Book of the week 40: Mystery Men 5

1. Mystery Men #5 (Marvel comics)
This is the last issue of a shockingly awesome miniseries about a ragtag team of 1930’s pulp heroes set in the Marvel Universe. If you haven’t read any of the previous issues, I highly suggest you go and check them out. In the pages of Mystery Men, writer David Liss and artist Patrick Zircher have introduced five brand new and very unique heroes into the history of Marvel. This reads like a very pulpy story and because of this some of the new heroes aren’t very typical. Still, this series has all the traits of a great Marvel comic. Whether you like everything from Captain America to X-Factor, or you´re totally burned out by events like Siege, Schism or Fear Itself, you can’t go wrong with this title.

Mystery Men is (very noirishly) narrated by Dennis Piper, AKA The Operative. The Operative is basically a Robin Hood-esque cat burglar. His pinstriped three-piece suit complete with gloves and a hat is complemented by balaclava (which is totally my word of the week!) face mask. This guy has no superpowers, but in this issue we learn where he has acquired his fighting skills, burglary techniques and thick skin. The series opens with The Operative’s investigation of the murder of his girlfriend. His search quickly leads him in the direction of a dark figure from his own past. Along the way however, he meets four eclectic allies: Sarah Starr, AKA The Aviatrix, the sister of his deceased lover but also a female pilot with her own set of Rocketeer gear; Ezekiel Wright, AKA The Revenant, a Broadway stagehand who uses his skill in visual effects to fight crime; prof. Lewis Green, AKA Achilles, an archeologist who has been tasked by the adversary to retrieve the magical amulet which gives him the powers of the hero of Greek myths at the price of other people’s lives; rounding out the Mystery Men is The Surgeon, a doctor who’s been horribly scared when his house was set on fire because he was tending strikers. Now wrapped in bandages he keeps on playing doctor, his favorite prescription being justice preferably administered through a syringe.

The villains are a group of industrialists who are getting rich by actually causing the Great Depression, lead by an evil maniac, known only as The General. The General in turn is a lackey of Dr. Strange villainess Nox, who has him abducting and sacrificing children to return her to her true form. Last issue our heroes managed to save all but one of the children that where still kept prisoner. The one still missing is the baby of aviator Charles Lindberg, who is especially valuable because his fame will give his death a greater emotional impact throughout America, thus intensifying the power of the demonic ritual.

This final issue sees the group getting back together to thwart Nox and The General for good. As can be expected, it’s full of action. As I mentioned in my review of issue 4, I really appreciate the dynamic panel layouts that Zircher uses for the action scenes. They give the flow of the story a nice acceleration, while also showing how wild and chaotic fights can be. This, together with Liss’ skillful use of pacing the story through different page layouts (ranging from nine panel grid pages, to full-page spreads, and everything in between) makes this a superb read.

I’ll try not to compare the art style with that of other artists, as I am wont to do. So let’s just describe it as a slightly photorealistic version of the Marvel house-style (not surprising as I have found out Zircher is a Marvel veteran), with very effective use of blacks and shadows. Both characters and the scenery look very much like they really are from the thirties, which I guess means that Zircher has put a lot of research into this project.

This issue offers an interesting and satisfying open ending to a wholly original series, set in the continuity of the Marvel Universe. It’s a shame that a title like this may get overlooked because it ‘doesn’t matter to the overall continuity’. I’d like to congratulate Liss and Zircher for creating a landmark stand-alone miniseries. In a mere five issues they have developed a cast of three-dimensional characters that I hope we will see more of in the future.
Art:9               Writing:9.5                 Overall:9


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