“Mystery Men” has been quietly trucking along in the background of the Marvel catalogue without too much fuss. It is really gaining speed as it world-builds on this crazy 1920s stage. It’s a pulp romp that’s more invested with being fun and dazzling than it is with the usual spandex tropes of today. This isn’t splash page posturing, but rather old school seething and revenge plans.
With this, the third issue, the story stops a moment to introduce two new characters to the tale. It could have been a bad thing to stall the narrative for the addition of these two guys, yet isn’t, because both characters are actually interesting. To cram all of these new superheroes into the first issue would have been unwieldy and ruined any kind of plot momentum or creation. As it works here, we have the initial characters, the setting and the complication, and now these men enter in their own space to actually help the book cast a wider scope. It’s great pacing.
The Surgeon is a creepy antihero who matches this pulp sensibility perfectly. His origin starts off simple and you can see the denouement coming a mile away. It might be what you expect but it sets up what comes next admirably. It might not seem obvious to do what he does, and his mode of transport to New York is ludicrous, but it all feels so damn fun. It reminded me of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in that I could get lost in the plot and not worry about the logic. The Surgeon is a big winner in this book. He dominates the page more than any other character has so far.
Then there is Achilles, a scholar turned god-type. He is the one character who doesn’t quite match with the rest in tone, aesthetic, or feel. Yet he makes sense if you think about the Marvel Universe’s relationship with gods. Thor is an Avenger and it makes sense for this group, the Mystery Men, to have their own god. The origin is straight out of a pulp referencing archaeology, mystical science, and betrayal in one fell swoop. This origin had me thinking of Michael Chabon’s creation of Luna Moth in “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.” It’s a little bit silly but seems to know it. Achilles is straight laced but he’ll temper into the team with the others quite well.
Patrick Zircher brings a solid foreground to every panel. His characters are detailed and menacing when they need to be, and clear thought is put into their appearance and physicality. His best pages feature the Surgeon because he brings a dynamic flourish to everything he does and Zircher makes sure to always crop his panels at jagged edges to show his mental state. This is the wild card of the title and Zircher presents that clearly on every page he is in. Andy Troy’s colors bring out the best in all of Zircher’s costume designs and make every page easy on the eye.
“Mystery Men” is a comic that stays reverent to a genre long forgotten and yet breathes new narrative life into it through telling the tale in new and exciting ways. The characters introduced in this issue are packed up and ready to go within pages and that’s a credit to David Liss’ mastery of the form. The Surgeon is a character that commandeers the page and with his origin out of the way there should only be even more crazy situations where he can wield his glowing syringes. Pick up this book if you want pulpy fun where plenty actually happens for your $2.99.