Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Invaders - Gods And Monsters!

The Invaders was beginning its third year, or thereabouts and the "Dreaded Deadline Doom" was becoming a problem. The last few issues had been truncated and the balance of the comic filled out with reprints, great reprints, but reprints nonetheless. Mix that problem with a tendency in the comic to do flashback stories and the series seemed to be losing momentum.

Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia
A case in point is the secret origin of Toro in which we learn that the Human Torch's partner is actually a mutant, the now orphaned son of a man who experimented with asbestos and a woman who worked in radium. They are harassed by a criminal called the Asbestos Lady.

The Asbestos Lady is not a new creation but a vintage character who is revised here and made part of the long and convoluted tale which would rationalize Toro's ability to flame on. We learn all about this history while the Invaders are rushing Toro's wounded body back to London to get medical treatment. The issue features fill-in artwork by Jim Mooney with Frank Springer offering up his lush inking.

Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia
In the next issue the team leaves on a mission to North Africa, in particular Egypt while Bucky uses Namor's flagship to take Toro to the west coast of the United States to seek out the one surgeon everyone agrees is skillful enough to help him. The Invaders run into a situation in Egypt where the Nazis are pressing their advantage under the leadership of Rommel while the locals battle among themselves having divided into factions which seek to find a road for Egyptian independence. The leader of one of those factions is a man who, with the help of the Invaders, finds an ancient red jeweled scarab which infuses him with ancient mystical power making him a champion for Egypt called the Scarlet Scarab.

The Scarlet Scarab is a real shout out to the earliest work of Roy Thomas way back when he wrote a script for Charlton's Blue Beetle. The Scarab and the Beetle are very similar characters in terms of powers if not motivation and setting.

Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia
The deadlines proved a problem again and the twenty-fourth issue is completely a reprint, interrupting the Egyptian storyline.

The story reprinted is from Marvel Mystery Comics #17 featuring a parlay between Namor and the Torch.

Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia
With the twenty-fifth issue Roy and the Franks are back and wrap up the Scarlet Scarab story with the Scarab finding to no one's surprise that the Nazis are not reliable partners and that they do not have the Egyptian people's best interests at heart, even a little bit. The Scarab vows to continue the fight if necessary, but also vows to remain mostly neutral.

Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia
Next up we follow Bucky and the unconscious Toro as they find their way to California only to discover that the surgeon they seek, a Dr. Sabuki has like most all Americans of Japanese descent has been herded to internment camps. Bucky is shocked to find such behavior in the United States and he is kept from Dr.Sabuki by the authorities, but decides to do what he must for his friend Toro. Just as he makes contact Agent Axis arrives with an underground digging device to kidnap the good doctor to help him.

Gil Kane and Klaus Janson
Agent Axis kidnaps Bucky, Toro, Dr.Sabuki, his daughter Gwenny and a bystander,a young black man named Davey Mitchell. In a overly complicated scheme Agent Axis allows Sabuki to operate on Toro and he safely removes the bullet that threatens his life and Toro's mutant nature allows him to heal quickly. Then Axis forces Sabuki to conduct an operation to separate the three minds (German, Japanese, and Italian) which torment and motivate him. It's a wild operation in which both Gweeny and Davey are held hostage in an arcane device which links them to Axis. A random bullet causes the equipment to erupt and both Gwenny and Davey become super powered.

Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
The two find costumes eventually and join Buck, a revived Toro as Golden Girl (she can now throw off bright lights from her fingertips) and The Human Top (he can spin his body at super speeds). The Invaders track down the kidnapped folks, battle Agent Axis and his men, and then leave the newly created Kid Commandos behind to battle the war on the west coast. This issue, the twenty-eighth of The Invaders would also be the last drawn by Frank Robbins who left comics behind for a career as a painter in far-off Mexico.

The Kid Commandos of course is a shout out to the Golden Age team Bucky and Toro were a part of called the Young Allies. The other members of the Allies were once called "The Sentinels of Justice" and were made up of the two sidekicks and Knuckles, Jeff, Tubby, and Whitewash Jones. The latter is the reason the Young Allies are so little seen these days as he is among the outlandish and painful ethnic stereotypes in comics. Bringing the Allies back was not really Roy's way, as he always wanted to make something new out of vintage materials. That has caused a lot of tension among certain fans about these comics.

