Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Review - All-New Invaders, Volume 2: Original Sin by James Robinson, Steve Pugh, and Marc Laming

Short review: Ryoko wants answer about the use of atomic weapons in World War II and the Invaders mount a rescue attempt to recover Toro from the clutches of a German arms dealer.

Why drop atomic bombs?
Not mutant, but Inhuman
Plus all the Deathloks

Full review: Original Sin is the follow-on volume to Gods and Soldiers, the first installment of the All-New Invaders. Although this book suffers somewhat from "middle-volume" problems, mostly because there is very little that is resolved through its pages, it serves as a good introduction to some new heroes, expanding the team of Invaders by including heroic additions from the formerly Axis powers that are now allies to the former Allied powers. The volume also serves up some fairly interesting character development for a number of established characters, and introduces a new and potentially ominous secret threat to Earth.

The opening pages of this volume serve as a brief prologue, introducing the Japanese-American woman Ryoko Sabuki, also known as the super-hero Radiance, or as she is called in Japan, Supreme Radiant Friend. After battling villainous criminal organizations and monstrous threats in her own country while also establishing herself as a pop star, Radiance is poised to travel to the United States to make her name there. But then this installment takes a turn that highlights both the strengths of the Marvel universe, and its weakness by having the events in this book turn on events drawn from an entirely different book that is not part of this series, specifically the much wider Original Sin story line that revolved around the investigations into the death of the Watcher.

Having crossover stories span several different Marvel titles allows the publisher the opportunity to tell stories with an extremely broad scope, and also knit their fictional universe together more effectively, as events in one set of books also affect another set of books. The drawback to this style of storytelling is that it makes it very difficult for a reader who only want to read one particular story to follow along. It is almost as if Tolkien had simple left The Two Towers out of The Lord of the Rings and instead published the events that were in the middle book in another series, calling it A War in Rohan or something similar, skipping from the end of Fellowship of the Ring to the start of Return of the King without warning the reader that they needed to read this seemingly unrelated story. For dedicated comic book fans who buy multiple titles on a regular basis, this sort of storytelling device is almost invisible, as they will have read the various other sources relied on in this book. For a less dedicated Marvel reader who just wants to read about the Invaders, this method of storytelling is somewhat more problematic, as it requires them to either simply ignore that large events have taken place that are completely unexplained in the text and yet substantially impact the story in this volume, or else they will need to do some research by combing through the internet or tracking down a copy of the extraneous stories that impact this one.

In any event, the Watcher's death sparks a relevation for Radiance and she ends up taking over a S.H.I.E.L.D. base and demanding to speak to the Human Torch Jim Hammond, Namor, or Spitfire. As Hammond became a newly minted S.H.I.E.L.D. agent at the end of the last volume, he draws the short straw and ends up having to negotiate with an angry super-heroine with the ability to fire lasers from her eyes (and pretty much any other body part). It turns out that Radiance is angry about the U.S.'s decision to drop atomic weapons on Japan at the end of World War II, and specifically demands to know what role the Invaders had in making it happen. This leads to a flashback involving the restructured Invaders that included a replacement Captain America and Bucky and the Kid Commandos, a team that included Ryoko's grandmother and a dispute over a plan to have Namor create a tidal wave to destroy the remaining Japanese fleet in the Pacific. But there are civilians in the way, including innocent islanders, and the wave will kill them as well, a price that in the end the heroes decided was simply too high. As the Invaders declined to execute the plan to destroy the Japanese fleet, the U.S. turned to the use of Fat Man and Little Boy instead. In an interesting aside, Hammond states that none of the Invaders knew the status of the weapons, and speculates that if Steve Rogers had still been alive at the time, he might have been able to dissuade the U.S. government from using nuclear weaponry. This is an interesting wrinkle that highlights Marvel's long-standing willingness to comment on history and politics, often in a fairly thoughtful manner.

