Project Superpowers #0-#3
By Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Doug Kaluba, Stephen Sadowski, Carlos Paul, Andy Smith, and Various
#0: $1.00, #1-3: $2.99 each, FCBD: Free
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Two series’ launched recently with very, very similar premises: Forgotten heroes from the Golden Age of comics, roughly World War II, are taken out of commission for 60-odd years, re-emerging into the present day with times having radically changed around them. One of those series, The Twelve by J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston and published by Marvel Comics, has been surprisingly good. I look forward to each issue and the progress that these forgotten heroes are making in the post-Civil War Marvel Universe, and no one is more surprised about that than I. But with a full 30 days between installments of The Twelve I figured I’d give the other series a go, see if I could find something to fill my “old-timey-men out of place and out of time, with seeeeeeeeeeecrets” jones.
So, that was pretty much a mistake. Despite very, very similar starting points, the two series could not be more different than one another. Whereas The Twelve is a gritty and intriguing mystery/drama slowly being revealed to the reader, Project Superpowers is a pretty straight-forward superhero beat’em-up by Alex Ross and Jim Krueger, the creative team behind Earth X. Actually, if you’ve read the Alex Ross vehicles Earth X and especially Kingdom Come, you’ll be on incredibly familiar ground here as all of the standard Alex Ross tropes are here: Repentant old-man narrator, guide from the spirit world, classic heroes appalled by the sorry state of the modern world and its heroes, and more iconic characters standing around posing than you can shake a stick at… Which isn’t to say that Project Superpowers is particularly bad either as a comic or as an example of the contemporary superhero genre, it’s just not what I was looking for.
So on its own merits then, how does the series hold up? I’m not as ‘into’ the big superhero mythology stories as most, but I still found enough to enjoy in the series to keep reading through. The series itself isn’t drawn or painted by Ross, but instead by a fella named Carlos Paul, who has a cartoonish vibe to his pencils, sort of half-way between one of the contemporary anatomist pencilers like Steve Sadowski or Doug Braithwaite, and someone like Norm Breyfogle. The art is always at least functional, with the characters clearly blocked out and the story easy to read, and occasionally there’ll be a nice level of polish on the illustrations as well. Granted, it’s still got a bit of that garish contemporary superhero colouring to it–something that Ross seems to have largely eschewed in his own work lately–but it’s got more of a painterly vibe than most contemporary comics work which created a great deal more visual interest than most books on the rack. It’s still going to be a bit of a shock-to-the-system for readers picking up an “Alex Ross Book” and getting not Alex Ross art inside, but the work is much more Brent (Astro City) Anderson than contemporary-meh-DC-penciler, which will soften the blow.
As for the story? I’ll be honest, it’s a step above most contemporary superhero comics, but that’s quite clearly me damning this with faint praise. Alex Ross is a poor writer, and I’m not quite sure what Jim Krueger’s contributions have been, but I really remember liking some of his earlier work… The biggest problem Project Superpowers faces is that ‘clarity’ seems to be a four-letter-word, with the writers mistaking confusion for drama. There are lots of short scenes dropped in without explanation, lots of cuts back and forth in space (and occasionally time), blind prophet characters shouting about the end of days, ghosts shouting about spectral duty, superheroes just shouting at one another, and so far it’s added up to not-very-much. The narrative through, the story of a golden age hero named “The Fighting Yank” hoping to atone for past sins, is easily the best part of the book, and the scenes moving that story forward have been enjoyable. The rest of it, with random heroes getting little introduction alternately screaming or “being mysterious”? I could do without that. I feel like Ross and Krueger are relying a little too heavily on their past writing styles here… It’s one thing to have The Spectre, Captain Marvel, or any number of popular iconic characters shouting at one another or uttering mysterious nonsense that might eventually pay off in the story; the reader is already invested in those characters thanks to years and years of familiarity–it’s the very definition of a fanboy-oriented event comic. But when the reader has no idea who any of these characters are? When you haven’t sufficiently invested them with any humanity (other than: blanket tragedy, ‘mystery’, and screaming) it’s really hard to give a shit and I don’t. By contrast, The Twelve has done a great job of the ‘slow reveal’, with plenty of characters populating the book that you want to spend time with or, if not, at least want to figure out how their stories will end. But there I go comparing Project Superpowers to something else again. I guess what I mean to say is, in Project Superpowers I’m curious to see where the plot is going but so far I don’t care if anyone introduced in the series makes it to the last page, you know? And since the whole vibe of the book seems to be about re-introducing these golden age characters to the modern world (and aren’t they all nifty!?) that’s kinda-sorta a problem. I guess when you’re Alex Ross you don’t need an editor to point out huge flaws in your storytelling…which would explain why no editor is listed in the credits page. Guys: give these new characters you’re introducing something to do, or leave them out of the story until you figure out what they’re for.
So, to sum up: I’ll probably wait another few issues and then catch up with the story again. Anyone who’s liked Ross’s last few outings in big bold superheroes will probably really enjoy this one and should check out that $1 issue #0 (28 pages for a buck!) at the very least: It’s a big, bold superhero story that is very close to all of the work you already love.
But The Twelve will be one of those books that I read first thing in the morning, standing at the rack on the day of release, wondering if Dynamic Man and Captain Wonder are gonna hook up.
P.S.: Skip the FCBD story, it’s poorly drawn and nothing happens in it, and it jumps past the end of the current story arc, which is vaguely stupid when you’re trying to write a mystery…
Image: Cover painting used for Project Superpowers #0a and #0b, by Alex Ross.