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San Diego Comic-Con 2007

San Diego Comic-Con 2007: J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston Tap Into the Golden Age with The Twelve

By Eric Drumm

Inked art from
The Twelve

You may not remember, although your grandpa might. In the 1940s, Captain America and the Invaders weren't the only heroes meeting the Nazis on the battlefields of Europe. There were others who put on a mask and fought the good fight, although you may not have heard of them. Characters like the Phantom Reporter and Dynamic Man slipped through the cracks and faded away without so much as a memory. Digging into the history books, Marvel icon J. Michael Straczynski and absurdly talented artist Chris Weston (FILTH) bring you THE TWELVE, your new favorite heroes you didn't even know existed. Back before Stan Lee and Jack Kirby constructed the Marvel Universe as we know it today, what would become Marvel already had a rich stockpile of men in tights. Heroes from Timely Comics, the precursor to Marvel, and the early Marvel heroes like Namor and the Human Torch fought side by side. However, some remained in spotlight for decades to come while others disappeared into obscurity. Smelling an opportunity, Straczynski wondered how a '40s-era hero would fare in today's Marvel Universe. The result was THE TWELVE, a group of heroes in a Nazi-induced cryo-freeze and then thawed out today. "To a degree, it came out of thinking about the whole issue of registration, and why Captain America opposed it so strongly due to the period of our history that was his starting point, the ideals and the principles that came out of that time," he explains. "In thinking about how other characters from that time might have reacted, I began to wonder what characters we simply haven't seen in fifty years...are there other Marvel/Timely characters who haven't been around since then? "So I contacted [Executive Editor] Tom [Brevoort], who put together a list of heroes that literally have not been seen or used by Marvel since right around the war years," Straczynski continues. "I went through that list and pulled out the characters that I thought might make for the most interesting transition to modern times--some would adapt well, others not so much--and dropped them into a Nazi cryonic suspension lab in order to bring them into the present, on the theory that they were captured during the last days of the war."

Blue Blade
character art

A story like this would no doubt be jam-packed with confused characters. Fighting Nazis one minute, and then when you wake up--it's fifty years later and everything is quite different. Not only drawing both worlds and then the raw emotion that comes with being in a foreign time, Chris Weston trusted Straczynski to tell a story about the Twelve as people, but also toss in some Nazi battles and blistering action. "The scripts are so concise, succinct and complete, that I decided the best way to serve the story was to translate them into art as faithfully as I can," confesses Weston. "Past projects have often required me to throw in everything but the kitchen sink and swamp the page with extraneous detail. That wouldn't have worked on THE TWELVE. I had to direct the focus onto the characters and the words JMS has lovingly crafted for them. "This is a character-driven story, so I would have to say helping bring JMS' fabulous and complicated cast to life has been a challenge and a joy. I hope I've done them justice." The premise of THE TWELVE may sound eerily familiar to Marvel fans. Captain America, the recently-deceased champion of World War II suffered a similar fate when he was frozen in the Atlantic and lost to the world until his discovery by the Avengers. In the case of the Twelve, its kinda like that. Times twelve! However, just like Cap, coming back from the dead might not be so sweet. "It's about culture shock, about how they adapt to a time when everyone they knew is dead, about our sense that things were better back then and maybe they were in some respects, but not in others," says Straczynski. "It gets into race relations, sexuality, the role of the government, tectonic shifts in how we define ourselves...all set against a murder mystery and our discoveries about who these people are. "Each of them has an origin story that will come out during these twelve issues, origins that are in many cases quite bizarre and in other cases may not be quite what they, and we, initially believe," JMS adds. "There are mysteries wrapped inside mysteries." To fully express that each member of the Twelve is different, it was a chance for Weston to truly stretch his pencil. While all their heroes did in fact enjoy a publication life at some point, Weston was still presented with an opportunity to put tweaks on the look of the Twelve while still keeping the capes, fedoras and Tommy guns in tact.

Mastermind Excello
character art

"I tended to cast the characters with thespians from the same era that the original comics were set in," explains Weston on his points of reference for the art. "The Witness owes a lot to James Cagney, The Black Widow is Veronica Lake, the Blue Blade is Errol Flynn turned up to eleven, Sterling Hayden would be a great Fiery Mask. I hasten to add I didn't use any photographic reference to produce this effect, but just keeping these actors in mind helped me to capture the attitude and body language the characters should display." Once the Twelve are all thawed out, their lives restarting, where do they go from here? How will they come to terms with all the lost time and the scary, uncertain place the Marvel Universe is today? It's possible that they may never find those answers, but one thing is for certain. Real heroes live to defend justice, and these guys are originals. It's safe to assume that the Twelve will slip back into the cape like they never lost a day. Or will they? Wake up to a brand new world with THE TWELVE written by J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston, launching in early 2008.

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