Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Twelve: Spearhead

The Twelve: Spearhead is in many ways a successful one-shot. Minus the writer of the maxi-series, Chris Weston steps in the writer's shoes and produces a title that fits fairly seamlessly with the maxi, aided by the fact that he's also doing the artwork. He manages to keep the same sensibilities, the characters on model as far as the other series is concerned. He ably apes the language and individual voices and styles of the various characters, to the point that they are almost parodies, especially Dynamic Man.

And, it's part of the failure of the book as well. He manages to tell a story showing a bit of what the heroes did during the War, but without revealing much that is new regarding the characters' motivations and story. At best, he provides some context for the characters, where they fit in with the heroes we do know about. We find that the Phantom Reporter has had a thing for the Black Widow before now, how Electro got "Berlin or Bust" on his chest, and Rockman's real history has gotten a little murkier as JMS has set him up as someone who is a bit delusional, that his background as being from an underground race being a fiction of an addled mind. But, if that's the case, where did he get the burrowing machine? Other than that, the characters don't really do anything that they haven't been shown to do so far. Thus, the Fiery Mask who should be one of the most powerful characters does nothing as his "real" origin and back-story haven't been revealed yet. Mr. E is just a hanger-on, to show reaction to the extermination of the Jews, the Blue Blade does entertainment and the Laughing Mask kills captured soldiers.

Weston's not a writer. On one hand, it works as we get more action in this one book than we've gotten in 8 issues of the maxi-series. But, he wants to tie it in to as much continuity minutiae as possible. We have references to the death of Citizen V, the "death" of Captain America & Bucky, the Human Torch's assignment to kill Hitler, the Whizzer & Miss America being a couple, Rockman being called the Underground Secret Agent, Nick Fury's loss of eye and his postwar career, etc. The Phantom Reporter comments about feeling like a tourist while Dynamic Man keeps spouting homosexual slurs and references in every word balloon. None of the heroes yet to appear in a modern Marvel comic appear though there is a reference to Captain Daring. This attention to detail is jarringly derailed when we have a scene showing the exceptional but normal Patriot and the Black Marvel lifting an anti-aircraft gun over their heads. Weston also confuses "underworld" with "underground" at one point in referencing the Phantom Reporter.

And, it's saddled with the weaknesses of the main maxi as well. The original characters and their stories are full of wonder and backstory which the maxi-series alternately ignores or chooses to contradict. Likewise, this one-shot doesn't really capture why these characters can be so cool or dynamic. Part of that is because this title and the maxi are about getting across a hyper-realism. It's about being serious and adult and thus we have the homosexual innuendos spouted by Dynamic Man, a scene clearly implying the sexual relationship between the Whizzer and Miss America but not the romance. Heroes use guns to shoot unarmed men, Electro is shown graphically ripping a man in two when he could just as easily knocked him for a loop (and more quickly if you want to be "realistic" whereas the time spent on this brutality would allow the other soldiers time to keep firing at you and those you're trying to protect) . Even the talk about the extermination of the Jews doesn't really display the horror of that act as much as it's played for the reaction of Mr. E who denies his heritage. What we have is NOT something about the horrors of the War, that gets across the brutality of the War and the heroism of the super-heroes and the soldiers despite some lip service, but is really about showcasing the feet of clay of the heroes and their flaws. Instead of being a superhero story set in the milieu of WWII, it's more of a story about superheroes, looking at them through post-modernist eyes with a backdrop of the War.

And, just to add insult to injury, Captain America is shown wearing one of his retconned uniforms with a stencil style A on his mask, a military belt, stitching down the sides of his boots. More "realism" at the expense of sense of wonder that comes with superheroes and their costumes.


Steveland said...

Maybe it's just me but I also think on Captain America's 'realistic' WWII outfit there's a hint his pants actually has a fly! I don't believe I've ever seen that on a (serious) superhero costume before.

cash_gorman said...

Yep. In the panel where the Phantom Reporter bursts in on the meeting, it looks like he's wearing standard pants albeit tight ones with a fly flap on the front. Other places he's wearing the blue trunks over blue tights, but with seams everywhere (his trunks have seams on the side AND down the middle in the back) Way over-literalizing the costume in order to make it appear more realistic.