Welcome back, Low Cut Connies. I’m Andy Larson, host of the 9,999th most popular comic podcast in America, Ghosts of the Stratosphere, back once again astonish you with tales that aren’t my own, written by people that are for the most part, more talented than my half assed ramblings.
As the summer winds to a close, I thought as my final read pile for the month of August, I’d revisit that poll that put out there for readers way back in June while I was on my summer vacation which asked you guys to pick which series I should do a read pile on. For the record, I did scratch off the first and second place vote getters with my reviews of BKV’s “Ex Machina“ and Jack Kirby’s “Devil Dinosaur” (both of which you can re-read by clicking on those links).
However, I hadn’t done anything with that third place finisher Alex Ross’s “Avengers/Invaders” multi issue crossover done between the comic companies of Marvel and Dynamite Comics. That actually got some readers panties in somewhat of a knot, as several on Twitter especially cried foul over the fact that it was the second place finisher on that social media platform and only reason it came in third to Kirby’s crimson carnivore was all those ruddy sods that voted on GOTstratosphere.com. All I gotta say to that is even if you are the Hulk, you don’t wanna piss off Devil Dinosaur. Ol’ Thunder kicking Quads himself will tear you a new prehistoric asshole without batting an eye if you get on his bad side.
In any case, Avengers/Invaders as a series had a couple things in the positive column and a couple things in the negative column, from even before I picked up the book to read a page.
- It’s an Invaders Book! I mentioned this during the blog where I first suggested reading this. I’ve been a pretty big fan of the Invaders since I first picked up tons of back issues of the original Roy Thomas run from the 70s for 50 cents a piece at my local comic shop. So a book promising me not only the return of this team but also all the super-villains and miscellaneous characters from that run is intriguing. Like who doesn’t want to see Master Man? Or Iron Cross? Or Spitfire and Union Jack?
- It’s got these gorgeous covers by Alex Ross. Man, you gotta love when Mr. Ross gets to ape Norman Rockwell, and with all these golden age characters, its like begging him to do it.
- It’s a team up between Marvel and Dynamite Comics. In recent years, I’ve bought more of these two comic companies titles than any other, so it seems like a dream team to deliver golden age goodness on the surface.
- It takes place directly after one of the worst crossovers in my opinion, Civil War. Although I might be in the minority given it’s cultural impact and intense popularity in a lot of circles, I pretty much hated everything about Civil War. It was watching all my favorite characters from my childhood get a divorce, and as a result, like a real divorce on the kids involved, it can permanently scar them. For example, I have yet to look at Iron Man the same since. Even with the Robert Downy Jr. renaissance, I still view this character with profound suspicion and distrust, to the point where I automatically question his motives for everything and sincerely think he’s the biggest colossal douchebag on the face of the planet. And that’s all from Civil War! Ugggh…no wonder Mark Millar was the architect of all that. He revels in crushing your memories of a simpler time when you could just read comic characters and believe they had our best interests at heart. Plus the killed CAP! Nasty business that. Should have never happened.
- Despite having Alex Ross covers, they pull the old switcharoo with you with the interior art and give you Steve Sadowski instead. Not to say Steve’s stuff is bad. It’s just I’ve always hated that part of comics. The cover sets a certain tone for the story and when the rest of the art doesn’t match that, well, it’s like seeing a PB&J sandwich, taking a bite, and finding it’s mostly pickles in between the bread. It’s not that pickles are bad, it’s just not what the outer appearance had promised.
- It’s a team up of Marvel and Dynamite comics. Although I have purchased more comics from Marvel and Dynamite than any other, that doesn’t mean all of them have been all that great. In fact, especially with Dynamite, the hits are often outweighed by the misses. Flash Gordon Zeitgeist, Masks, Everything after issue 25 of the Lone Ranger. Yeah, they at times don’t inspire confidence in delivering the goods.
But that being said, initial thoughts can often be deceiving so it’s always best to have the actual contents of the comic speak for themselves. So without further a do, here’s my review of Jim Kruger, Alex Ross, and Steve Sadowski’s 12 issue mini series about those nutty Invaders and those kooky Avengers getting together for a big dance number.
Story wise, it’s pretty simple: The Invaders are brought forward in time through the power of the Cosmic Cube, are obviously confused, fight the Avengers thinking they are Nazis, and the Avengers try to stop them without butterfly effecting the past by giving away too many spoilers.
For anyone that’s read comics, these time travel shenanigans are pretty common place, however the additional wrinkle in this one is that it happens shortly after the modern day Captain America was killed in an assassination, so people are still grieving over that. Plus, its in the aftermath of Civil War, so you got those anti registration heroes like Luke Cage, Dr. Strange, Ronin, Spidey and the like hiding in the shadows as the “Secret Avengers” still trying to muck up things for Iron Man’s pro registration goon squad. So those two things a lot seem like they would be enough to propel this story beyond mediocrity.
