Posted by Don MacPherson on February 8th, 2008
Project Superpowers #0
Writers: Alex Ross & Jim Krueger
Artists: Doug Klauba, Stephen Sadowski & Alex Ross
Colors: Captain Moreno
Letters: Simon Bowland
Cover artist: Alex Ross
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Price: $1.00 US
The creative team that’s delivered big hits for Marvel and DC — such as Earth X and Justice — comes to a smaller publisher to tell a similar kind of story — same atmosphere, same approach to the visuals — only with public-domain super-hero characters. I rather enjoyed the idea of such high-profile talent working with a smaller publisher, and there’s no doubt that Project Superpowers will serve as a feather in the cap of the relatively new publisher with a nice diversity of titles. Still, there’s no doubt the creators on this comic book are facing something of an uphill battle. They’re trying to tell a story about iconic super-heroes with properties that are, at this point, little more than obscurities and curiosities. Furthermore, their target audience tends to be super-hero fans whose interest rarely ventures outside of the Marvel and DC Universes. Furthermore, Marvel beat Dynamite to the punch with its story about little-known Golden Age heroes in the 21st century with J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston’s The Twelve.
But the biggest challenge for Ross et al is that this first look at Project Superpowers is poorly constructed. The storytelling is disjointed, so much so that one has to wonder if pages are missing or if the reader is being offered random excerpts from future issues. I admit that the creators’ handling of these decades-old, campy characters is adept; they make the transition from the cruder super-hero storytelling of yesteryear to a more serious take pretty well. The pacing and flow of the script (or lack thereof) overwhelm the strengths.
In the wake of World War II, the Fighting Yank is singled out among all of America’s colorfully clad heroes to undertake a special mission for the burgeoning C.I.A. Using a mystical artifact stolen from the Nazis, the Yank is tasked with the ultimate mission: to save the world from a potential apocalypse. But the confused and misunderstood hero has come to believe that in order to do so, he must trap the essences of his heroic comrades in an arcane vessel. His actions — which robbed the world of its greatest champions — have haunted the Fighting Yank for decades, and he’s plagued by one question: did he do the right thing?
Artists Doug Klauba and Stephen Sadowski have done an excellent job of capturing the general style and appeal of Alex Ross’s artwork in the interior visuals. The airy colors also reinforce that notion, bringing a refined, almost painted look. The line artists manage to keep the Golden Age characters from looking silly; the outdated designs could easily result in such an impression. The overall look of the art — with the darker approach and pained expressions we see on the main character’s face — bring out the drama and emotion, balancing the simpler, even corny elements in the plot. Alex Ross’s covers are, as always, eye-catching, and I rather enjoyed his use of the two-toned look of the Golden Age Daredevil’s costume to serve as a dividing line between the two cover images (which come together to form one, as seen above).
One aspect of this introductory issue I found frustrating was the omission of rundown of the dramatis personae. Only a scant few of the public-domain heroes depicted on the covers are identified in this comic. Tell us who these characters are, get us excited about the lineup without forcing the readership to seek out supplementary information online. Perhaps it’s an oversight; those involved with the production of this title would be thoroughly familiar with the characters. Maybe they just forgot that the rest of us might not be comics historians.
Dynamite is to be applauded for offering a low-cost introduction to this new series. Given the marketing challenges mentioned earlier, a cheap zero issue is a smart move on their part. Hopefully, potential readers will take the time to discover that this is a complete comic book, not a promotional sketchbook or avenue for excerpts as other promo comics have proven to be in the past.
If ever there was an audience for this kind of deconstructionist super-hero story, it’s me. I love Golden Age characters, and I’m a fan of this sub-genre. I was drawn in by the narration and the colorful characters, but I was put off by the hiccups in the storytelling. The script lurches forward, seemingly omitting key information and any effort toward solid segues. The all-too convenient plot device integral to the plot — Pandora’s Box — is awkwardly handled as well. It’s not clear why one would have to combat the release of evils into the world by bottling up forces for good. I like that there’s a suggestion that the Fighting Yank may just be off his rocker, but the supernatural elements and the nature of the super-hero genre pretty much preclude that possibility. In fact, given the characters’ likely experience with the supernatural, their resistance to the Yank’s claims makes little sense. 5/10