Thursday, October 29, 2015

Review - All-New Invaders, Volume 3: The Martians Are Coming by James Robinson, Steve Pugh, and Marc Laming

Short review: The Invaders must deal with Hammond's madness while Tanalth and Makkari meet in secret. Iron Cross calls upon her allies to deal with some neo-Nazis and then the Inhumans turn everything into a family squabble.

Old Martian menace
Two enemies meet in secret
Let's fight some Nazis!

Full review: The Martians Are Coming is the third and final volume in the All-New Invaders series, closing off some of the story lines, giving answers to a few of the mysteries, but also leaving numerous plot points open as well as a pile of unanswered questions. As happened with Original Sin, the story in this volume suffers somewhat due to the reliance on events that took place in other Marvel properties that are only described in passing. On the other hand, this volume delves even deeper into Marvel history, referencing not only heroes from Marvel's World War II era, but going back further to feature heroes from Marvel's World War I era. The central problem with this volume is that it serves mostly as exposition, laying the foundation for a payoff to come in some future book that is not part of this series.

The volume opens with the Invaders dealing with the fallout of their confrontation with the disguised Martian Dagmar in Original Sin, chasing an enraged and apparently insane Jim Hammond about the globe trying to find and help the wayward Human Torch. This team, which includes the original members, but also adds the German hero Iron Cross and the Japanese heroine Radiance, presents the reader with a much more international group that seems to symbolize the transition of the former Axis powers from enemies of the United States to allies. The one other substantial change to the Invaders is Steve Rogers, who has aged and seemingly lost his powers - but this critical development takes place outside the scope of this series. When a reader of the All-New Invaders saw Steve Rogers he was a hale and hearty Captain America fighting Deathloks and Martians, giving metaphorical soldierly fist-bumps with Colonel Manning, and standing guard over Toro's cocoon-like pod. By contrast, the first time he shows up in The Martians Are Coming he is a grey-haired man who speaks through a view screen because he is too frail to actually come on the mission. For anyone who has not read the other Marvel titles in which this transition took place, this is likely to be at least a little bit jarring.

Soon the book turns to the strength of the series with a flashback to World War I in which Union Jack, Sir Steel, Iron Fist, the Crimson Cavalier, and the Phantom Eagle confront an unexpected menace in London: The Martians that the title of the book warns are coming seem to have actually arrived in 1917. The group, known as Freedom's Five, are interrupted while planning an attack on Ursula Frankenstein's castle while having dinner at Union Jack's gentleman's club and have to face the defend the city's terrified citizenry from the invading aliens. The battle is tense until unexpected help arrives that seems a little bit like a deus ex machina, and after the aliens are put on the run, the help vanishes as quickly and as mysteriously as it arrived. This sequence the reveals that this account is being read years later by the Union Jack's successor as well as Spitfire and the Mighty Destroyer who are seeking information about the Martian attack they recently fended off, an encounter that was teased in the last pages of the previous volume. This leads to yet another surprise revelation as the Winter Soldier shows up with Killraven, a veteran of the fight against the Martians.

At this point the story bogs down a bit as the scene shifts to deep space where Tanalth the Pursuer of the Kree Empire is secretly meeting with Makkari of the Eternals on an ancient play board used by a long extinct and forgotten race of space titans. This meeting is ostensibly so that Makkari and Tanalth can exchange information, as they both have the vague uneasy feeling that their respective realms are threatened in some way, but it turns into little more than extended expository infodumps, and in some cases redundant infodumps as the pair pass along information that the reader already knows. In a bizarre twist, they also pass along exposition that is reliant on material not in this particular series, managing the somewhat dubious accomplishment of providing the reader with information they already have and information that is handed over without any context at all. This entire section of the book is essentially the price one pays for reading a story set in the Marvel universe, as it serves basically no purpose other than to sum up the state of the story and provide some groundwork for plot points that will pay off in some entirely different series put out by the publisher in the future. In the end, this portion of the book ends with a brief fight and then a whimper as the two wary almost-allies part ways after essentially saying "let's keep in touch".

It is somewhat odd to follow-up a sequence that serves to deposit a pile of exposition on the reader with another sequence that, in large part, does much the same thing, and yet that is what this book does, moving on to a conversation between Hammond and Toro as they update the reader on Toro's status and engage in some brief but fairly critical character development for Hammond that highlights just how alienated from humanity he feels as a result of being an android. The sequence is intercut with a scene of Iron Cross fighting a neo-Nazi super-villain named Uber Alles, leading eventually to a climatic scene in which the Invaders, including Radiance and Toro but not the Winter Soldier, come to her aid. This sequence also shows Sam Wilson in his new role as the new Captain America, a development that was kind of given away by his appearance in the costume on the cover of the volume. This fight is extremely convoluted, as first the Invaders arrive, Toro's Inhuman nature manifests itself, the Inhuman renegade Lash arrives to try to persuade Iron Cross, Toro, and Uber Alles to join his cause, and finally the Inhuman Royal House under Medusa's command shows up to oppose Lash.

The final battle is interspersed with a conversation between Rogers, Hammond, and Namor on a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, as they more or less club the reader over the head by expounding on the significance of the events of the conflict. On one level this sequence is touching, as we see what amounts to three veteran soldiers catching up with one another. On another level this sequence is tragic, as it highlights just how circumstance has excluded the Winter Soldier is from the cadre of friends that he should rightfully be able to be with. And on yet another level this sequence is clumsy and ham-fisted, as it mostly amounts to one character asking "What happened to this person who isn't here", and then another tossing out a brief update on their status. The whole conversation ends with a long speech by Rogers as he more or less sums up the unresolved plot points of the series and says that everyone needs to be on their guard against these potential threats.

The final pages of the book sum up the strengths of the series, as Hammond deals with his newly-acquired mischievous super-powered cat. This brief coda is a moment of pure character development, and to a certain extent that is the core of the entire All-New Invaders series. While the larger plot developments remain largely unresolved - the Martians are, after all, coming, and not actually arriving yet - the series is primarily about character development mostly focused on Hammond, but also bringing new Inhumans such as Iron Cross and Toro into the picture. The series also throws a small spotlight on some somewhat obscure characters such as the British Invaders and Killraven, suggesting that they are likely to be important in the near future as the somewhat shadowy Martian menace lurks, seemingly not quite ready to pounce. While this book provides almost no answers, and the series as a whole presents something well short of a complete story arc, it still feels relatively satisfying due to the many character notes that it hits right on the nose. As with the other books in the series, a dedicated Marvel reader will likely get more out of this volume than a casual reader will, but The Martians Are Coming is still strong enough that even a casual reader will likely enjoy it.

Previous volume in the series: All-New Invaders, Volume 2: Original Sin

Potential 2016 Hugo Nominees

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