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.
As Thomas recounted to Jim Amish in Alter Ego # 136 from TwoMorrows Publishing, he and Rockwitz had a good working relationship.
“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.
Thomas had actually wanted to have the original Vision, who was an other-dimensional alien named Aarkus, join the Avengers way back in 1968. However editor Stan Lee instructed that Thomas have an android join the team, and so Thomas created a brand-new android Vision who was visually similar to the original. My pal Alan Stewart offered a comprehensive look at this in his retrospective on Avengers #58.
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.