Again, as with yesterday’s book, I believe I picked up this issue of INVADERS on that same excursion to the Heroes World in Levittown with my grandparents. I wasn’t really aware of it at the time, but the series had definitely reached its peak earlier, and now with the departure of artist Frank Robbins, it began a slow but inevitable slide towards cancellation. That’s funny, because Robbins’ work was such an acquired taste to begin with, but somehow he brought a particular flavor to the series that later artists couldn’t match. This decline was also due to the fact that series creator Roy Thomas had begun to scale back his involvement with INVADERS. While he’d created it to be a bit of a vanity project, something that appealed to him even if it wasn’t universally popular, by this point, there were other demands for Roy’s time and attention, and so he wound up handing off a lot of issues to other writers–typically, not for the better.
For example, this issue was another fill-in job, this one produced by Don Glut and Chic Stone, not quite a powerhouse team. While Glut certainly had the background necessary to write comics, the actual stories he produced were somehow a bit stiff and artificial. Like Roy, he was a Golden Age buff as well as having an interest in the pop culture of that era, so on paper he was a good choice to fill in. But in execution, his work never really rose above functional–he could fill an issue with stuff, but it wasn’t the most engaging stuff. The same thing could be said about Chic Stone, who had been in the industry for decades and who is now best remembered for the year he spend inking the work of Jack Kirby. But Stone wanted to pencil, and so he left Marvel back in the day when Stan Lee wouldn’t let him do so. As a penciler, he was a perfectly fine craftsman, but somehow lacking in the internal energy that so galvanized Kirby’s work and those who followed in his footsteps. So this isn’t a bad comic book per se, it fits the criteria on every level, it’s up to code. But it doesn’t really do anything more than that.
Both Glut and Thomas had an interest in the Frankenstein Monster, and so that’s the hook this fill-in is built around. There’s a brief framing sequence with Captain America and Spitfire where the former tells the latter about a recent mission the Invaders embarked upon before she joined their ranks. The Human Torch and Toro had flown to the Swiss Alps to investigate rumors of Nazi activity in the region–and when they didn’t return, Cap, Bucky and Namor followed after them. The frightened villagers they encounter tell the trip about a spate of grave-robbing, and how flaming figures had been seen descending upon Castle Frankenstein. Cap and Bucky investigate the castle, discovering it to be a makeshift base for the Nazi infiltrators the Torches had heard about. But the pair is discovered before they can do anything about it, and a fight breaks out.
The rank-and-file Nazis are no match for the Star-Spangled duo, but suddenly the heroes find themselves faced with a figure right out of the movies: a towering monster in the image of Frankenstein’s legendary creature, this one attired in a Nazi uniform. Cap and Bucky put up a fight, but they are overwhelmed by the monster’s superior strength. Waking up a prisoner, Cap is interrogated by Basil Frankenstein, the heir to the name and the castle who has thrown in with the Axis cause due to the persecution of his family. Using the secrets his forefather had discovered, Basil intends to build a battalion of powerful soldiers for the Nazis, soldiers who cannot die, and whose damaged parts can simply be replaced. He’s previously captured both Torches when they came snooping around, and he intends to use the Torch’s “android energies” to empower his new creations. Basil’s also confined to a wheelchair, so just for good measure, he plans to have his brain transplanted into Captain America’s perfect body, thus checking all of the mad scientist boxes.
Fortunately for the good guys, everybody’s forgotten about Namor, who had stayed behind to pacify the villagers who had formed a pitchfork-carrying angry vigilante mob with the intention of storming the castle. Done with that chore, Namor descends upon the rooftop, and sees the Torch being used to empower Frankenstein’s new creature. He throws a handy antenna at the Torch’s confining dome, freeing him, and the Invaders swiftly move to rally and liberate one another. But the monster’s size and power has been enhanced by his transfusion from the Torch, and he’s able to fight back all five of the American and Atlantean super heroes at once.
