Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Other Secret Invasion: Millennium #1

On Wednesday, Marvel Comics launched Secret Invasion, an eight-part miniseries about a hostile alien force secretly infiltrating the world of their heroes, a storyline accompanied by line-wide tie-ins.

In 1988, DC Comics launched Millennium, an eight-part miniseries about a hostile alien force secretly infiltrating the world of their heroes, a storyline accompanied by line-wide tie-ins.

I’m oversimplifying, of course. While the rough plot outlines for Secret Invasion and Millennium can be made to sound an awful lot alike, the DC story, written by Steve Englehart, was about more than just that.

It was about using the complex mythology of the Green Lantern franchise to promulgate some sort of late-80’s, New Age-y nonsense story, resulting in a new superhero team called the New Guardians that would be full of racial stereotypes, with a supervillian and a scantily clad superheroine thrown in for balance.

Their title, The New Guardians, only lasted 12 issues, by the way, a mere fraction of the issues of DC Comics devoted to the launch story.

Having actually read Secret Invasion now, I see now its not that much like Millennium, and not just in the obvious ways: that the infiltrators are green-skinned aliens rather than robots, that it has Iron Man instead of Green Lantern, and that its coloring is much, much, much better.

But how different is it? For that, I’d have to re-read the first issue of Millennium because, while I had read it for the first time only about five years or so ago, all I remember about it was that my favorite Judge Dredd artist Ian Gibson drew it, meaning a lot of the ladies reminded me a lot of Halo Jones

that it made me like Green Lantern comics even less than I did before reading it, and that I couldn’t believe they actually created any of the New Guardians characters, all of whom, having encountered them in the early aughts, made the New Blood characters look inspired and timeless.

Reading Millennium is not something I would recommend anyone do, because it’s pretty terrible (It’s not the worst DC crossover though, as I was able to read and reread it. I couldn’t take eight issues of Countdown, and I’ve tried rereading Genesis a few times, but haven’t been able to get through #1 of that again since the week it came out. I still think they should republish it in trade format, maybe as a black and white Showcase Presents along most of it’s tie-ins to hit that magic 500-page mark, for no reason other than to rub Marvel’s face in the fact that Secret Invasion sounds an awful lot like Millennium. As bad as it is, it would be well worth $16.99 for the snapshot it provides for the DC Universe/DC’s publishing line in 1988).

So just from the ad, a few things jump out as quite different between Millennium and Secret Invasion.

For example, the ad boasts of “over 30 official crossovers!” but is really downplaying it; a checklist in the first issue sets the actual number of ti-in issues at 47.

I don’t know how many tie-ins Secret Invasion will ultimately end up having, but there are 33 listed on the checklist in the back of the first issue, and that only covers April through July, when Secret Invasion #4 ships. In other words, there are 33 tie-ins by the halfway point in the series.

The other noticeable difference form the ad is the pace. Millennium was a weekly series, so it only took two months for the tale to unfold. Secret Invasion is monthly (providing it avoids the sorts of delays Civil War suffered), so it will take eight months to unfold, and, with the build-up and fall-out, will essentially have dominated Marvel’s publishing line for about a year.

I really wish Marvel and DC would look to the weekly format for their big events again. Maybe it doesn’t make as much sense economically on their end, but it really does nail down the sense that something is a big, special occasion.

I know Keith Giffen mentioned in an interview before how cool a weekly-paced story like Infinite Crisis or Civil War would have been. Fans would be punch drunk from the shocks falling that fast and that furious, and it also gets it over with nice and quick, long before event fatigue can set in. (And wouldn’t have a month or three between issues to complain about the developments online before questions revolving around a clone of Thor a continuity reboot via super-punches were moved on from by the comics themselves).

I know I’d be a hell of a lot more excited about Secret Invasion if I knew it would be happening every Wednesday for the next two months and then be over. Instead, its architect has spent about the last year’s worth of two different Avengers series (and the Illuminati mini) covering just a few days to weeks worth of time between the discovery of Skrullektra and the beginning of the invasion; it’s been like a slow-motion action movie, and we just now got to the title credits.

