It has to be said that it was around this period that INVADERS began to lose its zip. I still faithfully read the title every month, all the way to its finish a year or so later, but it was clear that the gloss was off of it. Artist Frank Robbins’ work on the series had been divisive–his art style and approach to super heroes in general can best be described as “unique”–but with his departure, some of the air seemed to come out of the tires. Writer/editor/series creator Roy Thomas seemed less invested in the book, often opting to hand over issues to others such as Don Glut to fill in as writers. Say what you will about Roy’s writing skills, but the one thing he always brought to the table on INVADERS was unbridled enthusiasm. Even if a particular story idea wasn’t so great, you could tell that he was having a really good time playing with these heroes of his youth. This intangible quality of fun and devotion began to go missing at around this time, and I’m sure contributed to the wrap-up of the series in the near future. I could certainly feel the difference as a reader, though I couldn’t have put my finger on what it was when I was 11.
In any event, i was still on the INVADERS bandwagon, and so I picked up this latest issue when it arrived at my 7-11’s spinner rack one Thursday. This was the second part of a two-part fill-in by writer Don Glut, who, as indicated above, would take on a more and more regular role on the series in the months to come. The art was the work of Alan Kupperberg, and artist whose penciling I must confess never thrilled me. There was a softness to Kupperberg’s style, a not-quite-cartooniness but a lack of reality that I didn’t find appealing. Kupperberg spent a bunch of time working in the Marvel Bullpen as a fix-it artist, doing freelance stories around those duties, so he never quite got a lengthy run on any series that might have caused his work to improve by simple repetition and necessity. Nothing he does here is bad, it’s just all kind of blah, the definition of the generic Marvel style in 1978.
I’m guessing that this two-parter started out as an evergreen fill-in issue, and was expanded to two issues when the decision was made to slot it into the run. You can see inker/embellisher Frank Springer doing his level best to make Kupperberg’s work resemble that of Frank Robbins, so that some consistency will be maintained. It’s a valiant attempt. There’s also a bit of sparsity of plot in this installment. Last time, we learned how, on individual missions in months previous, the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner and Captain America and Bucky failed to prevent the villain now known as Komtur, the Teutonic Knight, from assembling what he needed to develop a super-weapon Flying Fortress. Now, those failures have come home to roost, as the Knight’s deadly platform has taken to the skies.
True to their self-anointed title, the Invaders breach the Flying Fortress in an attempt to bring it down while also rescuing Dr. Barrows, the inventor of the engine that allows it to hover in flight. There’s a typical amount of nazi-punching as our heroes make their way deeper into teh craft–Namor and the Human Torch remain outside as a diversion and to protect any citizens who might be caught up in the crossfire while Captain America, Union Jack and Spitfire make their way inside. There, they confront the Teutonic Knight, who reveals to them that the entire attack of this Flying Fortress is a diversion, meant to draw Allied attention away from a secret meeting being convened in the area by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Allied Commander of North Africa. The plan is for Baron Strucker and his Blitzkrieg Squad (old foes of Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos from that series) to assassinate the two leaders, thus throwing the Allied operations into chaos.
The Invaders are now operating under a ticking clock, but at least one thing goes their way: the experimental nature of the technology used in the Flying Fortress hits its limits, and the engine stalls, causing the colossal saucer to fall out of the sky. The Torch, Namor and Spitfire are able to combine their powers in order to safely catch the thing and keep it from crushing buildings. (There’s a bit of nonsense here that looks to me like making up for an art mistake where Kupperberg has drawn Spitfire flying when that isn’t a power that she possesses. Glut hand-waves things as best he can–clearly the schedule was tight enough not to allow for redraws.)
It’s a bit of an underwhelming end to the bit threat going into the issue, although there is something delightful about one of these Nazi super-weapons simply not working properly, such a staple of fiction concerning the War had they become. Anyway, the Invaders mop up the Teutonic Knight, then turn their attention towards racing to the rescue of Churchill and his Commander. The team races off in Subbie’s airship, reckoning that it’s the fastest way to get to the meeting place. Its technology can also pinpoint exactly where that is, as things conveniently turn out, so it’s only a page later that the Invaders alight upon the startled Blitzkrieg Squad before they can carry out their sudden attack.
As good as the Blitz Squad might be against the ordinary soldiers of the Howling Commandos, they are clearly no match for the phenomenal powers of the Invaders, and so they are overwhelmed and captured in short order. And that’s the note the issue goes out on. There’s nothing wrong with this story, but neither is there anything especially memorable or interesting about it either. It feels very much like all involved earning a check, hitting the marks that they believe they are supposed to hit as set out in the prior 29 issues. So the whole affair is sort of blah–and that was a flavor that INVADERS, sadly, would evidence more and more as time went on. I’m not sure exactly why Roy’s attentions moved away from INVADERS at this point–could be that he was getting himself established on the West Coast to which he had recently moved, could be that his escalating conflicts with new EIC Jim Shooter were beginning to take a toll even this early. But for whatever reason, the book was never quite the same again.