The Invaders (or “Okay Axis, here we come!”)
A brief history by Bob Reyer
With the James Robinson/Steve Pugh All-New Invaders debuting in January, it seems an apt time to take a look back at the history of The Invaders, Marvel’s first super-hero team —which they are, even though their series didn’t debut until 1975! If that sounds contradictory, there is an explanation, and it harkens back to the Golden Age and Martin Goodman’s Timely Comics, and then the dramatic sensibilities of Stan Lee and the long memory of his protege Roy Thomas.
For a bit of background, Timely publisher (and Stan’s uncle!) Martin Goodman was one of the great “followers” in comics history. If there was a trend, he’d plunge right in; when National/DC went with super-heroes such as Superman and Batman, he brought out Marvel Comics #1 in 1939 that featured the original Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner, when they published Wonder Woman, he bought the reprint rights to Miss Fury, and then started Miss America Comics. The one trend he missed out on was that of the super-hero team; despite the success throughout the Golden Age of DC’s Justice Society of America, Timely never created their own super-group. Somehow, in the Post-War era, with super-heroes in decline, Martin Goodman decided it was the right moment for his first attempt. All Winners Comics #19 (Fall 1946) would bring together the Human Torch & Toro, Prince Namor, Captain America & Bucky, Miss America, and The Whizzer (Timely’s Flash–stop giggling!) as the All-Winners Squad.
Written by Bill Finger (co-creator of Batman), this first adventure would headline a mystery tale entitled “The Crime of the Ages” featuring a villain calling himself Isbisa who plotted crimes based on the Ice Age, Stone Age, etc. Mr. Finger would also give readers a glimpse of the Marvel-to-come in the form of a sub-plot where-in the other heroes mistrusted Namor due to a planted bit of business by the villain. The team would have only one more outing in the Golden Age, this in the #21 Winter issue of All Winners written by Miss America co-creator Otto Binder, before disappearing into the mists of memory.
During the Silver Age, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would bring back the Golden Age Sub-Mariner (Fantastic Four #4), Captain America (Avengers #4) and the Human Torch (Fantastic Four Annual #4), but it would take fan-turned-pro Roy Thomas (and artist Sal Buscema) to put the band back together. In Avengers #71 (Dec. 1969), the time-tossed (by Kang!) trio of Black Panther, Yellowjacket, and The Vision would battle Cap, Namor, and the Torch on the streets on Nazi-occupied Paris.
Life-long JSA fan Mr. Thomas wouldn’t take another shot at writing Marvel’s version until he became the Editor-in-Chief, when he would preside over the creation of a new edition of the company’s World War II super-team, this time called The Invaders (named that in-story by Winston Churchill!) who would debut in a self-titled “Giant Size” issue in the spring of 1975. With the angular and energetic stylings of veteran artist Frank Robbins continuing on pencils, the regular on-going series would begin just two months later as Invaders #1. The core of the group would be pared to Captain America & Bucky, The Human Torch & Toro, and Namor, but many of Timely’s Golden Age characters would guest, as well as newly-created heroes Spitfire and Union Jack. Original All-Winners Bob Frank and Madeline Joyce (Whizzer and Miss America) would appear as members of the home-front Liberty Legion in a cross-over event that would presage their two post-war jaunts with the other heavy hitters of the Timely Universe. (Even Thor would turn up at one point!) Under their stirring rallying cry “Okay Axis, here we come!”, they battled such fascist foes as Master Man, Warrior Woman, U–Man and Baron Blood for forty-one issues, nearly all written by Mr. Thomas, before ending with a double-sized issue in 1979.
The Invaders would appear only sporadically in the years since; some occasional guest shots, a 1993 mini by Roy Thomas and Dave Hoover, and three issues of Marvel Universe before a small renaissance in the late 2000s spearheaded by Alex Ross. Mr. Ross would plot two Invaders mini-series; the twelve-issue Avengers/Invaders in 2008, which was co-written by Jim Kreuger (with art by Steve Sadowksi) featured a story of altered and alternate histories caused by the Cosmic Cube that has threads lingering today, and Invaders Now! which ran for five issues in 2010. That series, co-written by Christos Gage with art by Caio Reis was a tale of redemption for the modern-day Invaders for a World War II adventure that resulted in the destruction of a Dutch village in order to stop the spread of a virus that transformed the residents into the living dead.
From all reports, All–New Invaders scribe James Robinson has an eye on telling modern adventures, but that will reference Marvel’s deep continuity, with an opening story-arc that features the Kree searching the Earth for a device that could change the balance of intergalactic power. His team consists of the Sub-Mariner, the original Human Torch, Captain America, and his former partner Bucky Barnes, now the Winter Soldier. Mr. Robinson has said that he will introduce a female legacy character (I’m betting on a Union Jack or Spitfire up-date!), and will also do a flashback tale of the First World War! Based on his work on DC’s Golden Age, I would say that this new incarnation of The Invaders should be a entertaining read, with fine and repsectful characterizations, and more than likely a few surprises thrown in!
ADDENDUM: In What If? #4 in 1977 (“What if The Invaders Had Stayed Together After World War II?”) , Roy Thomas filled in one of the continuity gaps caused by Stan Lee’s story that returned Captain America to the present-day Marvel Universe, which said that he died at the close of World War II. Mr. Thomas wanted to explain the post-war stories featuring Cap by saying that he was replaced by another patriotic character, William Naslund, the Spirit of ’76, who took on the mantle of Captain America. There are some great surprises in this issue which I won’t spoil here, but let’s just say the story takes some nice turns!