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Comic Book / The Twelve

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The Twelve is a twelve-issue miniseries of comics written by J. Michael Straczynski and set in the Marvel Universe, featuring the titular twelve, a group of a dozen "mystery men" from The Golden Age of Comic Books, brought back into the strange new world of modern Marvel Earth, shortly after the events of Civil War (2006). It makes use of twelve updated, reimagined Golden Age characters that Marvel wrote about in its days as Timely Comics.

During The Battle of Berlin, various Allied mystery men are sent into the city as part of the final push. One of the impromptu squads of heroes was made of twelve individuals:

  • The sinister, reputedly demonically empowered superheroine Black Widow.
  • The sapphire-clad swashbuckler Blue Blade.
  • The chemically-empowered scientist Captain Wonder.
  • The superhuman "Man of Tomorrow", Dynamic Man.
  • The armored battle-bot Electro.
  • The flame-manipulating Fiery Mask.
  • The gang-busting Laughing Mask.
  • The psychic super-genius Master Mind Excello.
  • The wealthy sportsman turned costumed adventurer, Mister E.
  • The reporter-turned-crimefighter Phantom Reporter.
  • The king of the underworld realm of Abyssmia, Rockman.
  • The enigmatic emissary of fate, The Witness.

The Twelve make their way deep into Berlin, but fall for a Nazi ambush where they are gassed and sealed in cryogenic suspension pods. The Nazis intend to keep them for subsequent experiments in creating their own superhumans, but Berlin falls soon after, and all those who were aware of the capture of the Twelve perish, either during the fighting or in the Soviet prison camps afterward.

Sixty years later, the Twelve are discovered and revived, slowly realizing that they have been brought into an alien new future. Each attempts to adjust to their new life, but not with too much success. Mister E retires and eventually reunites with his family, who had long shunned him for the shunning of his Jewish roots. Blue Blade attempts to become a TV star, reviving an old-fashioned cabaret-style comedy act. The Laughing Mask is sent to jail when forensics confirm him to be the murderer of a crime boss in The '40s. Electro no longer functions and is returned to the descendants of his creator. Excello goes into solitude, as the modern world is far too much for his psychic senses to cope with. Phantom Reporter gets a job writing a column for the Daily Bugle. Rockman remains in the mansion that the Twelve were given to recuperate in, trying to make contact with his kingdom. Black Widow leaves to resume her independent crusade, as does the Witness, and Dynamic Man, Captain Wonder, and Fiery Mask all take the offered job.

And then Blue Blade is murdered, and things start to get strange...

The Twelve provides examples of:

