Those looking for answers about Secret Invasion's biggest twist so far -- the revelation that Spider-Woman is a Skrull -- need look no further than this issue, which continues the "New Avengers" trend of being almost as essential to the plot of "Secret Invasion" as the miniseries itself is. If you want to know just how much the Skrulls have been controlling things behind the scenes, this is the issue that's going to give you what you've been waiting for.
As promised, Bendis takes us right back to the days of "New Avengers #1" in establishing just how long ago Spider-Woman was replaced. For those keeping track, it seems like the last time we saw a comic starring the "real" Jessica Drew was "Giant Size Spider-Woman #1", which fits between her guest appearance in "Alias #21" and her re-introduction in "New Avengers #1" -- that's an impressively long time for Marvel to have the wool pulled over reader's eyes.
While Bendis has been quite clear in saying he's had everything we're now seeing fully mapped out from the very beginning, it doesn't actually feel quite as neat as it should on the page. All the flashback scenes contained in this issue do slot right into continuity without any problems, but there's no point where it all comes together for that single moment of recognition that you get when a twist is perfectly executed. As a result, it's unlikely to convince naysayers that everything was planned in advance. Those crying "retcon!" won't find anything to quash their accusations in this issue.
Even so, between Bendis' masterful handle on the Spider-Woman character and Jim Cheung's superlative pencilling, it's another brilliant issue of Marvel's flagship title. Cheung may well be the finest superhero artist at Marvel, so it's definitely appropriate that he gets to work on issues this high-profile. Even though this is essentially a "behind the scenes" clip show, Bendis has built up the Skrull mythos to the point where every page feels like payoff for something, and the fine line between improving past stories and simply invalidating them is walked expertly.
The cliffhanger to the issue promises further revelations based around the delicate subject of M-Day. The Skrull hand in this event might just be a little more prominent than we may have first believed, and if that's the case, I can't wait to see what Bendis has got -- or rather, what he had -- planned for it.
Perhaps the best thing about the plot points that Bendis is finally paying off in "New Avengers" now is that it makes you want to go back and re-read all those early issues to find clues. Surely, if a good comic is one that makes you want to read the next issue then the mark of a truly great comic is one that makes you want to go back and read the previous ones.