One of the few Secret Wars series not based on a prior storyline, writer Gerry Duggan and artist Nik Virella give Marvel’s pantheon an all-new Old West overhaul. Although the broad strokes tend toward tribute of the Silver and Golden Ages, it’s unfolds with a noir-ish pastiche reminiscent of gritty 1970s cinema.
Like any good “period piece”, Duggan leans full-on into the parameters of his chosen era. What’s really interesting, though, is how the fantastical elements of the superhero world have no choice but to “ground out” amid the relative low-techiness of the pseudo-Frontier environment. As already shown in Age of Ultron vs. Marvel Zombies, any attempt to super-science outside of the box is a punishable offense.
Accordingly, the story itself is fairly straight-forward and easily accessible. What’s even better is how naturally everyone slides into their new roles. Steve Rogers is the Sheriff of Timely, an incorruptible lawman beholden to the ideals of his badge above all else. Wilson Fisk is Rogers’s opposite as Mayor. Needless to say, he too remains true to type- turning a blind eye to Governor Roxxon’s freewheelin’ blasting in the nearby hills for valuable earthen commodities and, generally er… Kingpin-ing his own brand of societal “guidance”.
These two come to cross-purposes when Rogers stops Fisk’s men from killing Red Wolf, a Native American looking to destroy Roxxon’s dam because it’s preventing his people from having water. There’s a bit of classic “cowboy movie” logic involved in the save but whatever- entertainment value far exceeds the necessity to have “Mythbusters” pore over every damn panel.
Red Wolf’s prominent placement isn’t the only Bronze Age-facing component. Reporter Ben Urich’s retrospective voice-over also carries with it a distinctly obvious Miller-era Daredevil flair. Other signposts include a thoroughly-inebriated Tony Stark, no doubt riffing on Iron Man’s seminal “Demon in a Bottle” plot and a brief cameo by Elektra.
Up-and-coming artist Nik Virella is a wonderful compliment to Duggan’s script. Making her Marvel debut earlier this year, Virella delivers ruggedly gorgeous pencils in the vein of Lee Weeks and Mitch Breitweiser. There’s a lotta lines, sure, but the slightly unrefined “scratchiness” matched with super-deep inking make the visuals weighty and compositionally sound. Colors supplied by Lee Loughridge are the deal-sealer to the powderkeg oppression-factor just hanging in the air over Timely. In the art team’s hands, this pensive setting almost qualifies as a character.
Other than showcasing some creative reinventions, the significance of “1872” in Marvel canon is really wide-open territory. Longtime continuity buffs will note that 1873 is typically considered the touchstone year that the Avengers often mix it up with the Two-Gun Kid and his posse (Rawhide, Kid Colt, Night Rider, et al). However, for anyone hoping to catch a feelgood throughline to those bygone tales, this may not be your rodeo. If Urich’s narration and Alex Maleev’s cover tombstone are indicators, dialing the calendar back just that one revolution is going to yield a far different landscape. Duggan and company have decidely placed their townsfolk Avengers on a hard and potentially fatal road to redemption. If anything, 1872 speaks more to hard-boiled drama than any winking salute to Steve Englehart.
The verdict so far is that the good far outweighs the bad but it’s really the last page appearance of the “uglies” that will make you come back for the next round. Giddy up!