I was sorry to hear that acclaimed Japanese manga artist and anime creator Leiji Matsumoto had passed away on February 13th at the age of 85.
Matsumoto first worked professionally as an artist in 1954, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that he found acclaim, first for his work on the anime Space Battleship Yamato in 1974 and then for his creation of the popular manga series Space Pirate Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999 in 1977.
The universe that Matsumoto conceived & designed was populated by a colorful, dynamic cast of characters: the swashbuckling freedom fighter Captain Harlock, his associate & fellow space buccaneer Queen Emeraldas, her enigmatic sister Maetel, and the young orphan Tetsuro Hoshino who travels with Maetel on the outer space locomotive train known as the Galaxy Express.
Matsumoto’s stories were space opera, and his distinctive design sensibilities are what would later come to be known as steampunk. In the retro sci-fi / space Western future that he conceived, Matsumoto’s characters frequently found themselves fighting against totalitarian forces, be they human-ruled dystopian regimes, alien invaders, or cyborg tyrants who sought to transform the galaxy in their image.
I first discovered Matsumoto’s work via the Galaxy Express 999 animated movie which was released in 1979. I vaguely recall seeing it as a child in the early 1980s on HBO, and I eagerly purchased it when it was at last released on VHS in the United States in 1996. The sequel Adieu, Galaxy Express was also released on video soon after. I really enjoyed both movies. In the early 2000s the four part serial Harlock Saga and the prequel Maetel Legend, the later of which told the origins of Maetel and Emeraldas, were released on DVD, and I got those, as well.
Matsumoto’s characters have, of course, appeared in comic books, movies and animated television series produced in Japan, but they have been popular enough to occasionally have new stories created for an English-speaking market. In the early 1990s American publisher Malibu Comics released several Captain Harlock series written by Robert W. Gibson and drawn by manga-inspired artists Ben Dunn & Tim Eldred. I found several of those comics in the back issue bins after I became a fan of Matsumoto’s work. More recently in 2021 Ablaze Publishing released a six issue Space Pirate: Captain Harlock miniseries by Matsumoto and French creator Jerome Alquie.
Leiji Matsumoto’s character & designs were truly memorable, his characters simultaneously romantic & larger than life and grounded in humanity, his stories a deft blend of dynamic action & poetic, philosophic contemplation. He will be missed by his legion of fans worldwide.
Several months ago I did a post titled “Hawkman is now black… and that’s okay” in which I discussed how the comic book tie-ins to the Black Adam movie featured an African American version of Hawkman, and how I felt that this was a good thing. A poster with the screen name “Be Human First” left a comment that included the following observation:
“There are some really, truly amazing superheroes who were, at inception, POC. Why are we playing these games when those stories could be told?”
And I had to respond to say that, yes, they had a valid point. For instance, Milestone Media had some great superheroes who were people of color such as Static and Hardware, and it would be great if they could be adapted to live action.
Milestone Media is an imprint of DC Comics founded in 1993 by Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis & Derek T. Dingle. The intention of Milestone was to provide African American creators with the opportunity to create comic books featuring minorities who had historically been underrepresented in American comic books.
McDuffie was born on February 20, 1962. He tragically passed away in 2011 at the much too young age of 49. On what would have been his 61st birthday, and on the 30th anniversary of Milestone’s founding, I wanted to look at the recent revival of one of his creations, Hardware.
I regret to say that as a teenager during the early 1990s I all but ignored the Milestone books, outside of the first few issues of Hardware, which I had difficulty relating to. I know I found the title of the first issue’s story, “Angry Black Man,” to be off-putting.
I don’t think I understood just how interesting the Milestone universe was until the Static Shock animated series. Featuring super-powered 14 year old Virgil Hawkins, aka Static, the series ran for four seasons between 2000 and 2004. It was an enjoyable, well-done show.
In 2023, looking back at my initial reaction to the Milestone line with the benefit of three decades of hindsight, I realize, unfortunately, that there was definitely some unconscious bias at work on my part.
I’ve always considered myself progressive and open-minded, but I’ve come to realize that as a white male who grew up in the United States it was inevitable that on some subconscious level I would inevitably be influenced by this country’s long, tragic history of institutionalized racism. I really wish I hadn’t been so quick to pass up the Milestone books as a teen. Fortunately as an adult I really have made a conscious effort to read a genuinely diverse selection of material, both in terms of the characters featured and the creators who are creating those stories. But, yeah, I’m still very much a work in progress. I guess the first step in making things better is in admitting your own failings so you understand what you have to work at to become a better person.
