Ryan is a guy who seems to know a good deal about copyright law. At least, that’s what he’s always bragging about around the office. As such, he’d probably tell you that Marvel Comics bringing back 12 of its forgotten heroes from the 40s would be done solely to preserve the copyright.
That may be why the group sometimes referred to as “the Twelve” have more or less disappeared again.
Just like any publisher from that era, Marvel Comics published many largely forgotten heroes in the early days of the superhero craze of the Golden Age of comics. Many of these characters were forgotten unless someone like a Roy Thomas or a Mark Gruenwald or even a Mark Waid remembered them long enough to reuse them in a story. As it is, the heroes who made up “the Twelve” were not so much of a superhero team as a group of somewhat random superheroes thrust together into a single story by writer J. Michael Straczynski, two of whom shared names with more recent and better remembered Marvel characters. The backstory was that when the allies and their superhero support invaded Nazi Germany, 12 heroes were separated from the rest. They were gassed, captured by the Nazis, and all but one were put into cyrogenic freeze. And the one who wasn’t, well, there was a good reason for it.
Apparently, the Nazis thought they could brainwash these heroes when they started to reclaim their nations. That didn’t happen, so the Twelve were forgotten until modern times when someone thawed them out. As it was all about the Superhero Registration Act in those days, the Twelve were collectively housed in one big house until things could be sorted out. Who were the Twelve?
- The Blue Blade! A swashbuckling guy with a sword more interested in fame and stardom than heroics.
- The Black Widow! A woman named Claire Voyant (no, really) who gained superpowers to punish evildoers after making a deal with Satan (no, really). She was the only female in the group.
- Captain Wonder! A flying strongman who ran around in a costume with bare legs.
- Dynamic Man! A perfected human (in his own words) who also was a major racist and homophobe.
- The Fiery Mask! A scientist turned superhero who gained fire-based powers after battling a giant called the Zombie Master.
- Rockman! A big, muscular brute who claimed to be the king of a lost, subterranean kingdom.
- The Laughing Mask! Just a gun-toting vigilante who wore a mask with a big grin. Kinda crazy actually…
- Master Mind Excello! A top psychic and telepath who sorta foresaw what was coming and set up a fund for himself, meaning he’s superrich on top of everything else.
- Mister E! A powerless guy who hid the fact he was Jewish before he disappeared.
- The Witness! A, uh, guy who found himself always seeing crimes being committed so he could maybe do something about them?
- Electro! A remote-controlled robot who was cut off from the elderly scientist who ran him when the team was captured.
- The Phantom Reporter! Uh, yeah. A reporter with a mask who fought crime. He was more or less the main point-of-view character for the mini-series.
Actually, Marvel did put out a reprint book at one point, showing one adventure each for three of these guys (or more in later issues…I never found out). I remember the Phantom Reporter story because despite a complete lack of superpowers, he killed three men with a single punch. Yes, not stunned. Not knocked over. Killed.
Don’t worry. They were bad guys.
Now the story JMS came up with was a murder mystery as the Phantom Reporter was looking into Blue Blade’s death on the first page. Who killed Blue Blade? Did other heroes die as well?
Alright, in short, Blue Blade wanted to get into show biz with an act that was dated before World War II broke out. He found some success using Electro, and there was a property dispute between the government and the old professor’s surviving family to get him. While Mister E was rejected by his surviving family, Rockman was maybe revealed to be a delusional miner with a bad head injury after getting hit with a gas explosion, and Laughing Mask was arrested for an old murder, Phantom Reporter looked into it while he was sort of romancing the weird, distant, and incredibly creepy Black Widow. Eventually, it was discovered that the killer was Dynamic Man. Why? Well, Blue Blade discovered Dynamic Man’s secret.
Yeah, it seems awful man Dynamic Man wasn’t really a man after all. He killed Blue Blade to keep that a secret, and when the strongest remaining hero (Fiery Mask) was himself killed, the Fiery Mask transferred his powers into Phantom Reporter, allowing him to barbecue Dynamic Man to bits. Captain Wonder was seriously scarred by the flames as he held Dynamic Man down while all that happened. After that, the Twelve went their respective ways. Rockman disappeared. Master MInd Excello retired to a distant farmhouse where he wouldn’t be bombarded by all the minds and electronic signals of the modern world. The Witness went to work for Nick Fury. Laughing Mask was given Electro to kill terrorists. Mister E reconciled with his son. And the Reporter and Black Widow became a new crimefighting team.
And then they were all pretty much forgotten except for Master Mind Excello, who was sort of connected to Amadeus Cho.
So, what did reviving these heroes accomplish? Well, it was perhaps meant to bring forgotten heroes out for future creators to craft stories out of. That appears not to have happened. So, maybe Ryan was right about the copyright thing.