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Review: THE TWELVE #1 from Marvel Comics

The creator of Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski, “discovers” twelve heroes lost since 1945 in Marvel’s latest 12-issue maxi-series.
What does all of that tell us about Straczynski’s latest title, The Twelve? Unfortunately, not much. Beyond a few snatches of good dialogue and one laugh-out-loud moment, there’s really nothing very new about the basic concept of the title and the issue held few surprises (I actually guessed the “surprise” ending a few pages into the book). As for the artwork of Chris Weston, it was consistently…good, but a bit “wonky” at times.

The story begins in Berlin during the final days of the Nazi regime. The narrator, who we find out is a “tourist,” a non-powered hero with a mask, sets the scene for us:

Every allied superpower, every man, woman or half-assed sidekick who had ever worn a costume, had descended upon Berlin.

By random chance, twelve disparate heroes descend upon the SS headquarters and fall victim to a Nazi trap. They are quickly subdued—even “Master Mind Excello” who can supposedly see his own destiny—and placed in “freezing tubes” to be defrosted after the Americans leave Berlin to deal with the Japanese. Unfortunately for our heroes, it’s the Soviets who occupy that section of Berlin, so the Nazis never come back for them.

Fast-forward 60-plus years and the freezing chamber is accidentally discovered by a German construction crew. Of course, the US military is called in and they discuss whether or not they’re going to thaw them out. The ranking officer gives a nice speech about the lack of trustworthy heroes in today’s society—referencing the recent Civil War storyline—but it’s clear that, as a military-minded individual, he’s planning on using them as weapons.

Umm…WWII heroes frozen…accidentally discovered and defrosted…

The military sets up a Truman Show-esque reality for them, complete with vintage magazines and old tunes on the radio, but the ruse doesn’t take with the shrewdest of the bunch who notices that the nurse has three earring holes in her ear and no garters on her stockings. Seriously? A friend of mine failed to get a job as a hostess at a steakhouse because she had too many holes in her ears and you’re telling me that the US military, which took the time and effort to build a completely fake reality to confuse twelve costumed heroes, is going to use a nurse with too many puncture holes? C’mon!

This is award-winning writer Straczynski we’re talking about, so the story structure is pretty solid. He gives us a brief snapshot of each character and sets up the rest of the series in this one issue. There are also a few funny moments, such as when the lascivious Nazi commander feels up Black Widow as he puts her in the freezing tube, something I missed the first time I read the book. One of the gems comes when our narrator, the Phantom Reporter (PR), tries to convince another hero to break out of the fake hospital with him and the guy doesn’t recognize PR without his mask on. PR’s response to that is priceless, so I won’t spoil it for those who intend to pick up the book.

When push comes to shove, the military is forced to reveal to the heroes what has happened to them and they all agree to put their talents to use for the good ol’ US of A—even Rockman, the supposed ruler of a race of underground people that he hasn’t seen in 60 years.

Altruistic relics of the past…confronted with the cynical reality of “the future”…hmm, that sounds familiar…

Captain America is only the most obvious inspiration for this plot, but there’s also Watchmen, The Golden Age, Astro City, Battle Hymn, and a number of others. The whole concept is just too…familiar. Despite this, The Twelve will likely appeal to die-hard comic book fans who love a good character resurrection—as long as you can then promptly drop your hero right back into the meat grinder, as Straczynski is likely to do with these twelve—and old-timers who will recognize several of the characters from their appearances in Timely Comics, Marvel’s predecessor.

Chris Weston is a British artist who has worked with some of today’s best writers, including Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis, but his art isn’t strong enough to carry the book. His style is reminiscent of Dave Gibbons, with a little Brent Anderson and Wally Wood mixed in, which isn’t a bad thing. His storytelling is good, but his anatomy and perspective go from “right on” to “oops” from panel to panel.

I’m only giving this title one more issue to surprise me before I cross it off of my “pull list.” I give The Twelve #1 only three “FISTS” out of five.

3 Mortal Fists

The Twelve #1 is on sale now!

PRICE: $2.99

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Brent Sprecher
Earth's Mightiest

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