The majority of the Milestone titles were canceled in 1996 when the industry imploded. DC at long last revived the Milestone imprint in September 2020 beginning with the Milestone Returns special written by Reginald Hudlin & Greg Pak, which rebooted all of the characters. This was followed by four “Season One” miniseries featuring Static, Icon and Rocket, Hardware and Blood Syndicate.
I finally had an opportunity to pick up the hardcover which collects the Milestone Returns: Infinite Edition special and the six issue Hardware: Season One miniseries which was originally published between August 2021 and May 2022. Here are some of my thoughts on it.
Created by McDuffie & Cowan, Hardware is a brilliant scientist named Curtis “Curt” Metcalf. A teenage prodigy from midwestern Dakota City, Curt was discovered by industrialist Edwin Alva, who mentored the young man, eventually hiring him to work for his multinational conglomerate. Curt came to regard Alva as a father figure and believed that he was being groomed to be the industrialist’s heir. Curt’s inventions made Alva Industries millions; however, when Curt asked his boss & mentor for a cut of the profits, Alva coldly informed the scientist that he was nothing more than an employee, a literal cog in the machine, entitled to nothing.
The disenchanted Curt hacked into Alva’s computer systems, hoping to locate something he could use as leverage against his employer, only to discover Alva was the spider at the center of a vast web of crime & corruption. Trying, and failing, to expose Alva’s crimes, Curt finally constructs the Hardware armor in order to fight against his employer’s crooked machinations.
Hardware: Season One does tweak the setup of the series slightly. In this new reality, Alva’s refusal to give Metcalf a cut of the profits for his inventions is merely the initial wedge in their relationship. Curt invents the chemicals later used by the Dakota City police department against a Black Lives Matter protest. Those chemicals result in the “Big Bang” that causes dozens of teenagers to become disfigured & develop superpowers. Alva, realizing that he has a public relations nightmare on his hands, destroys the reports that Curt submitted stating the gas was too dangerous to be used and sets the scientist up as a scapegoat to take the fall for the tragedy. On the verge of being arrested, Curt dons the Hardware armor and goes on the offensive against the Dakota City PD and Alva’s private security forces.
Hardware: Season One is written by Brandon Thomas, based on McDuffie’s original storylines. Truthfully, I did feel that the original four issue origin story by McDuffie from 1993 was somewhat more effective since it seemed like it had more room to breathe, and to introduce the characters.
The comic book market is obviously very different than it was three decades ago. Back then Hardware, as well as the other Milestone characters, were all given ongoing series. Milestone & DC Comics are clearly cognizant that as matters currently stand the characters are more likely to be successful in a series of miniseries which are designed to quickly be collected together in hardcovers editions. As a result, Thomas regrettably has a lot less space to develop the characters & events, having to fit everything into six issues.
As someone who has repeatedly criticized decompression in mainstream comic books, it no doubt sounds counterintuitive, but I truly think Hardware: Season One would have benefitted from being longer. Really, my belief is that a story should be as long as it needs to be, whether that length be two issues, or six, or more. I feel that if this miniseries had been eight issues instead of six, it would have flowed much more naturally.
I felt that Curtis Metcalf definitely needed to be developed more fully in this story. Curt’s defining characteristic is that his parents having divorced when he was a young boy, he so badly needed a father figure that he ignored all the signs that Alva was a corrupt, manipulative bastard until it was much too late. We really don’t get any insight into how he feels about his role in the Big Bang; yes, Curt warned Alva that the gas was dangerous, but he is still the one that developed it, and you would think his inadvertent part in the creation of the Bang Babies would weigh on him.
There also isn’t all that much of a look at Curt’s relationships with his ex-girlfriend Barraki Young or his current love interest Tiffany Evans, even though both of them play central roles in the story. And I would have liked to have learned more about these two women.
Ironically, Edwin Alva feels like the most fully-developed character here. Thomas does a good job at writing Alva as a narcissistic control freak while nevertheless showing how the industrialist has managed to completely convince himself that HE is in the right, that Curt is actually the one who betrayed his trust & friendship.
