October 23, 2011

Pulp Fiction Marvel Style: A Review of MYSTERY MEN

Every once in awhile, Marvel does something in its comics that actually surprises me with not only how good it is, but how much I like it.

I had heard multiple praises given to their recent Mystery Men miniseries (which is due out in hardback in July, if Amazon.com is to be believed)...and quite frankly, having gotten my hands on all five issues, I have to say - it's definitely worth the hype.

In the past few years, Marvel seems to have been taking a lead from its Distinguished Competition - while the latter has been working towards distancing itself from its past (to the point of last month's reboot), Marvel seems to be building upon its Golden Age past, creating unique series that take advantage of its characters and recasting them in a slightly different tone.

Mystery Men goes one better, as writer David Liss (whose
work on Black Panther: The Man Without Fear I really enjoy) gives us some new, pulp fiction-inspired Marvel characters, yet sets this series firmly in the Marvel Universe. It's really cool, having had some casual exposure to the pulps, to see the various sources and archetypes that fueled these characters (You say "Surgeon", I say "Spider"; you say "Operative", I say "The Shadow with a healthy side order of Raffles").  It's also a story that really engages and has some great Marvel-style shadings, and Patrick Zircher's art? Simply incredible - solid, driving, and has the same effect that Weston's art had in The Twelve - creating this unique historical context while simultaneously giving the story a sense of realism and groundedness that a story told in this manner needs.

Marvel's also showing a great willingness to take creative chances, but keeping those efforts within its smaller books. Its expansion of its "cosmic" line in recent series like Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy is a great example - yes, Marvel does engage in "Big Events", but their strategy seems to be allowing Big Event sales by driving creativity and expansion in its smaller books. Their willingness to take on a "pulp"-flavored book is surprising. Perhaps in these troubled economic times, there's the feeling that looking back into the past and seeing how pulp fiction provided simple escapism can fuel some great creative efforts. Since this series is also building the Marvel Universe with new characters, there's a great potential for this to "trickle up" into current Marvel continuity.

Although the collection will not be out until January, you might wish to head down to your local comic shop and purchase all five issues. Trust me, you don't want to wait until the collection to enjoy comics that are this well-written, well-drawn, and well-read. Mystery Men, quite simply, is that good.

Buy this. Now.