At long last, J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston have finished their 12-issue miniseries The Twelve, a cool revival of 12 obscure old Timely Comics characters who existed before Marvel Comics was Marvel Comics. The first eight issues came out in 2008, and then the entire project got put on hold until #9 finally arrived in February of this year. This conclusion has been a long time in coming, and it's been plenty strange, but overall, it's an interesting read that will likely be much better taken all in one sitting in the full collection.
Three of the twelve characters revived have names that have been taken by modern-day Marvel characters. When you think 'Electro,' you think of a Spider-Man villain with a lightning star-fish mask, not the red and yellow automaton who had a unique bond with his creator. When you hear the name Mastermind Excello, you think 'what?' and then maybe, if you're nerd enough, you remember Amadeus Cho has tried to co-opt that name away from the Spock-eyebrowed sneering mentalist Earl Everett. And, of course, when you come across the name Black Widow, you think of the Scarlett Johansson movie star, not a demonic scion named Claire Voyant. At least most people don't – obscure point of reference: According to acclaimed Deadpool writer Joe Kelly, this Golden Age Black Widow was originally going to be the identity of Wade Wilson's Aunt-May figure Blind Al, and would be responsible for giving him cancer in the first place. How interesting would that have been?
Anyway, those are three of The Twelve. Three more of them met their final fates within the last four issues – The Blue Blade (put Green Arrow's head on a gay pirate's body) was killed and the resulting investigation led to the exposure of Dynamic Man as a genderless mad scientist's creation designed to exterminate prurient thoughts (the ultimate social conservative), and that confrontation led to both his demise and that of Fiery Mask, who'd gained his powers through amoral means, but made a final sacrifice to try and redeem himself of the guilt – and transferring his flame-based abilities to Richard Jones, The Phantom Reporter and our point man throughout the entire story.
The Twelve #12 is the denoument, the aftermath of all the death and the resolution of where these surviving characters – all people out of time just like Captain America, frozen in cryogenic suspension since World War II – are going to go with their lives. Captain Wonder got half of his face burned and disfigured during the fracas, but he's still determined to be a superhero, covering his scarred face with a golden half-mask. Now if only he'd wear pants. It's a weird thing – men generally have hairy legs, and Captain Wonder is no exception, but it's so entirely weird to see that in comic books, where most men are completely waxed and shaven clean, legs, too. Yet, Weston's amazing attention to detail does not sacrifice leg hair, and somehow that makes the stalwart hero Jeff Jordan unsettling. Just… just put some pants on, sir. Please.
Mister E retires completely to go be with his family, now that he's trying to make amends for hiding his Jewish nature back in the '40s by changing his name for acceptance, while the burly underground-dweller Rockman may or may not have found the princess he's been searching for since he returned. His status is a msytery, so with any luck, he may show up in a future Mole Man or Tyrannus story with some cool Subterranean action. The Laughing Mask, whose lethal methods have caught up to him, strikes a deal with the government to pilot the Electro robot for them to keep himself out of prison – and now a big old colorful robot is out there fighting terrorists with a giggle mask. That is SURE to work its way into somebody else's stories in the future – as will The Witness, who will ply his spooky no-nonsense justice-hunting trade working for Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. now to hunt down warlords and despots. Will he continue to work for Nick Marcus Johnson Fury Jr.? They've always got many agents all over the place, y'know.
That leaves the three most compelling characters for last. This final issue also gives us the origin of Earl Everett, aka Mastermind Excello, and for some hilarious reason, Weston always depicts this guy as sneering with a contorted look of disgust, like he's constantly either smelling urine or tasting sewage. Yet, he's kind of awesome, even as he tells tales of being a wastrel youth. He's fantastic enough to buy and operate a goddamned detective agency, and hire Claire Voyant and Richard Jones to work for him. The Phantom Reporter gives up reporting for the Daily Bugle, and ditches his snazzy suit-fedora-and-cape look to something a bit more modern, fighting crime alongside Ms. Voyant as Fire and Shadow.
Now that's a series waiting to be spun off. Even if it feels a little cheesy, these are still compelling characters we like and hope to read more about. Let's also hope JMS and Weston can team up for that, too, and keep it on a tighter schedule. Now that The Twelve is done, it remains a cool, interesting series playing with Marvel's Golden Age, and let's hope that it can somehow live on and forge some connection with David Liss' Mystery Men, too.