While I have predominantly been against the concept of Secret Wars and Battleworld because of its universally disruptive nature to the entire Marvel Universe, the tie-ins that are a result are some of the best things going on in comics right now. Much like the tie-ins to the shortly preceding DC Universe event, Convergence, the ancillary titles are giving the creative teams an opportunity to breath and tell some stories off the beaten path. Stories that would otherwise have been likely to ever see a green light from Marvel editorial. 1872, from the creative team of Gerry Duggan and Nicole Virella, tells the tale of versions of some of our Marvel favorites in a late 19th century timeline. In the town of Timely, Steve Rogers is the Sherriff, Tony Stark is a drunken inventor, and Bruce Banner is a meak physician of sorts. Other members of the MCU fill in other supporting roles.
Some of the best characters are the supporting organizations and villains. Wilson Fisk is the corrupt mayor of Timely, and the backstory leads us to believe that he was once honorable and had the best interests of the town’s people in mind. However, with the arrival of the Roxxon Company, which wages ecological havoc in the normal Marvel timeline, Fisk’s will was bent by the iron grip of the mysterious company’s head. Whomever this individual is has also declared himself Governor. The Roxxon Company has erected a dam in order to further the productivity of the nearby mines. This has had, as one would expect, the ecologically negative impact of drying up the river bed that supports a nearby tribe of Native Americans. In defiance, one of the tribe members, a seldom seen Marvel character by the name of Red Wolf has decided o blow up the dam.
Virella’s art is spot on stylistically, while not necessarily groundbreaking. The old West is a tough thing for artists to get down in spirit and tone. The best I have seen at this was probably Mark Texeira, whose art I experienced during his run on Hex in the mid-1980’s. While not a toe-to-toe match with Texeira, Virella has made some interesting choices in her style. I really like young Steve Rogers as Sheriff. Walking into this book, I expected to see an older rendition, something matching a more wizened and grizzled Sheriff in the old west. The tone of that artistic choice is excellent, as it matches how this Rogers is scripted.
In the story, Cap does not come off as someone who has been around the block for 50+ years (time frozen in ice is included in that figure). He is youthful, and idealistic, but not in the “This is how things go when people act this way because I’ve had decades to observe human behavior in peace and in war” sort of vibe that we normally get with Cap. As always, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark are good foils to each other. More interesting is the brief interaction that we see between Banner and Stark. I am hoping that this relationship is expanded upon in the ensuing issues, as I get a lot of enjoyment out of seeing Robert Downey, Jr. and Mark Rufalo doing the same kind of scenes in the MCU.
1872 is an enjoyable Elseworld or ‘What if…?’ kind of tale; the kind that we do not get a lot of these days. It is nice seeing these anachronistic renditions of familiar heroes who are de-powered but still built of the same moral stuff. Scenes with Ben Ulrich and mentions of Aunt May give the strange setting a definitively Marvel theme to the backdrop. And in a very nice touch, the map at the beginning of the comic, with touches of Marvel hero and organization names laid out showing properties, ranches, farms, and establishments is a warm and inviting way to get everyone settled in their seats for a creatively courageous riff on the norm. This one is a keeper, and should play out well. It is unfortunate that we know this cannot continue beyond the end of Secret Wars/Battleworld, so enjoy it while you can.