For Your Consideration: Marvel’s The Twelve HC

The Twelve HC

The Twelve HC

by Robert Greenberger

Ever since Showcase #4, DC Comics has been using their Golden Age secondary heroes to the point where most comic fans know them as well as their Silver Age and New 52 counterparts (so much so, they even have their own book, Earth-2). Marvel, on the other hand, has been far spottier in using their heroes and heroines from the first comics age. There were a smattering or reprints in Fantasy Masterpieces and their appearance in the climax of the Kree-Skrull War, but for the most part, they went unheralded, even in the Bronze Age tribute book, The Invaders.

So, when Marvel announced in 2007 that they were releasing a book featuring The Blue Blade, The Black Widow, Captain Wonder, Dynamic Man, Electro, The Fiery Mask, The Laughing Mask, Master Mind Excello, Mister E, The Phantom Reporter, Rockman, and The Witness there was a lot of head-scratching go on. Then they said it was being written by J. Michael Straczynski and illustrated by Chris Weston so suddenly, The Twelve sounded like a winner. The book debuted to acclaim in spring 2008 and ran eight intermittent issues before a lengthy hiatus that meant the second half finally was released in mid-2012. Keeping track of regular monthlies is tough so imagine trying to recall subtle clues and details after such a long break. Well, thankfully, the maxiseries is finally being collected in hardcover this spring and the story can be read as JMS intended.

What binds these odd characters together is that each were captured by the Nazis in 1945 and studied so they could replicate their powers and abilities as part of their Master Race plans. The dozen heroes were kept on ice until modern times when they were located and freed. On the surface, the largest theme is that of culture shock (imagine Steve Rogers’ return times twelve) but the subtler theme that comes through is about friendship and what it meant and means to be a hero.

“I wanted to explore their reactions to us, and our reactions to them … what was good about the World War II period that we lost, and what was not so good about it that we’ve eliminated in all but them,” Straczynski told one interviewer.

Housed by the military, we watch each character adjust to the notion that their careers have become superfluous, their friends and family elderly or dead, and their heroic exploits totally forgotten, eclipsed by a new generation of far more powerful beings. One way we see this is through the Phantom Reporter’s column in the Daily Bugle. As a result, he becomes the voice of conscience and omniscient observer of his peers. Some, like Dynamic Man, attempt to revive their careers while Rockman tries to locate the underground kingdom he claims as his heritage and the others question its veracity.

Then there’s the murder of the Blue Blade and the Phantom Reporter’s vow to locate the killer and bring him to justice. That provides Straczynski the impetus to explore each of the protagonists and keep the story moving so it’s not all wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth.

As one has come to expect, JMS handles the characterizations well, mixing the character voices and providing many varied perspectives to their plight. He wisely focuses on the old-time heroes without bringing in today’s generation for purposes of counterpoint. They’re certainly mentioned and S.H.I.E.L.D. plays a part, but it’s really their story.

Weston’s realistic artwork grounds the story in time and place, bringing visual variety to the players and settings. While JMS delves deep into their psyches, Weston makes them move and breathe and his work, based on the crude source material, is exceptional. Rather than bring in a replacement team when both writer and artist got different offers of film, Marvel was smart to ride it out with this duo. The results were worth the wait and the book is a chance to enjoy the series in one sitting.


The Twelve HC


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