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Reign Down, Reign Down, Come On, Reign Down On Meeeeee

Graeme McMillan

I have to admit, I’m not sure I get Dark Reign.

I mean, on the one hand, I get why Marvel are doing it; The Initiative branding gave the post-Civil War books a feeling of importance and consistency that they wouldn’t really have had otherwise, so why not do the same thing for the post-Secret Invasion books?

(And to take a detour for a second, I may have missed the last couple of issues of Secret Invasion because of the move and the citizenship thing and everything else, but still: What happened? As much as the entire series was kind of playing for time and everything, what with nothing actually happening for most of it and all, the last couple of issues still managed to feel like an incredible anti-climax.)

But, plotwise, I don’t see the point of Dark Reign; it feels like Marvel’s creative hivemind has decided “Hey, that whole Police State thing that worked so well with the Initiative? The kids loved that. Why don’t we just do that, but moreso?” and then tried to sell it by claiming that it’s yet another All-New Status Quo and Everything We Know Is Wrong. Only problem being… it’s pretty much the same Marvel Comics that we’ve been reading for the last two years or so, isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong; I haven’t missed the whole “Norman Osborn is now in charge of things! And he’s evil! And nuts!” schtick – partially because it keeps being rammed down our throats – but… well, hasn’t he been in charge of governmental superheroes since the start of the Ellis Thunderbolts? And, aside from the fact that we keep being told that he’s, like, crazy and could destroy America just to make Spider-Man frown! and whatever, I don’t get why a police state run by Norman is necessarily worse than a police state run by Tony Stark, no matter how sympathetic Matt Fraction tries to make him.

Okay, yes; obviously benevolent dictators are better than psychopathic dictators. I understand that. But in terms of plot mechanics, all this really means is that we have different characters playing the same roles: We have vigilantes who are really good guys but forced to operate outside the law (Still the New Avengers, but we now have Iron Man joining this side), we have good guys operating within the system despite the unjustness of the system (Still the Mighty Avengers and, presumably, the Initiative), and we have bad guys given freer-rein-than-they-should-be by the system (I look forward to the “Dark Avengers Are The New Thunderbolts” t-shirts). There may be an added threat of Osborn losing his shit and going nuclear on Howard The Duck or whoever, but that won’t happen until Marvel’s ready to finish off this status quo in favor of whatever comes next.

(Hibbs, in his infinite wisdom, pointed out to me that Dark Reign is clearly act III of an overarching “This Is Why The Superhero Registration Act Is Ultimately Wrong” plot that started with Civil War. So, does this mean that the next New Status Quo is really just the old status quo? I hope so, but can’t really see what else they could workably do otherwise. I shudder to imagine, however.)

The problem is, I guess, that I’ve seen this before, and it didn’t end well last time. I mean, if Marvel were really being honest about their “DC’s Greatest Hits” medley (Civil War was Legends, Secret Invasion a mash-up of Millennum and Invasion!), Norman would have to shave his head and get a promotion, but fudging the details doesn’t stop this from feeling like a rehash of the whole President Lex Luthor storyline that went… well, nowhere, really, from DC at the start of this decade. Should we start preparing for the end of the story being done in a new “Captain America/Iron Man” series by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness already?

(Even the name is derivative; remember Black Reign, the JSA/Hawkman crossover from a few years ago?)

All of which is just a preamble to:

SECRET INVASION: DARK REIGN #1: Yes, yes, I’m late to the party, but come on – You can’t look at that cover and not wonder whether Alex Maleev had ever seen Norman Osborn before in any other comic ever, or just got a quick description of him from Tom Brevoort before the cover was due: “He’s, like, a slimy businessman. I don’t know. But could you make Doctor Doom look like he’s shaking his fist at the reader and saying ‘Get off my lawn?'”

The weird, unnecessary, feeling of the issue isn’t helped by the fact that Maleev draws almost every single character differently inside the book – Maybe it was Skrull Alex that drew the cover – and Bendis fails entirely to either sell the concept behind it or convince the reader that he’s just spinning his wheels for 30-odd pages in order to give his new branding an appropriately expensive launch. Entirely Awful, although drunken, lecherous balding Namor was an unexpected (and maybe unintentional) joy.

DARK REIGN: NEW NATION #1: Well, this is more like it. Admittedly, it’d be even more like it if it’d been free, or $1 or something other than $3.99 for what is essentially five trailers for new series launching around the brand, but I’ll take what I can get, and at least two of the teasers (Secret Warriors, surprisingly, and Agents of Atlas, unsurprisingly; I love Jeff Parker’s stuff) made me want to pick up the first issue of their respective series, at least. The others… I had no interest in War Machine before, and the Vertigo-lite preview possibly made me actively dislike the idea of the book. The Skrull Kill Krew strip seemed… okay? I guess? I kind of forgot about it before I’d finished reading it, to be honest. And the New Avengers: The Reunion short was just depressing; it wasn’t that it was bad, because it wasn’t, more that… I don’t know, I guess I’d hoped that we weren’t going to go from “You’re alive! You’re alive!” to “I am running away from you and keeping secrets” cliche quite so quickly, I guess. I’d wanted to like it much more than I did, to be honest, because I like Jim McCann, but… Yeah. Not for me. Overall, though, this book did its job pretty well, so I guess it’s an Okay, in a way…?

SECRET INVASION: REQUIEM #1, THE MIGHTY AVENGERS #20 and AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE #20: Here’s how you know that you failed with your big emotional climax of your big crossover event – When you have to spend three separate books afterwards telling people that it was a big deal, and it still feels like you’re trying to explain why Xanadu was a fitting end to Gene Kelly’s career. There wasn’t any real reason for Janet Van Dyne to die, other than the misguided idea that doing so would give Secret Invasion some weight (Misguided because, well, in order for that to have been the case, someone would have to have done something – anything! – interesting with Janet Van Dyne at any point in recent memory, so that we’d care that she wasn’t around anymore. And, no, having her say things like “Hey, Tony, how much damage can some aliens to do to New York in a day… Oh my God” doesn’t count), and by the end of reading these three special memorial issues, I started to become convinced that the only people who actually care about, or believe in, her death are Dan Slott and Brian Bendis. Also, Hank Pym? Not any more interesting with the addition of self-righteous anger, guilt and a lot of “How could you let this happen while I was kidnapped by aliens,” sadly. Crap, Awful and Awful, in that case.

NEW AVENGERS #48: Is it just me, or did this feel like a rehash of everything we’d seen in this title before? Here’s the team getting together – again! And they’re underground! Again! But there’s a traitor having to betray the team – again! And that last part just didn’t ring true at all; I believe that Luke loves his kid more than life itself, but it felt too soon for him to go to Osborn – half an issue wasn’t long enough for we as readers to feel like every other avenue has been exhausted, and I can’t believe that going to Osborn was anything other than a last resort for him. Overall, the entire issue felt half-assed and rushed, as if Bendis was going through the motions in order to get the characters where he wants them to be for the stories he really wants to tell. Awful, sadly.

In a weird way, I can’t help but feel as if Dark Reign is really, really shittily timed. Dark Avengers, the core book for the branding, gets released the day after Obama gets sworn in as President of the United States, and it’s that cognitive dissonance that sticks in my mind. Marvel, for all their faults, are normally more in tune with the cultural zeitgeist than Dark Reign; it feels oddly… wrong, and somewhat DC-ish, to see them plunge into a depressing world of misuse of power at a time when we’re about to bring in a President who made the country believe in Hope and Change again. Maybe they know something we don’t… or maybe this is a sign that they’ve lost their touch.

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