From the pages of "Secret Invasion" comes a reign of darkness, spearheaded by Norman Osborn, now newly appointed as leader of a new global peace-keeping task force. With Namor, Dr. Doom, the Hood, Emma Frost, and Loki by his side, he will rule the world with an iron fist, and destroy every hero in his path.
That's what you might expect, anyway, but that's not quite what we get here, and I'm glad. Although I was disappointed with the strange narrative technique used in the finale of "Secret Invasion" -- a technique in which characters described events that happened between the final two issues, leading to an abrupt anticlimax and then swift, rapid-fire governmental changes -- it's nice to see that the meeting of the "Illuminaughty" isn't exactly what it seemed on first glance. Now that Osborn's in charge, he just wants to keep the rest of the big baddies from stirring up too much trouble. They can each maintain control over their own domains, as long as they don't mess things up for Osborn, basically. He'll take care of them if they get into legal trouble, as long as they work with him when he needs them to. It's like the local drug trade writ large, with each lieutenant in charge of a corner, and the kingpin making sure nobody causes too much fuss so business can run smoothly.
But if Osborn thinks the group he's assembled will mind their own business and work for him when asked, he's crazy. Oh, wait, he totally is.
Bendis immediately shows the flaws in Osborn's plan, so this "Dark Reign" event (or situation, or status-quo, or whatever you want to call it) isn't so much about a world run by villains as it is a world that's going to be seriously screwed up (even more) when these power-hungry maniacs start stabbing each other in the back. And Bendis shows Osborn's instability, with his meeting-room confidence juxtaposed with his behind-the-scenes insanity. This isn't going to go well for anyone involved, and that should make it all the more interesting.
"Secret Invasion: Dark Reign" #1 is another example of a new genre spawned by Bendis a few years back, a genre I will dub "superhero board room." In superhero board room, a group of costumed characters get together and talk a lot. There's usually more distrust and doubt than effective collaboration. And because it's all based on dialogue, Bendis is in his element. Now, like the "Illuminati" before it, "Secret Invasion: Dark Reign" #1 isn't all board room conversation, but the discussion around the table is its main reason for being, and it works pretty well. We learn what we need to learn and see how these relationships might play out in the coming year.
I don't have much to say about Alex Maleev's art here other than (a) it looks a bit scratchier than his "Illuminati" style and not quite as noir-ish as his "Daredevil" work, and (b) Namor's face seems to be based on Bendis's, at least in profile, which is an odd look for the character. It is, of course, highly likely that Namor is not based on Bendis in any way, but there's something unusually specific about the way Maleev draws Namor's nose and mouth, and it certainly doesn't look like any Namor I've seen before. (Maybe he's a skrull! Nah, Bendis must be more sick of typing that word than I am.)
This issue also contains brief previews of some upcoming comics, like "Secret Warriors," "Agents of Atlas," and "War Machine," but the previews are too short to give you more than just a hint at what's to come. And that's what this comic is all about, teasing its way toward the future, but what it sets up isn't half bad, and now that I've seen Osborn's board of evil in all of its dysfunction, I'm curious to see where "Dark Reign" is headed next.