The Greatest Heroes of World War II!
Posted by Tony Ingram on Jul 29, 2008
The Invaders are back! As this time-tossed team of heroes tries to make sense of 2008 in the pages of Avengers/Invaders, now is as good a time as any to see where they came from—World War II, via 1975!
The Invaders first appeared in Giant Size Invaders #1, June 1975, and received their own ongoing series two months later. Set early in World War II, the book initially starred just five characters-Captain America and Bucky, the (original) Human Torch and Toro, and the Sub-Mariner. The GS issue was set in the States, with our five heroes engaged in a rather run of the mill battle with Master Man, really a German-American weakling named Willie Lohmer. Willie was given super powers by the Nazis in order to be their answer to Captain America, though he more closely resembled DC’s Superman. But it was with Invaders #1, and the team’s relocation to London to help the allied war effort that things got interesting…
Roy Thomas, the principle writer of The Invaders, has a well documented fascination with World War II, and this is made apparent by the accuracy of plot points such as his account of Winston Churchill’s movements in 1942. From a ‘real world’ historical viewpoint, the series fits in perfectly with documented events at the time. From the point of view of the comic books being published back then by Timely? Not so much…
Unlike his later All-Star Squadron series for DC (in which he takes great pains to reference and reconcile as many Golden Age stories as possible), with Invaders Thomas took the view that Timely’s wartime publishing history was so erratic, it was better to only retain those elements which could be easily slotted into the new ‘history’ he was creating. The original comics were deemed to be just that, comics, telling fictionalized accounts of the heroes real adventures. Although Roy never did explain why, if this was the case, every kid on Marvel Earth didn’t know Captain America’s secret identity!
This selective attitude didn’t stop him including a quite staggering number of genuine Golden Age characters in the series, though. Invaders #5-6, a crossover with Marvel Premiere #29-30, introduced the Liberty Legion, a new group made up of seven obscure 40s characters. The Patriot had been briefly glimpsed in Thomas’s own ‘Kree-Skrull War’ story in The Avengers some years before, while Red Raven (who’d only ever appeared once in the 40s) had been revived briefly in an issue of X Men and then apparently killed off in an issue of Sub Mariner. Of the others though, most quite justifiably hadn’t been seen in 30 years, but somehow Roy made even Blue Diamond, Jack Frost and the Thin Man (who had the useful ability to make himself super thin) interesting! As for Miss America, she was pretty much the token female, but The Whizzer-well, how could you not love a character who’d gained super speed from a transfusion of mongoose blood?
The story which ran in Invaders #7-9 was, with hindsight, probably the most significant in the series’ history, introducing two characters who have-in one form or another-been around ever since. Union Jack (in reality Montgomery, Lord Falsworth) seems to have been the first Marvel hero to be unquestionably British, predating Captain Britain by three months.
Of course, at the time this veteran superhero, who had supposedly been defending England since the Great War, seemed like a throwaway character. Introduced in #7, the old man was crippled in #9. But that instant classic of a costume was too cool to be forgotten, and by #19 Falsworth’s long lost son Brian (who had previously been fighting the Nazis as The Mighty Destroyer, a revamped version of another 40s hero) had donned the suit. Still later, a modern day version would be introduced.
And the other character I mentioned? That would be Falsworth’s daughter Jacqueline, who in #9 was bitten by her vampire uncle, Baron Blood (!) and had to have a blood transfusion from the android Human Torch (the only suitably universal donor) to save her. Predictably, the Torch’s synthetic blood gives her super powers, and she becomes the super fast Spitfire! Well, the team needed a female…
The Union Jack/Baron Blood storyline also gave the book a regular art team after a lengthy period of instability. Frank Robbins and Frank Springer would become pretty much the definitive team on the book from then on in many readers’ eyes, though Robbins sadly departed after #28. Robbins, whose quirky style made Invaders one of the most unusual looking books on the stands, is one of Marvels most unjustly underrated artists, even today…
One of Thomas’s favorite tricks was creating characters who were obvious homage’s to other companies’ characters. Master Man, as already noted, was clearly Superman, while his female counterpart, the whip wielding Nazi Warrior Woman (introduced in #17), was obviously Wonder Woman. Later, #23 would see the introduction of the Scarlet Scarab, an Egyptian hero patterned on Fox Publications’ Blue Beetle.
Undoubtedly his most innovative use of this gimmick, though, led to one of the most obscure yet fun ‘almost-crossovers’ in comics history, as in #14-15 we met the Crusaders, a team of British superheroes who were dupes of a Nazi agent named Alfie. Never commented on by Thomas, it was nonetheless quite apparent to comics fans of the time that The Spirit of ’76, Ghost Girl, Tommy Lightning, Captain Wings, Thunderfist and the diminutive Dyna-Mite were not entirely dissimilar to DC’s Freedom Fighters—Uncle Sam, Phantom Lady, The Ray, Black Condor, the Human Bomb and Doll Man.
Quite coincidentally, I’m sure, over at DC the Freedom Fighters were around the same time fighting a group of superheroes who were dupes of the evil Silver Ghost. Their name? Why, the Crusaders, of course. And it gets even trickier as Americommando and Rusty, Fireball and Sparky and the water-breathing Barracuda bore an uncanny resemblance to the Invaders! Hmm. For the record, while the other Crusaders were de-powered with Alfie’s defeat, Dyna-Mite would stick around for awhile, eventually becoming the second Mighty Destroyer after Brian Falsworth gave that identity up in favor of Union Jack. Are we confused, yet?
Consistently entertaining, The Invaders was nonetheless never one of Marvel’s bigger sellers, its main selling point being Thomas’s sheer enthusiasm for the subject which came across in every line of the often convoluted but always fun scripts. By #29 though, Roy was tiring—he was working on other books, and took a two-issue break from Invaders to catch up on other work.
His temporary replacement was Don Glut, and after two more issues by Thomas (#32-33, guest starring Thor from a time before his emergence into the modern day MU and an evil lab assistant revealed to be a young Victor Von Doom), Glut became the books regular writer. While Glut’s stories were entertaining, however, they lacked the spark of Thomas’s, and even Roy’s brief return to the writing chores in #35-36 was uninspired, probably because it was a rather uneven mix of new material and unused pages from an aborted Liberty Legion book.
Invaders #38-41, the Super-Axis Saga, saw our heroes (with The Whizzer and Miss America filling in for UJ and Spitfire) back in the States and facing a coalition of their deadliest foes from issues past in one four part epic! Unfortunately, the book was canceled with #40. The double sized #41 wasn’t published until four months later, and when it arrived, the conclusion was rather rushed. And that, aside from a four part limited series in 1993 (by Thomas, again, and reintroducing the original Vision and the Blazing Skull), was more or less that for the greatest heroes of World War II.
Until now, anyway...
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