  • Ambiguously Bi: Laughing Mask tells Phantom Reporter that Black Widow will never love him and that "she may have found something more to her liking" over a panel of her in a Goth club with several other women. She also grows close to Laura, a woman she meets at the club. Laura wants to get to know Claire better, but she refuses. However, she also starts a romantic relationship with Jones.
  • Anachronistic Clue: After the Twelve are discovered in modern-day Berlin, they are placed in a "hospital" made up to look contemporary to them to wake up softly. Phantom Reporter notes odd details that don't match up, such as a nurse having a row of ear piercings (they did note to not have her wear more than one earring) and wearing stockings that do not need garters to stay up.
  • Bad Present: Most of them have to deal with either almost everyone they knew being dead, being unable to function in the new time period, or cultural changes they aren't okay with. Excello also has an additional problem - his powers make the cacophony of radio waves, ambient machine noise, and engines that's just normal to us, unbearable and he's forced to isolate himself in a lead-lined room until his brain has realigned himself.
  • Badass Boast: When Dick asks Claire if she's Immune to Bullets, she replies "If I wished you harm, I would not have to be invulnerable to bullets. You simply would never have the chance to pull the trigger."
  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: Dynamic Man, since his messed-up creator, Professor Goettler, considered it a sign of his "superiority" that he would never be tempted by sexual inclinations.
  • The Big Guy: Rockman.
  • Blessed with Suck: The strain of using his psychic powers moves the shrapnel still embedded in Excello's brain a little closer to a vital artery each time he does so, meaning it's inevitable that it will eventually kill him.
  • The Cameo: Splash pages in Book 1 have Captain America, Bucky Barnes, The Invaders, and nearly every other World War II era comic characters that Marvel reintroduced during the Silver and Bronze Comic Book Ages. Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos also appears here, and then in the final issue Nick Fury recruits The Witness into S.H.I.E.L.D.. Oddly included is Night Raven, a Marvel UK character created during the 1980s, who's neither an actual Golden Age character nor a WW2 comics character. (His in-story history has him as a veteran of WW1.) Although considering his early stories were set in the 1930s and his immortality, it's plausible that he was active during WWII as well.
  • Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: A diner waitress who makes conversation with the Witness, is designed to resemble Bettie Page.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Excello says he has prepared for every eventuality within his means, which includes setting aside funds in a Swiss bank account should he end up transported into the future.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: The general overseeing the Twelve tells a descendant of David Rose that he and Rockman aren't the same person because he doesn't want Rockman to be confronted with proof that his family really is dead and gone. His fears may have been unfounded, however.
  • Deal with the Devil: This is the source of the Black Widow's powers, she agreed to perform services for Satan himself in return for avenging the murder of her sister. In return, Satan tasks her to brutally murder people who have committed grievous sins on Earth.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Used as part of the story, to showcase what twelve ordinary people (more or less) from the 1940s would actually be like in the 2010s. It's arguably still rather mild, as only Dynamic Man has any real problems with changing social mores and his true origin is the reason for that.
  • Depleted Phlebotinum Shells: Excello's father was a scientist who came up with a forerunner to depleted uranium bullets that were still radioactive, guaranteeing a fatal wound. Excello taking one such bullet through his corpus callosum enhanced his precognitive powers.
  • Discriminate and Switch: Dynamic Man is homophobic to the point where some of the others wonder if he's secretly gay, and can't be bothered to chase a purse snatcher after learning that the victim is a white woman married to a black man. It turns out that he's disdainful of ANY expression of sexuality.
  • Driven to Suicide: The tragic final fate of Captain Wonder’s former sidekick Tim Mulrooney. After Captain Wonder reveals that he can’t give him a fresh dose of the chemicals that gave them their powers (Tim’s powers had long ago faded away), Tim tearfully dons a cape, mutters “special” to himself, and jumps off a skyscraper to his death. Making matters even worse, Tim already had terminal cancer, so he was going to die soon anyway.
  • Easter Egg: Framed portraits of Baron Von Strucker, Baron (Heinrich) Zemo, and Baron Blood, along with a fallen bust of the Red Skull — all of them prominent Marvel Universe villains originally created as WW2 Nazis — are glimpsed in Book 1.
  • Empowered Badass Normal: At the end of the story, Phantom Reporter becomes the new Fiery Mask.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: The basic setup for the entire comic plot.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Rockman saves the remainder of The 12 when Dynamic Man destroys the mansion but is buried in the rubble. However, when the survivors search for him, they only find a shaft into the earth...
    • Captain Wonder physically restrains Dynamic Man so he can be destroyed by Fiery Mask's powers. Being so close to the intense heat horribly melts the skin and flesh on half of Captain Wonder's face, and him being Nigh-Invulnerable means any surgery to help fix that is virtually impossible.
  • Horrifying Hero: Black Widow, a woman who sold her soul to Satan and who is charged by Satan with murdering evildoers, which she typically does by ripping them apart with her bare hands. In the "bonus issue", depicting the Twelve first meeting each other before their disastrous assault on Berlin, the Phantom Reporter encounters a US soldier who comments on the slaughter he found after she singlehandedly massacred a Nazi defensive post, clearly scared of her.
  • I Just Want to Be Badass:
    • Captain Wonder has to deal with his former Kid Sidekick begging him for a fresh dose of the super-power tonic, as his own superpowers wore off years ago. When Captain Wonder can't give it to him, he commits suicide.
