Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Invaders - Heroes Assembled!

I was out of the new comic book game when this limited series hit the shelves. I'd just stopped reading The Avengers after decades of dedicated following and I was frankly loathe to contradict my resolve to stay off the new stuff so soon after going cold turkey. And Dynamite was involved and that company has rarely failed to let me down.

So despite being a recently reformed Avengers fan and a longtime devotee of The Invaders, I let Avengers-Invaders one lay. Then some years later I found the wildly overprice collected edition for relatively small money, and having several years off the new comics at that point took a chance on it. I read it quickly, forgot and moved on.

But as part of my recent binge of Invaders material I found it and thought it a good time to give it another read and see if it fit into the broader context more effectively than my limited memory suggested. It did, and I liked it better this time.

The story like so many comic yarns is at once simple and complicated, and maybe even a bit complex. The Invaders along with some plain old G.I.s attack a castle in Italy near the end of World War II and suddenly a mysterious fog appears and the team plus one soldier are transported out of their time into the present day where they find The Thunderbolts and think they are still fighting Nazis. The battle rages and the T-Bolts are defeated as word of Captain America's return to the living gets out.

The Avengers at this time are embroiled in a mighty conflict between teams as Iron Man leads a group bent on capturing the renegade Avengers led by Luke Cage among others. The Invaders are thrown into this mix as Tony Stark realizes this time-lost team must be contained and returned to their original time before havoc erupts.

But the Invaders get split up and Namor confronts his older, somewhat more sanguine self as he attempts to raise an army in Atlantis. The Human Torch discovers the Life Model Decoys used by SHIELD and imagines he's found kindred spirits. Bucky is at a loss as is Toro as both boys must confront their mortality. Everyone is fascinated by the return of Captain America, and see his return as a turning point.

But the lust for battle gets the best of everyone and its difficult to keep the peace in a world filled up with so many energetic super types. The Human Torch leads an uprising of the LMDs who seem to have an agenda of their own. Namor is rebuffed by the Atlanteans who after long decades have a less provocative stance ont he surface world.

They eventually learn that the Cosmic Cube is the root of the problem, but the secret of who is operating it is one they think they know. They are wrong.

The story quickly becomes one about regret as The Invaders have to increasingly face up their own mortality. The various Avengers to varying degrees try to keep the future info under wraps but the desire to change the tragedies of the past are difficult to suppress.

A hidden enemy is revealed, a few of them in fact and the battle of course continues to rage between the teams as well as between the heroes and the villains.

All the Invaders have to confront their inner demons and finally are able to work together to overcome the threat which has sought to make use of them since they landed in the modern world. They seek to return, but again the desire to improve the past proves problematic.

The Red Skull gets his hands on the Cosmic Cube and changes the world to reflect his own mad image of a Nazi paradise on Earth. Needless to say most of us would not agree that he's got a firm handle on what makes for a great society.

Heroes battle and heroes live and die and the struggle to return the world to its pre-Skull reality proves to be the only mission which matters. The Avengers who find themselves in this wacked version of the post World War II reality hide themselves behind the guises of then-know superheroes.

But secrets are revealed and classic villains emerge to battle the assembled team which eventually includes many Golden Age luminaries, as they try to stop the Red Skull's mad scheme to control the world.

It's not much of a revelation to say they succeed, but there is a cost and there are consequences which last beyond the parameters of this one expansive storyline.

Now to put this into perspective. The weakest aspect of this story is The Avengers. The Assemblers are far from their classic model in this storyline, coming as it did when the teams were largely shambles. With the editorial decision to jam heroes like Wolverine and Spider-Man onto the teams (a sales decision I understand) the distinctiveness of The Avengers  is lost. It was one of the reasons I left new comics behind to begin with. The Avengers became everyone, so in a sense they became no one.

So it's a wildly complex Avengers world the Invaders find themselves in. So complex that frankly there's little room for the story to breathe effectively. The story very much improves when the scene is shifted away from the modern world and put into a war setting. We get a limited number of Avengers who match up well with the Invaders giving everyone a chance to shine.

Jim Krueger always writes an intriguing story, which often finds neat little insights into the motivations of characters. When that stuff works its clever and fresh, but sometimes it seems a bit forced. I never bought The Human Torch's affinity for the LMD community and when that relationship is shown to be at least a bit fraudulent it feels a bit like a red herring in a story which is already full of a gaggle of moving parts.

The storytelling does a smart thing to keep the focus on the sidekicks Bucky and Toro for much of the saga and more of that would've been perhaps more effective. There's an everyman soldier in the story who proves to be crucial to the plot, but he seems extraneous for much of the tale and his place could've been taken by someone else, as the theme of regret seems well distributed.

This is hard read, especially at the beginning where gathering the threads together requires quite a bit of work. But it does gather momentum, especially in the final quarter and ends with a really nice coup for future storytelling.

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  1. The Avengers became everyone, so in a sense they became no one. Quite well put. I think that became true even before their ranks were mixed with other teams. I recently had occasion to return to Avengers #100, where Roy Thomas (and Barry Smith) created a double-page spread that gave a landmark display of "every man and woman who was ever an Avenger." At the time, that came out to only about twelve people; but compare that to the virtual crowds of Avengers present in future such displays as the membership ranks swelled, and that issue of Avengers sadly loses a great deal of significance.

    1. The irony of the Avengers is their success is the very thing which neutralized my interest in them. I liked having more than one Avengers book, and don't object to different squads, but the blending of so many different heroes into the squad has diminished its value. Note the specialness is still evident in the movies; just saw Ant-Man and that was very clear.

      Love that one hundredth issue by the way. A real gem.

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