Alva epitomizes an overriding, rapacious characteristic present throughout capitalism. He truly believes that because it is his company, his money, therefore HE is the creator of everything his empire produces & manufactures. In Alva’s mind, if he had not provided Curt and the other scientists working for him with the funding & opportunities for their experimentation, their discoveries, their creations, then none of it would ever have existed; therefore he is entitled to everything. And anyone who disagrees is a selfish ingrate who doesn’t know his place.
And, yes, in that way Alva definitely felt to me like a stand-in for every comic book publisher who has ever exploited its creators, with their attitude of “If it wasn’t for our company your characters & stories would never have gotten published, therefore they belong to us.”
Back when I was a teen I really did not perceive Edwin Alva to be racist. A corrupt, ruthless criminal, yes, but one motivated solely by greed. But now I see that, yes, Alva is racist. Not in a “wears white sheets and burns crosses on people’s lawns while dropping the n-bomb” manner, but rather on a much more subtle, insidious level, possessing a condescendingly paternalistic attitude towards Curtis Metcalf and all other black people, and in the fact that Alva, a billionaire, perpetuates systems of economic injustice that are especially harmful to communities of color.
Thomas reuses the “Angry Black Man” title for his own first issue. And, truthfully, it’s appropriate, because Curtis Metcalf has every right to be angry.
If there is a second “season” then I very much hope it will delve more into Curtis Metcalf and his relationships with Barraki and Tiffany and his family.
Hardware’s co-creator Denys Cowan returns to the character to pencil Season One. Cowan’s work is very stylized, and over the decades it has certainly become more abstract. That creates an interesting dichotomy, in that Hardware is a very detailed, precise, hi-tech figure, but Cowan’s work here is often almost surreal. That quality is certainly enhanced by the inking of Bill Sienkiewicz.
Their scratchy-lined work together on Hardware: Season One sort of feels like what would happen if someone drew an Iron Man adventure in the style of a particularly shadowy, noir-ish Batman or Daredevil story. It’s perhaps an unusual choice, but one that does provide the story with a palpable atmosphere of tension & paranoia. Cowan & Sienkiewicz have worked together before, and they’ve always made an interesting art team.
The coloring by Chris Sotomayer effectively enhances the mood & tone of artwork. The lettering by Rob Leigh is also well done, giving most of the characters an organic feel, while having a more mechanical sort of text for Curt when he’s in the Hardware armor, and utilizing a style between those two points for the armor’s computer system P.O.P. which is a replica of Curt’s father’s voice.
The cover artwork & coloring for the Hardware: Season One miniseries is by Mateus Manhanini. His style is a lot slicker & smoother than Cowan & Sienkiewicz, giving much more of an emphasis to the sleek, hi-tech quality of the title character. There are also some nice variant covers by Sienkiewicz, Cowan, Sotomayer, Ricardo Lopez Ortiz, Edwin Galmon and Canaan White that are included in this collection.
While not without its flaws, I nevertheless liked Hardware: Season One, and I look forward to Milestone’s creators doing more with the character in the future.
We’re now at the halfway point of the animated series Star Wars: The Bad Batch season two, so I wanted to take a quick look at the episodes so far. The incredible Dee Bradley Baker returns to voice the entire Bad Batch and every single other male clone character on the series, with Michelle Ang as the Batch’s young ward, the teenage female clone Omega.
With the Batch believed dead and their former comrade Crosshair having thrown all-in with the Galactic Empire, the members of Clone Force 99 now hope to extricate themselves from their obligations to the Trandoshan smuggler Cid (voiced by Rhea Perlman) so they can go on their own path and secure a stable future for Omega. Cid suggests the Batch travel to Serenno, where the Empire is preparing to ship offworld the massive war chest accumulated by the late Count Dooku during his time leading the Separatists. The Batch’s efforts to make off with a portion of the wealth quickly goes pear-shaped, and they barely make it off Serenno in one piece.
I found the two-parter “Spoils of War” and “Ruins of War” to be somewhat underwhelming. Probably the strongest aspect of the story was the Batch meeting the elderly Romar Adell (voiced by Hector Elizondo), one of the few survivors of the Empire’s invasion of Serenno.
