Recently, I pulled some comic trade paperbacks off my shelf to get rid of – books I just don’t feel are worth the space anymore. Most were pretty clear cut decisions, but one wasn’t – Invasion! – the reprint of the 1988 DC Comics crossover series that ran through the entire line back in 1988. It was the brainchild of Keith Giffen, and also featured dialogue by Bill Mantlo, with art by Todd McFarlane, Bart Sears, and others. I’d missed it when it originally came out, and had only read it once a few years ago when I bought this book, and it hadn’t stuck too strongly in my head. But still, I felt like I wanted to reread it again before I cleared it out with the rest of the dead wood.
The story details what happens when numerous alien races with advanced weapons and spaceships team up to invade the earth, largely out of fear of the power that earth displays not through it’s weapons or technology, but because of the potential breeding ground that earth seems to be for super-powered beings. It’s a good premise for a book set in the shared universe of DC Comics, and gives an instant an understandable answer to the age-old alien-invasion-story question, “What do they want with the earth, anyway?”
The alien alliance is led by the war-like Khunds, who just want to destroy the earth, and the manipulative Dominators, who secretly want to use it as a breeding planet for super-powered soldiers. The tensions and politics between these and other races who are part of the alliance make up at least half the story.
It’s hard to look at Invasion! without considering its relative strengths and weaknesses as an example of one of its particular genres: no, not superhero comics, or a science fiction stories, but rather big line-wide Summer comic book crossovers! And seen through this lens it certainly has to be considered one of the best, or at least one of the best organized.
The structure of the series is super clear. There are three 80 page issues, each devoted to a particular phase of the story. Issue 1 is about the formation and preparation of the alien alliance, their approach to and arrival at earth, their ultimatum, and earth’s response. Issue 2 is about the actual battle, happening on numerous fronts on earth, with lots of aliens fighting lots of superheroes, including the eventual crumbling of the alliance and the alien’s defeat. Issue 3 is about the a “gene-bomb” that is set off in earth’s atmosphere by a rogue and ambitious member of the Dominators, which causes all humans with the “meta-gene” (a new and efficient device used to explain the human propensity to develop super-powers in situations that should otherwise have killed them) to first lose control of their powers, and they to die a slow lingering death.
In between these issues were all the regular DC titles at the time, which basically showed the details of the individual battles. So if you were following The Flash, you’d read about the Flash fighting aliens in Cuba, whereas if you were reading Suicide Squad, you’d see the Squad members fighting off invaders in Australia, and so on. It that sense it was a perfectly manageable crossover, where you could buy the main three issues and then pick up the books you were reading anyway to find out what your favorite characters were up to, and be pretty confident of not missing any essential plot points that were buried in another title you didn’t want to get. As a reader of years of cross-overs where this has been a problem, this is a genuine advantage.
Of course, this strength also has weaknesses, especially when you are reading the story over two decades later in collected form. The global feel of the main series means that we never really go deeply into any of the characters. We are constantly in the thick of the action, but we only get the barest glimpse of what it really means to everyone involved. Though some characters get a bit more panel time than others, it’d be impossible to identify a “main character” or “protagonist” amongst the lot, and there are very few that we really get a feel for. One of the best delineated is probably the “plucky little Dominator who could” who defies orders to invent the Gene-Bomb, but his storyline sort of abruptly wanders away at the end, and in any case you’d be hard-pressed to call him a “viewpoint” character or anything like that.
But positively, in my opinion, Invasion! represented the first big purely plot-driven cross-over that came in a particular period of DC history known that we used to call “post-crisis,” but which now is a bit harder to define. It had only been a couple of years since Crisis on Infinite Earths, when the DC universe had been redefined, and (supposedly) simplified. That was followed by Legends, which had had the stated goal of opening the DC Universe up again, and introduced a lot of cool new ideas. After that came Millenium, which I haven’t read for a long time but which struck me as tedious and abysmal, but was supposedly going to help clarify where the DC Universe was going. And then came Invasion! which was about earth having a big war with aliens. It was like at this point, we were no longer needed to define or clarify or give purpose to the DC Universe, we were free to just read stories about them. And that was refreshing.
Reading through it brings back memories of what was a high point in DC history, I believe. Wally West was just finding his footing as The Flash. Creators Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatties were doing new things with the Justice League. John Ostrander was surprising us each month in Suicide Squad. And Roger Stern and Jerry Ordway were building off of John Byrne’s relaunch and turning Superman into one of the most consistently enjoyable superhero franchises out there. Even in the pages of Invasion! itself, we had the seeds for L.E.G.I.O.N, which Giffen and Alan Grant were about to launch out with and turn into one of my favorite science fiction series ever.
So as a result, Invasion! is a survey of one of the highlight eras in my personal reading history. And as a result, I found upon rereading it that I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. I wouldn’t think that reasoning would compel anyone else to buy it, but it does continue to earn it a place on my shelf.