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
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
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
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.