Writer: Matt Cherniss & Peter Johnson
Artist: Michael Gaydos (p/i), Lee Loughridge (c)
Well, I missed Sunday's Slugfest review by a few days, so everyone's probably aware of the concept here, but anyway: For some as yet unexplained reason, a psychiatrist, Dr. Watts, wakes up in an alternative Marvel Universe where all our heroes have been rendered powerless...
I didn't know what to expect from this new miniseries: all I knew was that it revolved around the idea of a kind of "What If?" Marvel Universe with no superheroes. Happily, the writers set up an interesting structure from the off, seemingly explaining this alternative reality as a last-gasp fantasy of someone who has lived as a mere spectator in the regular MU. It is too early to tell whether Mr. Watts - the psychiatrist who provides the focus for the tale - will be revealed as a well-known character from the Marvel tapestry, or whether he is a new creation for this series. Whatever the solution, it is clear from his superhero-filled dreams and nightmares that he, at least, senses that something is not right with this new world.
The psychiatry angle allows us to be introduced to all manner of superheroes in nothing but their regular civilian identities - and it is here that the premise provides its masterstroke. By following the Stan Lee template of making the characters central to the story, and the powers merely secondary attributes, Cherniss and Johnson are free to explore the strange foibles of old favourites such as Peter Parker, Matt Murdock and Logan with a fresh eye, asking whether it is brute physical strength or strength of character which really makes them what they are. Matt Murdock is still managing to find ways to attack the Kingpin; Peter Parker is still a neurotic bag of guilt and Logan is still, well Logan (although the pedant in me would ask why a Wolverine without his healing powers wouldn't have died over 100 years ago - but maybe that's just taking it too far). Along with a slew of other superhero (and villain) cameos, we get to see just how close to their regular MU counterparts these "powerless" heroes can be.
Being a fan of Michael Gaydos since his work on Alias, I was expecting more of that same high standard which mixed Marvel Universe superheroics with a far more grounded, realistic tone. I wasn't disappointed, as Gaydos crafts a mundane reality for the Powerless world, contrasting it with the colourful exuberance of the regular Marvel Universe in Watts’ strange dreamscapes. He is aided by Lee Loughbridge's excellently fitting colours, which provide as good a match for Matt Hollingsworth's work in Alias as I could have imagined. Sombre yet unexpected colouring is used to create a fitting atmosphere for a washed-out world without heroes.
To its credit, the series also creates several plot threads outside of its central gimmick. In this way, it is somewhat reminiscent of the recent 1602 - enjoyable as a seperate Marvel reality in its own right, whilst at the same time dancing around the mystery of just who has imagined this alternative existence. It might be too early to be placing bets, but the opening monologue and detached nature of the central character put me in mind of the Watcher (in another 1602 parallel) - even if he has stolen J. Jonah Jameson's moustache.
An interesting concept which gives a fresh take on established Marvel characters. You'll get a lot more out of the idea if you're a big Marvel fan, but it still works as an enjoyable piece of intrigue which I'm keen to see develop further.
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