Adell informs the Batch that Dooku’s war chest was acquired not just by the Count looting the worlds of the Republic but his own home planet. It’s a vivid demonstration of how very far the former Jedi had fallen. In the recent Tales of the Jedi anthology series showed how Dooku’s disillusionment with the Republic was caused by him realizing how many of the politicians in the Senate were lining their own pockets at the expense of the people they were supposed to be representing. Now we see once again that, by joining Darth Sidious, Dooku ultimately became everything he started out fighting against.
“The Solitary Clone” was a definite improvement. The episode focused on Crosshair, whose blind loyalty leaves him isolated even from the other clones still serving the Empire. The ruthless, ambitious Admiral Rampart (Noshir Dalal) places Crosshair under the command of Commander Cody and dispatches them to the planet Desix to rescue Imperial Governor Grotton (Max Mittelman). The Governor has been taken hostage by the former Separatist Tawni Ames (Tasia Valenza) and her band of freedom fighters in a desperate attempt to safeguard their world’s independence.
This episode is a very effective inversion of the format established in The Clone Wars animated series. Cody leads a squad of clone troopers against the Separatist droid army to liberate a world… and I very quickly found myself rooting not for the clones but for Ames and her battle droids.
Cody genuinely believes he is doing the right thing, fighting for peace & security. He manages to talk down Ames, getting her to surrender, and is then horrified when Grotton orders her to be executed on the spot, an order Crosshair carries out without hesitation. Witnessing the start of the Empire’s brutal occupation of Desix, a shaken Cody at last realizes he’s on the wrong side.
Later, back on Coruscant, Cody confronts Crosshair about his unquestioning loyalty to the Empire:
“You know what makes us different from battle droids? We make our own decisions, our own choices. And we have to live with them too.”
The next day Crosshair is once again summoned before Rampart, who informs him that Cody has gone AWOL, further cementing the Admiral’s conviction that the Clone Army needs to be replaced with conscripted Stormtroppers who will be blindly loyal to the Empire.
Episode four, “Faster,” shifts the focus back onto the Batch as Tech, Wrecker and Omega accompany Cid to the planet Safa Toma where her droid TAY-0 is an entrant in a violent, high-speed “riot race.” TAY-0 loses when crime lord Millegi (Ernie Hudson) has his own racers cheat, and Cid finds herself heavily in debt. Tech participates in a second race to win Cid’s freedom.
This felt like another fairly standard episode but unremarkable, except for two things. One, we at long last got an episode spotlighting Tech. Two, at the end Millegi, handing Cid back to the Batch, he questions why the clones are risking their lives for her, attempting to warn them that she’s not worth their loyalty. Omega refuses to heed Millegi’s advice, but it does once again establish that, while the Batch working for Cid may have been a necessity in the short term to ensure their survival, in the long run they’re better off not being beholden to the smuggler.
“Entombed” was another fun but seemingly-throway episode as Cid’s sassy space pirate associate Phee Genoa (Wanda Sykes) convinces the Batch to accompany her on a search for a legendary treasure. This felt like an affectionate homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark, complete with ancient ruins, puzzles, death traps, and music that evoked John Williams’ scores for the Indiana Jones movies.
I feel the season started to get back on track with “Tribe,” the sixth episode. The Batch are running yet another errand for Cid, delivering forged chain codes to a group of droids on a space station, until Omega discovers those droids have a prisoner, a young Wookie. Impulsively leaping to the Wookie’s rescue, Omega learns that Gungi (Jonathan Lipow) is actually a Jedi, one of the few survivors of Order 66. The rest of the Batch immediately drop their mission and fight their way off the space station, taking Gungi with them.
Transporting Gungi back to Kashyyyk, the Batch are horrified to learn the Wookie homeworld is being pillaged by Trandoshian slavers working with the Empire. Citing the fact that the Wookies were their allies during the Clone Wars, the Batch join Gungi and a tribe of Wookies in fighting off the Empire.
This was a good one because it saw the Batch once again realizing that they have better things to do than getting tangled up in Cid’s criminal enterprises, that they’re much better off helping others who are being oppressed by the Empire. It was also nice to see the bond form between Omega and Gungi.
That brings us to the shocking mid-season two-parter “The Clone Conspiracy” and “Truth and Consequences.” On Coruscant, Admiral Rampart is aggressively pushing the Senate to pass into law the Defense Recruitment Bill which will phase out the Clone Army and enable the Empire to begin drafting its citizens into a new force of Imperial Stormtroopers. Several Senators are opposed, with Riyo Chuchi (Jennifer Hale) forcefully arguing that the clones, having done their duty to protect the galaxy, should not just be cast aside, as well as questioning why, with the Separatists defeated, the new Empire even needs a standing army.
