Monday, May 30, 2016

It's Memorial Day - Here's to Beating the Nazis! Invaders 35-37

 The Invaders #35 (December 1978)
"Havoc on the Home Front!"
Roy Thomas-Don Heck/Alan Kupperberg/Rick Hoberg

The Invaders #36 (January 1979)
"Crushed by the Iron Cross"
Roy Thomas-Alan Kupperberg/Chic Stone

The Invaders #37 (February 1979)
"The Liberty Legion Busts Loose"
Don Glut-Rick Hoberg/Alan Kupperberg/Chic Stone

Doug: Nostalgia's a powerful thing isn't it? Even as an adult, I couldn't wait for the first Invaders issue not drawn by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer. Trouble is, around the time those arrived, Don Heck got the art assignment. And here's my obligatory "I am not being mean to Don Heck" statement -- love the man's Silver Age work; his Bronze Age stuff not so much. So anyway, I'm working out of the Invaders Classic series of trades on this one -- volume 4 has the same cover as issue #35 above. The Whizzer was great during his brief tenure in the Avengers, wasn't he? Why wouldn't I be drawn back to this issue? Wait -- it has the whole Liberty Legion in it as well? Sign me up! Ah, but therein lies some trouble -- as you can see, today you're getting a full-blown arc rather than a single issue. But is that your gain?

Invaders #35, with pencils presumably by Alan Kupperberg
Doug: I'll start you off with three 100-Word Reviews, and then I'll go into my usual format for thoughts on the story. Here you go:
Invaders #35 - The Invaders are called Stateside to deal with a saboteur who made a “withdrawal” from a munitions installation. Cap, Namor, and the Torch are in Times Square meeting an adoring public when the Whizzer suddenly arrives. He relates (for us) a brief history of the Liberty Legion, and why he needs the Invaders’ help. Miss America had investigated a German-American tavern when she saw a professor kidnapped by two German toughs. Trailing them, she encountered the Iron Cross and engaged him in battle. She was joined by her Legion teammates, who were soon trounced. Hence the need for the Invaders.

Invaders #36 - The kidnapped man is Professor Schneider, designer of the Iron Cross armor. The wearer of the armor is Helmut Gruler, Schneider’s childhood friend. Gruler says time and again throughout the story that he is not a Nazi, somehow distancing his intense jingoism from the darker aspects of Hitler’s Germany. Gruler needs Schneider to make “improvements” to the Iron Cross armor. Meanwhile, the Invaders (now in an Atlantean ship) follow the trail of the captured Liberty Legion. Namor is engaged by the Iron Cross in the Atlantic, and their battle rips open the U-boat in which the Legion is being held.

Invaders #37 - As water pours through the gaping hole in the U-boat, the Iron Cross grabs Professor Schneider and hightails it out of there. Aboard the vessel, the crew unsuccessfully attempts to murder the Liberty Legion. Thin Man heads out into the ocean to assist Namor in getting the sub to the surface. They accomplish the task and once everyone’s safe, a team of Namor, the Torch, Miss America, and Red Raven pursue Iron Cross. The Torch melts the inner workings of the mechanical suit, causing Gruler to fall into the ocean; Schneider tells that the blueprints were destroyed with the suit.
Invaders #35, with pencils presumably by Don Heck

The Good: As alluded to above, the art. It's not spectacular -- and actually, one might consider it rather middling in comparison to other Bronze Age luminaries, especially the young guns who were breaking out in the late 1970s: Byrne, Perez, Miller, et al. I think my impression of it is just clouded by my joy at freedom from depictions of ballerinas in the throes of rigor mortis. Anyway, the pacing is really solid, all of the players look exactly as you think they should look, etc. Namor has a certain haughtiness about him as he should, Cap is focused, the Whizzer a bit frantic -- it's all here. The most interesting aspect of Invaders #35, however, is that you can plainly see the panels where Don Heck did the pencils and those where Alan Kupperberg did so. I've provided a few samples to support this. Again -- nothing wrong here... it's just noticeable.