Alan Kupperberg, John Romita and Ernie Chan
With the two sidekicks safely kicked to the curb, the Invaders return to England just in time to learn of the threat of the Teutonic Knight. Now we get another flashback story as each Invader relates how he individually battled and lost to the Teutonic Knight as he gathered together the equipment, manpower, and materials needed to create a working deadly flying saucer of sorts. This story written by fill-in Don Glut is drawn by new regular artist Alan Kupperberg (who sadly passed away earlier this week -- more later) with Frank Springer staying on as inker.

Alan Kupperberg adn Joe Sinnott
The Invaders, now made up of Cap, Subby, Torch, Spitfire and Union Jack battle the Teutonic Knight as he attempts to murder Winston Churchill and General Montgomery.

Actually the scheme is even more elaborate as the Knight seems merely to be supporting a Nazi commando squad which is actually invading the castle the two leaders are in. That squad is actually Baron Strucker's Blitzkrieg Squad first introduced in the fifteenth issue of Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. Needless to say the Invaders save the day and the leaders.

Joe Sinnott
Then with the thirty-first issue we have another fill-in artist and writer as Don Glut stays on board and Chic Stone hops up to illustrated the comic. Bill Black is around to ink it. We also have another flashback story as Cap relates to Spitfire how he and the other Invaders once confronted a mob who were bent on attacking a local scientist named Frankenstein who they say was creating monsters. They were correct and it turns out he was a Nazi too and so forced his creation to adopt the uniform and mannerisms of a loyal Nazi soldier. Despite being given power from the Invaders themselves, the creature is at last able to free his mind and he kills himself as well as his creators.

There is specific mention made of the original Doctor Frankenstein and his creation as documented in Marvel's own The Monster of Frankenstein series.

Jack Kirby, Alan Kupperberg and Joe Sinnott
With the next issue Roy Thomas returns as writer to join Kupperberg and Springer as they tell us the wild yarn about how Adolph Hitler, inspired by his adoration for the music of Wagner seeks and finds a portal to another dimension in which the Asgardian gods are real. With help of two scientists, one an enigmatic masked young man, Thor is actually transported to Earth.

Now of course this is before his debut story in which Dr.Don Blake finds a stick hidden in a cave and famously gives it a tap. This Thor is convinced by Hitler that the German people, his original worshipers are under attack and goes off to battle The Invaders.

Jack Kirby, Alan Kupperberg and Dave Cockrum
It's a hectic and furious battle with most everyone's memory getting scrambled by the end so as to preserve the precious continuity of later Marvel stories.

The masked man is revealed to be a young Doctor Doom who takes issue with Hitler's hatred of gypsies and turns against him. Thor returns to Asgard but not before imparting by accident to Union Jack some new electrical powers.

Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
The final issue in this collection, the thirty-fourth is by Thomas and Glut and tells how The Mighty Destroyer seemingly has turned against the Allies. Union Jack and Spitfire star in this one and face off against the Destroyer who turns out to be Master Man in disguise. Making good use of Union Jack's new electrical powers they defeat the Nazi superman and Roger Aubrey is returned to his Destroyer role. At the end, the Invaders are called back to the United States.

These issues, jagged in production as they were, do point up one of the key differences between Stan Lee stories and Roy Thomas stories. Lee always seemed to find drama in taking away or diminishing a hero's powers. Thomas is always finding new ways to empower characters, amping them up in various ways. The former is likely better for drama, the latter does yield a lot of super heroes, many sadly with similar origins.

It's a pity Robbins didn't stay with the series until its end, but an up and coming Kupperberg was an adequate replacement. The inking of Springer doesn't serve him as well, but future issues of the series will address that problem. Roy seems to have had less time to devote to the series he created and loved so, and Glut's writing is perfectly fine, but so many flashback stories along with the problems with deadlines really make this a tough period to have been following The Invaders. I know because I was there.

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