Editor's Note: Giant-Size Avengers/Invaders #1 arrives in stores tomorrow, April 30.
GSAI (sounds like a groovy acronym for something or other, doesn't it?) comprises four discrete cover titles, a 1943 reprint, and a four page, unlettered preview of the impending Avengers/Invaders limited series, with the latter bit being why we're gathered here today. Weighing in at a hefty 96 pages, it's a giant among Marvel's Giant-Size books, as well as an SFZ*.
Though tepid on the surface, I'm happy to not only recommend this book, but encourage people to read it. Let's start with the Giant-Size Box Score before delving into the kudos and kvetches:
- Avengers #71 (1969) writer: Roy Thomas; penciller: Sal Buscema; inker: Sam Grainger (no colourist listed).
- Invaders #10 (1976) Framing sequence by writer Roy Thomas, art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer, colours by Don Warfield, surrounding Captain America Comics #22 (1943) with art by regular post-Simon & Kirby duo, Al Avison & Al Gabrielle; no writer is credited though informed rumour names a lad called Stan Lee. The Human Torch story from that issue is not included.
- Invaders King-Size Annual #1 (1977) writer: Roy Thomas; art: Frank Robbins & Frank Springer (chapters 1 & 5), Alex Schomburg (chapter 2), Don Rico (chapter 3), Lee Elias & Frank Springer (chapter 4); colours: Sam Kato.
- Giant-Size Invaders #2 (2006) writer: Roy Thomas; pencils: Lee Weeks; inks: Jesse Delperdang, Mike Perkins, Lee Weeks; colours: Sotocolor's J. Brown.
- 4-page preview for Avengers/Invaders #1 by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Stephen Sadowski.
An alternate title for this book could be "The Search for Namor's Trunks." Back in Avengers #71 Roy Thomas pitted Kang the Conqueror versus the Grandmaster; for those unfamiliar with the Grandmaster's ouevre, he tends to show up offering pretty well anything his opponent desires if they can defeat him in a game of chance (my favourite Grandmaster appearance occurred in Giant-Size Defenders #3 if you care to seek it out; both Steve Gerber and Jim Starlin had their hands in it if that's an incentive). In addition to introducing the Squadron Sinister (later, and not much later, "Supreme") in issue #70, Thomas gave the world its first look at what would later become the core of the Invaders: Captain America, Namor, and the original, android Human Torch, whom the Grandmaster chose to face Kang's trio of Avengers: the Black Panther, the Vision, and Yellowjacket. There were a couple of discrepancies which fans of the day jumped upon: Cap was equipped with his original "triangular" shield, and Namor was wearing the wrong pants. They were still scandalously short but lacked the customary fishy scales. Actually, most gripes concerned the shield; Namor did wear not-scaley shorts once upon a time.
Leap ahead to the fourth chapter of Invaders King-Size Annual #1, also written by Thomas, and we find that a previously two-bit villain called the Shark had stolen the wee, green pants, so that his Nazi paymasters might exploit their fishy properties. Yes... the Shark had to strip Namor out of his trunks and replace them with the ones (previously) seen in the pages of The Avengers. The whole idea is emblazoned with "don't go there" in big, neon letters. Another leap to chapter five has the now firmly established Invaders mysteriously vanishing only to land in Nazi-occupied Paris, face to face with Kang's Avengers. Unlike the previous delineation of their encounter, the Avengers clue the Invaders into the whys and what-fors before everyone is whisked back to their correct places and dates. Whether the new series picks up before or after this encounter remains to be seen; dramatic consequences are abundant one way or another. Neither do we know if Thomas' decision to upgrade three previously alleged third-string villains (the Shark, the Hyena, and Agent Axis) for the 1977 Annual has any significance for the new story, though it seems doubtful.
Still another mystery lies within the final story. Overlooking the extreme silliness of a "summit" between Churchill and Roosevelt that takes place as they tool around the countryside in the President's car, a potential link to the future is established when a pair of Nazi operatives enlarge themselves to Giant-Man proportions upon the ingestion of mysterious, experimental capsules. It's an easy leap to assume that this story was included to foreshadow the introduction of Pym Particles in 1942, a variety of explanations for which spring to mind. It could also be a red herring; someone at Marvel might be a huge fan of that particular Invaders story, or simply have wanted to pad this book (again, for any number of reasons).
If the inclusion of Invaders #10 is any indication, Red Herrings are the Poisson du Jour. The framing sequence - a race to get medical attention for Union Jack and his daughter - is meaningless. Moreso is the Captain America reprint. That's not to say that it's a story bereft of meaning, rather it's context that's taken a holiday as I can derive no relation between it and the new series. It is a thoughtful story, however.
Presented as a convenient flashback, The Reaper, a Nazi agent, is sent to provoke civil unrest and impart tolerance and acceptance of the Nazi regime. Stan Lee "jumps the shark" to provide a resolution where order is restored and the Reaper is discredited, but the always present theme of vigilance as a key element in preserving liberty remains equally relevant today; it's inclusion could be interpreted as an indictment of radical fundamentalism and/or the last five years of White House policy. If you're desperate for some in-house association, you could clamp onto the antagonist's name, as the modern Grim Reaper is the brother of Wonder Man, who's brain patterns were used by Ultron in constructing the Vision, Ultron having been created by Hank Pym, with both Pym and the Vision having met the Invaders during the Grandmaster story. That would involve a near pathological desperation, though.
We're left to scratch our heads as to the purpose of this book. A basic primer for new or returning readers viz. the Invaders? If this is the case then it's reasonably successful. A direct link to the stories that will greet us in the coming months? It's possible, and we'll know in short order. Leaving aside the overall, Giant-Size Avengers/Invaders merits the admission price for the Avengers and Captain America reprints, and though somewhat short on the art of Frank Robbins, paired with Frank Springer (an acutely acquired taste but one that I enjoy), what's included augments the overall attraction. Toss in a few chapters featuring Golden Age artists Alex Schomburg, Don Rico, and Lee Elias and you won't need to see the dessert menu.
* Since it's going to be next to impossible to review a Marvel book in the foreseeable future without mentioning green, puckered-chin aliens, wherever possible I'm going to substitute, as here, the phrase "SFZ" (Skrull-free Zone). Now you know.
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