The Invaders

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Giant-Size Invaders #1 © 1975 Marvel Comics. (Cover art by Frank Robbins and John Romita.)

The Invaders

(pop culture)

Considering how all-pervasive superhero teams have become since the 1960s, it is surprising that there were so few around in the 1940s. DC Comics had the Justice Society of America and the Seven Soldiers of Victory, and Fawcett had the Marvel Family, but Marvel Comics itself managed to produce precisely two stories of its sole adult team, the All-Winners Squad (though, of course, their kid gangs, such as the Young Allies and the Tough Kid Squad, thrived). The All-Winners Squad appeared in All-Winners Comics #19 and #21, in late 1946. The comic consisted of Marvel’s “big three” heroes, the Sub-Mariner, the Human Torch, and Captain America; the latter two’s sidekicks Toro and Bucky; and two lesser-known heroes, the Whizzer and Miss America. Years later, longtime fan and writer, Roy Thomas, remembered how effective the combination of the big three had been and used them again, in a time-travel issue of The Avengers (#71, 1969), pitting the 1940s and 1960s heroes against each other.

In 1975, looking around for a new project, Thomas decided to revive the concept of the All-Winners Squad (minus the Whizzer and Miss America) and to create new, untold tales of the heroes in their World War II prime. Thomas used the team, now christened the Invaders (which he reasoned sounded less embarrassing than “All-Winners Squad”) to fill in gaps or correct lapses in old continuity, reintroduce forgotten heroes of the Golden Age (1938–1954), and create his own wartime characters. The result was one of the most action-packed, hero-packed, and fun-packed comics of the 1970s.

For art, Thomas turned to industry veteran Frank Robbins, who had been drawing the Johnny Hazard newspaper strip for decades and could provide just the right mixture of authentic period detail and slam-bang action. The team’s first adventure appeared in Giant Sized Invaders #1 but, soon after, the decision to reduce its page count to that of a regular comic meant that its second issue was just plain Invaders #1—back then not many comics could boast of having two #1 issues! The team’s origin was quite simple: All five members meet by coincidence, hot on the trail of the Nazis’ answer to Captain America, Master Man (the first of many wonderfully kitsch villains), and are persuaded to stay together as a team by none other than Winston Churchill.

Over the course of forty-one issues, one annual, and several crossovers and guest appearances, the Invaders traveled the world, from the home front to a blitzed London to Egypt, Berlin, and even the Warsaw ghetto. Among the outlandish villains they trounced were Brain Drain, U-Man, Baron Blood (an aristocratic vampire), Blue Bullet (a man wearing a giant bullet costume), Warrior Woman, Frankenstein and—of course— Adolf Hitler. The first new heroes to appear, the Liberty Legion, were in fact a round-up of some of Marvel’s many short-lived (not to say forgettable) wartime zeroes: the Red Raven, the Thin Man, Jack Frost, the Patriot, and Blue Diamond. These were joined by those leftover All-Winners, Miss America and the Whizzer. The Legion was actually introduced in 1976 in Marvel Premiere #29, and then crossed over to the Invaders, before guest-starring with the Thing for a couple of Marvel-Two-in-One yarns. Plans for their own comic went as far as drawing up a first issue, but that was abandoned; though much later the Whizzer and Miss America were promoted to full-time Invaders, thus reuniting the original All-Winners Squad.

Other Thomas creations included Lord Farnsworth, a.k.a. Union Jack (a British hero of World War I), his daughter Jacqueline (who gained superspeed to become the Spitfire), and her brother Brian, who was first the Destroyer—an-other Golden Age Marvel hero—before taking over the Union Jack costume from his now aged father. Toward the end of the comic’s first run, Thomas created a new, racially mixed kid group called the Kid Commandos, composed of Bucky, Toro, the Human Top, and Golden Girl. This particular Golden Girl was no relation to Captain America’s erstwhile companion; she was, rather, comics’ first Japanese American heroine. Indeed, this team’s creation grew out of one of the war’s most controversial episodes: the internment of America’s Asian community.

Frank Robbins left the Invaders at the point of creation of the Kid Commandos, in issue #28, which was a blow from which the title never recovered; it was canceled with issue #41 in late 1979. Thomas returned for one last hurrah with a 1993 Invaders miniseries, which added the Thin Man to the team and re-introduced two of the company’s longer-lasting Golden Age superheroes: the Angel and the Blazing Skull.

The series The New Invaders (2004–2005) showcased a team that included both contemporary heroes, such as U. S. Agent and the present day Union Jack, and Timely heroes including the Blazing Skull, the original Human Torch, and the Thin Man. Another Golden Age hero, the Fin (created by Bill Everett), was a guest star.

Marvel and Dynamite Entertainment jointly produced the year-long Avengers/Invaders series (2008–2009), a time travel story co-plotted by Jim Krueger and Alex Ross. The Marvel miniseries Invaders Now (2010) reunited Steve Rogers (the original Captain America), Bucky Barnes (then acting as Captain America), the original Human Torch, Toro, the Sub-Mariner, the original Vision (Aarkus), and Spitfire on a mission in the present day.

Another recent comics series, The Twelve (2008), written by J. Michael Straczynski, brings back twelve more Golden Age Timely heroes into the present day: the Blue Blade, the Golden Age version of the Black Widow, Captain Wonder, Dynamic Man, the robot Electro, the Fiery Mask (created by Joe Simon), the Laughing Mask, Master Mind Excello, Mister E, the Phantom Reporter, Rockman, and the Witness, who was one of the earliest co-creations by Stan Lee. —DAR & PS