I was still a regular follower of THE INVADERS, Roy Thomas’ super hero comic book set in World War II during the Golden Age of Comics. But the bloom was off the rose for me a little bit by this point. I don’t know that I realized it at the time specifically, but the departure of both Roy as writer and the stylized Frank Robbins meant that the book was now in other, lesser hands most of the time. And say what you will about Roy, he loved this period and these characters, and so even when the stories might have gone a bit haywire, you could tell that he was investing a lot of passion in the series. Post-Roy, it’s not as though people didn’t do good work, but none of them were even slightly as invested in the title as he had been, and that difference showed.
In particular, I was simply not a fan of the work of Alan Kupperberg, a journeyman artist who had begun to pick up some assignments around this period, and who took over the series on a semi-regular basis. His figures always looked spongy to my eye, as though his characters didn’t have bones but rather were simply inflated. His sense of dramatics, too, wasn’t well-honed. I’ve been told by people who worked with Roy both at Marvel and DC on his assorted Golden Age titles that what he valued in an artist most of all was in getting the period details and the period costumes correct and accurate, and Kupperberg, I guess, was able to do both of those things. But for all that Frank Robbins was perhaps a divisive artist on INVADERS (and at Marvel in general), his work still had a lot of snap and crackle to it. Kupperberg’s pages just lay there.
The basic plot concept of this issue came from Roy, although it was Don Glut who carried it out and wrote the final copy. Glut was a writer and amateur filmmaker with an interest in the period, so he seemed like a good hand to sub in for Roy. The story opens with the Invaders receiving reports that their old comrade, the mighty Destroyer, had been carrying out acts of sabotage on British soil. Roy was always a bit loosey-goosey with the stories that originated in the 1940s in INVADERS, and some time earlier, he had contrived that, rather than being American reporter Keen Marlowe, the mighty Destroyer was actually Brian Falsworth, the son of WWI-era costumed hero Union Jack. When Brian took up his father’s identity, the Destroyer name was passed on to Roger Aubrey, who had previously been the diminutive hero Dyna-Mite. Got all that? Oh and also, after issues of him operating without any particular super-powers, Roy last issue contrived to give Union Jack somewhat random electrical abilities thanks to an encounter with Thor’s hammer. Roy, it seems, found it difficult to buy into the notion that even a superbly-trained human athlete could do the sorts of spectacular stunts that super heroes were required to perform on the regular. So UJ got a power-up.
Anyway, not certain whether this Destroyer is actually Roger Aubrey having been taken over by the Nazis in some way or an impostor of some sort, the Invaders head out to locate and detain him. It’s a decidedly unfair fight, five against one, but that’s the hand that Glut needs to play. So he quickly diverts the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner to help out with a collapsing bridge that was damaged in an air raid while the rest of the team follows the attacking planes back to base. Captain America is forced to remain at the controls of Namor’s flagship to keep it in the air, and so it’s only Spitfire and Union Jack who leap groundward to seek out their foe. And find him they do, in a commandeered castle on the British moors. UJ insists on tackling the guy in his old costume himself, dispatching Spitfire to clobber the rest of the Nazi guards and to locate Roger Aubery. But even UJ’s new electrical powers don’t do any damage to the Destroyer, who unmasks in front of him, revealing his identity.
Meanwhile, Spitfire has located Roger Aubrey locked in a cell, and he provides a helpful infodump of the backstory at this point. Some time earlier, in his identity as the mighty Destroyer, Aubrey was ambushed and captured behind German lines by the Invaders’ old foe Master Man. And that’s who’s been posing as the Destroyer ever since. Master Man was Roy’s Marvel equivalent of the classic Fawcett villain Captain Nazi, who bedeviled the Marvel Family (particularly Captain Marvel Jr.) and he was a lot more powerful than Union Jack. And so Master Man, his ruse completed, rolls right over Union Jack like a remorseless tank, utterly defeating the British hero and intending to carry him back to the Fatherland as a prisoner.
