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The Twelve Return To Rock

In the last days of World War II, every masked man who was anybody joined in the final assault on Berlin. Even those who weren't actually anybody was there. At least, that's how it went down in the Marvel Universe according to J. Michael Straczynski in this week's The Twelve #1.

And why not? Sure, we know how The Invaders actually took Hitler's bunker (in the only What If --? story deemed actual continuity), so you've seen all the high-profile heroes there before. If you didn't notice the C-team, The Twelve explains why. Falling into a Nazi trap and put into suspended animation for nefarious purposes, twelve minor heroes in the Atlas pantheon simply dropped out of sight. No one cared. No one knew.

Until today, when a construction project accidentally uncovers the lost bunker. And therein lies the tale, as American military sees value in reviving heroes from a more clear-cut, black and white time. These twelve don't exist in the Mighty Marvel tradition, corrupted by a Civil War. They're Americans, plain and simple. It's just never that simple.

The heroes out of time trope has obviously been pushed by Marvel before, most recently with the revival of Bucky Barnes as the Winter Soldier. But the Twelve aren't just out of time; they're almost literally forgotten by fans. Straczynski and artist Chris Weston might just as well have made them up from scratch.

In a couple of cases, they pretty much did. These characters had so few appearances that the creative team had very little to go on. Such freedom means that JMS can actually tell a complete story and not have to worry about outside forces. As good as Thor is, Straczynski still has to work within certain established parameters there.

Narrated by the Phantom Reporter, The Twelve foreshadows its plot fairly well. Not all the characters get time in the spotlight, but with a dozen essentially new characters, it's hard to let them all shine in 23 pages. JMS teases with them, giving the most time to the Reporter, a non-powered hero the supers refer to as a "tourist," and a Steve Rogers knock-off named Captain Wonder. Yet almost every line of dialogue counts toward establishing characters and their flaws, such as Dynamic Man causing a lot of friction.

Toward the goal of character diversity, Weston proves a perfect choice for art chores. With the exception of the Phantom Reporter and the blonde bombshell called Black Widow, none of these heroes would pass as matinee idols. If anything, the artwork supports the idea that, at least in the '40s, anybody could put on a mask and become a hero.

Sometimes that art gets a little out of control. In a couple of shots, Captain Wonder looks a little too beefy, with his face out of proportion. But there's just so much obvious passion in the work, that the flaws are minor quibbles.

Already we know that some will live and some will die - and the subterranean prince Rockman might just be insane. It's enough for a great set-up, and if it keeps up, this might secretly be the best book Marvel puts out in 2008.

Derek McCaw


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