Review by Karl Verhoven
Plotted by Keith Giffen, who also supplies the art layouts, with Bill Mantlo providing the dialogue, Invasion! was DC’s fourth attempt at a plot infiltrating all their superhero titles, following the success of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Legends and Millennium. Giffen differentiates Invasion by placing the focus on DC’s multiple alien races, most of which are concerned about humanity’s capability to develop super powers, then use those powers to interfere elsewhere in the universe. Sadistic science-based race the Dominion propose an alliance to deal with humanity.
Giffen’s plot is extremely precise over three acts, concealing secrets well in covering the alien races most commonly seen at DC (although stopping short of categorising the alien Green Lanterns), and plenty of obscurities besides. Giffen uses the inherent abilities of those races imaginatively in a plot that begins in space introducing their assorted talents. Beyond Adam Strange, who spends the time as a prisoner attempting to learn what’s going on, it’s seventy pages before an Earth-based hero features, and then only to explain the Spectre’s role. By the time the heroes involve themselves, the aliens control Australia, which opens the second act.
Todd McFarlane draws half the story, his pages stylised, which is fine with the aliens, but less satisfactory when he’s messing with the heroes. While Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman have always been DC’s major players, his sample art supplies an interesting snapshot of 1988’s secondary roles. Giffen providing full pencils looks far better. The ending is drawn by Bart Sears, his style then more anonymous than later, the art better for that.
While Giffen’s plot holds up, Mantlo’s dialogue frequently grates. It’s kept in check if imagining alien speech patterns, but on Earth that option’s removed. Superman constantly delivers peppy soundbites in the manner of a football coach: “Keep up the pressure heroes! We’re fighting for our world!”, and characters whose dialogue should be distinctive aren’t given that option beyond Guy Gardner.
Once the aliens arrive on Earth, Invasion! becomes a story told in snapshots, referencing problems and setbacks occurring elsewhere. UK readers may prefer to look out the DC Comics Graphic Novel Collection edition of Invasion!, which contains the entire core story as featured in Secret No More, but increases the page count by 50% by adding half a dozen of these referenced adventures.
Everything appears to have been solved via a pivotal intervention from a hero appearing from nowhere, but study the first gathering of Earth’s heroes, and they’re present. However, this leads to a third segment where any human whose super powers are integral to them suddenly finds those powers escalating beyond control, while those who use armour or devices remain normal. It’s another desperate situation, but a far more ordinary superhero story, in which the bickering and confrontational dialogue rings false, and several attempts at jokes are forced, as are some new superpowers. A superhero who teleports by snapping his fingers? This time it feels like eighty pages. Plus there’s a mystery first about where Superman is, then why he won’t return to Earth, yet no one thinks to ask for an explanation. Referencing 1989 issues of Superman isn’t good enough in a 2008 collection, never mind a 2016 reissue.
It’s a strange superhero crossover that’s at it’s best during the planning stages when no superheroes feature, and after that good start, act by act Invasion! deteriorates.