Tag Archives: Pulp Heroes

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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Runners up for week 34: Mystery Men 5, Ultimates 1, Baltimore Curse Bells 1

2. Mystery Men #5 (Marvel comics)
Another one of those series that keeps coming back in top spots on this website. Sadly, the same applies to this series as for Xombi: ‘At least it will be over soon’. Issue five is another great one, I can’t believe this is the first collaboration of this creative team. Writer David Liss (Black Panther: The Man Without Fear, as well as books without pictures and many, many letters) and artist Patrick Zircher (Cable & Deadpool , Spider-man: Noir) these guys are obviously insanely talented. While no new characters are introduced in this classic tale of Marvel pulp heroes during the interbellum, we finally get to see Nox in all her curvaceous evilness, we also witness an interesting change in the main adversary the General. Nothing mind blowing about this series, but man it’s just crafted impossibly good. In this issue we learn that the group of vigilantes has split in two, the Operative, the Aviatrix and the Revenant reject the Surgeon’s methods (‘I like it when their veins are easy to find’). The Surgeon however, comes across Achilles and they form their own dynamic duo. In the end, all heroes meet again and they confront the General in his new (and even more monstrous) form, a struggle that doesn’t fare well for our pulp heroes.
Art:9               Writing:9                    Overall:9

 3. Ultimates #1 (Marvel comics)
Yay! Finally a new installment of the Ultimates that looks as good as it reads! One issue in, I am really, really digging it. While I think the quality was a little less than that of Xombi and Mystery Men, this was flat out the favorite thing I read this week. I have a soft spot for the original two volumes of the Ultimates by Mark Millar and Brian Hitch and this series is tapping back into that. It’s superheroes mixed with politics, realism, intelligence and intrigue and reads like the original Ultimates mixed with a little Queen and Country. Nick Fury is back in the saddle and it’s shown that he has his hands full as we follow him in the ops room, where he is dividing his attention between a border dispute between Uruguay and Argentine that is escalating into a nuclear conflict, rising tensions between the EU and the Norse Gods, a civil war in Thailand, Captain America gone missing, and to top it all off he gets into contact with the evil Reed Richards and his mysterious German-based community. This is writer Jonathan Hickman firing on all cylinders, it’s smart, it’s an info dump, it’s witty and it’s very well written. The pencils by Esad Ribic were great too, I think he can still improve a little. Some scenes looked perfect, others looked near perfect.
Art:8.3                        Writing:8.9                 Overall:8.6

4. Baltimore. The Curse Bells #1 (Dark Horse comics)
I was late for the first series, but now I’m loving this thing from the getgo. I have no idea if the world of Baltimore is connected to the Hellboy-verse, and I have not read the novel which introduced the character. Yet I didn’t have any problem getting into the story during the first series. This new volume explains enough to not have to read anything prior to this. Baltimore hunts vampires, and one in particular. He does this in Germany and Austria during the First World War, only the war has come to a halt because of a plague which is linked to the vampire epidemic. In this new series he continues his hunt, kills a lot of vampires and comes across an entirely new development concerning the vampires. Great atmospheric art by Ben Stenbeck, as can be expected from a book with Mike Mignola’s name on it. The writing by Mignola and Cristopher Golden is just as atmospheric, we really get a feel of the times and the way people think and talk about things like vampire’s and plagues.
Art:8                Writing:9                    Overall:8.5

Runners up week 28: Xombie 4, Mystery Men 2, X-men Schism 1

2. Xombie #4

Frasier Irving's cover to DC's Xombie #4

Frasier Irving's cover to DC's Xombie #4

The current volume of this DC series is the only one I have ever read. Beyond these four issues I have no inkling about this character. But I am loving the hell out of this. This fourth issue has a very striking cover with an image of a giant skull with a fortress on top of it, flying through the clouds. I thought the image was somehow symbolic for what happens in the issue, but as it turns out, the skull fortress is actually a mayor plot point. That’s one of the great things about this series, big and high concepts visualized through gorgeous art and told through near flawless storytelling. While the first three issues had many great action scenes and a high whacky-ideas-per-page-ratio, this one dials down the action to make place for exposition. While the number of big idea takes a drop, the size of them are still pretty fugging huge. Still, that’s one of the reasons this issue was slightly less good (yet still great) compared to the three issues before. The art however is so great I’d eat it up even if it was an issue long conversation between two characters in the same room…
Art: 9     Writing: 7            Overall: 8

3. Mystery Men #2
While I have never really been into the pulp heroes of the early twentieth century, this book  keeps me really enthralled. The story revolves around two masked heroes, the Operative and the Revenant that seem to be placed into Marvels history during the nineteen thirties. Both men are researching the murder of a Broadway actress, to at least one of them the investigation is very personal, for the victim was his lover and the culprit, as is revealed in this issue, has a personal connection too. I have not read any other works by writer David Liss but I would easily believe that this is not his first work in the pulp hero genre. The pulpy noir atmosphere complemented with rich historic details really gives this book a unique feel. The series artist Patrick Zircher adds to this with his moody art style that I can best describe as a blending of Gabriel Hardman and John Cassaday. This guy really has a knack for intense and dynamic action scenes, both though page layout as well as his spectacular panel compositions.
Art: 8.5  Writing: 7            Overall: 7.8

4. X-men Schism #1
At the core of my comic book reading habit I admittedly am a X-fan. After my first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comics it was the X-men that got me hooked on comics. And while my tastes since then have more and more deviated to other heroes, other genres and even other publishers I will always be curious as to the status quo of the X-men. After having left the books for some time, I have been fully onboard again for some time now. And the idea of a good old fashioned brawl between different factions of the X-men has me giddy, just like the good old days! So at least to me, this mini-series provides a very interesting concept. While all the hype is focusing on Wolverine versus Cyclops, near the end of this issue it seems that the classic friction between Storm and Cyclops will be the catalyst for the upcoming schism. I had expected more of the art and liked Pacheco’s .1 issue from a couple of weeks ago much better. Though I can see that this version of his style is more compatible with his followers on this series Frank Cho and Daniel Acuna. The story? One mutant pisses of all of the world’s leaders and does so in the name of all mutants. In reaction anti mutant hostility rises to an all-time high, which is why Cyclops gets ready for war, while Storm argues for a more peaceful approach. It’s told quite effectively and really plays on the emotions on the various characters and their relationships to one another.
Art: 7.8 Writing: 7.8        Overall: 7.8