I like to think that Marvel’s Comic Publishing department got together one day and said, “Let’s take two things people love: westerns and superheroes, and merge them into one epic genre.” That’s right, the Western, a dying genre that was once a booming part of Americana but has lost its footing in the modern age of pop culture, and the superhero genre…basically the modern western. It’s the current mainstream fad in all things cinema, TV, and (of course) comics. To be completely honest, it astounds me that no one has ever thought to do what Marvel has done with its “1872” series. Yep, they took their successful universe, and as a part of their massive expansion of the Secret Wars, are giving us a first look at what our favorite Marvel characters might have looked and acted like in the classic age of Cowboys and Indians. This isn’t the first time Marvel has played with mixing up the timeline. We saw them successfully bring their characters to the cusp of the 17th Century in “1602”, but while it was a hit for Marvel, many readers found it to be a bit boring and dull. However, as a fan of both classic Westerns and superheroes, I have to say, I’m floored by how well the two genres mesh in “1872.”
As readers, we are quickly introduced to the downtrodden, corrupt, and dangerous town of Timely. Here, you can find average, simple folk, just trying to make an honest living…and the not-so-simple mayors, hitmen, and officials that pull all of the strings. All of your favorite superheroes and villains are here, and while they share common traits and abilities, their roles are drastically different from their modern-age counterparts. Steve Rogers is a struggling sheriff. Tony Stark is a former Civil War weapons dealer with a nasty drinking problem. Bruce Banner, a timid medicine man trying to sell his potions and oils to the townsfolk. Wilson Fisk is the brutal mayor with a severe lack of empathy and care for the good people of Timely. As the first issues progress, you meet many of the familiar characters you’ve known and loved, but there are still several that have yet to appear…perhaps waiting to make their grand entrance into the fray. Maps and Easter eggs hint that we will be seeing Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, Daredevil, and Winter Soldier at some point in the series, but that remains to be seen.
What I find most enjoyable about this new series is the (unsurprisingly) respectful portrayal of both the iconic superhero characters, but also the Western genre itself. At the heart of the matter, Westerns and superhero stories are actually very similar in their storytelling devices and common character traits. They don’t stray from the gruesome, gritty, and downright treacherous lifestyle that the Wild West, and (unlike the “you’re never really dead” mentality of modern comics) they aren’t afraid of killing off a character you just got to meet. And yes, they kill off quite a few well-known villains/heroes, which was a shocking but refreshing revelation for me, personally.
If you haven’t heard of “1872” or if you’re waiting to give it a chance, I’m here to tell you that it’s definitely worth the read. Right now, they’ve only released 4 issues, but I was hooked after the first. If you love your classic Marvel heroes, but are craving a new jolt of energy or just a different direction, give “1872” a try. You’ll be glad you did.
Images Source: Marvel Comics