Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Twelve #1

The Twelve is the story of 12 (go figure) costumed avengers and their adventures near the end of the European front of World War II. Days before Hitler's death, the superhuman community could smell the blood in the water, as the final tide turned in favor of the Allied forces. Eager to share in a historic moment, everyone with a mask and an alter ego flooded the streets of Berlin. In search of a nest of snipers, 12 such heroes entered a decimated bunker, but found an ambush in its place.

J. Michael Straczynski does a tremendous job of introducing the group. It's a terrific challenge to launch a new book based around 12 heretofore unheard-of characters, but he pulls it off. The historic setting is a plus, too, and provides a sound excuse for some of the characters' more needlessly eccentric tendencies. The 40s were a different time, and these guys are clearly a product of that era, which is something the story really hinges on when the issue's first big twist hits.

Straczynski shoots for the sky with this story, and for at least this first issue he hits the target. I can't really say much about the subject matter without giving away some major spoilers, but around the midway point of the book, when you realize where it's going and what kind of issues he's planning to confront, it suddenly dawns on you that there hasn't really been anything quite like this before. He's delivered an opening chapter that lays the groundwork, establishes the cast and gives readers just enough of a tease of what's on tap to hook them for the next few issues.

Chris Weston works an extremely strict, detailed style that's a welcome change of pace from the cartoonier fare filling a majority of the other books on the market. I can't help but think his work would be better suited to a non-superheroic subject, since his costumed vigilantes usually look awkward and uncomfortable within the super-realistic environments and backgrounds, but he isn't exactly narrating an issue of Infinity Gauntlet here. In fact, most of the heroes he's working with are dressed rather casually (that means a minimum of spandex), which should keep readers from noticing how bad his work on that type of wardrobe really is.

His backdrops are just breathtaking, though. He almost never skimps on that front, and actually seems to welcome the challenge of a new locale. When the heroes invade a ravaged war shelter, for instance, the floors are littered with fallen trophies, burning embers and cracked support beams. He doesn't need to go into so much detail, but since he does it gives the book an added dimension that's rarely seen and even more rarely successful. The closest thing I can compare it to is Gene Ha's contributions to Top 10 or Geof Darrow's Shaolin Cowboy. So much time clearly went into the backgrounds that I constantly found myself refusing to move forward in the story until I could absorb it all. This is about as closely as I can imagine anyone coming to an accurate representation of a gang of costumed men doing battle for the Allies in Nazi Germany.

This has the potential to be a real barnburner, which is typical of the writer's previous work. I've yet to read a first issue penned by JMS that hasn't fascinated me with a strong premise and the promise of bigger things to come, and this story continues that trend. His problems in the past, at least with both Rising Stars and Midnight Nation have come with following through. If he can match the tone he's set in this first book with forthcoming issues of The Twelve, it's set to be a fantastic, landmark series. However, if the writer's track record continues, it'll immediately dive into a plodding series that never matches the intensity of its premiere and eventually grinds to a halt. But hey, that's neither here nor there. As far as first issues go, this is pretty damn good. Buy it and see what I mean.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 9

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