“After all they have sacrificed, you now wish to discard them? Leave them with nothing? Is that how we repay them for our service? How can we debate commissioning a new army without a plan in place to care for our current one?”
Star Wars has been political right from the beginning. Despite the preponderance of British accents among Imperial officers, it’s clear that George Lucas regarded the Galactic Empire as the dark side of the United States. That really comes to the fore with these two episodes.
Rampart argues there simply isn’t the money to both support the veterans of the Clone Wars and to fund a new military, so the former will have to be sacrificed in favor of the latter. That is exactly the position we’ve seen again and again here in America.
Somehow there’s always the money available to build billion-dollar tanks & airplanes and to wage unending wars in the Middle East in the name of “national security.” But when it comes to helping veterans struggling with physical wounds and PTSD, to finding them housing, to funding the Military Health System and the Department of Veterans Affairs, well, suddenly politicians will start arguing for “fiscal responsibility” because now we seemingly cannot afford any of that. It is an absolute disgrace.
There’s an uncomfortable scene in “The Clone Conspiracy” where a group of clone troopers, realizing they are going to be cast aside, and not knowing if they are even going to have a future now that the galaxy no longer needs them, are experiencing a mixture of fear, disbelief and outrage.
Captain Rex summons the Batch to Coruscant in “Truth and Consequences” to help Chuchi expose that Rampart had Kamino and its cloning facilities destroyed so that the Empire would be forced to transition to an enlisted army. The Batch is able to locate evidence of the cover-up and gets it to Chuchi, who presents it before the Senate. However, the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid), ever the consummate chessmaster, quickly spins this to his advantage. Appearing before the Senate, the Emperor feigns shock & outrage and orders Rampart arrested. The Admiral is dragged off, all the while protesting that he was only following orders.
The Emperor then addresses the Senate and argues that the fact that the clones unquestioningly followed Rampart’s orders to destroy Kamino is proof that the galaxy needs to switch to the new Stormtroopers. A dispirited Chuchi watches as the Senate finally passes the Defense Recruitment Bill, ensuring the Emperor will have his standing army.
While most of the Batch were infiltrating Rampart’s star destroyer to recover evidence of the plot, Omega joined Chuchi in the Senate. Omega asked Chuchi what a Senator does, and the latter replied that Senators represent their people, serve as their voice in the government.
At least, that is supposed to be how it works. We see in these two episodes that all-too-many of the members of the Senate are complicit in helping Rampart push through the Defense Recruitment Bill because it’s a way for them to amass more wealth & political power.
Authoritarian despots such as the Emperor rely on such ambitious, avaricious public officials to maintain their grip on power. Like Rampart, those officials all think they’re going to come out ahead, only to be shocked when, their usefulness at an end, they get cast aside by their supreme ruler. And all the other lackeys & functionaries, despite witnessing this happening again and again, somehow manage to convince themselves “It won’t happen to me.” We saw this repeatedly during Donald Trump’s time as President, and, really, this is always a fixture of governments headed by narcissistic sociopaths. In the end despots are only loyal to one person: themselves.
“Truth and Consequences” ends with the Batch realizing they’ve been outmaneuvered by the Emperor. Echo decides that his place is no longer with the Batch, but with Captain Rex, helping their fellow clones who now more than ever will have to fight for their rights & freedoms. The implication is that the rest of the Batch are now also going to seriously reconsider their future.
Hopefully the second half of the season will follow on from the interesting character & plot threads set up throughout these first eight episodes and have a more focused direction.
At the end of my last blog post I promised to look at a much more successful project to come out of editor Mike Rockwitz’s office at Marvel Comics in the early 1990s. The Invaders was a miniseries which revived the World War II era superhero team for new adventures.
Roy Thomas loves the Golden Age of comic books. Thomas was born in 1940, so he grew up reading the early adventures of the Justice Society of America from DC Comics and the various superheroes from Marvel precursor Timely Comics.
