Masquerade #1, Alex Ross coverIn February, Dynamite Entertainment will launch its third spinoff from Project Superpowers, Masquerade. Written by Phil Hester, with art by Carlos Paul, the series follows Masquerade (originally known as Miss Masque), one of the original Golden Age heroes who was mistakenly imprisoned in the Urn of Pandora by the Fighting Yank.
As with the Black Terror, Death Defying ‘Devil and all the others, the 40+ years inside the urn have left Masquerade a changed woman. How changed? Costume, powers, and outlook…and more.
We spoke with Project Superpowers designer and architect, Alex Ross and Hester for more. WE start with Ross.
Newsarama: Alex, what was behind bringing Masquerade to the Project Superpowers lineup? She was one of the original Nedor heroes, but what appealed to you and Jim about her?
Alex Ross: She was high profile enough in the comic book universe that Nedor had established. There are not a lot of very famous superheroes from the ‘40s.
NRAMA: Among the larger number of the characters they you've brought back in Project Superpowers, Masquerade is perhaps the most changed. First off, let's talk about her costume. From the original version of Ms. Masque, you lengthened her skirt into a dress-length. Why go with longer, and miss the opportunity to have a leggier character in the series?
AR: Given that she can’t fly or throw tanks like Wonder Woman, it seemed like the adventurer type, particularly in urban settings, would demand a more covered appearance. I wanted to be able to show the legs in full, but not look like the character was so easily exposed.
NRAMA: Likewise - her powers are updated, or at least, defined fully. Can you talk a little about what went into the design of her powers? Did you approach them as something unique for her as a character, or for a piece of the team, giving her abilities that were missing among the rest of the ensemble?
AR: We’re trying to still define how those powers provide a unique perspective on the superhero secret identity angle. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of that and hopefully can figure this out better as time goes on. I’m hoping that, as much as possible, we can make the approach to the various characters as unique as one can find in the vast spread of so many characters throughout the years.
NRAMA: You and Jim brought her back with some amnesia, as well as being...changed by her time in the urn, according to the Fighting Yank's War Journal. First, can you sketch out an idea of how Masquerade went into the urn, and how she came out? How "different" was she?
AR: The original character of Ms. Masque in the ‘40s had no powers. She was at first a gun-wielding, costumed vigilante. The Masquerade miniseries is meant to define how she went through her capture and made the bridge between time periods.
NRAMA: In that same vein, as we've talked about before, the Black Terror came out dramatically changed...will we ever learn what happened to the heroes during their what, four/five decades trapped in the urn? Is that a story road you and Jim ever see yourselves going down?
AR: If I let Jim have at it, yes [laughs]. I still think that it’s important they weren’t actively conscious for that time, wherein they would most likely go mad. Changing the characters is also a bit of a creative safety valve for us; where we may not be perfectly accurate to the original characterization, we have a justification for that difference. It would also serve us well to find different ways of writing this people, since many of the heroes of that time period would appear homogenous to one another.
NRAMA: In your hand-off of the character to Phil, what were your instructions in a broad sense? What kind of tone and mood are you looking for Phil to pick up on and continue with?
AR: I provided a simple outline based upon what I saw needing to happen in each issue. This had a lot of room within it to provide deeper characterization for Masquerade. Her overall experience is meant to be a way to understand how going from the time period of the ‘40s to modern day would feel.
And now, Phil Hester.
Masquerade #1, John Romita Sr. coverNewsarama: Phil - how did you land on this series, and did you have any knowledge of the character before seeing her in Project Superpowers?
Phil Hester: I had only a vague knowledge of Miss Masque/Masquerade before the gig and most of that was just imagery. I mostly remember her costume, but her gimmick sort of lumped her together with The Woman in Red, Blonde Phantom, and Lady Luck in my memory. I've been friends with series writer Jim Krueger for years now and we crossed paths at a Chicago con some time ago where he dropped a cryptic hint about getting me in on "something big", which turned out to be Project Superpowers. So you could say I was drafted by Jim, Alex and Nick. It's been a blast.
