming herself and the world.
Only they do a terrible job, and Wands creates an entire new universe where mutants rule, and humans are the oppressed minority. Every mutant essentially gets what they wanted. But a new character who "knows things" starts showing up and giving mutants and humans their memories of the previous universe. This temporary group of heroes must band together and restore the proper universe.
11. Young Avengers Ultimate Collection
This original run of Young Avengers by Jim Cheung features a new generation of Avengers assembled by Vision who believes the real Avengers team will never get back together (apparently, he isn't reading my chronology). These young versions of the classic heroes have their own problems, and a couple of them seem like they might be connected to the Disassembled event.
12. & 13. The Road To Civil War, Civil War
See the birth of the Marvel Universe's Illuminati. Check out how Iron Man is giving Spider-Man a new lease on crime fighting life. And, hey, The Fantastic Four battle (who else?) Dr. Doom when some Asgardian nonsense comes into play.
Then the actual Civil War. A group of young heroes makes a mistake, and a villain kills 600 people while they're filming a reality TV show. Ooof. So the United States decides to pass The Superhero Registration Act, which doesn't go over well with, let's say half the heroes. This is one of the best Event Comics in Marvel history, despite a ton of delays, and some inconsistent side stories.
14. The Death Of Captain America Complete Collection
This came out during the Batman Is Dead (actually, he's just traveling through time somehow) era of comics. I remember my coworker reading the issue where Cap dies, and flinging the book across the room, calmly walking over, picking it up, and tearing it in half before hanging it up on our Variant Wall as "Captain America Torn Variant".
I think, as a piece of the larger Ed Brubaker run, it's fine. There's a lot of Winter Soldier in this volume, and once you get past the death of Cap and realize it's a comic book, and death is never permanent, you get a solid look at SHIELD and the Marvel Universe in a post-Civil War America. Brubaker is one of the best writers in comics, and he is at the top of his game here. The color scheme is a little dark for me, but this was during Marvel's muddy phase so there's not a lot to do about it.
15 & 16. Annihilation Ultimate Collection 1 & 2
If you love the MCU's Guardians of the Galaxy movies, you should know that the inspiration for those films starts here. The cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe had long been kind of dark, broody, and removed from everything else. The Guardians were often cheesy characters who screamed out the names of their loved ones during tragedies. It was super hokey in a way that some people love. Not my thing. But here, Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and a host of other creators tell the story of how Annihilus assembles an armada of war ships so large and threatening that every major Marvel cosmic character must team up to stop them. One of the many casualties of this war are the Skrull, which hastens their push towards The Secret Invasion.
17. X-Men Endangered Species
At the end of House Of M, The Scarlet Witch declared "No More Mutants", and the population of mutants in the Marvel Universe went from billions down to 198. While many of the other X-Men still act as superheroes, battling Apocalypse, and their usual cast of villains, Beast goes on a trek to restore the X-gene and see how to increase the number of mutants in the world.
18. Planet Hulk
The Illuminati that we met during The Road To Civil War have had to make difficult decisions throughout Marvel history. One of them is what to do about the constant stream of destruction that surrounds Bruce Banner/The Hulk. So they ask him to go to space to fix a satellite, only for him to discover that they're actually shipping him off to a planet without other life so he can live out his days peacefully, not harming anyone. He reacts by wrecking the ship, taking him to a planet with plenty of hostile life, where he becomes a gladiator during his attempt to find a ship and return home.
19. World War Hulk
Probably the weakest of any series in this chronology, we follow The Hulk and his surviving friends and family from the Planet Hulk saga as Banner returns to Earth for revenge on those who jettisoned him into space.
20. New Avengers The Trust
Our ultimate team of super Avengers are on an away mission to Japan to battle The Hand when they discover that one of their best frenemies has, at some point, been replaced by a Skrull, and they worry about the possibility that an invasion is underway. Perhaps, a Secret Invasion.
21-30. The Best Of Marvel's Secret Invasion (see above)
This is the Best Of Marvel's Secret Invasion in its entirety, except that I've removed the epilogue, Secret Invasion Frontline, as, instead of needing a wrapup, we're going to explore a little further into the aftermath of the invasion.
31. Punisher Dark Reign
Norman Osborn rose to power during the Skrull Invasion, and has groups of Avengers and X-Men under his power. He's being treated as a new Iron Man figure called The Iron Patriot. Frank Castle decides that this can not stand, and sets out to destroy Osborn, as well as any surviving Skrulls.
32. Secret Warriors Complete Collection Vol 1
During the Secret Invasion, Nick Fury put together a new team to ferret out not only Skrulls but also Hydra members who infiltrated SHIELD. This is the story of how they operate during Norman Osborne's Dark Reign
33. Avengers Prime
Captain America (oh yea, he's alive again, don't ask how), Thor, and Iron Man must put apart their Civil War differences to save Asgard, after it seems to be destroyed as a consequence to Seige (the final portion of Dark Reign, which isn't worth the read). This is a story about repairing relationships, and it's pretty well told.
34. Avengers Children's Crusade
The Young Avengers go off in search of The Scarlet Witch, who has been mostly missing since the end of House Of M (we did see her pop up in X-Men Endangered Species). We get some answers to some questions that have been lingering since the West Coast Avengers Epic Coll Vol 3 Vision Quest. It may not be a wrap up on The Skrulls (we haven't really had one yet, and their recent appearances require way more continuity than I want to put on this already long, complex list), but it's a fun read, and really feels like the end of a very long Marvel storyarc.
How To Read The Sandman/Hellblazer/Vertigo Universe If You Just Want To Love It, 3: The High Cost Of Living
We're a couple of weeks away from Sandman finally coming to television. The previews for it look fantastic. Fingers crossed that this ends up more Good Omens than Neverwhere.
After about a year long break, I dove back into the Vertigo universe, revisiting old favorite stories and reading some for the first time.
The central theme of this season is Death. The member of The Endless. Yes, we have three Morpheus stories, two Lucifer stories, one Lucifer, one Madame Xanadu, and one focused exclusively on Death, but Death of The Endless appears in all but one of these "episodes", even if she just pops up briefly.
Also, if you're only really invested in Morpheus's story, this can be your final season. I have at least one or two more before I'm finished, but this brings an end to the Sandman proper stories.