However, for the first 4 or 5 issues, it definitely does not. Sure, there’s some drama with the displaced heroes trying to escape the Shield Helicarrier, Iron Man’s guilt over the death of Cap, and more Civil war hijinx in terms of the two squads of Avengers fighting over custody of the Invaders. There’s also some ideas thrown around about Namor and Toro coming to terms with their futures, especially Toro, who realizes he died in his future without Torch or any of his friends there to help prevent it. Finally, a random solider is also pulled into the present and meets up with future self, and has to go through the grief of knowing he’s the only one of his company that survived WWII among other realizations that any war, even the “good” ones, rarely have happy endings for anyone involved.
And you’d think that would be enough to sustain things, but more often than not, it does so barely, as I just felt like I had seen and heard these same stories before, told better, with more emotional impact that in these issues. Again, they aren’t bad by any means, but they are more typical than anything. I wish there was something that jumped off the page and grabbed me, but I gotta say I just spent those first 5 issues flipping through looking for it in between all these fight sequences.
Around issue 6 though, an interesting subplot starts building with the original Human Torch drawing parallels between the way the Nazis treated the Jews in WWII and the way Shield treats their LMDs (Life Model Decoys). It is somewhat original seeing the Torch, being one of the more famous androids in the Marvel Universe other than Vision, taking a stand and leading a robot revolution, and I wish I could have seen a bit more of that.
However, that subplot quickly devolves into just another Avengers vs. Ultron fight, after it’s explained that Ultron had infiltrated the Helicarrier and was giving the false impression to the Torch that the LMDs were sentient just like him. Again, it’s too bad this ending up being somewhat of a dead end, red herring of a story, as it was definitely more original than everything that had come before, and it would have added some much needed meat on the bones of Marvel’s original super hero in terms of character development.
Luckily for this grader, it’s about issue 8 that things start getting much more interesting. First, we find out the main bad guy using the Cosmic Cube is the “D” list Claremont villain D’Spayre, who in using the Cube to pump up his tires as a threat, accidentally brought the Invaders into the future, not through his wish but the wish of the general public who wanted Captain America back after his recent untimely death. He is dispatched by the New Avenger, Echo, who was immune to his powers due to being deaf, and things seem to be looking up for the heroes.
That’s when things really start cooking in Issue 9 as that random solider that was also brought into the future decides to use the Cubes power to bring back all the buddies he lost in the war, which has a massive butterfly effect in that the time stream starts changing for the worse. Before they can be wiped from existence though, Dr. Strange uses his magical abilities to transport some of the Avengers back into the past, Voyagers style, to see if they can help the Invaders put history back on track.
This is by far the best part of this series, and one I really wish had been the focal point the entire time. Everything before this was a rehash of a repeat served with a side of “been there, done that”. But this idea of modern day Avengers having to go back in time, hiding their real superhero identities to protect the time stream by adopting the identities of obscure superheroes from that era is masterful. It really is a truly awesome concept and some of the match ups between modern day and golden age counterparts is superb.
From Iron Man becoming the original Electro (the robot superhero that many forget also debuted in Marvel Comics #1), to Wolverine being Captain Terror, Spiderman being the Challenger, to Luke Cage becoming the pitch perfect Black Avenger, this portion of the story really allows us to embrace the rich history of the Marvel universe in a way that is fun and digestible for even newer fans that might not have ever heard of these characters before. Just incredible stuff and I wish the full 12 issues had just been about this concept instead of just the final 4. It actually makes the first 8 issues even look worse in comparison, as this was the nugget of goodness. The kernel of originality that this series should have embraced from the start, instead of waiting a majority of the series to get to this point.
It turns out that it wasn’t the solider that caused the time stream to go haywire. Like the monkey’s paw though, his noble wish had unforeseen dire consequences in that he gets shot and the WWII version of the Red Skull gets possession of the Cube and immediately changes the world into a Nazi dictatorship. So from that perspective, it’s a rehash of the old Cap vs. Skull Cosmic Cube dance we’ve seen so many times. But again, with the addition of those time traveling Avengers in those golden age threads and incursion of all the golden age villains like the aforementioned Master Man and Warrior Woman etc, it’s just a hell of a lot of fun!
In closing, like a lot of series I feel I reviewed on this blog, this is a story of two different books. The first 7 to 8 issues are pretty bland and forgettable, while the last 4 are a fantastic thrilling romp through Marvel’s early days. In fact, for those of you that are reading this, I can almost recommend that you use this blog to get a brief synopsis of those first 8 issues and skip ahead right to issue 9 for all that sweet retro time traveling goodness. Trust me, you aren’t going to miss much and in doing so, you save yourself a lot of unnecessary backstory and more importantly: Time!
That’s what it’s all about right?
Andy’s Read Pile Grade (First 8 issues): C-
Andy’s Read Pile Grade (Last 4 issues): A-