This one’s one of the more memorable early Marvel comic books that I bought and read. So much so that it’s another book where for some reason my younger brother Ken later bought his own copy. As I’ve mentioned here before, the Marvel of 1977 was having a tough time making its deadlines, leading to a rash of books where an unscheduled reprint had to be offered up in order to make the print time. I hadn’t been reading Marvel for long, and at this point I was following very few of their titles, and yet this was the second time this had happened in my experience (And that’s not counting my first issue if INVADERS, which was half-reprint, nor the other INVADERS issue i bought that was older.) It was a real problem.
Except that I didn’t really see it as a problem. As a newbie to Marvel, any reprinted story was likely to be new to me, and I was interested in te history of the company and its characters. In particular, the original Human Torch is what led me to take the Marvel plunge in the first place, so I didn’t mind getting a story about him from 1941–in some ways, that was exactly what I was looking for. In this case, it was maybe a bit more of a bummer, coming right in the middle of a two-parter about the Scarlet Scarab, but for a chance to read the first 1940s team-up between the Torch and the Sub-Mariner, I didn’t mind at all.
There were still problems, of course. This original story from MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS #17 was 26 pages in length, far longer than would fit into what was now a comic book with only 18 story pages (in this instance, an additional house ad was also dropped, so it was 19). So editor Roy Thomas did what you did in those days and took a scissor to the story, chopping out seven pages worth of material. You would think that cuts of that severity would be fatal, but you’re wrong. Mostly because this was a Golden Age story and thus long on action and short on plot, the needed excisions are relatively painless. I didn’t really notice them as a young reader, and it’s only looking back at this issue again after so many years that I see the obvious evidence of lettering and art adjustments.
The other factor that Roy had to deal with was the Comics Code, which was in force in 1977. When this story was originally produced in the 1940s, creators Bill Everett and Carl Burgos were largely left to their own devices in terms of what they could show and how violent or gory or derogatory they could be. These were the early days of super heroes, and people were only just getting comfortable with what the gentlemen’s rules were for them. This meant that in addition to editing the story for length, Thomas had to make his cuts for content as well. Given that he was shaving off almost a third of the original story, that doesn’t seem like it would have presented much of a problem.
The plot concerns the efforts of the Torch and Namor to foil a Nazi plan to build an undersea tunnel across the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska through which they’d be able to move their armies and invade America. Both characters had become aware of aspects of this plot in their solo stories in the preceding issue of MARVEL MYSTERY, and now they joined forces in order to foil this enemy attack. Mind you, when this story was done, America was still not officially a combatant in what would become World War II–The Pearl Harbor attack was still some weeks away. But clearly the Timely heroes had chosen their side and were ready to fight for it.
This whole story had actually begun two issues prior, in MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS #15. Or, rather, on it. The cover to that magazine showed an image of the Torch and the Sub-Mariner battling side-by-side against the invaders. There was no such story to be found within the book, though–but the editors promised that such a story would appear in the following issue. (Somebody was inspired by that great Alex Schomburg cover, I think.) In reality, it actually took two issues to get there–but finally in issue #17 the situation shown on the #15 cover came to pass in a story–as it did in this issue of INVADERS.
Even with all of that, Roy was so tight for space that the story doesn’t end, it simply stops–practically in mid-line. But I have to say, as a reader I didn’t mind at all. The whole thing was simple and a bit simplistic, but also fun and engaging. And I’d always had an affinity for reprints in my comics–while I loved the current sagas, it was really the material from the Silver Age that clicked with me the most, whether at Marvel or DC. But the day of this sort of unannounced reprint was drawing to a close–it was playing havoc with the confidence levels of a readership who too often felt like they were being taken for a ride. While others had tried to fix the problem previously, incoming Editor in Chief Jim Shooter would overhaul the entire Marvel editorial structure, in part to put an end to this particular difficulty.