Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Invaders - The Invasion Begins!


Never have I been so ready to consume a comic book than I was the debut issue of the The Invaders. The notion of the Timely "Big Three" (Captain America, Human Torch, Sub-Mariner) becoming a team (as they had done very briefly in the pages of All-Winners) was an idea I thought downright ripe and ready as 1975 rolled around. So when Roy Thomas and Frank Robbins sprung The Invaders on us Marvelites of the time, I was aboard the Fortress Europa Express in a nanosecond.

Gil Kane
I had been made ready, eager, and willing by a host of forces. Fantasy Masterpieces was a potent comic in the late 60's, giving fans not just reprints of Marvel's vigorous Silver Age, but reaching back into then not-so-distant mists of time to bring forth true-blue Golden Age stories of likes of Cap, Subby, and the Torch among others. The comic was a peephole into comic book lore, allowing a glimpse but little else of the sprawling vista the Golden Age had been. But it was enough.

Sal Buscema and Sam Grainger
The Golden Age heroes started popping up in actual comics, specifically those written by Roy such as The Avengers and The Uncanny X-Men. The mostly forgotten Red Raven flew into a single story with the high-flying Angel when the X-Men has gone their separate ways for a time. Golden Age heroes sprang from the mind of Rick Jones in the climax of the awesome space-spanning Kree-Skrull War. The Invaders themselves were presaged in earlier pages of that same comic when time-traveling Assemblers at the behest of Kang traveled to wartime Paris to battle the Timely trio. Former All-Winners Squad members Whizzer and Miss America had recently shown up in the back story of Marvel's mysterious mutant siblings Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. The Golden Age was bubbling up all over creating a heady brew indeed.

Gil Kane and Bill Everett
So The Invaders were inevitable really, and when Roy "The Boy" Thomas relinquished the reins of Editor-in-Chief of the mighty Marvel Bullpen, he had a project he'd been born to write, a ret-conned history of Marvel's most vintage heroes. He created The Invaders, and made them "Giant-Size" to boot.

(The original splash page by Frank Robbins was tweaked by John Romita and turned into the debut cover.)
Giant-Size Invaders was the original format for Marvel's WWII heroes, a format which was widespread and popular with yours truly. We got a new story of extended length along with a great Golden Age reprint, in this issue one starring Namor, the Sub-Mariner from his first self-titled comic way back in 1941 by his creator "Wild" Bill Everett.

(Frank Robbins created this splash which shows the scene on the cover from the reverse angle.)
The debut story assembles our disparate heroes as they all confront a threat on the high seas. The Nazis are trying to kill the Prime Minister Winston Churchill before he can come to the Americas to ask for aid for his afflicted country. To that end they kidnap a scientist who was a part of the creation of Cap himself and force him to assist them in the creation of their own ideal warrior dubbed "Master Man". Controlled by Colonel Kreighund the Master Man battles to destroy Churchill's ship but is stopped when Cap, Bucky, Torch, Toro and Namor combine forces to stop him. Afterwards Churchill himself suggests the heroes form a team to storm Fortress Europa itself, and dubs them "The Invaders".

John Romita
But that was the last Giant-Size issue for many decades. With the very next installment, that format was dropped and The Invaders went to a then-regular sized twenty-five comic, but that meant the next story originally developed for the larger size was shifted to two full issues. In those the newly assembled Invaders head to London where they confront the deadly Blitz and in the midst of that find a mysterious girl who seems to have a link to the rumored "Brain Drain" which was itself connected to the Master Man they'd defeated in their first adventure.

John Romita
They soon enough find sufficient reason to travel to into enemy territory where they find and battle three seeming gods from legend, but who turn out to be space travelers instead used by the Brain Drain, a scientist who has been transformed by their coming into a man with a brain encased in a glass dome. The girl turns out to be the fourth space traveler and they all decide since they are stranded here they are better off dead and the world is introduced to nuclear energy sooner than has been documented.

Jack Kirby and John Romita
Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia
Following that deadly struggle the heroes return to the United States for a time and run afoul of a new foe, one of the Sub-Mariner's own Atlantean minions named Merrano who has used his science to make himself into a super-powered soldier for the Reich calling himself "U-Man" after the deadly submarines which threatened the Eastern coast of the United States and all of the Atlantic at the time.