Spitfire and Aubrey emerge from the castle just in time to see Master Man leap skyward to a circling plane with Union Jack in tow. But before his escape can be made good, Union Jack unleashes a huge burst of electrical energy, freeing him from Master Man’s grasp and sending him hurtling towards the ground below. Aubrey is only barely on his feet, and yet he’s able to dig down deep and somehow catch the plummeting Union Jack without splattering him all over the ground, an action that’s relatively absurd on the face of it. (It doesn’t help that Kupperberg’s rendition of this action is about as unspectacular as one might imagine.) Worth noting here is that, while the Comics Code and society in general prohibited any display of homosexuality, considering it a form of deviancy, Roy had been “coding” both Union Jack and Roger Aubrey as being gay in a below-the-waterline manner. It’s not really subtle, not to modern eyes, but as a kid I didn’t have enough experience with such things to even notice it. That said, I’m sure that this was a powerful thing for some readers to find in a Marvel book in 1978.
So that’s the zero-sum outcome of this adventure. Master Man gets away but his acts of sabotage and his soiling of the Destroyer’s good name have come to a halt, and Aubrey has been rescued. Everybody rendezvous back at Invaders headquarters, where Lord Falsworth has a message to pass along to the American Invaders. They’re needed back Stateside urgently. And so, bidding Spitfire and Union Jack adieu, the three headliner heroes head out for new adventures back in the United States. Which makes me wonder a bit: if Roy was intending to shift the action to the Home Front for the next batch of issues and leave him behind, why go to all the trouble of giving Union Jack those new powers? They really just complicate a character who was perfectly fine as he was (those powers disappeared completely after INVADERS ran its course and haven’t really even much been mentioned in future flashbacks and the like.)
8 thoughts on “BHOC: INVADERS #34”
The Union Jack/Destroyer relationship did mean a lot to people who caught on, trust me.
And your description of Kupperburg;s art is the best I’ve ever heard. I’ve never been able to put into words why I found it so dissatisfying. It was very much better suited to Harvey Comics than Marvel.
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It’s interesting to compare Roy’s work on the Invaders with his later All-Star Squadron for DC. As you say, he seemed to play pretty fast-and-loose with Golden Age Marvel history, whereas his approach at DC was more (for lack of a better term) reverent to the original tales. I don’t know if that’s because he liked the JSA and co. better, or whether his approach just evolved from the ’70s to the ’80s. I think, at its peak, Invaders was a better comic; as much as I enjoyed All-Star, it did sometimes feel more like archaeology than storytelling.
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Giving Union Jack powers was The Invaders jumping the shark.
I enjoyed Kupperberg’s art just fine. But Frank Robbins – that’s The Invaders to me.
Should have gotten Dan Spiegle to replace him. But I always assumed lackluster sales were blamed on Robbins so a stylitic opposite like Kupperberg got the nod.
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I’d forgotten all about Union Jack’s super powers but I guess it gives some context to Roy Thomas’ later pitch to give Batman powers, as recounted in your “Crisis 2” post a week ago.
For me the book didn’t have much going for it without Frank Robbins’ weird intensity.
No argument that Donald Glut and Kupperberg really hurt the book. Glut also had less interest in continuity with older stuff (which JK notes wasn’t as intense as on A-SS). Roy explained in an early letter column that the Howling Commandos weren’t around yet but Glut had Strucker’s Blitzkreig Squad — created specifically to fight the Howlers — showing up in one story. Admittedly not something I noticed on first reading.
“Master Man was Roy’s Marvel equivalent of the classic Fawcett villain Captain Nazi…”
While Master Man was pretty clearly a riff on Captain Nazi, it strikes me that Roy used him as a villainous Superman, particularly once he’d introduced a villainous Wonder Woman (Warrior Woman) and a villainous Batman (Baron Blood) to give him an evil DC Trinity…
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Yes, you are absolutely correct about all three characters. Roy Thomas acknowledged this in Alter Ego a number of years ago, also admitting that U-Man was a villainous Aquaman.