Peacemaker Did a Better Secret Invasion Than Secret Invasion

Secret Invasion wrapped up its six-episode run on Disney+ this week, bringing the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest Disney+ exclusive series to a close. Despite bearing the same name as Marvel’s fan-favorite 2008-2009 comic storyline, Secret Invasion was undoubtedly a departure, instead setting out to be an espionage thriller led by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and an ensemble of MCU supporting characters and new additions. The end result, culminating in a finale that (at the time of this writing) is easily the worst-rated Marvel Studios entry on Rotten Tomatoes with a whopping 13%, has provoked an interesting conversation. There have been questions not only about the show’s clear deviations from the Secret Invasion comic, but also about actual new plot twists it presented, which ranged from predictable to nonsensical. Now that the Secret Invasion finale has aired and the dust has begun to settle, an argument can be made that it wasn’t even the best distillation of the ideas of its source material — the first season of DC’s Peacemaker series was. Spoilers for both Peacemaker and Secret Invasion below! Only look if you want to know!

Both shows had wildly different tones — Peacemaker was violent, often-crude, and hair-metal-inspired, while Secret Invasion told us over and over again that it was a “grounded, gritty spy thriller” — but their premises did overlap slightly. Peacemaker follows Christopher Smith / Peacemaker (John Cena) somehow surviving the violent battle of The Suicide Squad, and returning home to be greeted with one final chance at freedom. Reluctantly joining forces with a new squad — which contains a revamped take on Adrian Chase / Vigilante (Freddie Stroma) and a mix of obscure Task Force X employees and entirely-new characters — Peacemaker carries out a series of missions, which he soon learns are part of a massive alien conspiracy of parasitic “Butterflies” that have taken over an ever-growing number of human hosts. Secret Invasion, meanwhile, sees Fury return to Earth years after the cataclysm of Avengers: Endgame, crossing paths with a mix of supporting MCU characters and entirely-new characters. Fury soon discovers that a million of the shape-shifting Skrulls he set out to help decades prior in Captain Marvel have become hidden among humans, and that a terrorist faction of them led by Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir) have begun to harvest DNA to turn into Super Skrulls and take over Earth for themselves.

The Scale

Let’s start with the alien antagonists of both series, and the ways each show decided to weave their threat into the fold. Across Secret Invasion, a lot of Skrull lore was presented — some have canonically been on Earth for the several decades since Captain Marvel, while countless more had slipped onto the planet undetected during the five-year gap of Thanos’ blip. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes / War Machine (Don Cheadle) has somehow been impersonated by a Gravik-supporting Skrull ever since 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, but Gravik’s plans to secretly slip Skrulls into the world’s governments were only kicked in motion… after Avengers: Endgame‘s events in late 2023. While we’re told that Gravik has an ever-growing number of Skrull supporters, we’re only ever shown a small group of them — and that group wants to remake the world through nuclear or literal war, but also get revenge on Fury in a very personal way.

Sure, we don’t always see the full scope of Peacemaker‘s Butterflies either, but what we see is effective, whether through Peacemaker accidentally seducing and killing a woman possessed by one in the first episode, or through the ghastly scene of the local police department getting taken over in one of the show’s last episodes. We also never definitively learn how long the Butterflies have been on Earth — just that a lot of people have already been taken over by them, and all of humankind could be in danger of being taken over by them next. Neither exactly capture the years-long set up that the Secret Invasion comic had, both through intentional new plotlines and retconning other Skrull-related stories from years past. But it can be argued that Peacemaker better captured the unsettling and overwhelming nature of that kind of alien invasion.

The Aliens

It also helped that, despite its larger-than-life antics, Peacemaker dedicated a surprising amount of screen time to sympathizing for the Butterflies. Early on in the season, Peacemaker worries about the ethics of killing a Butterfly-possessed child. Even the Butterfly leader’s final scene casts their entire operation in a more altruistic light, revealing that the aliens actually arrived from their own uninhabitable planet, and wanted to take over humans in order to stop Earth’s own impending extinction. The pinnacle of this earnestness occurred midway through Peacemaker‘s season, when team member Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji) is revealed to have been a Butterfly the entire time. By that point, Murn’s fellow teammates and the entire viewing audience have become endeared to this version of him, which only makes his death immediately after sting even more.

Secret Invasion had its own version of that with Fury’s Skrull wife, Varra (Charlayne Woodard), who delivers a powerful monologue midway through the season about meeting and making promises to her terminally-ill human alias, Priscilla. But that tact is juxtaposed with an almost disregard in other Skrull storylines — we never discover the human identity that Gi’ah (Emilia Clarke) continues to assume, or how long Black Panther supporting character Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) was impersonated by a now-dead Skrull, or so many logistics regarding Rhodey’s supposed years as a Skrull. Even the show’s two big deaths, Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), are presented as both shocking cliffhanger endings and possible fake-outs, only to stick… and be barely mourned by other characters onscreen. Sure, the Secret Invasion source material had years of issues and time to marinate in similar emotions — but it’s bizarre that the ever-sprawling MCU only barely tried to do the same.

The Cameos

On the topic of “trying”, there’s one diversion that Secret Invasion makes from its comic counterpart that has perplexed fans since before it even premiered — the lack of cameos from established characters. Again, the only costumed hero shown across the six episodes was Rhodey, which made his Skrull reveal almost too obvious until it wasn’t. The narrative Secret Invasion uses to explain this away is both clever and convoluted — at first, Fury is worried that calling the Avengers to fight Gravik and his faction would lead to them being impersonated and turned against the public. Then, we learn that he isn’t calling the Avengers because he probably doesn’t want them to know that he secretly stole samples of everyone’s DNA after Endgame‘s final battle. The closest connection we get to the rest of the MCU comes with that soup of DNA, as the finale turns Gravik and Gi’ah into Super-Skrulls with the ability to summon dozens of different heroes’ powers at will. For those who were hoping that the show would thread the needle between disparate parts of the MCU, this reveal was a little disappointing, especially when the comic contained such a massive and surprising ensemble. There’s a reason why fans spent months theorizing that Quake or Sharon Carter or Valentina Fontaine could appear on the MCU’s Secret Invasion — because it would have made the universe feel even a little bit bigger.

So, how does Peacemaker justify not calling in more prominent DC heroes to stop the Butterflies? The mission — and even the existence of Task Force X — are too covert to even remotely share with the rest of the world. Still, by the time we get to the season finale, we end up getting those cameo appearances when we least expected them. Team Peacemaker fights the Butterflies over their giant alien “cow”, the day is saved… and the Justice League show up, including appearances from Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and The Flash (Ezra Miller). The moment not only perfectly fits Peacemaker‘s tone, but it does help make the show feel like a part of something bigger, and adds an extra sense of relief to the Butterflies being defeated.

Peacemaker and Secret Invasion might only be two small parts of a larger superhero boom. Heck, both of their stories are confirmed to continue — Peacemaker is renewed for a sophomore season, and Secret Invasion is expected to tie into this fall’s The Marvels movie. But with the first seasons of both in the books, it’s clear that they illustrate some of the right and wrong ways to tell an alien invasion story among gods and monsters (and, in Peacemaker‘s case, pet eagles).

The first season of Peacemaker is now available to stream on Max. All episodes of Secret Invasion are now available to stream on Disney+.

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