It should be obvious to anyone who’s read my books that I love superheroes. Despite this I haven’t picked up very many comic titles recently, for a reason I imagine I share with a lot of older readers: the sheer weight of superhero mythology. What do I mean by this? Simply, superheroes like Superman, Batman, Spider Man, Wonder Woman, and so on, come with stories that have been told and retold so many times that it is virtually impossible to find a story about any of them that is fresh.
Does anyone doubt that, although in DC’s current reboot Superman and Wonder Woman are now an item, Clark Kent and Louis Lane are destined to be together? Nothing wrong with that–it’s Superman’s Story–I’m just saying. One of the things I loved about The Dark Knight Rises is that it actually finished Bruce Wayne’s story; he got his Happy Ending, which is something you won’t see in DC’s Batman comics except for “alternate-Earth” Waynes.
This has somewhat dimmed my enjoyment of mainstream comics over the years, which is why I search for new titles with new stories, stories that are just beginning to build their own mythologies. For one of those, see my review of Wildguard, the excellent but short lived series about a reality show superhero team by Todd Nauck (he stopped writing and drawing it because Marvel and DC paid him too much not to draw for them). And now here’s another new series. Mystery Men is a new story from Marvel Comics, about a group of superheroes active in New York during the Great Depression. As Marvel fans know, although the Marvel Universe (Marvelverse?) has a deep history, its classic superheroes–Captain America, The Human Torch, Namor, etc.–appeared during World War Two; by taking us back before Steve Rogers ever drank the super-soldier serum, Mystery Men can give us a fresh story unfettered by the deep mythology of all that comes after.
So who are the Mystery Men? They are The Operative (a Robin Hood style cat-burgler), The Revenant (a caped and hooded vigilante), The Surgeon (an, umm…), The Aviatrix (a female Rocketeer who made her own jet-wings), and Achilles (the team’s only real superhuman, empowered by an artifact from legendary Troy). Because they are not part of the official future-history of the Marvelverse, the writers keep them in the shadows; their fight mostly goes on outside the public view, or they are branded as villains by the Daily Bugle… Some things never change. Each mystery man has his/her own agenda, but they are drawn together by necessity to fight The General and The Board, and are made outlaws by a corrupt system. Seriously corrupt; in Mystery Men‘s unfolding mythology, the economic collapse of the Great Depression was caused by The Board, a cabal of business leaders who profit by it and intend to start another war to profit from that too. They own the police, the courts, and the press, and intend to own the world.
So how to describe the series? In feel it is a superhero-noir story with dark supernatural elements. The art is well-fitted to the story, and the story itself is original and intelligent enough to engage. It even takes advantage of some little known pieces of history–like the fact that, prior to our entry into WWII, a significant number of Americans supported the fascist movement that was gaining strength in Germany, Spain, and Italy (and no, it wasn’t the Republicans). Mystery Men is a limited series (I picked it up as a complete graphic novel), but it’s a fun read and I’m sure that it will sell enough to continue. If it does, the mystery men will almost certainly find themselves confronting America’s own homegrown Brown Shirts.
One note: the writers are obviously trying hard to link The Board to modern critiques of Big Business ala Occupy Wall Street. In one scene this gets humorously overwrought: the master villain boasts of controlling elections, owning police departments and governments, suppressing unions, running drugs, and increasing the amount of nicotine in cigarettes. Bwa ha ha ha!