… This brings us, at last, to Topic B: the SPOILERY realm of New Avengers (not New Avengers/Transformers, I’m afraid). There’s one big logical flaw in this issue, which is that the team concludes on the basis of Elektra’s corpse being a Skrull that there’s a full-scale Skrull invasion on. And we know from all the "extratextual" stuff going on – on Newsarama and Wizard Universe and so forth – that there actually is a Skrull "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" scenario happening. (That also makes the "thought balloon" trick in Mighty Avengers make a lot of sense; the only way we can know particular characters aren’t Skrulls is if we can read their minds, which through the magic of comics we can!) Still, it would’ve been just as reasonable for the team to conclude that a Skrull had replaced the dead Elektra half an hour before. That would invalidate this whole story’s premise, of course…
For that matter, the "we can’t go public about the alien invasion because everyone would think it was just a hoax" business doesn’t hold water in the Marvel universe, where everybody knows about the Skrulls already and there’s an alien ship shaped like a big rock hovering over Manhattan in half the comics published this month. But what Bendis is particularly good at is character work, and there’s a lot of it this time. I love Luke and Danny not talking to each other, Peter dealing with his terror by wisecracking and acting on his usual responsibility trip ("I did what I could!" – why having a few pounds of something sticky on the front of the plane would be helpful isn’t clear, but hey), Wolverine pointing the finger at himself along with everyone else.
My biggest reservation about this storyline is that it depends on a deep, deep knowledge of Marvel continuity to make sense, despite all the expository dialogue in the first half of this issue.
(I am fairly sure that the chatter about Jessica not breastfeeding the Nameless Skrull-Baby is somehow related to the Skrulls/milk calculus in this miniseries a mere twelve years ago.) Here’s a question for you, though: should it be a baseline assumption that a New Avengers reader should be willing to do some research on the Internet to make sense of the plot of #32 – not the subtext, but literally what the characters are talking about? If not, does that make her a "bad reader"?
Maybe the Wikipedia entry on Skrulls will help – up to and including a picture of the dead Skrullektra. (As I understand it, the Skrull/milk thing has to do with Reed Richards tricking Skrulls into turning themselves into cows; which, down the road, results in Mad Skrull Disease. Shouldn’t eat ground-up shape-changers.)
Like you, I have significant problems interpreting the conclusion of the story, but, as if we’re reading a fragment of Hamlet, Act II (why is that kid so bitchy?!?), we’re dealing with incomplete information. I presume Spider-Woman’s motivation will become clear in a future issue, but for now, we’re left with the information on the page, and here’s what makes interpretation so difficult …
The truth is … let’s roll tape. If you study 19th Century representations of Shakespearean players you encounter for example, Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of J.P. Kemble, as Hamlet. (Click for larger.)
What is less well-known is that, seconds earlier, another portrait painter snapped a strikingly different image of the famous actor:
I have been doing a great deal of research: into the emergence of Elizabethan drama out of much more recent four-color comic forms; into costume styles for super-powered performers. Suffice it to say that most Shakespearean actors, as recently as the 19th Century, were Skrulls. As players, they were valued for the versatile ease with which they could inhabit and also double roles. In cases of so-called Super-Skrulls, quadrupling of roles was possible, not just serially but simultaneously: one performer as Macbeth (one arm), Hamlet (the other), Othello and Lear (the legs). George Bernard Shaw says something witty and cutting about this once popular practice, but I’ve forgotten the joke.
The question, really, is whether Shakespeare’s characters are Skrulls. To be sure, there is Yorick – the following illustration from the first folio testifies eloquently (click for larger):
The severe, anatomic naturalism – of Hamlet, of course; but also the tell-tale quadricleft jawbone – leaves little room for doubt. But what of Hamlet? (He looks and dresses normally, but so did Elektra. So does Spider-Woman.)
It would be another generation, after Shakespeare, before Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s A Skrull brought the aliens ‘out of the closet’, albeit not into full cultural acceptance. Yet recent scholarly work suggest audiences in Shakespeare’s day would have recognized, in Gertrude’s lament concerning "my too much changed son," a clear reference to the protagonist’s shape-changing abilities. In the 19th Century, in The Skrullhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines, Mary Cowden Clarke expanded the range of possibilities: was Ophelia a skrull? (Tom Stoppard’s Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Skrulls is but the most recent, admittedly speculative entry in this line.) Possibly Dryden bears the responsibility for amnesia that sets in during the Restoration period and after, from which we have not recovered today. In the famous preface to his Troilus and Cressida we read: "The chief persons, who give name to the tragedy, are left alive: Cressida is a Skrull, and is not punished. Yet, after all, because the play was Shakespear’s, and that there appear in some places of it the admirable genius of the author. I undertook to remove the heap of rubbish under which many excellent thoughts lay wholly buried."
What of other authors? Now that the New Historicism is waning in prestige, the New Skrullicism is making impressive advances. (I think it would be difficult to be hired out of an English department today without some familiarity.) The French have Proust. Americanists seem to have settled on the figure of Twain. In Was Huck A Skrull?: Mark Twain and Skrull-American Voices [amazon], Shelley Fisher Fishkin argues that Twain may have been drawing on his childhood friendship with a ‘signifying’ Skrull named Jerry. Of course in a sense this is not new: in 1948, Leslie Fiedler published "Come Back to the Rift Agin’, Huck Honey," in Partisan Review. If Huck and Jim aren’t Skrulls, how did they build that Cosmic Cube? Fielder is, of course a polarizing figure – one of the first to touch on sexual and extraterrestrial issues in American letters, in the 20th Century. (See his, Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Skrull; also, The Last Skrull in America.) Skrulls are, the New Skrullicists argue, ‘resonant figments’, and so they would seem to be.
What is the take-away moral? In a recent Brainiac blog entry, Josh Glenn twits Anthony Lane for his SF illiteracy. I know Glenn would agree with me this is just the tip of a huge iceberg of cultural illiteracy, on which a Titanic of ‘the best that has been thought and said’ is bearing down, with critics arranging the deckchairs and just a few prescient fanboys so much as noticing what looms up out of the fog. Turning back to our starting point, New Avengers #32:
In many ways, to be an ideal reader of a Marvel comic book is to be totally aware of every comic book story ever, while simultaneously being able to forget about any individual issue that doesn’t correspond to the current direction of the Grand Marvel Narrative. What a weird way to tell a story!
Yet all stories work that way. Very little literature (great or otherwise) is intelligible, outside the framework provided by the Marvel Universe. Most great literature is based on, drawn from – inhabited by, if not written by – inhabitants of that universe.
If you are interested in doing research on this sort of thing, Bendis’ best work is on Powers, which I have recommended before. But his run on Daredevil is likewise top-notch stuff. For some strange reason, Bendis seems to write better when he isn’t cranking out, like, four books a month. If you are just looking to improve yourself without spending a lot of money, sadly that Simpsons sale is over. But Amazon is having another, a ‘Ginormous Animation Sale’. Plus superheroes. Bunch of stuff 50% off – Cowboy Bebop; all the X-Men films; Ghost in the Shell; Adult Swim. There’s also a 60% off sale with a couple things – unrated version Orgazmo; Eternal Sunshine (surely we own it already); the first season of Kojak. Eh. Hey! Animal House (double secret probation edition). Plus the Ingmar Bergman Collection – six films! – marked down to only 50 bucks! That’s value, even if it doesn’t include Wild Skrullberries.