Armagideon Time

My plan to get the Nobody’s Favorite feature back on a regular schedule seems to have gone off the rails, but I’m feeling confident about serving up more frequent updates going forward. This being December, however, means that it’s the time of the year when the script gets flipped and I shine a little love on sub-stellar characters and comics I legitimately love.

So let’s start the season of goodwill off with the retconned roster of also-rans…

The Not Ready For Prime Time Invaders

…known as the Liberty Legion.

The concept was the handiwork of (yep, you guessed it) Roy Thomas, who spun it out of his ongoing Invaders monthly for Marvel. While the Invaders included the most prominent characters — Captain America, Sub-Mariner, the original Human Torch — from the publisher’s formative years taking an axe directly to the Axis, the Liberty Legion had a homefront focus and members pulled from the back forty of Timely’s relatively anemic Golden Age stable of superheroes.

The team was cobbled together by Bucky Barnes during a four-part arc which ran back-and-forth between the Marvel Premiere “try out” anthology and the Invaders’ own monthly series. It was a pretty neat gimmick for the time — said “time” being when such interlocking events weren’t the norm and the cover price of a single issue was “still only 25 cents!” — even if any hopes the Rascally One might have harbored for a dedicated Liberty Legion ongoing came to naught. Thomas’s enthusiasm (which often drifted into the realm of trivia-oriented obsession) for forgotten bits of Golden Age flotsam may have been infectious, but it wasn’t infectious enough to carry a concept dedicated to characters who failed to generate enthusiasm even during the heady boom times of the early 1940s.

The overall obscurity of characters like Jack Frost, Blue Diamond and other Liberty Legionnaires didn’t help either, especially combined with Thomas’s particular writing tics. Every character conversation and action sequence featuring the team invariably assumed an expository tone aimed at edu-taining the end user in the finer points of characters involved.

“They don’t call me Blue Diamond because my skin isn’t imbued with the hardest substance known to man!”
“Well, I may not be Captain America, but I’m still a Patriot!”
“Hey, move over. This Red Raven needs room to spread his ‘light metal’ wings!”
“Look, I have boobs and I’m the only woman on the team, so I guess that makes me Miss America!”

I mock, but some forty years later Thomas’s style remains my default baseline for superheroic storytelling. It’s quaint, clunky, and too obvious in intent to my jaded adult eyes, but damn if it didn’t make for some exciting reading. This went double for the man’s retro-Golden Age work, which was jam-packed with colorful new-to-me characters presented as significant (if only in Roy Thomas’s eyes) pieces in the improvised jigsaw puzzle of “shared universe” continuity. Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man stories were thick on the ground when I was a kid (unlike today, right?), which meant the teams like the Liberty Legion and All-Star Squadron got a appreciation boost by virtue of their novelty value, both in terms of characters and setting.

Hell, it was enough to convince me to trade three issues of Batman to my buddy Brian in exchange for a copy of Marvel Premiere #30, which I read and re-read until it disintegrated. I’ve never done that for an X-Men comic, that’s for damn sure.

9 Responses to “Nobody (Else’s) Favorites: Taking liberties”

  1. sallyp

    All I know, is that the “Whizzer” makes me giggle uncontrollably.

  2. BK Munn

    I felt (feel?) the same way about these characters. Loved their 70s arc at the time, loved the Invaders, loved the “are Miss America and Whizzer the parents of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver?” There is something about the idea that there was a seemingly endless resource (i.e., the past) of superhero characters out there waiting to have new stories told and that the universe expanded both directions in time that was very infectious. Thomas as writer is the best and worst of Silver/Bronze Age Marvel as well. Everything we lampoon about the period but damned if it isn’t the voice and mode that echoes in my head to this day.

    I wonder if one of the many reasons they flopped (did they?) was that they didn’t really bring anything new to the table. Powerwise they seemed to have analogs in umpteen other characters and their ties to the present MU were almost nonexistent (vs The Invaders), and their personalities were generic ciphers, meaning they were an early example of a book/series/group largely outside continuity that “didn’t matter.” Compare how Gerber managed to pull the Guardians of the Galaxy into continuity and make them more of a success, partly through the Vance Astro character I think.

  3. Crowded House

    I like Roy’s willingness to just throw a bunch of b-list superheroes together and have them fight evil because hey, why not? Here, the All-Star Squadron, the Atlas-era Avengers from that one issue of What If? It’s something that made those crossovers work-here’s a bunch of costumed do-gooders beating back evil while the big guns are out fighting Hitler or whatever, the idea that every hero was doing something to help others, even if it wasn’t front-page news. It’s a reminder of why I like the idea of superhero crossovers, even if they’ve been beaten into the molten center of the Earth by this point.

  4. Jim Kosmicki

    I also loved the Liberty Legion, primarily for the obscure characters. But then again, I was the kid in the corner reading Steranko’s History of Comics for the 8th time. They were never going to do especially well, but it was fun that they tried.

    and I have a Fred Hembeck hand drawn trading card of Blue Diamond above my work desk at eye level. It makes me happy on a regular basis to look up and see it. BD, of course, being one of the few Liberty Legion characters pulled into the “contemporary” Marvel Universe, turned into a being made OF diamond and promptly forgotten again.

  5. Joe S. Walker

    Roy Thomas was a pioneer of continuity fixes, retcons, crossovers, fanboy in-jokes, and fanboy pop-cultural/literary references. I can’t help feeling that the course of comics history might have been changed for the better if Stan had told him to cut the crap sometimes.

  6. Bill D.

    IIRC, one of those Marvel Premiere issues was one of the first – maybe even the very first – back issue comics I ever bought when I discovered a local used book shop that sold used comics and I began to realize that comics from before my time weren’t just a thing found at older cousins’ houses but something I could have for myself. That alone makes it a hugely treasured memory, but the fact that the book was so fun and chock full of awesomely off-the-wall 40s superheroes made it even greater.

    This is the second blog post I’ve read this morning to make me think back to this book and the Invaders… maybe I need to reassemble a run of this at long last.

  7. adam barnett

    I love teams of villains and b-list characters. I would buy the heck out of a Liberty Legion comic… then and now.

  8. Kid Kyoto

    Heh, my first thought seeing them was Marvel was trying to rip off the All Star Squadron.

    Ah well, we’re all wrong from time to time.

    Oddly I just re read some All Star books and wow, Thomas is so, so… almost good, sometimes.

    It isn’t just his slavish devotion to continunity that drags things down, he just fails at basic story telling. For example in 1942 Green Lantern fought a Nazi aircraft carrier off the coast of NY. AWESOME! Let’s tell that story!

    Or y’know, do a 1 page reference to it with a handy footnote telling readers to go look up a copy of GL from 1942 if they want to see that. Now for more FIREBRAND!

    I mean seriously how do you fail so completely at spotting an interesting story and why remind us we could be reading something better?

  9. pedro de pacas

    Another great writeup, Andrew – Happy Holidays!

    I’m not looking to bash Ol’ Rascally Roy Thomas, but some of the commentary here, particularly by Joe S. Walker, I’m finding very interesting. If anyone can direct me to it, I would love to read an analysis of the his work and its effects – sadly my Googling is failing me in this instance.

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