Project Superpowers had a few different titles published by Dynamite around 2008-10. The line is coming back in March and I’ve had an advance look at the first issue. It was *not* what I was expecting. In fact, I’m not entirely sure if this is a relaunch or a reboot. Either way, they’re coming in from a different angle and with a very different flavor, so I’d call it a fresh start.
Whereas the original Project Superpowers saga had a feel along the lines of a 70s Marvel Avengers epic, Ellis is coming at this from a suspense and horror angle. The first issue is all about the slow burn.
There are strange goings on in the woods of Washington (state). A serial killer is on the prowl. There’s a mysterious flaming man on the march. Some possible demonic possession. Reading this the same week it was announced Agent Cooper will be back in the new Twin Peaks series, I was half expecting to see that character walk into a panel. Strange doings in small towns in the woods, though without the quirky humor of Twin Peaks.
One of the big things with horror comics is getting the atmosphere right and that’s working well here. The pacing is slow and deliberate, introducing the characters, hinting at secrets and being generally as creepy as possible. I wouldn’t say this is outright scary as Ellis and Worley are really foreshadowing something bad is on the way and perhaps a few kinds of bad are going to converge in the town of Blackcross.
You may recognize some of the characters that appear in glimpses. Black Terror, American Spirit, Lady Satan and so forth. The heroes are, for the most part, not themselves in the first chapter. Their presence and appearance is part of that creeping doom. That the American Spirit pops up with that familiar Alex Ross design is one of the things suggesting it might not be a full-on reboot, but I just can’t tell from the first 22 pages.
There certainly were enough mystic forces in the original Project Superpowers run, but it was more of an adventure comic with magic. Not all of the foreboding in this issue necessarily comes from sorcery, but that’s how the first issue feels.
Colton Worley was doing fine work on The Spider and he’s only improved here. He should be getting a little more attention than he is.
Warren Ellis seems restrained and measured here. Nothing over the top or splashy. Horror springing out of a dull and mundane setting. The problem with slow burn storytelling is it can take you a few issues to really know where the story is going. Often, the slow burn is there to set you on a false path and pull the rug out from under you, so I don’t necessarily trust what I see to be an accurate indicator of the big picture. I can only say that it’s a well told and drawn tale. And very, very different from what you might expect if you’re familiar with the previous run of the franchise.
Recommended for those who like their comics on the dark and sinister side and don’t mind a slowly building plot.
Proceed with caution if you prefer your superheroes with lots of explosions and fisticuffs up front. I suspect things will start blowing up around issue #3 or #4, but it’s unsolved mysteries and crises of a more spiritual and existential nature that make up the first issue.
The first 4 pages follow:
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.