In the Marvel Universe, a diverse collection of heroes banded together to oppose the Nazi war machine and its super-powered operatives during Word War II. Dubbed the Invaders, the team was composed of individuals who originally had little in common except for a shared desire to prevent the Axis powers from conquering the world. Over the years, the respect and admiration these brothers in arms developed for each other grew into a bond which has endured the decades.
Thanks to several twists of fate and their inherent superhuman natures, the youth of the original Invaders has endured as well. The team’s founding members — Captain America; his former sidekick Bucky now known as the Winter Soldier; the android original Human Torch (Jim Hammond), his sidekick Toro (Thomas Raymond) and Namor, the Sub-Mariner — are still in their prime. This is a fortunate turn of events, because in today’s debut issue of “All-New Invaders,” by writer James Robinson and artist Steve Pugh, fate has reunited four of the original team members in the present day to combat the might of another militaristic menace, the intergalactic Kree Empire. CBR News spoke with Robinson about the just-released first issue and his plans for the series.
CBR News: James, you’re known for your affinity for Golden Age characters, but what is it about the Invaders, specifically, that you find most interesting and why did you want to write a book which places them firmly in the present day?
James Robinson: I’ve always loved Golden Age characters, and I really enjoyed Roy Thomas and Frank Robbins’ “Invaders” series for Marvel. Thomas was very true to the continuity at DC Comics, but sometimes that Golden Age continuity can be very contradictory, or because it was more simplistic, it doesn’t make sense to modern viewers. At Marvel, he established that the Golden Age comic books published by Atlas Comics were fictional depictions of those Marvel characters, so he had a little more creative leeway with what he was writing in “Invaders.” The stories were a little more mature and he could do things like bring in an African American Human Top or an Asian Golden Girl, whereas in the 1940s, they wouldn’t have done that, obviously.
That always interested me, and the other thing is, it was one thing to tell a Justice Society story in the 1960s when the JSA were like sexy 40-year old guys.They all looked like Paul Newman or Robert Redford. But the origin of characters like the Fantastic Four, which took place in 1961, has moved in time with us as books have been published. World War II, though, is a locked point in history. If someone fought in World War II when they were in their 20s, they’re now at least 90 years old.
That’s obviously a problem with the Justice Society, and often led to their stories feeling like a passing of the baton to a younger generation of heroes. But with the Invaders, the five main characters — Captain America, Namor, the Human Torch, Toro and the Winter Soldier — kept some degree of their youth, for one reason or another. The characters are approximately the same physical age as they were back then. I find that very interesting. There isn’t a sense of a group of elder statesmen passing a baton. I’ll be incorporating them into the ongoing universe as modern Marvel characters, but at the same time, they have this past history together, so I’m portraying them as a band of brothers.
â€¨Characters like Captain America and Namor have been on opposing sides of the fence at times, like in the ’70s, when Namor was a bit more hostile to the human race and Captain America was in the Avengers. Even with that in the past, there is still a camaraderie and bond between those characters. World War II will always be a part of these characters, but at the same time, this will be a modern Marvel comic.
It’s fine to refer to the past and World War II, but the problem with the Invaders can be that every story hangs on something from the past or Nazis. You have Neo-Nazis, or it revolves around Baron Blood or some villain from the past that they have to get back together in order to fight. So in our first arc, there is a key moment in the War that brings these guys together to fight the modern day carryon from that, which is the Kree. They’re looking for a device that the Invaders captured in World War II, but then it goes into the Kree and the cosmic Marvel Universe for five issues. We’re referencing Jonathan Hickman’s recent “Infinity” storyline. It’s a modern Marvel book.
In terms of why I find the Invaders appealing, they allow me to revisit the 1940s or the Golden Age again, but it really feels like a different look and feel than my work at the pre “New 52” DC, where there was a Golden Age and Golden Age Justice Society members.
Will the Invaders have a mandate of sorts? Will they be the heroes that are called upon to beat back the fantastic forces of militaristic empires or nation states?
No, there’s not really a mission statement. I’m trying to avoid that.
I’ve been talking with my editor Mark Paniccia, and I hope this book sells well because I have so many stories for these guys. I’ve got years of material, but they’re never going to call themselves the Invaders. There’s never going to be a moment where Nick Fury is looking solemnly at his men and says, “This is not a mission any one else can do. Call the Invaders.” It’s just going to be fate and happenstance that keeps bringing these guys together.