The unusual things about Timely is that, even though their heroes frequently appeared together on dynamic covers, they never actually met in the stories within, other than the occasional fight or team-up between the original android Human Torch and the hybrid anti-hero Namor the Sub-Mariner. The only exception to this was the two appearances of the All-Winners Squad in All-Winners Comics #19 and #21, which were published in late 1946 and written, respectively, by Golden Age pioneers Bill Finger and Otto Binder. Namor and the Torch were joined by Captain America, Bucky, Toro, Miss America and the Whizzer in the All-Winners Squad.
After Thomas came to work at Marvel in the mid-1960s he began to utilize the Timely characters of the 1940s in his own stories. By 1975 he hoped to revive the All-Winners Squad in a series that would be set in the early 1940s and see the team operating during World War II. Then-publisher Stan Lee disliked the All-Winners Squad name and Thomas, who himself had never been too enthusiastic about it, came up with the alternate title The Invaders, as the heroes would be invading Hitler’s Fortress Europe to liberate it.
The team made their debut in Giant-Size Invaders #1, cover-dated June 1975, in a story written & edited by Thomas and penciled by Frank Robbins. Set in late December 1941, the story saw Captain America, Namor, the Human Torch and teen sidekicks Bucky and Toro fight against the super-powered Nazi agent Master Man. At the story’s end the five heroes resolved to work together to fight against the Axis menace.
The Invaders quickly became an ongoing series, running for 41 issues between August 1975 and September 1979, with an Annual being released in the Summer of 1977. Thomas edited the entire series and wrote nearly all the issues, with Don Glut coming in to pen the last few.
Thomas left Marvel for DC Comics in 1981 and created All-Star Squadron, an even more successful superhero series set during World War II. Thomas returned to Marvel in late 1986 and within a few years he was once again writing books set during the Golden Age. His editor on the majority of these, including The Invaders miniseries, was Rockwitz.
“Generally speaking, we got along quite well. He kept coming back to me for projects. And he wouldn’t demand to know every plot twist in a story in advance, which I’d have found boring and off-putting.”
The Invaders four issue miniseries was published in early 1993. In addition to Thomas and Rockwitz, the creative team was penciler Dave Hoover, inker Brian Garvey, letterer Pat Brosseau and colorist Paul Becton, with Ian Akin stepping in as co-inker for the third issue. The cover logo was designed by Todd Klein.
The first issue of the miniseries opens on the evening of June 22, 1942, picking up shortly after the conclusion of the ongoing series. Cap, Namor and the Torch discover a Nazi u-boat in the waters of New York Harbor. To their surprise, the craft is smuggling in a quintet of super-powered Nazi agents. The Invaders are even more startled when they realize that each of the five members of the Battle Axis is actually American.
Caught off-guard, the trio of heroes are defeated and barely make their escape. They retreat to the headquarters of the home front team the Liberty Legion in Times Square, where they are reunited with the dimension-shifting Thin Man. The Invaders relate their encounter with the Battle Axis to the Thin Man. Hearing their description of the Nazis, The Thin Man, who has been keeping track of American superheroes in order to enlist them for the war effort, is shocked to realize that all five of the Battle Axis were themselves, until now, costumed crime fighters.
Elsewhere, the romantically involved Miss America and the Whizzer are walking along the East River in their civilian identities when they stumble across the Battle Axis coming ashore. The Whizzer is captured but Miss America just barely escapes. Fleeing to Liberty Legion HQ, she tells the Invaders what has happened, as well as what she overheard said by Dr. Death, the ruthless leader of the Battle Axis: the Naxi agents are heading to Los Angeles as part of “the Fuhrer’s supreme plan –to knock America out of the war!” The Invaders quickly head west in pursuit of their dangerous foes.
The Invaders miniseries was definitely enjoyable, so I’m not going to go into too much detail about the story. If you’re a fan of these characters I definitely recommend seeking out these issues for yourself, or picking up one of the collections in which it’s been reprinted.
In addition to the Invaders and Liberty Legion members, Thomas utilizes obscure superheroes Blazing Skull, Silver Scorpion and the original Vision, all of whom hadn’t appeared since the early 1940s. He also brought back a pair of characters he had co-created with Frank Robbins in The Invaders series, the Blue Bullet and the Golem.
So, finally, a quarter century later, Thomas at long last had the opportunity to write the Golden Age Vision in this miniseries. Hoover’s cover to The Invaders #3 featuring the Vision is even a homage to the android Vision’s first cover appearance on Avengers #57 by John Buscema & George Klein, which in turn was inspired by the alien Vision’s introductory splash page from Marvel Mystery Comics #13 by Jack Kirby & Joe Simon in 1940.