From there, it’s boiler plate time once again, as in the battle with the monster, Namor incidentally destroys a computer bank. It turns out that this computer linked Basil Frankenstein with his creation, allowing the scientist to command the monster remotely. But now that it’s been destroyed, the monster has free will again, and he’s horrified both by his own existence and what his creator has forced him to do. Snatching up both Basil and his Japanese lady scientist ally, the creature races for the roof, where he hurls the three of them to the rocks below, so that they will be punished and he will be freed from the curse of his abominable life. The Invaders pretty much stand around and make pithy statements while all of this is going on. Clearly, they’ve seen the movies and know how the ending is going to play out, too.
The villagers arrive to find the bodies of all three evildoers lifeless, but that isn’t enough to satisfy them. They intend to raze Frankenstein’s castle to the ground. Knowing that Marvel will need it intact for its modern MONSTER OF FRANKENSTEIN series, the Human Torch confronts the mob to defend it, citing his kinship with the deceased monster as he, too, is an artificial being. There’s a point here about bigotry or intolerance, but it’s made so sloppily and ham-fistedly that it’s not really worth thinking about. And the issue ends on what’s meant to be a bit of a light-hearted joke between Cap and Spitfire, but which falls flat. It was a perfectly serviceable fill-in story, but it really wasn’t all that wonderful.
9 thoughts on “BHOC: INVADERS #31”
I reread my almost complete Invaders run a few years ago and the drop once we got to Glut was dismal.
Friends of mine have told me they liked Robbins because years of work doing Johnny Hazard meant he had tons of old photos and illustrations he used in the strip, all of which made his WW II stuff accurate — if he drew a Spitfire it looked like one.
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His storytelling and character acting is really good, too, and his panels have depth and they lead the eye through the story beautifully, making sure you focus on the bits you need to.
His superhero anatomy is weird to readers who grew up on Kirby-influenced storytelling, but he’s an absolutely top-notch comics artist.
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There were and are many times I was ashamed of myself and fandom in general. Defending Frank Robbins’ work (though he needed no defending) was something that never shamed me. Even his Shadow was practically perfect in every way.
He’s also a good writer. I enjoyed his Batman stuff from the late 1960s on into the 1970s.
And of course he had decades of experience writing JOHNNY HAZARD, which was well-written and successful at winning and keeping an audience.
I grew accustomed to Robbins’ art on The Invaders, something that was much more difficult for me on Captain America & the Falcon and other titles. I collected Invaders from the first regular-sized issue (I missed the Giant-Size # 1) until it was cancelled, but far preferred those issues written by Thomas over those by Glut and Kupperberg, etc.
I found that I also liked the issues Robbins drew over issues other artists drew with Thomas writing. The Robbins art seemed to be the way INVADERS _should_ look, so if Jim Mooney or Don Heck (on the Liberty Legion crossover) were drawing the story, it felt wrong to me even though I like both artists. And I liked what Heck did with the Liberty Legion, too — but nonetheless, when the story switched back to Robbins, it suddenly felt like the “real” stuff was back.
On a semi-related note, I think the fact that Roy handed off fill-ins and guest-script jobs to Glut was partly because of shared interests, but maybe even moreso because Roy and Don’t were both in LA, and it was easier to hand off the work (or to get together to discuss it, in those days of long-distance charges, than it would be to hand the job to one of the New York writers he gave similar gigs to in earlier years.
At the time, I had a love-hate thing with Frank Robbins art – loved it in the context of The Invaders, but not so much in any other comic – and dropped The Invaders soon after his departure.
It is only in recent years that I consciously realised the Roy Thomas / Don Glut “equation” and how the transition from the former to the latter generally indicated a downturn in my enjoyment of a title, Kull being the most egregious example.
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Let’s just say I have a much higher regard for Don Glut’s writing and Chic Stone’s art than you do. And my regard for Frank Robbins as a writer and an artist is well known. I loved working with him back in the day.