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Saturday in 1942 (though it’s really more like 1975)

by  in Comic News Comment
Saturday in 1942 (though it’s really more like 1975)

I know that it feels like it’s all about the The Avengers at Marvel in recent years, and that’s nothing compared to the onslaught of tie-in comics that’s going to hit when the Avengers movie gets its big theatrical release.

But there’s another super-team at Marvel that’s been doing really well for itself lately.

Am I the only one that’s noticed the recent renaissance of The Invaders? I don’t mean the reprint volumes of the original series, Invaders Classic …although I was tickled to see those appear in the Marvel trade-paperback rotation.

One of my favorite Golden Age revival comics from the seventies.

I always dug the original run of The Invaders by Roy Thomas and Frank Robbins. The concept was simple enough that you could instantly get behind it — Marvel heroes from the World War II era form a super-team to fight Nazis. And the book mostly delivered on the adventure inherent in the premise (though things maybe got a little tired toward the end.)

For most of its run, though, The Invaders was a fun team book and when Thomas was really cooking on stories like the first appearances of the Liberty Legion or Baron Blood, well, the enthusiasm was infectious. Even if Mr. Thomas occasionally let himself get carried away with explaining trivial things like why Namor changed the look of his swim trunks, the stories still moved at a pretty good clip. And the Frank Robbins art, which had previously felt wholly inappropriate to me on ‘current’ Captain America or Batman stories, clicked completely with me on this book.

The weirdly awkward Frank Robbins action poses somehow made sense in the context of a Golden Age revival comic.

Especially when Frank Springer took over inking it; I suspect Mr. Springer quietly fixed a lot of the weirder anatomical things Robbins was doing with the character poses.

Anyway, Marvel has been really good about getting all those stories collected and back in print. They even reprinted the 1990s Invaders mini-series Thomas did with Dave Hoover, and Roger Stern’s stories from Marvel Universe.

Nice to see these too; they were new to me, and I appreciated having them collected in handy trade paperbacks of their own.

But I’m talking about NEW Invaders stories. First we had The New Invaders in 2004….

Interesting enough idea, but it never quite came together as an ongoing series and died after ten issues, though I was rooting for it. There's a trade paperback collecting the first couple of arcs.

It wasn’t quite what readers were looking for. It began with a story by Chuck Austen in Avengers #82 putting together a team of second-stringer superheroes to revive the “Invaders” idea for the modern age. Turned out it was all a scheme by the Red Skull, and the whole idea never quite really came off. (Transplanting World War II-era concepts to today is something that fails so often in comics that I wonder why people keep trying. Call it Blackhawk syndrome.)

But then Marvel hit on the idea of a series of mini-series about the various Invaders set in the 1940s. I don’t know if it was planned or just dumb luck, but either way, that’s been golden.

By my reckoning, so far we’ve had six different mini-series in the last four years that I think you can count as Invaders-related projects.

The first was the 2008 crossover book Avengers/Invaders, from Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, and Steve Sadowski.

Old-school team-up action!

This was a twelve-issue romp involving the Red Skull, the Cosmic Cube, and all sorts of classic Marvel team-up misunderstandings that begin with a fight and end with everyone finding common cause. It’s set during the time shortly after the Civil War miniseries when Captain America was thought to be dead, which sets up lots of cool stuff between 1940s Cap and the modern Bucky-Cap. I just enjoyed the hell out of it; it felt like a throwback to stories like “The Avengers/Defenders War,” but with much better art and production values.

Then in 2009 we got the 8-issue The Marvels Project from Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting.

Cleverly integrating Marvel 1940s stories with a modern sensibility.

This purports to be a sort of secret history of the Marvel heroes, from the emergence of Sub-Mariner and the original Human Torch in 1938 to the formation of the Invaders in 1941. It’s every bit as smart and well-executed as you’d expect from an Eisner-winning team like Brubaker and Epting, but I was very pleasantly surprised to see it was not as dark as I’d come to expect from their Captain America run.

At almost the same time, we got The Torch from Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, and Mike Carey, with art by Patrick Berkenkotter.

This was a direct sequel to Avengers/Invaders but you don't need to have read that to enjoy this one.

This is another one that put a big grin on my face. It’s set in the modern day, and features the original Human Torch and the adult Toro… versus the Mad Thinker, a slew of androids, and a secret underground Nazi city in South America. It’s a good time. Somewhere in the back of my head a little continuity nerd wondered what happened to the idea that the Torch had become the android Avenger the Vision, but I just shushed him, because, really, SECRET UNDERGROUND CITY WITH NAZI ANDROID ARMY! How can you miss with a premise like that? I just wished Jack Kirby had still been around to draw it, this idea was made for him.

In 2010 we got three Invaders-themed miniseries.

Captain America: Forever Allies is the story of the adult Bucky Barnes reuniting with his old friends in the Young Allies.

I don't know why Roger Stern doesn't get more props. He's one of the most reliably entertaining superhero writers of the last two decades.

This is one of those “an adventure of the past has come back to haunt us” stories, told partly in flashback, but it works. Especially with the use of alternating artists — the present-day stuff is drawn by Marco Santucci, and the 1940s flashbacks are rendered by Nick Dragotta. There’s no one better at straight-up superheroics than Roger Stern, and he spins a tale that’s just plain fun.

We also had Captain America: Patriot, from Karl Kesel and Mitch Breitweiser.

Karl Kesel is another writer that really deserves more fan attention. The guys that are doing FUN superhero stuff at the Big Two never seem to get the kind of press they ought to, if you ask me. Not that anyone ever does.

This is the story of Jeff Mace, who was inspired by Captain America to become the Patriot in the 1940s, and then took over the identity of Captain America himself after Steve Rogers disappeared in 1945.

The Patriot first appeared in the Golden Age, but it was his 1970s adventures that Kesel is drawing from for this mini-series. Which of course hit me right where I live; I bought both of these off the stands, back in the day.

Kesel took a couple of 1970s Roy Thomas one-offs and extrapolated on them to create a compelling story of a guy that worked to earn the respect of his peers both in and out of costume, all the while trying to live up to the ideals of a man he knew he could never truly replace. It’s good stuff and I liked it a lot.

And finally, we have Invaders Now! from Christos Gage and Caio Reis, with covers by Alex Ross.

Alex Ross sure does a lot of these, doesn't he?

This is another “ancient evil returns to haunt us” story like Roger Stern’s in Forever Allies, again told in scenes alternating between World War II and the present. It’s not quite as much fun as Forever Allies, mostly because I didn’t care that much for the art and I think Reis could have at least reached for a slightly different look for the 1940s sequences. But Gage spins a good yarn and I still enjoyed this quite a bit.

Now, here’s the best part.

They’ve all been collected in trade over the last year and a half or so… and those trades have been remaindered and are now available mail-order for pennies on the dollar. I read all of these over the course of about six weeks. Total cash outlay was around thirty-five dollars.

They’re nice books, too. Many of them, like for example the Patriot and Forever Allies collections, have great bonus material included, including the original stories the new ones are based on.

Looking over these books doesn’t remind me of the glory days of 1975 just because Marvel’s (inadvertently? backhandedly?) reviving a title I really dug back then. It feels that way because these books were exactly the same kind of impulse buy for me that I used to make off the spinner racks in those days. Picked ’em up for cheap, read them, enjoyed them, didn’t feel like I had to run out and get a whole bunch more books to understand what I had.

That’s the kind of nostalgia I can get behind.

See you next week.

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