Saturday, October 04, 2014

Review: All-New Invaders Vol. 1: Gods and Soldiers

I was initially a little surprised, and even slightly put off, by the announcement of this new series featuring Marvel's original Golden Age superhero team (from back before Marvel was even Marvel).

There didn't seem to be any real organic need for such a team book at this point in time, not with Avengers books sprouting like weeds all over Marvel's shipping schedule, and most of those seemingly co-starring Captain America who would, of course, be anchoring this series as well.

Additionally, the team's line-up was no bigger than that of the Fantastic Four: Captain America, Namor, The Winter Soldier and the original Human Torch, Jim Hammond (The original, Golden Age Vision appears about halfway through this five-issue story arc as well). The last Invaders story I read was a trade collection of the 2010 series Invaders Now, and featured a much more robust team of characters: SHIELD Commander Steve Rogers (formerly Captain America), Captain America James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes, Namor, The (original) Human Torch, Toro, Spitfire, Union Jack and The (original) Vision. That series, by Alex Ross, Christopher Gage, Caio Reis and others, was very open-ended in its conclusion, with the final pages featuring The Vision intoning, "Though we pursue separate destinies, I have no doubt that should this world have need of us...should freedom ever again be threatened...The INVADERS will answer the call."

Apparently, freedom was never again threatened, and the world had no need of them, as the book did not lead directly into an Invaders ongoing, as it seemed to be positioning itself to do so: All those previously mentioned Avengers teams mush have been doing a pretty alright job defending the world and freedom without any help from Marvel's World War II vets not named Steve Rogers.

While Invaders Now had the super-team reuniting to face the consequences of a terrible decision they were forced to make during the war, the premise for this new, that is, this all-new Invaders series dealt with Marvel super-aliens The Kree, which, at first blush, seemed an usual source of conflict for this handful of Golden Agers. The creative team was an intriguing one, at any rate: Writer James Robinson, who had years of success working with DC Comics' Golden Age character during Starman and JSA and had just left DC (where he was scripting Earth 2) for Marvel (where he was writing not only this book, but also Fantastic Four), and Steve Pugh, also fresh off a DC super-comic assignment (Animal Man).

Despite my reservations and initial puzzlement, the book—or at least the first five issues that make up this collection—are actually pretty good. The collection begins with a completely unnecessary eight-page sequence taken from a goofily titled preview book—All-New Marvel Now! Point One #1—in which new Kree villain Tanalth The Pursuer chats with floating head The Supreme Intelligence about an Asgardian-controlling weapon known as Gods' Whisper that is on Earth, broken into pieces and hidden by three heroes.

The Kree must got there to retrieve the components of the weapons, "even if it makes us Earth's invader." (Get it? Invader? GET IT?!)

Then the book starts over with the first issue of the series. The Kree go after Bucky, Namor and the original Torch, who is trying to live a normal life, posing as a normal, human mechanic in a normal, small town. An attack by a powerful alien warrior scuttles all  that, obviously, and before long, he finds himself in the company of Bucky and Captain America and The Vision.

It turns out that not only did Tanalth and company get the parts of the weapon, they also captured Namor, which necessitates the others going to the Kree homeworld to rescue The Sub-Mariner. Here then it becomes clear how Robinson approached the idea of a new Invaders series. He's taking the team name literally, and having the Invaders invade the Kree. I don't know if it's necessarily clever, or if it's enough to build an ongoing series rather than a miniseries around, but it certainly makes sense.
As to why it's only a handful of heroes—Cap, Bucky, Torch and The Vision—who are planning on taking on the whole Kree empire in order to save Namor, Robinson's answer to that is actually pretty amusing: Namor is such an ass that no one else really likes him enough to try and save him, so it's down to his former Invaders allies to make the attempt (I don't know how true that rings; certainly Captain America's veritable armies of Avengers would follow Cap to do just about anything just because it was him doing the asking, and Namor's own current team of The Illuminati may not love him, but they would likely feel they need him enough to help save him from the clutches of aliens captors, but it's funny, which is good enough for me).

There are a few twists to the story, the biggest of which involves the target of the Gods' Whisper, and how those victims plan to retaliate against the Kree using the same weapon, and Robinson writes three pages of a really great scene between Marvel's original heroes—Cap, Torch and Namor—and then, after Namor flies off, between Cap and Torch, where the former talks the latter into joining the world more fully alongside him.
I'm not sure where Robinson plans on taking the series, and if he plans to include other characters who are in similar situations (Toro in particular, and perhaps Spitfire), but I really like the idea of Captain America keeping some form of The Invaders around just so he has some superheroes his own age to relate to, just as I like the idea of Namor hanging out with the Invaders because they're the only superheroes he really respects enough to enjoy spending any time around.

Pugh has proved to be rather flexible in his art style over the last decade or so, his work on the latest volume of Animal Man not looking much like that of his work on the previous volume of Animal Man and his lush, almost photo-realistic looking work on Hotwire not looking much like either.

His work here finds a nice balance between big, bombastic, classic Marvel superheroics and the more realistic style of modern superhero comics. It reminded me quite a bit of what John Cassaday was doing on Uncanny Avengers, but more smooth and fluid.

I'm not crazy about Captain America's NFL SuperPro-esque current costume, which I think is meant to suggest the costume from the movies, but that's not Pugh's fault. He doesn't make it look cool, but he doesn't draw it any worse than any other artist.

He does tweak the Human Torch's costume, and that looks fantastic—
—classic and modern at the same time. It's a nice, simple, elegant look for the character, who is, of course, going to spend much of his time during action scenes sheathed in flame anyway.

I approached this first volume curious but wary, but I closed it eagerly awaiting the next volume.


The Skottie Young variant cover for the first issue, included unencumbered in the back, is awesome:
I think it's the fact that only The Human Torch seems happy about the travel arrangements that gets me.


Not crazy about the new Invaders logo though, as it looks a little too much like they just plugged "Invaders" into the "Avengers" logo-style, which they did:


jheaton said...

"Marvel's original Golden Age superhero team"

The members are all Golden Agers, but weren't the Invaders a modern invention, along the lines of the All-Star Squadron or the Liberty Legion?

Caleb said...

Wikipedia says that you are correct, and that Roy Thomas created them in the late 1960s...although the characters teamed up in the Golden Age as The All-Winners Squad.

Not sure why Thomas didn't keep that name; it's not any worse than "Invaders." Plus, then this new series would be called The All-New All-Winners Squad, which sounds AWESOME.

Unknown said...

In the intro (or one of the included original text pieces, I don't remember) to Invaders Classic vol. 1 (which I highly recommend. You can get all of Roy Thomas' original Invaders run and his not-exactly-fantastic-but-that's-mostly-the-art's-fault '90s Invaders mini in trade now. If you're seriously interested in the team, I'd also suggest Roger Stern's Invaders: Eve of Destruction trade, though the second, completely Invaders-less, story in it is actually the better of the two) Thomas says he pitched the name Invaders because it was an abandoned Stan Lee idea (a Hulk/Namor team-up which eventually developed into the Defenders), and he figured Lee would be more likely to greenlight something with a name he thought up.

He also mentions that the genesis of the idea was precisely because he felt there was something wrong about the fact Marvel never really had a WW2-era team along the lines of DC's Justice Society of America.

The Invaders, like Moon Knight or the Spectre, is one of those properties I seem to find myself being a defacto online expert on by virtue of liking them a lot more than most people.