We have finally come to the first extended treatment of Captain America’s World War II adventures in writer Roy Thomas’s brainchild series, Invaders, drawn by Frank Robbins and others.
Please indulge me for a minute: my favorite comics series when I was a little nipper (and exclusively a DC Comics reader) was All-Star Squadron, in which Thomas (with pencillers Rich Bucker and Jerry Ordway) expanded on the Golden Age history of the DC Universe in Thomas’s original sense of retroactive continuity, fleshing out the established sequence of events while remaining respectful of existing stories (unlike the modern sense of retconning as eliminating or changing established continuity). I had always been drawn to the heroes of Earth-2 (as they were known in ye olde pre-Crisis days), living for the annual JLA-JSA team-ups, so All-Star Squadron was right up my alley, especially because it introduced me to many forgotten Golden Age heroes such as Liberty Belle and Johnny Quick, and even new ones, such as the Danette Reilly version of Firebrand (sister of the male Quality Comics hero).
Little did young Mark know at the time that Roy Thomas came to DC after a long tenure as Stan Lee’s #2 at Marvel Comics, where he had written a similar title, Invaders. This title did essentially the same thing with the Golden Age heroes of Timely Comics (as Marvel was then known) that All-Star Squadron did with DC, telling new stories set during World War II that fit alongside the original tales of the time (and real-world events as well). Although Invaders focused on Cap and Bucky, the Human Torch and Toro, and Chuckles the Happy Sub-Mariner, over the years it featured many other similarly forgotten Golden Age heroes (many of them collected in the Liberty Legion, whom we’ll meet soon), as well as new characters such as Union Jack, Spitfire, and the Crusaders (a pastiche of DC’s Freedom Fighters, a team made up of Golden Age heroes from Quality Comics that were later acquired by DC).
For the purposes of this blog, there isn’t a lot of ethically interesting content in most issues of Invaders, and for good reason. In the early 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (and others) established Steve Rogers’ modern characterization as a guilt-ridden “man out of time,” which introduced psychological and moral complexity to what had been a simplistic character (as most were in the Golden Age), and gives us a lot to discuss here. But Roy Thomas wrote him in Invaders as we would imagine him during World War II: just as earnest and upstanding but more naively so, less experienced and commanding, and (most important) without the baggage he woke up with in Avengers #4. Cap still possesses the virtues that attracted the attention of the people behind Project Rebirth, as we’ll see when we finally start discussing this issue—yes, we’re getting to that, almost done, jiminy cricket—but they are referenced less often in these stories, in favor of pure adventure (remember that?). As a result, I’ll often be covering several issues at a time, with scattered panels from each and less synopsis of the stories themselves (and a little more comics history, given the nature of the series).
After a symbolic splash page with all five Invaders facing a defiant Adolf Hitler, we get the following double-pager, which well establishes the tone of the book and our two favorite members of the team to be.
Note that Cap was already joking about his age, even in 1941!
After the fight is over, the FBI shows up, and Cap is reminded of a name that starts us on a recap of his origin…
The details are familiar, but I’ll draw your attention to the panels below, highlighting the young Steve Rogers’ courage and intelligence.
Below we see the astonishing transformation, followed quickly by Dr. Erskine’s announcement of Steve’s future to come. (He’s obviously thought this through!)
As we know, a Nazi saboteur shoots Erskine, after which Steve tackles him, but below we see that he is already taking account of his increased strength and speed and lightens up…. not that it does his foe any good, as he backs into a weapon and dies.
After his reminiscence passes, Cap leaves with Bucky to visit Dr. Anderson, with Cap politely turning down a request for an autograph (and Bucky noting how odd that is).
Anderson tells them of being captured by the Nazis and witnessing the creation of their own super-soldier, Master Man, using the parts of Erksine’s formula they could extract from Anderson’s brain with a “psyphon” (ha). Soon, the Human Torch and Toro show up to fight Master Man and save Anderson.
There’s no Cap-related reason for the panels above, but it seemed rude to ignore the other stars of the book—even though they show up to meet Cap and Bucky below.
Remember that the Timely heroes of the Golden Age did not meet as often as the Marvel heroes have since the 1960s, and the Invaders never existed as a team until the three adult members were grouped together in Avengers #71 and then in the current Invaders series; in other words, the Invaders concept was part of the Roy Thomas retcon (as was the All-Star Squadron at DC). The closest thing at the time was the All-Winners Squad, which came about in 1946; we see more of them in What If? #4.
Finally, as Master Man attacks a British battleship, who should be there but the last member of our combo: Namor.
Our five heroes fight Master Man until he starts to weaken, and we find out he shares more in common with Cap than their prescription medicine.
As before, Cap eventually holds his strength back with a (now) weaker foe…
…allowing his junior partner to step in (and then restrains even him).
As our heroes wrap things up, we see the animosity between the Human Torch and Namor, stemming from their first meeting in Marvel Mystery Comics #8 and #9 in 1940, also the first major crossover between superhero comics, suggesting a shared universe between the Timely features. (We also see Cap serving as level-headed peacemaker, a frequent role in this title.)
And yes, the British prime minister, Winston Churchill (as well as the American president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt) shows up from time to time, here to christen our new superhero team and assign their mission. (FDR did the same for the All-Star Squadron, by the way.)
Not exactly “Avengers Assemble!” but it will do… although it may have been more forceful had our heroes not been facing away from the reader!
Collected in: Invaders Classic: The Complete Collection Volume 1
ALSO THIS MONTH: Captain America #186 (June 1975)
NEXT ISSUE: Invaders #1-4 (August 1975-January 1976)