Sometimes there will be a foe after one of them, and the others will have to come together. Sometimes it will be something that resonates from World War II that they have to handle, and other times it will be something else.
At the end of issue #2, Captain America makes the decision to invade the Kree. He says, “We’re going to do something that the group of us together do better than anyone else Earth. The Kree have taken Namor, our brother, so we’re going to invade the Kree.” So that name will be evoked sometimes, but they’re not the soldiers of the Marvel Universe. That’s a take that’s been done before, and I’m not going to go there.
I know you’ve written Cap before, but have you had the chance to pen any of your other cast members?
When this opportunity to do the Invaders came to me, I had a good idea for it, but if I hadn’t, or it was only the Invaders fighting Nazis, I probably wouldn’t have done it, because I feel like it’s been done before and I don’t want to be known as just “The Golden Age Guy.” It’s a compliment in some ways, but it also pigeonholes me a little bit.
A while back, on a podcast, I was asked what Marvel book I would like to write, and I said that if I did a team book, it would probably be a run on “Secret Avengers” because the current incarnation has a bit more of a mission statement. Back then, it was a covert team where they threw in as many odd characters as they could and they did stuff. That would have suited me fine, because I would have assembled a team with characters like Quicksilver and the Black Knight — my favorite Marvel characters tend to be the second tier characters from the 1970s.
But getting back to your question, I would have definitely thrown in the Original Human Torch. It always bugged me how he had been treated. At the very beginning, when Marvel wasn’t, to any degree, acknowledging its Golden Age apart from Captain America coming back from the 1940s — if you remember, it wasn’t until “Avengers” #71,” where the team met the Invaders, that they reference the fact that Namor had been around in the 1940s. When Captain America and the Avengers first fight Namor around issue #4 or #5, he does’t go, “Hey man, we used to be teammates! We used to fight the Nazis together!” There’s never any mention of that.
I understood that you have the Fantastic Four now, so you wouldn’t mention the original Human Torch — but he came back in an annual, and then he vanished again! Then he was brought back again — then, John Byrne depowered him. I always thought he was treated badly, for the very first Marvel character. People make the case that Namor might be [first] because he was written slightly earlier, but in terms of actual Marvel comics, the very first character on the cover was the Human Torch, and I always thought he was treated with a little disrespect. I wanted to bring him back, treat him well and give him a personality, which I enjoy doing with the more obscure characters. He’s a character that I haven’t written before, but I’m very much enjoying writing.
Namor really comes to the fore in the latter issues. I’m a little nervous writing him, because I really want to do him justice. He’s part of the first arc, but you’ll see more and more of Namor as the book goes on. I have a very Namor-centric arc coming up, and I think readers will be very happy with how I depict him there.
I’ve written Captain America before, and it’s quite easy to find his voice. I’m experiencing that with “Fantastic Four,” as well, because those characters have been so well-written by so many writers before me. It really is a testament to the quality of the writing by some of the people that handled Cap, the Fantastic Four and these other iconic characters.
With the Winter Soldier, it’s a mixture of the boy that he was and the man that he is now. That’s fun to write, as well.
â€¨With Jim Hammond, the original Human Torch I really wanted to make him a fun, likable character. That was a challenge I gave myself. Just yesterday, I saw a Steve Pugh variant cover where he’s designed costumes for the Human Torch, as well as how he’d look on fire. Now, I don’t have a concrete plan for Jim Hammond and Johnny Storm, the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four, meeting — although there will be a soft ongoing crossover between Jim Hammond and the kids from the Future Foundation —
Recently, CBR did a list of the best Christmas comic stories, and you very kindly put the “Starman” one I did among them. The soft crossover between Jim Hammond and the children of the Future Foundation will lead into a Christmas story that I believe will make next year’s list, and is as heart warming as you could hope for. So there will be a little bit of a crossover.
But what I was saying about Jim and Johnny is that, on that Steve Pugh sketchbook cover, you’ll also see where Steve and I have been working to make this Human Torch look different enough that if you saw him and Johnny Storm together on fire, you would immediately know which was which. I’m excited to see how much his powers are potentially different from Johnny’s, so I’ll be getting into that aspect of him too.
All four of these characters have experienced great losses recently. Captain America lost Sharon Carter, the Winter Soldier lost Black Widow, Namor lost his kingdom, and the Human Torch lost the race of robotic life forms known as the Descendants. Are you interested in exploring that in “All-New Invaders?” Will that affect the group’s dynamic?
