Life During Wartime1 of 13
With Marvel's Invaders bringing back classic World War II heroes for a new story featuring Namor as the villain this summer, Newsarama was inspired to look back at the annals of the publisher’s lore (all the way back to the pre-Marvel Timely Comics days) and explore the greatest heroes of the era.
Though there some admissions that may seem odd, such as the Invaders themselves (we’ll get to that … we promise), we chose to focus specifically on Timely/Marvel characters created in the WW2-era who moved the needle in their heyday.
So without further ado, here are the ten greatest WW2-era Marvel heroes!
BONUS: The Invaders2 of 13
It may seem odd that a list inspired by the Invaders doesn't actually include that team, but the little-known fact is, the WW2 team didn't debut until 1969 - as a retcon device by writer Roy Thomas and artist Sal Buscema to group the WW2 heroes together.
There was a similar contemporary World War II team with many of the same characters called the "All-Winners Squad" - leaving fans to wonder why Thomas opted for a new team name when bringing the characters into modern Marvel lore.
Likewise, two of the most popular Invaders, Union Jack and Spitfire, were actually created in 1976 - again by Thomas, this time with artist Frank Robbins - and retconned into the Marvel Universe's WW2 history.
10. The Destroyer3 of 13
Stan Lee created numerous characters for Marvel Comics over the course of six decades, but his first was this quirky-looking wartime hero the Destroyer.
Debuting in 1941's Mystic Comics #6, Lee created the Destroyer as a twisted version of Captain America - who himself was introduced only a few months prior.
The Destroyer was American journalist Kevin "Keen" Marlow, working on a story behind enemy lines in Germany. Marlow was captured by the Nazis, but in an effort to escape, a fellow prisoner - who happened to be a scientist - injected him with a formula similar to that of the Super-Soldier Formula. Marlow gained powers and donned a fearsome costume (inspired seemingly by the Phantom and the Terror) to fight Nazi forces in Europe.
In terms of popularity, he was generally regarded as Timely's fifth-most popular character in the 1940s after Captain America, the Human Torch, Namor, and Angel (you'll be hearing more about them later).
Following the war, the Destroyer faded into obscurity for decades. Beginning in the 1970s however, the character would be revisited - with a changed origin, and sometimes a new character under the mask - every decade or so.
In 2009, Invincible co-creators Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley revived the character for a five-issue limited series but, Destroyer once again fell back into Marvel archives after that.
9. Blonde Phantom4 of 13
Domino mask, a red evening gown, high heels, and a .45 caliber pistol.
The Blonde Phantom stood out from her superhero counterparts at a moment's glance, and her status quo subverted the tropes of the time: Secretary to a private investigator by day, and by night a vigilante whom her boss fawned over.
Blonde Phantom was created in 1946 based on the popularity of DC's Wonder Woman. Stan Lee, Syd Shores, and Al Sulman created her for 1946's All Select Comics #11 and then quickly renamed the series to Blonde Phantom Comics for the next issue. After that series ended in 1947, she went on to be a guest star, a back-up star, and an ally to the All-Winners Squad into the 1950s before falling off the map.
Blonde Phantom was re-introduced in 1989 during John Byrne's Sensational She-Hulk run, and was later retconned to be an Avenger in 2011's Avengers 1959.
And of course, Blonde Phantom also owes a creative debt to Timely's own Silver Scorpion, the publisher's first full-on female superhero who didn't quite have the Blonde Phantom's staying power.
8. The Blazing Skull5 of 13
Even if you're not up on Marvel's WW2 superheroes, Blazing Skull may look familiar to you - likely because of his resemblance to the modern hero Ghost Rider.
But in truth, the two characters, created 30 years apart, aren't connected. Unlike Ghost Rider and other of Marvel's flaming skeleton characters, Blazing Skull isn't a Spirit of Vengeance. In truth, he's Mark Anthony Todd, a WW2 foreign news correspondent who gained his powers in Japan during the war.
Seeking refuge from an attack, Todd ventured underground into a remote Japanese cave where he met the Skull Men, ancient mystics whose power makes them resemble - you guessed it - fiery skeletons.
Through the Skull Men, Todd gained super strength, a healing factor, and the ability to transform into his Blazing Skull form, which he used to strike fear into his enemies decades before Ghost Rider.
Since the 40s, Blazing Skull has been a staple of modern Invaders stories, but he's rarely gotten any kind of spotlight on his own.
7. Whizzer6 of 13
Most modern readers likely know the Whizzer as a punchline (his yellow costume and codename are pruriently suggestive when taken together), but the super-fast Robert Frank is one of Marvel's most iconic WW2 heroes - in part because of those silly elements.
The goofiness doesn't stop there - Whizzer's origin was that an infusion of mongoose blood gave him super speed. That's not exactly too out there for 1940s comic books, but modern sensibilities aren't the same, so writer Roy Thomas slightly altered this origin when he introduced Marvel's WW2 heroes as the Invaders in the late 60s, changing it so the mongoose blood shocked Whizzer's latent mutant abilities into activating.
But like we said, though some of these ideas are silly in retrospect, they're a large part of the reason the Whizzer has broken out of WW2-era obscurity to become a modern staple of depictions of the Invaders, even crossing over into both the 90s Spider-Man animated series, as well as the recent Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon.
Interesting bonus fact: Whizzer was created by artist Al Avison for 1941's USA Comics #1 - along with an unnamed writer who rumor holds may have been Stan Lee.