The entire story of Hammond's discussion with Ryoko is told as a flashback itself, as Hammond is debriefed by a S.H.I.E.L.D. psychologist who turns out to be a little bit unusual. But this sequence leads to the next part of the story in which Hammond discovers that Tom Raymond, his old sidekick Toro, has been kidnapped and the Invaders need to gather to mount a rescue mission, the second such type of mission in as many volumes of the series. The part of the story also includes a brief scene involving the Marvel universe Illuminati, although, as with the death of the Watcher mentioned above, the casual reader is given no context at all for it. The important element for this story is that it gives Hammond the opportunity to explain to Namor that Toro is not a mutant, as everyone had assumed, but is rather an Inhuman whose nature had been prematurely revealed by his contact with Hammond. This is part of what appears to be Marvel's ongoing shift from having mutants be the default explanation for characters with super-powers to the ancient meddling of the Kree in human evolution. Given the fact that the Invaders series started with the Kree seizing an artifact from Earth and attempting to subjugate the Invaders, the fact that so many of the newly introduced characters that seem destined to ultimately oppose the Kree designs are actually the products of Kree actions seems rather ironic.

The story leads Namor and Hammond to an improbable secret base where the Winter Soldier is waiting to join them. From there, the fighting seems almost like a rerun of the climatic fight of the previous volume as Namor and Hammond make a flashy assault as a distraction while the Winter Soldier infiltrates the enemy complex trying to track down something the villain wants to keep hidden. Except that the similarities are only on the surface, as this time the quarry Bucky is hunting for is just bait intended to draw the Invaders into the villain's trap, which is lined with essentially all of the Deathloks in existence. But the story leads the Winter Soldier to another new ally, the German super-hero Iron Cross, a woman descended from the Iron Cross the Invaders fought in World War II, and who it turns out is yet another Inhuman. The conflict also leads to the revelation that the villain, a German arms dealer named Dagmar, is not exactly what he seems to be. The truly key element is that despite the fact that the fighting scenes are flashy and visually stunning, they are far less important than the scenes that surround them that develop the characters and the plot. With the introduction of both Radiance and Iron Cross, the Invaders now have allies drawn from the former Axis powers, a symbolic unification of Earth's heroes in what appears to be a prelude to alien invasion. The sequence also contains a nice piece of character development as Captain America interacts with Colonel Manning, able to form a connection with the Deathlok because of their shared service as soldiers.

The final pages of Original Sin jump to Union Jack, the Mighty Destroyer, and Spitfire as they confront what appears to be a Martian menace in the Thames. This both sets up future developments in the series and also serves to call back to the older Invaders series where these characters would crop up regularly. This serves to put a spotlight on the fact that this series is, in at least some part, an exercise in nostalgia, bringing to the fore super-heroes usually attributed to Marvel's World War II era comics and using them in the modern universe as a gift to long-time fans. But it also serves to flesh out the world just a bit more, using characters that may have not gotten as much attention as they might have deserved in recent years.

All-New Invaders: Original Sin is an interesting but somewhat maddeningly incomplete volume. Because it was part of a larger crossover story, the story in this volume feels a bit disjointed as events that take place in other Marvel books impact the plot in substantial ways, but are explained in a minimal manner at most in the text of this book. Further, a decent chunk of the appeal of this book is based on nostalgia, as relatively obscure characters from old comics set in World War II crop up on a regular basis to make brief cameos here and there. Despite these issues, Original Sin remains an enjoyable book, as the handful of omitted elements don't spoil the story as presented here. While a dedicated Marvel reader is likely to get more out of the book due to their greater immersion in the fictional universe, a casual reader will find enough is given in the pages here that the story holds together, albeit with tantalizing hints that there is much more hidden elsewhere. In short, a casual comic reader will probably enjoy this book, but a dedicated Marvel reader will probably enjoy it much more.

Previous volume in the series: All-New Invaders, Volume 1: Gods and Soldiers
Subsequent volume in the series: All-New Invaders, Volume 3: The Martians Are Coming

James Robinson     Steve Pugh     Marc Laming     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

No comments:

Post a Comment