Review by Nick Ahlhelm
And that title is Marvel’s Mystery Men. This is not to be confused with Airship 27’s Mystery Men (& Women), the second volume of which I just reviewed last week.
Over the course of five issues, writer David Liss not only introduces five new pulp heroes to populate early 1930s Marvel, he also scripts a compelling adventure featuring all of them. The story starts with the mysterious Operative, easily the most normal of the bunch.
He’s just a man in a trench coat, fedora and mask, but over the course of the series the reader gets a good idea of what motivates him. The Aviatrix may be the most derivative character, basically a female Rocketeer. The Revenant is a vigilante in the Shadow mold that uses tricks and gadgets to appear as an unearthly phantom. Achilles is a young man rejected by his love and left for dead who takes up mystic artifacts to become the most powerful of the loose band of heroes. Finally, the Surgeon is a character in the Spider mold; a man with a brutal history, a terrible disfigurement and an urge to kill as many villains as possible.
The five heroes all enter the series from different angles over the course of the first three chapters, but they all face the same opponent: a madman named the General and his unearthly love interest, who just happens to be an obscure Marvel villain.
David Liss is no stranger to the period, having written several prose novels set in the era. He handles character development surprisingly well for a series jam-packed with characters. The artist, Patrick Zircher, is no stranger to pulp comic fans. Zircher broke in to comics with work on Now’s Green Hornet (alongside Airship 27’s Ron Fortier) and more recently with covers on Marvel’s Noir line of titles. He seems to have a good feel for blending pulp traditions with the superhero art styling of modern comics.
Together the two men have created a really great limited series, a rare breed in today’s comic field. The five issues are now sold out, but fortunately a hardcover edition is now available at comic shops (with bookstore distribution in the next few weeks). Do yourself a favor and don’t pass this one up a second time.
Mystery Men comes Highly Recommended.