In this issue (falling between issues #15 and #16 of the main series), writer Roy Thomas demonstrates his original concept of “retroactive continuity,” filling in details in comics history to fill in gaps or explain current-day curiosities—this time, as he explains on the ending text page, correcting some goofs he admits he made in the Invaders’ first (informal) appearance in Avengers #71. Along the way, he invites some guest artists to pitch in on our heroes’ solo exploits in the story, alongside the regular Franks, Robbins and Springer, handling the framing sequence.
The issue opens with the Human Torch leading the other Invaders to Big Ben to meet their new military liaisons. (Very impressive identity verification system they had, too.)
The liaisons inform the three adult Invaders that three villains they’d fought separately have escaped and now working for the Axis forces, so they split up to face them (with Bucky and Toro maintaining an “Invaders presence” at home, ha ha).
To give the individual heroes’ chapters a Golden Age feel, Thomas got Alex Schombuerg, legendary Timely cover artists during the 1940s, to draw the Torch’s tale; Lee Elias, famous comics/comic strip artist who his name on Black Cat and drew Namor in the late 1940s to pencil his tale; and Don Rico, who anonymously drew many Cap stories in the late 1940s, to pencil his.
Speaking of which, Cap begins his chapter admiring the Statue of Liberty, appropriately enough, especially because he’s been spending so much time overseas lately.
After an FBI agent fills him on the origin of his assigned target, Agent Axis, the villain then makes his initial appearance here (other than as a form taken by the Super-Adaptoid in Tales of Suspense #82). (Cap says earlier that their first meeting was so fast that “the comic books didn’t get the story”!)
This exchange serves two purposes. First, it references the “special substance” from which Cap’s shield is made, which has yet to be revealed at the time of publication. Second, it sets up Thomas’s explanation for why, in the Invaders’ appearance in Avengers #71, Cap had his original, pointy shield: He picked it up when Agent Axis dropped it, and then “loses” the round one like so.
At the end of each individual Invader’s chapter, he finds himself mysteriously transported to a limbo state, then together they are zapped to Paris, where they meet Black Panther, Yellowjacket, and the Vision (an encounter first shown in Avengers #71).
Another snafu Thomas wrote himself out of was Black Panther’s assumption that they were in 1941 rather than 1942, based on Cap’s pointy shield. (Who knew T’Challa was such a geek when it came to obscure superhero history?)
I guess Cap picked up on that point too—you have to respect such attention to detail among your heroes!
After Yellowjacket proclaims victory, the truth comes out (which you know if you’ve read Avengers #71 or my post on it): This was all a game set up by Kang and the Grandmaster, who transported the heroes to France in 1942 to do battle for them.
Before Yellowjacket can demure fully, the three Avengers disappear, followed by the Invaders themselves. Soon, they encounter the party responsible for their abduction(s), who confirms the Avengers’ story and is so grateful to his pawns that he returns them to the villains wot got their stuff.
Wait, Namor’s trunks? Yes, Namor’s trunks. Another goof that needed correction was that the original Avengers story had Namor in the wrong pants. (This stuff matters, people!)
And that Agent Axis, what a genius: challenging Cap to capture him while giving him back his most useful weapon.
After the Invaders defeat the villains, Cap considers a future as an Avenger—not realizing, of course, the frozen nap in his future.
Invaders (vol. 1) Annual #1, 1977: Roy Thomas (writer), Frank Robbins, Alex Schomburg, Don Rico, Lee Elias (pencils), Frank Springer (inks), Sam Kato (colors), Joe Rosen (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: Invaders Classic: The Complete Collection Volume 1 (which also includes the aforementioned Avengers #71)
LAST ISSUES: Invaders #14-15 (March-April 1977)
NEXT ISSUES: Invaders #16-18 (May-July 1977)