The Invaders eventually put down the threat of the U-Man, but not before uncovering a mystery in the region we commonly call the Bermuda Triangle, an enigmatic area which seems to drag in the unsuspecting into a time warp to a deadly zone filled with prehistoric creatures, among other things. This is a shout out to another Marvel comic of the time, Skull the Slayer which explores the area in modern times.

Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott
The Invaders then begin one of their most important missions, one which finds them back home front hawking war bonds.



One offbeat note is a panel in which Bucky and Toro are seen reading the comics above, a reference to the Marvel Comics within the Marvel Universe in which they get many things different than "reality".  Sadly the heroes, save for Bucky who is deemed too weak to fool with, are captured by the Red Skull and turned into mind-controlled super-soldiers for the Third Reich, and turn their attention to destroying weapons plants.

Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia
Bucky left alone takes steps to assemble other superheroes of the time and creates the Liberty Legion made up the Patriot, the Whizzer, Red Raven, Miss America, the Blue Diamond, the Thin Man, and Jack Frost.

Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott
These heroes confront the Invaders as the latter attack different regions of the United States but the battles are somewhat inconclusive, though Toro is captured.

Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia
Then eventually the tide turns and the Liberty Legion is able to free the Invaders of the Skull's mind-control, which was made possible by use of technology developed by the now-dead Brain Drain. Afterwards it seems the Legion will stay together to defend the Homeland while the Invaders return to their primary mission to "invade" Fortress Europa.

For the record this story wove between two issues of The Invaders and two issues of Marvel Premiere which showcased the Liberty Legion drawn by Don Heck. Rich Buckler and Dick Ayers stepped in to handle one issue of the crossover, a springtime blockbuster of sorts. The name "Liberty Legion" was one Roy Thomas had created when he was a teenager and is now finally able to use.

Jack Kirby, Frank Giacoia, and John Romita
When the team returns to London, they find almost immediately that the Blitz continues. Amid that destruction they discover the supernatural in the form of Baron Blood, a for real vampire.


We eventually learn that Baron Blood was created by none other than Dracula himself, though this was of course decades before the Count's then modern adventures in the pages of The Tomb of Dracula.

Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia
The team also meets for the first time Union Jack, a British hero of the earlier World War I. He turns out to be Lord Falsworth and the secret of Baron Blood is closer to him than he realizes. We learn that Union Jack is one of several heroes from the "Great War" who formed a team not unlike The Invaders themselves. The Phantom Eagle was a colleague of the Union Jack. Also threatened by the deadly vampire is his daughter Jacqueline, a high-born but brave woman.

Jack Kirby and Frank Springer
The Invaders work together alongside Union Jack to defeat Baron Blood, despite injuries which prevent Lord Falsworth from being able to continue in his heroic role.

Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia
Worth noting is that with the ninth regular issue, original inker Vince Colletta gave way to Frank Springer who would be the regular for several years to come. Also, the return of Jack Kirby to Marvel was most important as he became a regular cover artist for the line for a while and some of his absolute best work is seen on these Invaders covers. 

Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott
But the stage is set for something new as the ranks of The Invaders is about to grow permanently.

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4 comments:

  1. I was just lamenting to myself that I wouldn't be able to follow along, because I don't have most of these, but then I found that I DO have the 2nd Invaders TPB. I must have picked it up for cheap and figured I'd buy the first one later. :)

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    1. I was lucky enough to get them as they appeared (which means I'm old, so luck might not be the best word) but I also got the trades by finding them discounted strongly at a convention several years ago. There are new ones, a two volume set which is pretty complete but pretty costly. That set might be in a library somewhere maybe.

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  2. The cover to Avengers # 71 is about my favorite Avengers cover ever. It’s just perfect, even somewhat shocking- to see the Golden Age characters fighting with the (then) newer Avengers. Three-on-three and then Sal drops the Eifel Tower in the background…Wow!...It’s is right up there with the Avengers King-Size Special #2 (“The New Avengers vs. The Old Avengers) for me.

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    1. It's on my short list as well. The issue before with the Avengers battling the Squadron Sinister is a champ as well and calls back to that classic Annual image.

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