In the mid-1970s, Marvel Comics had a big problem in getting its books completed and off to press on time. In those days, because press time was booked well in advance, you were going to pay for it whether you printed a title or not, so there was no margin for error. But error there was, lots of it, as Marvel outgrew a system designed to have a single editor oversee the entire line of titles–a line which had ballooned significantly since that system was set up. As a result, you often got issues like this one: reprints under a new cover dropped in at the last minute when a particular creative team had dropped the ball. This happened way, way too frequently in these days, and it was a huge bummer for readers.
At least in most cases. For me, just starting to read Marvel comics and having an interest in the golden age heroes, it wasn’t quite such a bother, as unexpected as it may have been. So when I found this issue of INVADERS in the drug store’s big bin of slightly-older comic books, the fact that most of it was comprised of a reprint from the 1940s didn’t trouble me, and I bought it anyway. (I was also enough of a collector by this point that I’d have had a hard time skipping over an issue of a series that i was reading.)
The issue contains a short framing sequence to attempt, however lamely, to segue into the reprint and to keep the ongoing plotlines running. (It also helped to disguise the fact that this issue was largely a reprint from readers who cracked the cover on the stands.) The Invaders are racing to a hospital with the injured Lord Falsworth, Union Jack, whose legs were crushed during their battle with Baron Blood. Also in bad shape is his daughter Jacqueline, a victim of the Nazi vampire. In a contrived manner, all of this makes Cap think about a recent encounter he had that would soon be immortalized in a comic book stateside, and into the reprint we go!
Legend has it that Roy Thomas chose to reprint this story because he had good black and white copies of it that had run in the fanzine Captain George’s Whizzbang. George sourced it, apparently, from a Canadian copy of the issue in question, which was printed in black and white. The plot concerns an Axis agent who is sent to America by Hitler to stir up discord among the people. This Reaper claims to be a prophet, and he orates that right is wrong. His message begins to have an effect all across the land. The lettering in those days was larger, but look at just how words this story seems to be.
Cap and Bucky are called into action, and they don’t even need to seek out their foe, as he’s broken no laws and his place of residence is publicly known. Cap and Bucky head over there to confront the Reaper (and threaten him–not very American, Cap!) and the Reaper calls the cops on them. To escape, Cap and Bucky make a death-defying leap out of the window–that’s just another day at the office for them, but it baffles the Reaper. Regardless, Cap and Bucky are now wanted by the police.
The whole story is the sort of propaganda that Timely Comics specialized in. With Cap out of the way, the Reaper steps up his campaign to destroy the rule of law in America, and to convince the people that the war against Hitler is unjust and unnecessary. This brings Cap back out into the open, and he attacks the Reaper at one of his rallies. But the Reaper gets in a lucky shot with his scythe and Cap is knocked senseless, as the Reaper leads the crowd off to take over City Hall.
Cap was a lot more vulnerable in the 1940s stories, but he eventually gets back to his feet and is joined by Bucky, who has carried out his instructions and come back from who-knows-where with proof that the Reaper is not an American citizen. Armed with this proof, the pair takes up the chase, eventually pursuing the Nazi agent into the subway tunnels, where he makes contact with the Third Rail and is burned to a crisp horribly.
And then the issue wraps up with a last framing sequence page, one that pretends to move the story forward, but really doesn’t. There’s also a note from Roy at the end explaining (and even downplaying) the reason for the reprint. But this was a chronic problem in this era, one that wouldn’t be corrected and completely eliminated until Jim Shooter became Editor in Chief and created the modern editorial system of having multiple editors, each one responsible for a handful of titles.