I liked that we got a peek into the workings of the Stateside Liberty Legion, and to be perfectly honest wish we had been able to see more. I don't know if there was ever discussion of a spin-off WWII series featuring the Legion, but there should have been. Madeline Joyce seemed an able spy, and the angle that there would be an expatriate in New York who had built a weapon for Germany was a nice plotline. It is unfortunate, however, that as Miss America took the lead in the case she ended up being the one captured. "Helpless female" trope... You know, I look at the Liberty Legion the first time they are assembled in the story and there is really no reason they should not have been a successful launch on their own. The Whizzer and the Patriot do what Quicksilver and Captain America do, the Thin Man of course mimics Reed Richards, Red Raven = the Angel, Jack Frost is an early version of Iceman, and Blue Diamond would seem somewhat similar to Wonder Man. If we think of Miss America as the then-popular Ms. Marvel, then what's not to like? The Liberty Legion should have had the best of many corners of the Marvel Universe.

The flashbacks/recaps aspect of the story will serve as a segueway to my next section. While I think flashbacks are good for the month-to-month reader, let's face it -- this is no longer how we read comics. So while there was certainly merit in bringing new readers up to speed on the Liberty Legion's history, it did play out a bit long. Same thing for the origin of the Iron Cross armor. It wasn't bad -- just a bit cumbersome. I'm always torn about whether I liked the convention of one-page recaps that were en vogue when I stopped reading new comics (seemed a waste of a perfectly good splash page) or if I preferred the in-story rehashing of last month's details. I guess both have merit. 

The Bad: If Helmut Gruler had stated one more time that he was not a Nazi, I think I'd have screamed. But as a teacher of these sorts of issues, I did appreciate Roy Thomas's efforts. One aspect of the Holocaust that we strive to make clear with teachers we train at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is to use precise language. It's incorrect to make blanket statements such as "The Germans did..." or "The Nazis did..." simply because of issues of collaboration by non-Germans, and the point that Thomas makes with Gruler was true; it was certainly true that Gruler's nationalism could have existed without him being a member of the party. So while it became about as tiring as a Claremontian "I'm the best at what I do, and what I do isn't pretty.", I understood.

The Iron Cross was a somewhat formidable foe for our heroes, but really he was just a Titanium Man from an earlier era. And when you consider that Iron Man beat the Titanium Man by himself on numerous occasions, I never really felt like our heroes were threatened -- regardless of how much they got slapped around.

When the Thin Man ventured outside the damaged U-boat and attempted to repressurize it by pressing his body against the hull, I really had a difficult time suspending my disbelief. The pressure of the sea alone would have killed him. And with no breathing device? Pfah...

With such a large ensemble cast, it was tough for any of the heroes to get major face time. I thought the creators did a decent job of keeping everyone in character -- but such moments to shine were fleeting. Cap in particular seemed short-shrifted. I also felt like the Whizzer was pining just a bit too much for Miss America; given that she was arguably far more powerful than he, I'm sure she could take care of herself. She did, in fact, fight the Iron Cross to a standstill for several minutes, something Namor himself accomplished.

After giving some consideration to this story over several days, I'd suggest hopping in the wayback machine and running this tale as an annual. That would have pared it down a bit and probably made it read better. Just a thought.

The Ugly: The unevenness of the art could be jarring at times. I'd mentioned the panels that sometimes moved between Don Heck and Alan Kupperberg as lead penciler; I think the same thing happened in Invaders #37 between Kupperberg and Rick Hoberg. Additionally, the inks are incredibly sketchy at times in that issue. Sketchy like Vinnie Colletta hopped up on too much espresso. It wasn't bad art, per se; it just made me feel like I'd suddenly landed in a different book.

Invaders #37 - what's up with the scratchy inks in this portion of the book?

Time well spent? I won't say "no", because as I said at the top there was a definite sense of nostalgia and even love for these characters I followed in my youth. But fine literature? Uh, not so much. So let's just call it a nice diversion of four-color fun and leave it at that.


Rip Jagger said...

There was indeed some discussion of a Liberty Legion series and the Don Heck artwork you mention was produced for it. When that series didn't take flight, Roy in one of those moves which made for some delightfully wonky comics used those pages as the jumping off point for a new story.

Weirdly the same thing happened when Roy was at DC in All-Star Squadron when unused Steel pages were incorporated into a new story. Ironically the often abused Don Heck drew both unused stories.

I appreciate that you put your dismissal of Heck's 70's work into context, and I know what you are talking about, but I've always been a fan and comparing the storytelling of Heck to modern mavens, I cringe a little that he doesn't get more love.

