“Secret Wars” has given Marvel Comics the excuse to publish plenty of worthy alternate continuity stories, and this title is one that takes full advantage of the opportunity. “1872” #2 continues the story of an Old West town appropriately named Timely, where Sheriff Steve Rogers stands up to the corruption of Mayor Wilson Fisk by defending the Native American Red Wolf after saving him from a lynch mob. Writer Gerry Duggan takes selected elements of the Marvel Universe and skillfully adapts them into an emotionally intense chapter that’s as convincingly a Western as any other comic in that genre, while artist Nik Virella just as deftly turns back the clock a century and a half to make the characters appear as though they were created for this era.
One of the most convincing such characters has been Tony Stark, who is still the well-to-do brilliant inventor with alcohol troubles, only decked out in dapper 19th century fashions. It’s easy to make every incarnation of Tony Stark a drunk, but Duggan gives him a pretty plausible excuse and doesn’t waste any time doing so by kicking off the issue with a brief but effective and downright disturbing flashback to the Civil War a decade earlier.
Duggan also handles Steve Rogers just as capably by maintaining his familiar role as a fighter for the American ideal while still mourning the loss of his partner. Duggan nails not only Rogers’ characterization (as a sheriff, he wears a star, after all), but also his dynamic with other characters. His sympathetic bond with Red Wolf, his contentious relationship with Natasha (who is now, what else, a widow) and his courageous and sacrificial stand against Fisk and his henchmen are all carefully scripted to keep not only Rogers just as much in character as he ever was, but also those around him, friends and foes alike.
Fisk’s henchmen include Grizzly, Bullseye and Elektra, and each are adeptly made over to fit right into an Old West-style showdown, which they indeed have with Rogers later in the story. Duggan exemplifies the bravery of Rogers in this scene, as he’s literally outgunned and bereft of any kind of strength-enhancing serum or even a shield. Reminiscent of many a classic Western, Rogers takes a stand on Main Street in front of the Timely townsfolk, rallying them to stand up for justice and against the corruption that has become ingrained there. A truly surprising moment caps off this scene, which easily could have served as a cliffhanger ending to the issue, but one that Duggan instead uses to further the welcome development of another character.
Virella is just as skilled as Duggan at evoking the feel of the era, knowing when to stay relatively faithful to a character’s traditional look and when to completely reinvent it. Fisk remains in his trademark white suit, naturally enough, but Grizzly is thankfully given an extremely rough and haggard look and a bearskin as opposed to an actual bear costume. Sharpshooter Bullseye, who doesn’t go by that moniker, nonetheless carries the familiar symbol on his forehead but is dressed just has sharply as his aim.
There is even a nod to the Vision that is nothing short of brilliant, both in Duggan’s idea and in Virella’s execution of it, and this incarnation even ends up playing a key role in the upcoming story twist. One reimagining that’s a little awkward is Otto Octavius, who has apparently cobbled together a multi-armed apparatus that allows him to shoot eight guns at once, not that it does him any good.
Virella adds little touches that both give a nod to other characters from the Marvel Universe and add to the authenticity of the comic’s setting. His style is largely clean but has just enough coarseness to give the art the rough edges it needs to match the dusty, semi-civilized feel of the Old West. His layouts — also in keeping with the old-timey nature of the story — are traditional, with the usage of some inset panels that liven up each page but still convey a more old school feel. It’s a feeling that’s also well-captured by Leonard Kirk on the issue’s standard cover, which is a simple but imposing rendering of Steve Rogers and Red Wolf with just enough of Timely’s backdrop visible to communicate that, yes, this story really does take place in 1872.