Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review - All-New Invaders, Volume 1: Gods and Soldiers by James Robinson and Steve Pugh

Short review: The Kree attack the former members of the Invaders to acquire the pieces of a powerful weapon, and the Invaders reform and invade the Kree right back.

A long-lost weapon
Hidden away in three parts
Now seized by the Kree

Full review: In 1969, Marvel created the series The Invaders, featuring Captain America, his sidekick Bucky, Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner, and Jim Hammond, the original Human Torch (who is actually an android), as well as the Human Torch's sidekick Toro. The series, based upon a couple of appearances by the characters as the "All-Winners Squad", was set during World War II, and followed the heroes as they battled the Axis forces with the assistance of some other super heroes such as Union Jack, Spitfire, Whizzer, and others. The original series ended its run in the mid-1970s, but the team has been featured in mini-series a couple of times over the years since then. In 2014, James Robinson and Steve Pugh got together and revived the team, this time pitting the four members of the team against threats in the Marvel universe "present" that originate from beyond the Earth.

The four characters that make up the Invaders don't really have much affinity for one another on a regular basis other than the odd quirk that due to various circumstances they all have managed to go from the World War II era to the present day without suffering from the effects of age - although each has avoided the travails of the passing of time for different reasons. To pull the team out of mothballs, Robinson made the initial story about them directly, having the Kree seek a device that three of the Invaders had come across and secretly hid during World War II. The Supreme Intelligence of the Kree sends Tanalth the Pursuer to collect a weapon known as the Gods' Whisper formerly used by the Nazi villain Baron Strucker to control Hela against an attack mounted by all of the Invaders save Captain America (and the Human Torch's sidekick Toro) plus the ill-fated addition Major Liberty. After they had defeated Strucker and sent Hela back to Asgard, the three Invaders elected to hide the device and wipe their own memories, having come to the conclusion that it was too powerful to be allowed to fall into anyone's hands, including their own.

Against this exposition, Tanalth hunts Namor, the Human Torch, and the Winter Solider one by one, using Kree technology to first defeat them and then revive their lost memories so her troops can locate and recover the three pieces of the device. This process takes up a large portion of the book and is told in a series of sequences interwoven with flashbacks that tell the story of the Invaders' original encounter with Baron Strucker and Hela. By telling the story in this manner, Robinson is able to dump fairly substantial amounts of background material on the reader without it feeling too intrusive, setting up and advancing the central conflict of the volume at the same time. Telling the story in this manner also allows the author to remind the reader of the heroes' younger days, before, for example, Bucky became a hunted man forced to fake his own death and live in the shadows. The structure of the story also allows for a small bit of sleight of hand on the part of the author, as it turns out that Tanalth wasn't just seeking to recover the Gods' Whisper, she also sought to abduct Namor, whisking him away to the Kree home world. This kidnapping leads Captain America to mount a rescue attempt, enlisting Aarkus, the original Vision to assist in the effort.

The title of the volume is Gods and Soldiers, and Captain America, Bucky, and Major Liberty provide the soldiers, but Hela is only one goddess. Fearing that the Kree might use their new toy to enslave Thor and the other Asgardians as Strucker had enslaved Hela, Captain America sends a message to the Thunder God, but learns that Odin had Freya construct a counter-measure long ago, apparently rendering the device useless. Unfortunately, the Invaders seem to have forgotten that the Asgardians aren't the only gods in the Marvel universe, an oversight that causes them no small amount of trouble once they arrive on the Kree home world. This plot point is quite well-placed as it shows the reader that Captain America is not infallible, which is a key humanizing element in the story as the Invaders' plan relies upon Rogers being a genius at tactical planning and execution, so much so that he outsmarts a supercomputer named "the Supreme Intelligence".

In the end, the Invaders succeed at recovering Namor and depriving the Kree of the Gods' Whisper, but the resolution of the conflict yields a collection of troubling questions. The foremost is this: Exactly what is Aarkus' agenda in the conflict? He calls Captain America his brother when they meet up in this story, but in the end he supports the commandeering of the Gods' Whisper by the Eternals. Given that Bucky, Namor, and the Human Torch had been quite adamant earlier in the story that the device was too dangerous for anyone to possess, the combined strength of Aarkus, Ikaris, and Makkari claim it or their own, which seems problematic at best - especially when it is revealed what they choose to use it for. The other unsettling question posed by the events of the story is why would the Supreme Intelligence risk offending enemies as powerful as the Asgardians, Eternals, and any other similarly situated civilizations by seizing control of the Gods' Whisper. Yes, it is a powerful tool, but it is also a clear threat to any race that would be subject to its effects. By seizing the device, it seems like the Supreme Intelligence was almost certain to spark a war against such foes had the Kree been able to hold onto it.

Despite having numerous moving parts and despite featuring events that take place in two time frames and on two different planets, Gods and Soldiers is a relatively straightforward story. The Kree invade Earth to recover a valuable weapon, targeting the Invaders as a byproduct of their assault. Along the way old friends are reunited, old secrets are revealed, and loyalties are tested. With beautiful artwork by Steve Pugh, this story is visually arresting as well. Anyone who loves Marvel heroes, especially the cadre of heroes that have been created to flesh out the super-powered version of World War II that took place in the Marvel universe, is likely to love this book. By throwing in the Kree and the Eternals, Robinson has expanded the stage considerably, all the while retaining the flavor of the original series. As the start of a series uniting the old and the new, Gods and Soldiers is an excellent first volume that sets the stage while also delivering an excellent story at the same time.

Subsequent volume in the series: All-New Invaders, Volume 2: Original Sin

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