But back to last millennium’s tale of alien invaders posing as super-characters…

The first issue, like the next seven, is written by Steve Englehart, with layouts by Joe Staton and finishes by Ian Gibson. How much of the art is Staton and how much is Gibson seems to change a little bit between each issue; the first issue is exceptionally Gibson-y, but in the second issue, some pages seem a lot less Gibson-y than others. The cover above is by Staton, for comparison’s sake.

Unlike Secret Invasion, there’s not a whole heck of a lot of suspense as to who has been replaced by a Manhunter android in Millennium. On page two, we see the disguised Manhunters all attending a meeting together en masse. In person.

One might think that it’s a rather risky strategy for the Manhunter sleeper agents to all get together like this, particularly after waiting patiently 1,000 years and all. But while the Manhunters may seem like an advanced race of sentient androids, they’re actually 3.5 billion years old, and thus don’t have advanced technology like Wi-Fi in their heads for videoconferencing or whatever.

On page three, the narrator starts outing some of them: Superman’s teenage girlfriend Lana Lang, some dude that works at Ferris Aircraft, Blue Devil’s sister, some dude who knows Captain Atom, some dude apparently from Atlantis, and others probably more apparent to those who were reading DC comics back in 1988.

So what are they doing gathering in one place at one time like this? They’re getting a motivational speech from The Grandmaster, a guy with a funny moustache wearing an outfit from Jack Kirby’s imaginary closet...

As you can see in that last panel, a human being is onto their evil, alien schemes: Tom Kalmaku, Ferris Aircraft mechanic and former sorta sidekick to Green Lantern Hal Jordan.

Hal asked Tom to keep his eye on Mr. Smith of Ferris, and Tom put on his tie and then trailed Smith to this meeting.

“Tom Kalmaku thinks of his wife and kids,” the narrator narrates,

He remembers why they called him Pieface? He remembers that they were a bunch of racist assholes?

Tom realizes this is too much for him, and is about to contact Hal, which in the days before cell phones would have involved him climbing down a fire escape and finding a payphone, when three (undisguised) Manhunters accost him. Tom talks tough, but they plow right into him.

See, “PLOW!” I think this is one of Englehart’s favorite sound effects, as it would come up a lot in this series. At least it comes up a lot for a comic that doesn’t involve any scenes of action farming.

After beating him down and breaking his legs, the Manhunters take Tom to the Los Angeles International airport, and leave him on a runway to be landed on by a plane.

As his life was spent working on airplanes, so shall his life be ended by an airplane. That’s irony for you.

Despite being in severe

pie…pain…(?), he’s able to roll to safety.

And where is Hal Jordan, while his friend is nearly killed by alien robots while running an errand for him?

Why, he and John Stewart are having a pool party with their sexy alien girlfriends and fifth wheel Kilowog.

Just when they’re trying to decide the best way to cheer up a guy who has recently lost his people—Tag? Would a game of tag do it?—a Guardian with the hilarious name of Herupa Hando Hu and a Zamaron named Nadia Safir appear.

The Guardians are, of course, the little blue guys with the big heads and red robes who run the Green Lantern Corps; the Zamarons are the females of the Guardians’ species, who moved to a different planet and evolved quite differently. And more sexily.

The reason for their visit to earth? They plan on creating a new race of immortals, one they fear are in great danger from their ancient enemies, The Manhunters. The Manhunters are, of course, the robot policeman the Guardians created to bring order to the universe before they decided funny aliens with super-rings would be a superior form of order-bringing.

The Lanterns convene many of Earth’s heroes for a meeting, and one by one the teams trickle in: The Justice League International, The Outsiders, Infinity Inc., plus a few solo acts like Aquaman and Green Arrow.

They gather in one big splash page, chatting each other up and thinking thought-clouds about their current status quos, like why Hawkman’s being such an asshole, why Guy Gardner isn’t being as much as an asshole as usual and so on.

The pair of visitors explain their backstories, and how the Crisis (back then, there was only one Crisis) winnowed their numbers. Despite how differently they evolved, the Guardians and Zamarons reunited and paired off to see if they were still sexually compatible.

