A third volume of Brian Michael Bendis on Mighty Avengers continues from Venom Bomb, and presents some of the opening sallies in the major event dubbed Secret Invasion wherein the torturously unfolding plan by the shapeshifting Skrulls finally turns into a red-hot shooting war.

Since the earliest encounters of the Fantastic Four, the Skrulls have been a pernicious cornerstone of the Marvel universe. After decades of frustrating failure, the insidious intergalactic infiltrators were finally made the stars of a colossal braided crossover.

The premise? The aliens’ former all-encompassing empire had been crippled and scourged by a devastating catastrophe that destroyed much of their star-spanning power. Consequently the survivors underwent a mass fundamentalist-religious conversion, utterly resolved and dedicated to make Earth their new homeworld – just as their ancient scriptures foretold. To this end they imperceptibly replaced a number of Earth denizens – mostly superheroes, villains and/or their close associates. When the plot was finally exposed no defender of the Earth truly knew who was on their side.

Moreover, the Skrulls had also unravelled the secrets of Earth magic and humanity’s unique genetics, creating legions of amped-up equivalents to the world’s mightiest heroes and villains. During this period they hid amongst us, primed and waiting to destroy mankind’s champions in head-to-head confrontations. Not all Skrulls were fanatics however. Earth also harboured a few carefully hidden dissidents opposed to the new regime and non-fanatics simply unwilling to get properly involved.

The mysteries start to unravel in ‘The Awakening’, illustrated by Alex Maleev (sample art). A fugitive and closeted Nick Fury is on the run for manipulating an Avengers squad into attacking the sovereign state of Latveria as seen in Venom Bomb when he discovers his current squeeze is actually a shapeshifting alien. Taking the appropriate steps, he sneaks back into S.H.I.E.L.D. to warn his replacement Maria Hill that she can trust no-one.

Khoi Pham takes over as illustrator with a journey into Sentry’s conflicted mind. Sentry is key to how the Skrulls plan to neuter the Avengers, who are unaware they host a doppelganger in their midst.

The campaign of terror concludes with a chilling flashback illustrated by John Romita Jr. revealing how a dedicated proponent of the Super-Human Registration Act, a key component of Iron Man’s Fifty States Initiative and Founding Avenger was long ago replaced by a Skrull. What that augurs for humanity can be discovered in The Mighty Avengers: Secret Invasion Book Two. Alternatively, Bendis’ entire run is collected in The Mighty Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis: The Complete Collection.

With covers by Marko Djurdjevic and Bendis’ full script for the opening chapter, this slim tome offers another slick and stylish slice of breathtaking all-action entertainment. It adds depth and weight to the impressive and appealing Secret Invasion main event but also reads perfectly well on its own merits.