Monday, January 24, 2011

The All-Winners Squad - "Old Soldiers Never Die!"

I've long wanted to see more All-Winners Squad stories. And during the Bronze Age we got 'em. Sort of. Roy Thomas inspired by the Golden Age stories of his youth, convinced Stan Lee that new stories about Captain America, Sub-Mariner, and the Human Torch would be a winner. Thus was born The Invaders, a WWII-based team of heroes. These were almost new All-Winners Squad stories, but not quite.

In a beauty of whimsy (much decried by Golden Age purists) Roy added and changed the stories of the Golden Age, revising histories and back stories to suit his immediate storytelling purposes. These revisions were to "solve" problems he saw such as the presence of Captain America in Golden Age adventures after the end of WWII, despite the rebirth story from The Avengers #4 which suggested he'd been in suspended animation since just before the end of the war.

So along came What If? #4, the one What If story in mainstream continuity and we learn that The Spirit of '76 had filled in for Cap undercover during the post-war period. It was this "Cap" who fought ISBISA with the other All-Winners in All Winners #19. But after that adventure and before the conflict with Future Man and Madame Death, we learned of an unrecorded All-Winners Squad adventure against Adam-II, an android who wanted to murder a young fellow by the name of Kennedy.

During this adventure the Spirit of 76 died, and was replaced himself by Jeff Mace, the Patriot.

The Patriot had resurfaced some years before as leader of the Liberty Legion (a gang of Timely heroes including Whizzer, Miss America, Jack Frost, Thin Man, Blue Diamond, and Red Raven). So he was a good choice to take over the mantle of America's primary patriotic hero. It was the Patriot-Cap who battled Future Man and Madame Death as recorded in the pages of All-Winners #21.

And that's been the story for several decades now, until recently.

A few years back during Marvel's 70th anniversary celebration they published a bundle of one-shots featuring Golden Age heroes. I got them mostly for the reprints and tucked these books away, meaning to read them but never really getting around to it. Then while researching the All-Winners Squad for these posts this week, I learned that the story of Future Man was indeed continued in a manner of speaking in the All Winners one-shot issue.

I dug into the collection and found it pretty quickly. A reading of the story titled "Old Soldiers Never Die..." revealed that Karl Kesel's take on the All-Winners Squad had that post-Modern ironic quasi-realism that makes much of modern comics painful for me to read. It wasn't a bad story, but the Patriot as Cap was presented as a rather weak but eager type, filled with a self-conscious dread of filling the shoes of the "Living Legend".

It's a take on the character, but not one that seemed to correspond with the Jeff Mace I remembered. But like Roy before him, Kessel is free as a writer to do with the characters as he chooses if it makes a good story. And it does, mostly.

It seems the adventure in All-Winners #19 as written by Otto Binder is only the comics version of the real events. Miss America comes across as the most savvy of the heroes on the team and she has made a deal with comic book publishers to use their likenesses and make the team seem more heroic.

So when Jeff Mace as Cap throws his shield into Future Man's equipment and sends the villain and Madame Death into the past, it was an accident. When "Otto Binder" got the tale, he revised it to make Cap seem more purposeful and intentional as he sent the bad guys into the ether.

As a comparison of these panels by artist Steve Uy suggest, the "heroism" seems to be shown to be a fluke. That's not the way I like it myself, in a story of this sort.

Above is the way it was back in 1946, and that's a pretty good way to do it.

But regardless of my opinion on that point, the upshot of this one-shot was just this past year a four-part mini series by Kesel featuring the Jeff Mace Captain America and offering an overview of his tenure in the role. Here's a link to an interview with Kesel on the project.

As it turns out this limited (which I knew nothing of before my research this week) is coming out in trade next week. Here's the description of the book.

I'm going to probably get this, even though I have not bought a "new" comic story in months, because it so closely cleaves to the story I've been presenting the last week or so. The coincidence seems too choice to ignore. Also the volume has a nice reprint of What If? #4, my favorite issue of that run and arguably my favorite Invaders story overall.

I'm sure I'll have more to say when I get around to reading this volume. But for now...

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