I guess. I honestly don’t know how else to read these panels…

Oh, and by the way, Gibson draws awesome Green Lantern aliens. Check out that lumpy duck creature in the panel above.

Here it is in close-up:

Each of the pairs has chosen a different method of channeling the unaccustomed energies thus generated!” HHH explains. “In Nadia’s and my case, we have chosen to reappear on earth,” because it’s well known that the next race of immortals in the universe will come from this world.

So, long story long, Nadia and Herupa are going to take their super sex energy and take a chosen ten people “to propel toward the future!”, starting with dead traitor Titan Terra, and they need the heroes to protect those people.

But, having not read “The Judas Contract,” the visitors didn’t realize that Terra was dead, and thus it was too late to make her immortal.

Oh, never mind then, the Guardian says, we’ll call you back when we figure out what the fuck to do now (I’m paraphrasing).

So the heroes all take off to return to their own comic books to take part in their own tie-in adventures, while the immortals get their shit together.

This first issue ends with five of those sets of heroes coming face to face with the Manhunters in their midst—

The Rocket Red who isn’t the Rocket Red we’ll get to know in the pages of JLI! Some bald guy named Ferguson! Dr. Jace, the scientist who gave Geo-Force his powers! The Flash’s dad! And the great god Pan!

I have no idea how those particular cliffhangers will play out. The only tie-in to Millennium I have in my long boxes is an issue of Young All-Stars, a rather odd tie-in given that the comic was set about 40 years before the rest of DC’s line (There was also a Legion tie-in to Millennium, and that was set 1,000 years in the future of the rest of the DCU comics).

None of those heroes get killed by the Manhunters, I know that.

As for what happens next in HHH and Nadia’s quest to create a new race of immortals, check back next month when we’ll examine issue #2.


Anthony Strand said...

Well, Caleb, you managed to make a very bad comic entertaining. Good work.

I will say this for Millennium - the Flash tie-in with his dad was pretty good.

That's all I'll say for Millennium.

Jacob T. Levy said...

"For that, I’d have to re-read the first issue of Millennium"

You're a brave man...

Actually, I remember Millennium being a surprising amount of fun, not least for the exciting weekly pace (there'd never been anything like it before). It was the first time we really got to see the post-Crisis DCU up and running-- Legends had to introduce Wonder Woman, the new Suicide Squad and JL, etc, etc. The Ostranderverse crossovers where they hunted down the Manhunter fort in the swamp were very good, Suicide Squad the best among them. I liked seeing the post-Crisis Superman starting to interact with the Hawks and the Lanterns in a sustained way for the first time in the crossovers where they searched for the Manhunters' homeworld. The Spectre issue was one of my favorites of the whole Moench series. And the Legion crossover worked surprisingly well (alas, poor Laurel.)

It was just that the main plot was ridiculous, and most of the Manhunter reveals were dull, and the New Guardians were everything you say and worse so the whole thing felt shockingly pointless. But we didn't know that the New Guardians would be what they were until the final issue. In the meantime, it really did make for exciting weekly trips to the comics shop.

Jacob T. Levy said...

oh, and the other problem: the crossovers-- you know, the issues of ongoing books that DC hoped new readers would pick up because of the big Millennium banner-- focused on secondary or tertiary supporting cast members one was supposed to recognize by sight. That "some guy" reaction Caleb had looking at the final page of the main book was pretty much what you got out of several of the crossovers- "I picked up this book for the first time, and it's all about some guy with a mustache betraying the lead character, which would have lots of emotional resonance if I were an ongoing reader, but..."

SallyP said...

Oh I know OF Millenium, and even have a few tie-ins, but I've never actually sat down and read the darned thing. I may just have to do that.

Tucker Stone said...

The only thing I liked about Millennium was when Superman helped commit genocide on a robot scale with heat vision in one of the tie-ins. I don't remember anybody liking the New Guardians.

Anonymous said...

It's one of the best STRUCTURED crossovers I've ever read. The content isn't good but the way certain things tie together at the end (especially everything related to the Suicide Squad) is surprisingly well done.