The Battle Axis are also bona fide Golden Age superheroes. Thomas’ original idea was to have several obscure Timely heroes join the Nazi cause, but editor Mark Gruenwald balked at the idea. So Thomas dusted off a handful of even more obscure characters from the 1940s from other publishers who had fallen into the public domain and had them turn evil.
I thought Thomas actually made the heel-turns by the various Battle Axis members fairly plausible. In the late 1930s there were very strong isolationist feelings held by many Americans, as well as a fairly significant pro-Nazi movement in existence in the United States. Just because the country finally entered World War II in December 1941 did not mean that the people who held those beliefs would change them overnight. So it makes sense that you could have a handful of costumed vigilantes who for personal or ideological reasons would throw in with the Third Reich.
Thomas helpfully provides some detailed information on the various characters appearing in this miniseries in a trio of text pieces in the back of the first, third and fourth issues. Keep in mind that in 1993 the majority of readers would not have been alive when the original Golden Age comics came out, very little of that material had yet been reprinted by Marvel, neither had the original run of The Invaders been collected, and there was no Wikipedia. To put it in perspective, in the first piece Thomas notes that if you would like to read All-Winners Comics #19 and #2, both issues are available on microfiche!
I found Thomas’ text pieces invaluable, and I’m sure others did too. I appreciate that Thomas wrote them, and that Rockwitz encouraged him to write them rather than running ads in the spaces.
The artwork by Dave Hoover on The Invaders really was fantastic. I was a big fan of Hoover’s work. He’d recently drawn some nice fill-in issues of Excalibur, Nick Fury and Wolverine, as well as She-Hulk and Iron Fist serials for Marvel Comics Presents. So it was definitely a pleasure to see him penciling this miniseries.
Rockwitz clearly appreciated Hoover’s work, as a year later he gave him the regular assignment of penciling Captain America. I really liked Hoover’s depiction of Cap in The Invaders, and it was nice to then have him draw the character’s monthly series, on which he also did good work.
Brian Garvey & Ian Aiken had contributed some really rich, textured inks / finishes over Sal Buscema’s pencils on Rom Spaceknight a decade before this, so I was also a fan of their work. I feel they provided very nice embellishments on The Invaders, effectively complementing Hoover’s pencils. It’s a very attractive-looking miniseries.
Hoover sadly passed away on September 4, 2011 at the much too young age of 56. I addition to enjoying his work, I met him at comic conventions a couple of times, and he seemed like a good person, so I was definitely saddened by his death.
Rockwitz was very happy with how The Invaders came out. On the text page of issue #4 he describes it as “a dream come true for me.” As Thomas later related in Alter Ego #136:
“Mike said one of the proudest things of his editorship – and he didn’t sound like he was kidding – was being able to have me do another Invaders series. I don’t know why that should be the high point of anybody’s life [chuckles] but I certainly appreciated the thought.”
There were apparently tentative plans by both Thomas & Rockwitz for further Invaders stories. In issue #4 Rockwitz mentions the Invaders would be appearing “in an upcoming Captain America mini-series due out this year” but as far as I know that project never came to fruition.
Ultimately Thomas & Rockwitz would only ever be able to do one more Invaders-related story after this. Thomas wrote a fill-in story for Captain America #423 (January 1994) which revealed the never-before seen first encounter between Cap and Namor. Pencils were by M.C. Wyman and inks by Charles Barnett III, with letters by Diana Albers and colors by Ovi Hondru. It’s another enjoyable story with gorgeous artwork.
I’ve always felt Wyman had a style reminiscent of John Buscema. That was especially the case when he was inked by Barnett, whose inking really evokes a Bronze Age feel to it. I always enjoyed seeing Barnett’s inks over various pencilers during the early to mid 1990s. Wyman & Barnett only worked together a few times, unfortunately. They made a great art team.
Roy Thomas is a good, imaginative writer, one of the architects of the modern Marvel universe, who successfully wove together the interesting yet disparate strands of the company’s early history into a rich tapestry. I’m glad that Mike Rockwitz was able to afford him so many opportunities to write new stories in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The books they produced together were a lot of fun. Rereading them 30 years later, those comics are still enjoyable.