NRAMA: How was she described to you in the pitch or the preliminary materials? As far as we know, she's come out rather changed from the urn, along with a case of amnesia...what else do we need to know about her?
PH: The first thing you need to know about her is that she's a solver of mysteries. It's too easy to stereotype her as a "good girl" with a gun after reading the golden age stories. To me she's the most intriguing thinker in the Project Superpowers universe. The original Miss Masque had no powers, just a sort of rampant curiosity and plucky fearlessness. I tried to hone that curiosity into an almost inhuman intellectual capacity for solving crimes. Plus, she's the most human of the characters. While Pyroman and Fighting Yank are leaping from skyscraper to mountaintop, Masquerade is home mending her costume and studying criminal psych texts.
NRAMA: As mentioned, the material has suggested that "one" Masquerade went into the urn, and "another" came out. While these two are the same woman...what happened to her in the urn? Of all the heroes we've seen, she seems the most...changed....
PH: Well, that's sort of happened to all the Project Superpowers heroes. I'm not sure if Jim sees it exactly the same way I do, but the urn is sort of a tumultuous limbo that threatens to swallow up anyone trapped inside. To stave off oblivion one has to really hang on to his or her identity, maybe even a little too tightly, and the urn turns into a crucible that refines the personality into something stronger, more pure, and possibly more inhuman. Since Masquerade was the most human going in seeing her come out the other side with not only powers, but an unanchored psyche is jarring, and hopefully compelling for readers.
NRAMA: Masquerade has played a role in Project Superpowers, and has appeared in Black Terror - so what is her own series going to be about?
PH: Like I said earlier, the other Project Superpowers heroes are so much larger than life and the main series is so epic that Masquerade is going to be an everyman's window into this mythic universe. We actually spend a lot of time back in the golden age giving some attention to not only Masquerade's secret origin, but her early interactions with her fellow Nedor/PS heroes. We'll follow her through the events of the first Project Superpowers series and see these sort of cosmic events from a human perspective. And, once she's out of the run and into today, we'll see her struggle to reclaim her identity and ground herself in an unfamiliar time.
NRAMA: Let's talk powers - from what we saw in Project Superpowers #7, they're fairly...creepy - she can possess people and can, at times, believe that she is the person she is possessing?
PH: Right. I'm trying to establish that even from childhood Masquerade had the ability to leave her body, at least in her imagination, and solve certain crises from a detached, dispassionate viewpoint. It's such an unspoken, but integral part of her personality that it becomes the core she holds on to in the tumult of the urn, so much so that it takes physical manifestation when she emerges. So now she actually leaves her body for real, psychically projecting herself into the awareness of others. Of course, the danger in projecting your awareness outside of your body comes from losing your way back home.
NRAMA: The Project Superpowers spinoffs have all worked to expand the universe in their own way, mostly by featuring other characters along with the title character. Are you looking to do that with Masquerade, and if so, can you drop some names on who else will be showing up in the series?
PH: As I said, we spend a lot of time back in the golden age, so we'll see a bunch of the Project Superpowers heroes in their prime. Especially Black Terror, Pyroman, and of course, Fighting Yank.
NRAMA: All assignments fill some creative need for the creator - what particular itch does Masquerade scratch for you?
PH: I've never written a female character that I didn't create, so it's a fun exercise to makes sense of a character created over half a century ago in a time when ideas about not only super-heroes, but women in general were so different. Plus, I've never really had to fit a story line into a pre-existing, larger crossover event. It's actually less painful than I thought! Also, working with talented folks like Jim, Alex, Nick, Joe and Carlos is always a treat under any circumstances.
NRAMA: One final tease - what gets the ball rolling in the first issue?
PH: Masquerade's secret origin, Nazi death cults, giant robots, golden age Black Terror, Green Lama, and Pyroman in action. A lot of story packed into twenty-two pages and gorgeous art by Carlos.