6. Angel7 of 13
Before there was X-Men's Angel, there was Marvel's Angel... or rather, Timely Comics' Angel.
Debuting in 1939's Marvel Comics #1, this caped crimefighter shares the honor of being Marvel's first hero alongside Namor (more on him later).
Angel was a pistol-totin' pre-WW2 hero that used his status as a millionaire to fight crime. His origin is unique - after his mother died in childbirth, Angel (real name Thomas Halloway) went to live in a prison. No, he wasn't a criminal - his father was a warden, and lived with him inside the prison. That childhood as a prison resident gave him a unique vantage point on the criminal underworld, which he used as an adult hero.
Angel faded away from comic book shelves following the end of WW2 in 1945, returning intermittently every 30 years of so either in a flashback story or a brief modern-day reprise. He was last seen in 2009's The Marvel Project limited series, where he ended up passing the Angel mantle to his grandson, Jason Halloway.
5. Miss America8 of 13
Though she later lent her name to America Chavez, Marvel’s first Miss America was a World War II hero with a significantly different power set, and a remarkable comic book pedigree.
Originally, Miss America was a woman who gained super-strength and flight after tampering with a mysterious machine that had been struck by lightning (back in 1944, that’s as far as comic book science went).
She fought on the All-Winners Squad (the 40s comic book version of the Invaders), and alongside the Whizzer was once thought to be one of the true parents of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.
Interestingly, Miss America was co-created by Otto Binder - who later co-created none other than Supergirl over at DC.
4. Vision9 of 13
No, that's not a misprint. Before the Avengers, Ant-Man, or Ultron, Marvel had a Vision.
Created for 1940's Marvel Mystery Comics #13 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the Vision is a police officer from another dimension called Smokeworld.
While looking for a suitable place to leave a prisoner, the Vision meets a human scientist who asks the green-skilled alien to stay and fight crime on Earth.
(Does this sound and look like DC's Martian Manhunter to you? You're not the only one - although DC's alien superhero didn't debut until 15 years later.)
Like many WW2 era Marvel heroes, the Vision faded into obscurity following the war - only to be brought back intermittently for special appearances. "The Vision" title was co-opted by Ultron's android, with the original Vision returning later - and going by the name Aarkus.
Interestingly, Vision's modern day counterpart shares some Golden Age history with a different character. His co-creator Roy Thomas envisioned the modern Vision's body as being crafted from that of the original android Human Torch - a concept writer Steve Englehart later brought into continuity with Thomas' blessing.
Aarkus last appeared in the 2014-2015 Invaders title, with a brief cameo in Ed Piskor's X-Men: Grand Design.
3. Namor10 of 13
All hail the godfather of Marvel Comics... or simply "Imperius Rex!" if you will.
Namor is Marvel's first hero - initially appearing in a theater giveaway comic story that was later reprinted for the company's first title, 1939's Marvel Comics #1.
Though he was originally a hero, he has since spent equal time as villain (or at least anti-hero and antagonist) to Captain America, the Allies, the Fantastic Four, and most recently, the Invaders, even clashing with the Human Torch in an original Timely-era story which was one of the first crossovers between two Marvel characters.
Namor proved to be one of the most enduring WW2-era Marvel heroes, thanks to Stan Lee reintroducing him in 1964's Fantastic Four as a foil for the team and a sometimes-lover for Sue Storm.
While Namor hasn't held his own ongoing series since 2011, the character has been a major part of events such as Avengers vs. X-Men and Secret Wars, and is now the antagonist in the relaunched Invaders title - with a story titled "World War Namor" coming this summer.
2. Human Torch & Toro11 of 13
When Marvel Comics decided to revive the superhero line of its Timely Comics era with all new characters, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby borrowed the name of one of those original heroes – the Human Torch.
But long before that name brought Johnny Storm to mind, it belonged to a WW2-era android hero who could burst into flame when exposed to oxygen. Fighting alongside Captain America and Namor (after an intense rivalry with the latter, in one of the earliest comic book crossovers), the original Human Torch, Jim Hammond, is one of Marvel’s most iconic WW2 heroes, along with his sidekick Toro, a young boy who could also control flame (and who was the only Invader to survive the war).
Interestingly, the original Human Torch has another modern Marvel connection - one of his early android bodies formed the basis for the body of the Avengers’ Vision, who in turn also shares his name with a less well known 1940s counterpart.
1. Captain America & Bucky12 of 13
An American icon, a national treasure, and in some ways the literal flagbearer for the publisher, Captain America is one of Marvel's cornerstones ... and Bucky has been there all the way.
Inspired by the building tensions in Europe that eventually led to WW2, Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby to be a proponent for the U.S. to intervene against Germany. Simon, Kirby, and Timely faced blowback from anti-war activists and Nazi sympathizers in New York at the time, but they soldiered on to create what became Marvel's first major hit.
After WW2, Cap and Bucky's adventures continued into the 1950s and 1960s - but Stan Lee later retconned those to be replacement heroes in order for a frozen Cap to be found on-ice (and unaged since the 40s) in the early issues of 1964's Avengers. Through it all, Cap has been one of Marvel's key characters - and core leading characters.
For Bucky's part, it was a longtime Marvel tradition that the original Bucky, James Buchanan Barnes, never permanently be resurrected (though the name Bucky was used for other heroes in his traditional role) .
However, he was revitalized and revived in the early 2000s by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting in a controversial but wildly popular storyline which became the inspiration and namesake for the film Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
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