Mighty Week of Marvel #13

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A strange mix this week, so before we get into what’s going on in the modern day Marvel Universe, let’s look at some of the strangest stories of all-from the 1940’s, the Golden Age of Timely Comics!

The Twelve, the saga of a dozen minor league super doers not seen since the ‘40s who are awakened in the present day, has proved to be one of Marvel’s more unexpected triumphs. But so far, we’ve spent a lot of time looking at how these heroes adapt to the 21st Century and very little learning who they were to begin with.

‘The Twelve Hall of Fame’ #1 at least partially redresses the balance, as it reprints five classic strips from the ‘40s featuring three of the twelve in question-Rockman, the Fiery Mask and the mysterious Mister E! Admittedly, the Rockman strips are quite bizarre by modern standards (in one of them, the ‘Underground Secret Agent’ fights evil pixies to rescue the daughter of the King of the curiously fairytale looking country of Jurgoslavia, eventually solving the problem by ‘spanking the evil little men, two at a time’).

It’s no wonder J. Michael Straczynski decided to retcon away Rockman’s Golden Age exploits as at least partly delusions. And the others are pretty weird, too, though charming with it, in a strange way. But if you’re a fan of comics’ history, these little oddities are a great look into the past of these curious heroes, and for the more cynical among us possibly also an indication of just why The Twelve were forgotten for so long…

Continuity: Rockman debuted in USA Comics #1, 1941, and went on to feature in the next three issues before vanishing into obscurity. The Fiery Mask originally appeared in Daring Mystery Comics #1 91940), #5 & #6 and Human Torch Comics #2, while Mr. E appeared just once-in Daring Mystery Comics # 2(1940)-before resurfacing with the others in The Twelve #1 (2008).

Back in the sane and sensible present day, Ms Marvel Annual #1 finds Ms M and the ever amazing Spider-Man fighting giant robots that started out as cars (hmm, sounds familiar…) and a man with the oddest multiple personality problem you could imagine, while bickering over which Avengers team is best.

It’s a fun, inconsequential but entertaining little story, but it’s really far more about Spider-Man than it is about Ms Marvel. Still, so long as it’s worth reading, who cares, right? Oh, and for the record-this is set before Secret Invasion.

Continuity: Spidey first teamed up with Ms Marvel way back in Marvel Team-Up vol I # 62(1977), but they didn’t argue so much back then.

Speaking of Secret Invasion, Ms Marvel also appears-albeit briefly-in Secret invasion: Front Line #3. The main story, though, is still that of the citizens of New York and how they are coping with the Skrull incursion. As Ben Urich tries to lead a group of survivors to safety through the subway, an ordinary cop makes an extraordinary choice and a scared little girl proves to be a hero in the latest installment of this thought provoking series.

X-Men: Manifest Destiny #1 focuses on three of the lesser names in the mutant pantheon. First of all, Iceman finds himself losing control of his powers due to the manipulations of Mystique, who has been impersonating his ex-girlfriend Opal Tanaka. Mystique shot Iceman with a ‘neural inhibitor’ some months ago, and it now seems that may have been part of a long range plan, so it’ll be interesting to see if this story leads to any significant changes for the X-Men’s walking icicle.

The first of two back-ups in this issue is a lighthearted tale of Tabitha Smith, AKA Boom-Boom (and ‘Boomer’ and ‘Meltdown’). It’s fun, but it does seem a little unlikely that even Tabitha would never have considered using the internet as a research tool, before. Finally, Vietnamese mind controlling mutant Xian Coy Manh, AKA Karma, features in a downbeat tale which may be intended as a primer for a limited series later in the year.

Continuity: Opal Tanaka was introduced in X-Factor#51 (1990) and has appeared infrequently since that series ended. Tabitha Smith debuted in Secret Wars II #5 (1985) as Time Bomb, and joined the cast of X-Factor soon afterwards as Boom-Boom. Later, as a member of X-Force, she changed her name to Meltdown. She has also been a member of the Fallen Angels and, more recently, the Nextwave Squad.

