During the dark days of World War II, Namor, Prince of Atlantis, fought alongside the Allied forces against the Nazis and their terrible war machine. He also formed an alliance with Captain America, original Human Torch Jim Hammond, and Bucky to form the group known as the Invaders! Namor, though, found himself struggling with the mortality of his human allies.
In current day, far below the surface of the ocean, the drums of war beat loudly, as King Namor of Atlantis marshals his forces to wage war on the lands above! But all is not well with the king, and his oldest friends, Captain America and Jim Hammond (the original Human Torch) know it.
Hammond makes a desperate plea to Cap for him to intervene and save their old friend from himself. His actions of late (see recent issues of Avengers and Namor: The Best Defense) have been extreme, even for him.
Elsewhere, Namor continues his quest to gather all of Atlantis's disparate factions together under his banner to wage war on the surface world, and in doing so, reveals a mighty power unlike any he's ever had before:
By forcibly depriving his fellow Atlanteans of water, he effectively suffocates them until their leader submits to his dominion! Where did Namor get this mighty power? Why is he behaving so strangely? And what does any of this have to do with the picture Jim Hammond stumbled onto while visiting a soldier they both served with in World War II?
The Invaders are, and always have been, a tough nut for writers to crack. Ever since their late-Silver Age debut in Avengers #71 (by Roy Thomas and John Buscema), they’ve always felt like a square peg in the round hole that is the Marvel Universe. Born out of Thomas’ love of all things Golden Age, but not actually having existed as concept until 1969, they lacked the tangible tie to the actual period in which they’re portrayed that helped give the Justice Society its gravitas. They’re also an odd grouping: Marvel’s (then Timely’s) three biggest stars, plus a sidekick (two if Toro was hanging around), and a distinct boys’ club feel that was already dated at the time of their debut and hasn’t exactly improved with age.
Various other writers took their shot at the Invaders and came up short: Chuck Austen during the mid-’00s, and later James Robinson in what can most kindly be described as a paycheck comic. Both iterations didn’t last long, because, it seemed, nobody really cared about this weird throwback team (even if it did have Captain America on it, but then again, why care about that when you could be reading him in Avengers, with all the other much-cooler characters?).
All that is to say this: I really don’t think anybody was necessarily clamoring for a new Invaders book in the Year of Our Lord 2019, but hot damn if Chip Zdarsky, Carlos Magno, and Butch Guice didn’t deliver the goods.
Right off the bat, Invaders gives readers a stake in the proceedings by tying its current events in both Avengers and the recent (and criminally underappreciated) Namor: The Best Defense one-shot. This matters because it contextualizes the events of the book, instead of having them exist in a vacuum (continuity does matter, but that’s a digression for another piece). But at the same time, you don’t necessarily have to have read those books to understand what’s happening: Namor’s come unhinged, and his oldest friends are determined to save him from himself.
And that’s really the emotional hook at work here. We’ve all had that old friend who, somewhere along the way, slipped off the track and needed his or her oldest friends to help them get back up, even if they’ve been years apart. There are things that only your oldest friends can help you with, and that’s what Cap and Jim Hammond are for Namor (oh, and Bucky too, although he doesn’t have much to do in this issue). It’s a basic and fundamental truth that just about anyone can relate to, and it humanizes everyone involved. The stakes, both for the world and emotional, aren’t just typical superhero hyperbolic thrashing. They matter because they’re intrinsically tied together alongside a bond of brotherhood that we can all empathize with.
Zdarsky does a wonderful job showcasing the past for the World War II sequences, strongly rendered by stalwart Captain America artist Butch Guice. We see a younger Namor coming to grips with mortality, and reacting poorly to it. Cap, ever the moral compass, is there to both kick him in the ass when he needs it but also be the friend he craves yet doesn’t know how to turn to.
The present-day sequences, drawn by rising star Carlos Magno, have a sharp lushness to their details that makes a nice HD contrast to the Guice’s grainier flashback scenes. The underwater scenes, especially, are the types of drawings that make you want to stop reading and just take in their beauty before turning to the next page.
And then there’s not one, but two cliffhangers to entice readers to come back for more. It may have seemed questionable to hand Chip Zdarsky a project of this nature – after all, his biggest work as a writer to date has been a fun but slightly-out-of-character run on Spectacular Spider-Man and his contributions to Image’s Sex Criminals – but as it turns out, he nails this comic better than I could have possibly imagined. The plot moves at a brisk pace, seamlessly cutting between past and present, the characters all have depth and motive, and the reader genuinely feels invested within the first few pages. That’s a hat trick that a lot of writers with quite a few more years worth of tenure would kill to be able to pull off.
An incredibly strong debut issue from a killer creative team, Invaders has all the makings of a modern classic.
Invaders #1 – With a Little Help From My Friends
- Writing - 9/109/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Art - 9.5/109.5/10
- Color - 9.5/109.5/10
- Cover Art - 8.5/108.5/10
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