This issue of INVADERS was yet another new comic that I picked up early-for-me during my first trip to the Batcave, the comic book specialty shop located in the South Shore Mall in Bay Shore, some distance from my home. INVADERS was a regular purchase for me, one of the titles that had led me into expanding my purchases to the Marvel line that I’d previously avoided, and it remained a favorite series all the way until its demise about a year later. That’s a nicely dramatic cover by artist Alan Kupperberg, despite some strange anatomical distortions–most everybody’s head looks to small to my eye, especially Captain America’s. As often happened, John Romita made some editorial corrections on this piece, redrawing the Human Torch and making some adjustments to the Teutonic Knight’s hands. That cover also blurbs this as the almost-origin of the Invaders, which is a bit of a fib, but which got me excited, as I remembered the earlier “true” origin of the Justice League that Steve Englehart had done not long before.
This issue, as it turned out, was a fill-in, one written by Don Glut would would go on to succeed creator/writer Roy Thomas as the book’s writer for a time. Glut was a prose writer and filmmaker who years before had made a name for himself authoring and starring in amateur film productions featuring characters from comic books and old movie serials. (He made what is likely the first Spider-Man live action film ever shot, which can be viewed on YouTube here:
The interior pages by Kupperberg and regular inker Frank Springer look to my eye like they were attempting to match the very specific style of regular series penciler Frank Robbins. Or this could simply be Springer’s influence on the final artwork that I’m seeing.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but while I didn’t think twice about any of it when I was a young reader, I find that I’m just a little bit uneasy with the way the events of World War II were routinely presented in comic books such as INVADERS. As I’ve come to understand in greater detail just what the experiences of the men and women who fought in the conflict went through, to say nothing of the millions of people systematically murdered by the Nazi regime, I’ve started to feel uneasy about this tendency to represent the Nazi philosophy through cartoonish moustache-twirling figures with swastikas emblazoned on their costumes, spouting off very basic and cliched rhetoric and chewing the scenery in broad melodramatic fashion. To me, the most important legacy of World War II is the fact that untold numbers of people allowed genocide to take place all around them simply by turning a blind eye and doing and saying nothing. It’s a much more insidious evil, and I think its reality is diminished a bit when the popular view of it is snappily-dressed aristocrats goose-stepping around and coming across as much silly as genuinely dangerous. That said, I’m probably asking way too much from a comic book published in 1978 on this score.
So with that preamble out of the way, let’s talk a little bit about this story. It opens in the relative present, with the Invaders taking off in Namor’s flagship from their headquarters in wartime London, having left Bucky and Toro behind in the U.S. to work alongside their new comrades Golden Girl and the Human Top as the Kid Commandos. Union Jack tells the team that the reason they’re on the move is that word has come down about a menace calling himself the Teutonic Knight. At the mention of this name, Captain America, the Human Torch and Namor are all startled–in the recent past, it turns out that each one of them had had a run-in with the Knight, and he managed to elude them all, one after the other.
This moment segues into a series of flashbacks as one by one, the assorted Invaders relay their previous encounters with the Teutonic Knight to one another. Cap tells about how he and Bucky had been brought in to safeguard a west coast military warehouse where secret new experimental weapons of war were being developed. The installation was attacked, of course, by the Teutonic Knight and a cadre of Nazi agents, and while Cap and Bucky were able to take down most of them, the Knight himself managed to elude capture, making off with the plans for the new flying weapon. After this, the Human Torch begins to relate how shortly after that, he and Toro were guarding a train in England that was transporting a prominent scientist who had developed a revolutionary engine.
As with Cap’s retelling, the Teutonic Knight attacked the train and abducted the scientist. The Torch and Toro attempted to rescue the abducted man, but they were waylaid when the Knight, in retreat, bombed out a section of the railway the train was approaching, diverting the two fiery heroes to prevent a fatal crash–which they did. But the score at this point is Knight – 2, American Heroes – 0. The Sub-Mariner takes up the narration at this point, telling the others about how, sometime later, he and his perpetual girlfriend Betty Dean (here depicted as a journalist rather than a policewoman, as she’d be characterized in the postwar Sub-Mariner stories) were on board a tanker off the coast of Africa transporting a new and potent type of Radium when their ship was attacked by an enemy submarine under the command of the Teutonic Knight. Despite putting up a fight, in order to insure the safety of Betty and the crew, Namor was forced to let the Knight make off with the rare supply of Radium-X.
You can see where this is all going, right? In the time since their three adventures took place, the Teutonic Knight had built he sky-weapon from the stolen plans, forced the kidnapped scientist to install his new engine into it and powered the craft with the Radium-X. Also, being a Nazi villain, he painted an enormous swastika on the thing–Nazi bad guys were nothing if not Brand-conscious. And as this issue comes to a close, the Invaders draw within sight of the Knight’s massive Fliegentod craft–that’s “Flying Death” in German in case you were wondering. And it’s all their fault for having flubbed their earlier encounters with their foe. To Be Continued!
ADDITION; In the comments, Kurt Busiek reminds me that a few issues later, a letter writer wrote in to tell Glut and Thomas that they’d gotten their German wrong in this instance, and that the flying fortress had been accidentally christened “A Fly’s Death”–hardly as impressive a moniker.