X-Men Origins: Beast #1 looks back at the history of the inimitable Henry P McCoy in the latest issue of this beautifully rendered series. Desperate to hide his tremendous intellect from the world in order not to be ‘outed’ as a mutant, Hank McCoy’s life changes forever when a blossoming ‘career’ in high school football brings him to the attention of the deranged Conquistador…and leads him to a fateful meeting with the mysterious Professor Xavier!

Continuity: The story is a fleshing out of the story which ran in X-Men #50-53 (1968-69) as part of the ‘Origins of the Uncanny X-Men’ series. BF spoke to Mike Carey, author of this retelling.

BF: Over the last few years, there have been a number of attempts to revamp the early years of the X-Men and supposedly make them more accessible to new readers-first X-Men: Children of the Atom, which seems to have been quietly forgotten, and now X-Men First Class. This series, though, seems to be remarkably faithful to the past so far-and this Beast story seems to be a pretty direct retelling of the one in the sixties issues. Were you not tempted to update it a little, or are you not a fan of retcons?

MC: I pretty much despise retcons. I’ll add a proviso to that: Sometimes a re-imagining can be so brilliant and striking that you really don’t give a damn whether it was part of the original conception of the character or not-as with, say, Alan Moore’s take on Swamp Thing. It’s a retcon insofar as it wasn’t what Wein and Wrightson had in mind when they started out, but it plays by the rules, contradicts nothing that was factually established and actually enriches the character immeasurably. So that’s fine in my book.

But just pretending something didn’t happen because it’s convenient, or changing crucial details to allow you to pull a character or a series in a new direction, is almost without exception a bad idea and an insult to long term readers. Note the adjective “crucial” there. I think it’s OK to change smaller things, incidental details, the minutiae of dialogue, without apology. And where a Silver Age story sort of doesn’t hold together by its own internal logic, it’s OK to tweak logic so that it makes better sense. Everyone is going to draw the line in a different place, though. There are some changes here from the classic story, most notably in the character of the Conquistador and how he’s presented. Those changes didn’t trouble my conscience.

More continuity:  Norton and Edna McCoy eventually regained their knowledge of their son’s existence (removed by Professor X in this story) but have never fully accepted his mutation, something which later  became a significant plot point in Marvel Team-Up # 124 (1983).

Dead of Night: Devil Slayer #1 is a follow-up of sorts to the recent Dead of Night series which focused on Man-Thing, amongst others. This series is a little different, though, in that-while the last series looked at established Marvel horror characters from a more adult perspective-this series seems to be giving us a totally new version of one of those characters.

The star of this book is not Eric Simon Payne, the Devil Slayer most recently seen in Avengers: The Initiative #14 a couple of months ago, but  Sgt Danny Sylva, a disillusioned soldier serving in Iraq who discovers a dark secret connected to a mercenary force called Bloodstone. Whether Danny’s story has any connection to the already existing Devil Slayer character is something we’ll just have to wait and see, but this is looking as though it’s going to have a harder edge than most of Payne’s adventures-and Payne was never a fun, lightweight character!

Continuity: the previous Devil Slayer, Eric Simon Payne, first appeared in Marvel Spotlight #33 (1977) before going on to join the Defenders, and has appeared infrequently over the years. He was actually a reinvented version of a previous character, Demon Hunter, whom his creator Rich Buckler had developed for rival company Atlas-Seaboard Comics in 1975.

Elsewhere, Venom’s dark origins continue to unfold, appropriately enough in Venom: Dark Origin #2, while Sub-Mariner: the Depths #1 takes a similar look back into the past of Namor, though told from the point of view of a scientist attempting to prove he doesn’t exist.

Meanwhile, Frank Castle’s private war with Jigsaw comes to an unexpected conclusion in Punisher War Journal #23; Tony Stark comes face to face with the son of Stane in Invincible Iron man #5, Sersi takes on the Dreaming Celestial in Eternals #4 and I’m not even going near Marvel Apes #1…(oh, OK-but don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

Panel of the week

Marvel Apes #1

“and if you think this is weird, you should see the rest of the book…”

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