I’m definitely exploring what happened with the Descendants. If you start a book, though, and you’re bringing out too much back story for so many characters, you can lose forward momentum. So you’ll see references to all of that without it being too on the nose. I want to reference some of those things, because that’s how a book that’s in the main continuity feels. When you do a book and you just ignore any of the stuff that’s happened because you’ve been lazy or just can’t be bothered to do your research, I think that’s really disrespectful and not good writing. In a super hero comic medium, part of the fun is that shared universe and the idea of all these characters existing in the same time frame.
Let’s talk a little bit about your first story that pit the Invaders against the Kree. I understand, from talking with Steve Pugh, that this story takes place primarily in the present day, but it will feature some flash back sequences.
Yes, there are flashback moments. Steve just did a flashback in issue #4 that has all the Invaders in it, and, with the exception of Baron Blood, who wouldn’t be around in the day time, we got every single Invaders villain in that flashback, too. It’s a wonderful double-page spread.
The first flashback in the series is the catalyst for why the Kree go after the Invaders in the first place, and why the Invaders are then forced to fight back to save Namor and the universe. That’s in the first issue, but as I said, we are in the present day with a new villain called Tanalth the Pursuer, who I’m really quite proud of, mainly because Steve did such a great job of making her look absolutely kick ass.
We’ve had some lead time with this comic. I came up with the story when “Infinity” was starting, possibly even slightly before that. I didn’t know Ronan would have a large role in “Infinity,” and when I pitched this story, they mentioned he would and asked if I could come up with a new Kree character.
There was already a Pursuer character, who had been killed, named Korath. So I thought about it and it was kind of cool that they had these galactic Kree judges in the Accusers. I likened it to the TV show “Law and Order” in that they have these sort of cop/hunting dogs that go out and drag criminals back in the Pursuers.
So I came up with Tanalth, this new pursuer that takes over from Korath. She’s mean and ambitious, and from there, Steve designed the Pursuers. He gave them this Spartan-Greek warrior feel to their armor, how they work together and everything else. It was really exciting to see it all come together in the way that Steve did it.
â€¨We have her as our new villainess. She’s in our first arc and will come back from time to time to further plague, and sometimes even help, the Invaders. This arc won’t be the last you’ll see of her.
What can you tell us about Pursuer Corps that are under Tanalth’s command?
They’re definitely highly trained, elite warriors. I’d liken them to the equivalent of Navy SEALS or Delta Force. They’re not just foot soldiers. They honestly look down a little bit on foot soldiers. Their costumes are very dark and they have a stealth ops feel to them.
The Invaders are going up against the Kree in the aftermath of “Infinity” which had Captain America working alongside the Kree and other races to end the threat of the alien Builders. Will that factor into the story?
Yes, it’s referenced in issues #4 and #5 in discussions between the Kree and the Supreme Intelligence. There’s an interesting parallel there with World War II where Joseph Stalin and the Russians were on America’s side until the day that the war ended. Then the next day they were the enemy. Now that we know the full history of things we know that’s how Winston Churchill and Harry Truman viewed it. So there’s an interesting parallel, where one minute, you’re allies against a greater evil, and the next minute, you’re not.
You’ve already expressed your admiration for Steve Pugh’s contributions to the designs of the Human Torch and Tanalth. Beyond that, what has he brought to the book and your stories?
When Mark and I were discussing the artists we would like, he was suggesting some popular artists that were unavailable because they were tied up with other books. I remember saying to him, “I’d kill to work with these guys, but they’re not right for the book. They’re artists that you would expect to do the Invaders.”
One of the examples I used was Matt Fraction’s “Hawkeye” series. Because if someone told me Matt was going to do a Hawkeye book, I would imagine it would be with one of the guys that draws an Avengers book and it would feature Hawkeye on his own battling villains and whatever else. Instead, they did this book that showed what Hawkeye was up to when he was not fighting big villains with the Avengers, with David Aja doing superb work on art. The way that art is, it’s not something you would initially expect. It’s really a surprise.
That’s what I wanted to do with the Invaders. I wanted to shake things up and give people a book that was good, but not what they would expect. So when Steve’s name came up, I was like, “Yeah that’s the guy.” Quite frankly, even I was putting Steve in a little bit of a box, because the largest amount of work we’ve seen of him on anything has been his very long run on “Animal Man.” That was fantastic, but I feel there’s a link from that to Stephen Bissette’s “Swamp Thing” in that there was a very organic feel to it. The panels had an unstructured, wild feel, and the art had a very inky, loose feel to it.
