One arena where DC always seemed to have it over Marvel was in their Golden Age characters. Sure, Marvel had Captain America and Namor and the Invaders, but until relatively recently, most of that era's characters had fallen by the wayside in favor of modern incarnations, while the Justice Society of America is still around and kicking (at least until the upcoming DC Reboot). It makes sense, since Marvel didn't exist as a company until the 60s while DC's been kicking it since introducing the concept of the superhero to the world with Action Comics #1.
Over the last decade, Marvel has begun trying to establish themselves a Golden Age of pre-Fantastic Four heroes, with such books as The Marvels Project and their recent slew of "Timely Comics" one-shots centered around characters like The Destroyer, Miss America and the All-Winners Squad, not to mention reviving the Agents of Atlas. Then there's J. Michael Straczynski's miniseries The Twelve, which was doing a great job at bringing a lot of obscure characters from the original era into the modern day – that is until JMS got busy and the series stopped at #8 back in 2008, and we're still waiting for the last four issues. But instead of twiddling their thumbs, Marvel's now brought us Mystery Men #1 to help pass the time.
David Liss' story is set in 1932 New York, an era not often explored for Marvel. Even when they were still Timely Comics, they didn't exist before 1940. That's why he's not taking obscure old characters and reviving them – he's creating new ones instead. In #1, we're introduced to Dennis Piper, a dapper man with a Clark Gable sort of look who secretly works as the masked Robin-Hood-esque thief/hero called The Operative. In the midst of the Great Depression, he feels no sympathy for the spoiled fat cats, so he steals from them, hocks their tawdry baubles and slips the money invisibly to families struggling to make their rents. Gotta love a guy like that. He's got my attention already.
Trouble's afoot, though, when his lady love, the Broadway star Alice Starr, is murdered by a creepy undead army guy sicko with a hook and funky mental powers and some kind of demonic overlord. Then Piper gets framed for the deed, and thus The Operative has to scramble away from all the cops in the city hunting him down. The fix is in, and Piper's on the lam, see, and the only place he's got to go is to Alice's sister Sarah, some kinda crazy dame pilot, see, who just happens to be a dead ringer for his lost lady love. Jeepers, what a tight spot! Thank the man upstairs that the urban legend character called The Revenant drops in to beat up the crooked fuzz, stop bullets with his teeth and settle in for a team-up to find out the skinny on who's trying to gut-shoot an innocent man.
As you might be able to tell, I'm a sucker for stories in this era of Marvel. Liss' dialog isn't really that gangster-movie sort of stylization, but screw it, it's fun. So is this book. I was digging The Twelve, I love Agents of Atlas (although they're 50s and not 30s, but still pre-FF), and I like reading World War II stories about Cap. This is up my alley, much more so than Liss' Black Panther: Man Without Fear stuff – but it helps that I have nothing invested in these Mystery Men and he's free to do what he will with them. Patrick Zircher's art is pretty smooth and likeable, too, and you can't congratulate any noir-era comic book without giving props to the colorist, and in this case it's Andy Troy. Nice jobs all around.
Marvel still needs to finish The Twelve, but in the meantime, I'll eat up whatever these five issues of Mystery Men have to offer.