I am a fan of the noir genre and to a larger degree the noir pulp genre. Two of my favorite series of books are: The Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia (his blog is awesome and you should add it to your reading list) and Nightside by Simon R. Green both of which could be easily considered noir pulp with the former being set in an alternate 1930’s universe and the latter being a modern urban setting. So when I discovered that Marvel had produced a noir pulp title set in the 1930’s I was pretty excited while at the same time my thoughts were tinged with trepidation because it is not easy to walk the line between producing well done pulp and falling off the line into complete and utter drek. Let me tell you that David Liss walked that line with the best of them.
That said I will get my two complaints out of the way first so they aren’t the last thing you read before you go out and buy this series. Firstly, there aren’t enough issues in this series. Liss handles the length with style, but I was left thinking that with so many super heroes being introduced, that we were kind of robbed of what could have been so many awesome back stories. Since there are only five issues in the series there just wasn’t room. That ties in with my second complaint which is that the ending felt a little rushed but that doesn’t take away from the overall storyline. It certainly doesn’t ruin the story in any way. My hope is that some of these characters get their own books and we have a noir universe with a few titles that run for a while. Of course I haven’t seen any plans like that from Marvel but a boy can dream.
So now that I am done whining about how short this series is let me make it perfectly clear that this series is well worth your time. If you have never ventured in to the pulp or noir genres, this series is a great place to start. It is set in the 1930’s and the writing by Liss and art by Patrick Zircher really pull you into the time period. With the 1930’s in full swing, we see the lack of technology available to modern heroes and we are exposed to blatant racism without apology along with a slightly different moral code. In short the world was different then and it is different in the same way when Liss writes about it. I think that the real strength of the series lies in its unapologetic depiction of the time period.
The storyline, without revealing too much, starts like any good pulp: with a murder. Over five issues The Operative, Achilles, The Revenant, The Surgeon and The Aviatrix investigate said murder and stumble on to a much bigger plot with deep implications for one of the heroes. Revelations are given to us, the readers, with precious little warning and nothing is ever as it seems. The original murder uncovers a series of kidnappings involving children that changes the direction of the story and gives it a darker feeling without crossing the line into territory best covered in the horror genre. All the while our heroes are assaulted by Liss’s very believable and very easy to hate bad guys. Liss even manages to grab your heart strings and make you want to turn ahead to make sure the good guys are going to win because if they don’t…
Intrigue and action are the order of the day from start to finish. With heroes that don’t necessarily share our modern moral code, Gods of ages long past, and someone that is almost as much monster as he is hero, Liss juggles a relatively huge cast through twists and turns with ease. Zircher is right there to give us a window in to world that is as rich in background texture as it is in foreground character. Mystery Men lives up to the genre perfectly and is without a doubt going to be a classic. I mean: Men aspiring to Godhood, zepplins peppering the skies. and jetpacks for Pete’s sake! How could you not love a comic book with jetpacks?
I know the comic book market is not a forgiving arena these days and Liss’s closing question “The End?” begs to be answered with a resounding “No”! Liss’s characters breathe new life in to the market and break the standard super hero molds expected from their genre. As I said earlier I really think Marvel could spin this into a nice noir universe and get some real traction from the genre. You all know by now that I love a tortured hero and I would do just about anything to see more of The Surgeon. I have to stop now before I give any more away because I want you to read these books. I mean go buy them now! This is Required Reading.
~ Romeo Sid Vicious ~