Monday, November 9, 2009

Plot Twists That Didn't Work - Invaders 8 & 9

Sometimes comic book writers create an incredible moment in a comic book story that catches us all by surprise and makes the reader race to the store next month to find out what happens next. Then there are times when it doesn't work as planned. Here is one that immediately comes to mind when I think of "We Sort of Saw That Coming" moments:

The End of an Invader (Invaders 8 & 9)

During the mid-70's the Invaders were a mildly popular title for Marvel comics. Issue #8 gave us the "return" of an old WW1 superhero named "Union Jack". This was the first incarnation of the character still around in Marvel comics today (as a different person). Lord James Falsworth was a superhero during World War 1 who retired. Apparently he was part of a supergroup called "Freedom's Five", a series of heroes who were later pretty much retconned into Marvel continuity. Phantom Eagle was the only one we ever really saw again though.

A visit from the Invaders makes UJ long to put on the blue-and-red suit again (one of the coolest costumes in comics ever), so he does to help them.

On the final page of the story, Union Jack agrees to join the Invaders as a regular member. Everyone is in awe and excited about having this "legend" among them...even though he's pretty old and fragile by then.

At the bottom of the page, just below the panel of Union Jack joining the team, the build-up for the next issue says "The End of An Invader!" Who could it be???

Was there ever any doubt in any reader's mind when they bought the issue next month they'd see Union Jack going down? Even though they said "It's not who you think!" in that panel? Actually, it was exactly who we thought.

Sure enough, the next month said it would be "The End of an Invader!"

So let's run a quick roll call here: Captain America...still around so it can't be him. Namor...same. Bucky...dies in an explosion later. The Human Torch...death later on as established in comic history. The only people it could have been was Union Jack or Toro.

True, Toro was sort of redundant to the team. They had Torch for flame powers, and Bucky for the teen audience, so Toro didn't have much use. But what use did they have for a 60 year old man with no super powers either?

Sure enough, Baron Blood and UJ got into a big fight toward the end of the book and Blood crushed the hero's legs. Even though Blood dies later in the book (only to come back again a dozen times over the years), the title does indeed live up to they hype. Union Jack never walks again.

Issue 20 sees the new Union Jack come into the game. This time it's Brian Falsworth taking up the family mantle and he fared a little better. Brian was the son of the original UJ and did well until his death a few years later in a car crash. Joey Chapman picked up the suit and title then (thanks to the return of Baron Blood) and wears it today.

The lesson for Marvel? If you're going to kill off a character--or end their career--you can get a little more mileage out of it if you let them be on the team for at least one full issue before you get rid of them. And whatever you do, don't let them join the team and end the book with "Next issue: Somebody dies! Wanna guess who?" That's like watching a horror movie and seeing some boy open the door and say, "I'll be right back" when the killer's outside. Yeah, we know he isn't going to be in the sequel.


Rick said...

I remember that story. I loved it. I have to agree. Either have 2 new members join or let them stay on the book a bit longer. But in a way UJ didnt leave the team since the son took his place.

David said...

I just read these stories thanks to the cool new trade collections. I agree there wasn't much shock as to which Invader went down, but then I never put much stock in Marvel's overwrought hyperbole anyway. I grant you there's a "so what" factor to crippling a guy we just met, but the truth is Marvel kills or disables characters all the time, so it could have been any of them, even Cap. He'd just "get better" in a few issues and bam, problem solved.

In the same vein, I think it was an even odder move on Roy's part to have the Invaders brainwashed five or so issues into the series and turned into Axis agents. I understand he wanted a way to introduce Timely's other superheroes ("The Liberty Legion" as he called them), but it seems really odd to have made the Invaders the bad guys in their own book almost as soon as we met them, not to mention turning over so much space to guest characters.

Oh well, it's still a fun book.

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