The Secret Invasion ain't secret no more: the Skrulls have landed in force in Manhattan and are tearing up the city! Only the Young Avengers are on hand to defend New York, and they're clearly outmatched. Who will help them? Not the Fantastic Four, whom the Skrulls have blasted into the Negative Zone; not the Avengers, neither New nor Mighty, both of whom the Skrulls have lured to the Savage Land; not SWORD, which the Skrulls have disabled by blowing up its satellite headquarters; and not SHIELD, which the Skrulls have crippled by infecting the Stark technology, upon which the agency relies, with a digital virus.
Things look bleak indeed...
Let's gather up a few threads, shall we?
"You did it," the Empress whispers. "Your work on Earth is done." And she gives him quite a kiss.
"I'm not a Skrull!" he shouts.
"I know that's what you think... That's what you were trained to think...! I do praise you and love you, Kr'ali... this is your day well-earned."
At the sound of that name, Stark freezes, his eyes wide.
Back in Times Square, the Initiative has joined forces with the Young Avengers, but the battle is still going badly for Earth's defenders. And now there are casualties: a Skrull warrior chokes Stature and throws her off a building; another blasts the Vision's head off with a purple beam; and yet another uses a purple ray to melt the brain of Proton, the 616 counterpart to Ultimate Spider-Man's Geldoff.
Proton, we hardly knew ye.
Suddenly, everything begins to shake, Skrulls included. The Giant-Skrull, confused, asks what's going on, or so I imagine (he's speaking Skrullish), but he never gets his answer, because he explodes into a geyser of green goo. As per Mighty Avengers #13... enter Nick Fury and his Young Howling Commandos!
Multi-issue arcs usually get a little flabby in the second act, and Secret Invasion is no exception. In twenty-two pages, issue #3 advances the plot hardly at all: we learn that Tony Stark may indeed be a Skrull agent after all, an that Nick Fury is ready to take over action again... that's it. Some of the minor plot threads plays out just a little, but the major one—Avengers vs. Avengers vs. Skrulls—barely budges. We do get to see Echo vs. Spider-Woman, and that's something, though Echo seems to get taken out awfully easily.
Allowances must be made. Part of the problem is heightened expectations: issue #1 gave lots of plot development to set the stage, issue #2 gave an extended battle sequence, but it falls to issue #3 to pick up all the dangling threads, and with a smaller page count it doesn't have enough space to do much with any them. Another part of the problem is Marvel's desire to displace much of the action into competing mini-series. I suppose if we really want to know what's going to happen to the Fantastic Four, we'll need to read the Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four title, not the main book.
Still, the one bit that this issue delivers is a pretty strong one: is Tony Stark a Skrull sleeper agent? I hope not, and for metanarrative reasons I strongly doubt it. It was Tony Stark who just headlined a big summer movie, after all, not a Skrull impersonating him. But if we leave metanarrative to one side, we find that the idea that Tony might be working for the other side is eerily plausible. It's a good cliffhanger, better in fact than the one that actually closes the issue.
It's not a knock against the issue to give it a grade of three-and-a-half; middle acts in trilogies always have trouble standing on their own, and this one has to hive off a lot of the good parts of the story to competing books. But it gets three webs for maintaining the momentum, and an extra half-web for Leinel Yu's classy pencil work. I do hope that, once Secret Invasion wraps up, Yu goes back to working with Bendis on New Avengers. They make a good team.
So... is Agent Brand dead yet? She was floating in orbit with only ten minutes of air two issues ago!