Rip Off

Graham said...

I feel the same way about Don Heck. I think it depended on who was doing the inking. Some of his Bronze Age work was okay.....though none of it really matched his earlier work. The fact that he was drawing a book never stopped me from buying it. However, I was not a big Alan Kupperberg fan, and he did stop me from picking up several books. I used to visit his site and he seemed like a good guy with some good behind the scenes stories, but to me, some of his figures were on a level with Frank Robbins', especially in those issues of the Avengers that he drew. Again, may have depended on who was inking. To each his own, I guess.

Edo Bosnar said...

Yes, I'll concede that the art here is pretty lackluster compared to the work of the big stars and/or up-and-comers of the time, but man, it is so much better than the Robbins art that preceded it.
And again, I have to defend Heck's 1970s work: he may have been past his best work from the 1950s and 1960s, but he was still producing solid material. It got the job done, and never, ever looked eye-gougingly bad. Like Graham, I was never dissuaded from buying a book just because it had Heck's art in it.

Otherwise, nice job on another multi-issue review, Doug. It was somewhere around here that I began to read Invaders regularly (instead of piecemeal) - and then the series was cancelled a few issues later.

Redartz said...

Nicely reviewed, Doug! 'Back in the day', I regularly purchased Invaders off the stands, and read the whole series (as well as the Liberty Legion's appearances in Marvel Premiere). They never ranked high on my list, though, and don't recall giving any a second read beyond the initial. As a teen, my interest in history was limited, and pretty much filled by the lessons in school. Only later, as an adult, did the intricacies of history begin to appeal to me. Now it fascinates me; perhaps I'd enjoy these comics more now in this different perspective.

Speaking of history, thanks for sharing with us about your experiences with the Holocaust Museum. That's important work, and crucial lessons to be learned for now and for the generations to come. Hope to visit the museum if I'm ever in that area.

Regarding the art= just following the pack here. Much preferred Heck's Silver Age work to his later, and the inks made a huge impact. My favorite- Wally Wood's inks during that too-brief stint on Avengers...

Anonymous said...

'Ballerinas in the throes of rigor mortis'? Ouch! Someone's artistic pride certainly took a beating here...

Anyways, great review Doug! Personally, I'd take Heck's artwork, even his Bronze Age output, over Frank Springer's any day. Roy Thomas really loved his WW2 era superheroes!

- Mike 'war relic' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Martinex1 said...

Ballerinas in the throes of rigor mortis! Indeed! That may be the best description I've ever heard of early Invaders art. As a kid I was aware of the art in only the most peripheral way, only later realizing that I gravitated to one artist or another. But the Invaders always struck me as being "out there" with crazy flailing limbs and rectangular jaws and strange shadows. I still actually associate that art with the WWII era of comics. In my mind it was how you depict the '40s much in the way that grainy, black and white, slightly off-speed newsreels were common for the times.

In a similar way, Don Heck's work embodies the early 1960s for me. I always liked his run on the Avengers with the detailed backgrounds, the ornate costumes for villains, and a rather serious style that in retrospect fit well. Some of my favorites (like the first Living Laser arc and the Super Adaptoid battle) come from Heck's Avengers run. It is hard to compete with a superstar like John Busccema who took over that title, but I think Heck was way above average. His style and Kirby's early FF ( much prior to the arrival of Galactus) had similarities. The characters were more classically depicted with heroic stature: perfect posture and well-coifed, rock- chinned features. The machines were elaborate but still restrained. The characters were less exaggerated and always grimly concerned. The late 60s exploded with Kirby's freedom and experimentation, much like the evolution of the Beatles and other musicians.

For throwbacks I do think Heck was very well suited. It is interesting, as Rip mentioned, that this story was a piecemeal of a rejected run. I always found Liberty Legion intriguing, although that may be because of their limited exposure. I did like the oddballs like Flatman, Blue Diamond, and Red Raven. As recently discussed here, those second tier teams allow for a stretch in creativity and are not limited by the characters' stardom. Red Raven made appearances in the X-Men and Sub-Mariner years prior to this story, so I was curious. But shortly after this the Invaders fell from my top pull choices.

Great review for this Memorial Day.

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