    • Jack Castle suffers from guilt because he knows he actually let the last Fiery Mask die so he could make sure that he was the one to inherit the Fiery Mask title.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Whether or not Rockman really is "the king of Abyssmia" or is actually a miner named Daniel Rose given super-powers by the same tragedy that destroyed his family and friends. He mysteriously disappears after sacrificing himself to save his friends when Dynamic Man collapses the mansion, leaving a miles-long shaft into the Earth behind. In the epilogue of the story, a girl saved by Captain Wonder claims she heard him in the cave where she was trapped, passing on a message to his former friends.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Black Widow, a gorgeous blonde woman in a skintight dress, who is shown she Sleeps in the Nude. Having pledged herself to Satan, modesty isn't exactly a priority for her anymore.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: Dynamic Man seems to be this, having a HUGE amount of prejudice towards minorities; it's even pointed out during the story itself (despite the irony of him fighting actual Nazis). It's eventually revealed that Dynamic Man isn't human at all; he's a lifelike android created by a mentally unbalanced scientist who considered almost everyone and everything to be degenerate and filthy, especially sex and sexuality, which is why he created DM without any genitalia.
  • Never Hurt an Innocent: Black Widow's Deal with the Devil included a promise that she would be sent to kill only the wicked, not the innocent.
  • Passing the Torch: The Fiery Mask's pyrokinetic powers are actually a legacy of mystical flame powers that have to be passed on from one individual to the next to keep them alive. The current Fiery Mask, Jack Castle, actually made up his story of getting them from "the Zombie Master" because he believes he deliberately let the previous Fiery Mask die so he could make sure that he ended up getting the power. He passes it on to Richard Jones when he dies at the end of the series.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Black Widow's essentially became an Evil Debt Collector to people who reneged on their deals with Satan.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Most of them have some degree of this, but they tend to press hard to get over it. It's strongest in Dynamic Man, and was kind of overblown even in the 1940s, which made Phantom Reporter suspect that Dynamic Man may have had reasons for overemphasizing it. This is the most prominent clue that Dynamic Man is the eventual killer.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Deconstructed. A reporter tells P.R. that they want his opinion on a different time, when America was unified against a common enemy and the greatest country in the world... but also a time when segregation was the norm and people still thought it funny that women wanted to vote.
  • Real After All: It's heavily implied in the epilogue that Rockman did indeed find his way back to Abyssmia, and his origin story was not a delusion after all.
  • Retcon: In-Universe, this story does this for the original Golden Age origin stories of Rockman and Fiery Mask.
  • The Reveal: Several of them, actually. But the big one is the climax of the storyline: Dynamic Man isn't Curt Cowan at all, but an android created by Professor Goettler and imprinted with his creator-father's prejudices, especially those relating to sex and sexuality. During his time frozen, his electronic mind meshed with that of the android Electro, and when his disgust at the modern world grew too great, Electro would attack the sources of Dynamic Man's disgust.
  • Rewatch Bonus: There is a lot of foreshadowing put into the story. A major one is that whenever Dynamic Man appears to display disgust at minorities, there is always a sexual element present which is the real reason for his reactions, such as when he saves an interracial couple from a mugging.
  • Ridiculous Future Inflation: Downplayed: When Phantom Reporter gets a job offer from the Daily Bugle, he says his previous salary was $15 a column. The modern reporter tells him they can pay him a bit more than that.
  • Robotic Reveal: Dynamic Man's synthetic skin melts off him, revealing his metal skeleton.
  • Satan Is Good: Whatever it is Black Widow made a deal with, it said it wouldn't use her to kill innocents, only those who'd made a deal with it and had no intention of upholding their end.
  • Scenery Censor: Used during the flashback to Dynamic Man's origin to hide the fact that he is actually an android with Barbie Doll Anatomy.
  • Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny: Dynamic Man is so overtly homophobic people who meet him can't help but think he's gay. He actually has no sex drive or genitals, but his creator had plenty of similar issues.
  • Shout-Out: The issue "The Twelve: Spearhead", set during the war, references Der Fuehrer's Face, with a group of German soldiers listening to the titular song on a radio with one of them actually finding it funny and singing along. The first part of the issue is also titled "Super-Dooper Men", in reference to the song.
  • Steven Ulysses Perhero: Phantom Reporter lampshades that yes, "Claire Voyant" really is Black Widow's real name.
  • Take Up My Sword: Fiery Mask is badly injured during the final battle, and transfers his powers to the Phantom Reporter before he dies, hoping to make up for the dishonorable way he originally gained them. The Reporter uses them to destroy Dynamic Man
  • Values Dissonance: In-Universe, this explains why Blue Blade's TV show never gets off the ground; he's just not funny. That said, the "prequel" mini-story suggests he wasn't really very funny back in the 1940s either.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The final issue covers what happened to the survivors of The 12. The Phantom Reporter becomes the new Fiery Mask and joins Black Widow and Excello as crimefighters, as well as starting a romantic relationship with Black Widow. Mister E retires from heroics to spend time with his now-elderly son and his remaining family. The Witness disappears, with his final communique revealing that he has joined SHIELD as an assassin and will now travel the world punishing evildoers wherever they believe themselves to be safe; Rockman is hinted to still be alive and have found Abyssmia somewhere deep beneath the Earth; Captain Wonder continues his superhero career with a slightly modified mask that covers the burned half of his face; and The Laughing Mask is recruited by the government to be the new controller of Electro and is sent on military operations abroad.
  • Worf Had the Flu: Excello is a genius psychic whose powers include precognition and Super-Senses. However, he's weakened by the modern era due to a higher population and modern technology causing Psychic Static.