Me, I remember Roy Thomas most for his championing of them World War II mystery men. In DC, he revived the Justice Society of America and launched the fabulous All-Star Squadron. But before that, Roy Thomas did big things at Marvel, including writing (and retconning) the Invaders comics and then introducing the Liberty Legion, Thomas having gleefully plundered the roster of obscure Golden Age heroes from Marvel's predecessor, Timely Comics. While the Invaders took the fight to Hitler's Fortress Europa - that Nazi-occupied Europe which in early '42 spanned the breadth of Russia and across to the English Channel - the Liberty Legion did its part as "America's Homefront Heroes of World War II." And with the Liberty Legion presenting a fairly intriguing cast of characters, do I smell a whiff of resurgence?
Well, no, probably not. Sadly, there's no feverish outcry for new Liberty Legion stories. Still, Golden Age comic book buffs can now savor - in trade format - the series of wartime adventures that Roy Thomas so lovingly penned back in 1976. THE THING: LIBERTY LEGION collects INVADERS #5-6, MARVEL PREMIERE #29-30, FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #11, MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #20 and MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE ANNUAL #1. This trade also collects Roy Thomas's closing articles in MARVEL PREMIERE #29-30.
Essentially, in hindsight, Red Skull's big snafu was in dismissing Bucky as nothing more than the Invaders' powerless team mascot. Herr Skull's plan was deployed flawlessly, and it resulted in the Invaders' (sans Bucky) falling to the Skull's hypnotizing nulla-rays. In early 1942, America is dismayed to witness the Invaders turn against democracy and instead spew Nazi propaganda and annihilate American defense plants. In response, a defiant Bucky gets on the radio airwaves and begins to rally other costumed mystery men. Seven such heed the call, and, in Roy Thomas's four-part narrative, we learn of how the newly-founded Liberty Legion took the fight to the Invaders and eventually released them from their mesmerized state.
Cut to what then was present-day 1976, which again is when Roy Thomas wrote this batch of tales, and I guess 1976 is plausible enough for Reed Richards and Ben Grimm to still cite participation in World War II without ruining internal continuity. And, as ever, nothing dates a story more than pop culture name-dropping, as when Mr. Fantastic ventures a Chico & the Man comment. As a point of reference, this was circa Ben Grimm in human form and wearing a Thing exo-skeleton. And Ben, habitually impetuous, does something which compel the Fantastic Four to time travel to 1942 to prevent a reality in which the Nazis had won the war. There, the FF run into the Invaders, a team-up which presents the bemusement factor of seeing not two Human Torches, but three. Roy Thomas, drama wh0re, is quick to mine that whole Reed-Sue-Namor triangle.
Afterwards, our bashful Idol of Millions plays 20 Questions with the Watcher and figures out that the FF had left the mission half-done and the fate of the world still in balance. Ben skips back to 1942, and this time hooks up with the Liberty Legion as they go up against the Skyshark, the disembodied Brain Drain, Master Man, and U-Man and their plot to steal parts of a prototype aircraft. There is also this giant flying metal swastika which begins to slice thru the Manhattan skyline. Because that's not silly.
The fun for me was in discovering these lesser-known heroes. I knew a bit about Miss America and her future hubby, the Whizzer (who - no lie! - gained super-speed thru an infusion of mongoose blood!). It's nice to be a fly on the wall during their first meeting, which, naturally, is this cutely staged hostile encounter. Admittedly, I tend to dismiss the Patriot as a low rent Captain America; he just doesn't do much for me. And neither do the Red Raven and Jack Frost, because they aren't given any really interesting characteristics. It's not until later that I learned that Jack Frost is the embodiment of winter. Except that Roy Thomas writes him here as a non-entity. Instead, it's the elastic Thin Man and the Blue Diamond who made me go "Hmmm?" The Thin Man is the original pliable hero, having pre-dated Plastic Man by a year or so, and I love his power set and his two-dimensional look when he springs into action. I even love that he gets cheesed off whenever someone calls him "Slim." Blue Diamond is also a curiosity in that he's this stuffy anthropologist turned reluctant superhero and would often have to think hard when it comes to uttering witty mid-fight repartee. I really like the group dynamics of this team, and that there isn't one dominant hero or one with overwhelming powers. I appreciate Miss America's not taking a back seat to anyone, and Roy Thomas sure plays up that bickering between her and the Whizzer. Being an old-school superhero fan, I sure wouldn't mind it if Marvel dusts off the Liberty Legion and sics them on the WWII home front again, smashing spy rings, foiling fifth columnists, pimping war bonds.
Until then, enjoy Roy Thomas's geeking out to his passion and also his meat-and-potatoes brand of storytelling, abetted by veteran illustrating fools like John & Sal Buscema, Don Heck, Frank Robbins, Rich Buckler, and Dick Ayers. Heck, if you pay attention, you may even catch a cameo by Jolting John Romita as a kid.