When we were first talking, I suggested giving the book a more design-like feel to the panels. I referenced Steranko and how he really designs the layouts. Steve did some of that, but he kept channelling Jack Kirby. It’s really wonderful that he added this big, bombastic feel to it. You can see it in how Tanalth looks, the big panels and the feel of the book, which is big action. I’m absolutely thrilled.
Plus, he’s taking the time to make sure all character designs work, especially Jim Hammond’s. It’s funny — he’ll have two costumes, because he’ll have the new Torch costume that we’ve given him, and at the end of issue #5, he’s going to join S.H.I.E.L.D. As an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., he’ll have a red version of the Super Soldier suit. The costume he’ll be in depends on the situation.
Steve’s work is great. He’s committed to the book and wants to be on it as long as he can. It’s hopefully going to be a long and fruitful working relationship between him and I.
I understand you have plans to quickly expand your cast of characters beyond the initial four members.
Yes — and no. I do intend to expand, but it’s funny: When you do a relaunch of a prior team book, no matter what character you put on the book, there’s always somebody who says something like, “The only reason I read comics is because of Blue Diamond. Why isn’t Blue Diamond in the book?” He’s an obscure Golden Age character. He was in the Liberty Legion.
There’s always somebody like that, but to be fair I haven’t included Spitfire, Union Jack or Thomas Raymond yet, and there’s reasons for that. The first was that I really wanted to get these characters down. When you cram in too many characters, either some of the characters are not developed at all, because you have to concentrate on other characters, or the book just feels weak because no character is truly developed.
I want to make sure I’ve got a handle on the main characters, and then I will be expanding. There’s a legacy character that debuts in issue #6 and #7 that will come and go in the book. She’ll be around, but she’s not really a member. The one I introduce in issues #8-10 will be sticking around, though, and she’ll be an ongoing female member of the Invaders. Then I’m going to have a big arc that begins around issue #12 or 13 and starts in England, which pits the Invaders against H.G. Wells’ Martians, which means you’ll see Killraven and the Freemen. That will start off as a very English-centric story, and it’s where I’ll be folding Union Jack and Spitfire into the team.
The loose nature of the team and who they are allows me to bring characters in for certain arcs and leave them out of others. You’ll see Union Jack and Spitfire, but when it comes to the character of Thomas Raymond — I know people loved the idea of him as Toro, the sidekick from World War II, but because there’s an Original Human Torch and the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch, it’s a little hard to justify three burning men flying around the Marvel Universe. I have a way to keep Tom Raymond a legitimate super hero in the Marvel Universe, so I’m going to reinvent him a little bit. It won’t be in a way that’s an affront to fans of his original powers and the role he played in the Invaders.
Can you offer up any more hints or teases about your overall plans for “All-New Invaders” after this initial arc?
It’s very much going to be within the larger Marvel Universe. One of the things I’m doing is, at the end of the first arc, Cap says to the Human Torch, “You’re running away. You don’t want to face the fact that this is a modern world we’ve found ourselves in. I need you on the inside. You can’t keep hiding any more.” So we’re putting Jim Hammond in S.H.I.E.L.D., and that puts the Invaders at the heart of everything going on in the Marvel Universe.
Issues #6 and #7 is where we’re introducing a new female legacy character and that also ties in with this year’s event storyline, “Original Sin.” Issues #8-10, while also introducing another legacy character, tie into “Inhumanity,” and it’s where we’ll be dealing with Thomas Raymond. We’ll be reintroducing him as significant character within the storyline and the Marvel Universe.
Obviously, I don’t want “All-New Invaders” to be a book where you’ve got to read a million other books to enjoy it, but at the same time, it’s going to feel like an important book in the Marvel Universe and not one of these side, ancillary books that you can ignore or wait for the trade. I understand comics are expensive, so people decide which books they trade wait for and which ones they buy. I believe as a writer, though, you should always try and write the best book you can so that readers are like, “I cannot wait for the trade of this book. I’ve got to read it the week it comes out.” I’m trying to make “All-New Invaders” into that book where you can’t wait to read it. Hopefully, when the jury’s verdict comes down on my head with a dull thud, they’ll enjoy what I’m doing. [Laughs]