Warren Ellis isn’t a stranger to superheroes, but strange things can happen when he gets a hold of them.
In March, Dynamite gives Ellis and artist Colton Worley the reigns to their public domain superheroes and lets them take it down a supernatural thriller route with the miniseries Project Superpowers: Blackcross. Set in the fertile grounds of the American Pacific Northwest which has played home to numerous modern thriller stories, Blackcross reimagines pulp heroes such as the Black Terror, Lady Satan, the Green Lama and more in a small town with a dark side named Blackcross.
When asked what drew him to set Blackcross in the American Pacific Northwest, Ellis tells Newsarama that it’s based on personal experience and the influence of David Lynch.
“I've spent some time up there, on my travels, but also its Twin Peaks country, and, between Blackcross and Supreme Blue Rose, I seem to have spent most of last year on a David Lynch kick...!”
Speaking of a kick, Ellis says that the research for Blackcross covered much of the same ground that helped inspire his award-winning series Planetary with John Cassaday.
“Oh, I read all about these characters in the 1990s, when I was doing my superhero-comics research in order to fulfill work offers from Marvel back then. I had to learn all about superhero fiction,” Ellis said. “That's why Planetary happened -- I needed to download it all out of my head again. But those early characters that have since fallen into the public domain always amused me, probably because they were so close to the pulp origins of the form, and retained that kind of crazy rawness to them. “
Ellis is no stranger to refashioning well-worn characters for a modern age, from Wildstorm’s Stormwatch begetting The Authority to Marvel’s Iron Man and Thunderbolts. Ellis finds that these public domain heroes that Dynamite’s Project Superpowers umbrella encompasses offer something unique in that their early, pulpier origins haven’t been overtaken by more modern interpretation and acceptance.
“Some characters just have that pure tone of the genre's origins. And these, especially, as they're almost lost figures, in comparison to the Marvel and DC characters who have undergone decades of continuous iteration,” the Essex-born writer says. “This was an opportunity to reach back to the kind of creepy feeling some of these characters originally had. They were technically, I guess, second-generation superhero characters, created to ride the wave of this new fiction, and created very quickly and simply -- but sometimes, as happens with pulp fiction, some genuine weirdness leaks out into material created that quickly.”
Ellis calls the Black Terror, in particular, “just a bloody odd idea” as well as Lady Satan.
“You can't help but appreciate that kind of headlong eccentricity.”
Of all the characters in Blackcross however, Ellis says it’s Lady Satan – real name Marietta – that he’d be most inclined to share a drink with.
“…Just because I have a long history of drinking with witches,” says Ellis. “Failing that, Bart Hill, because he knows all kinds of terrible things.”
Although based on these pulp-era vigilantes, Blackcross is a step away from the halcyonic simple superhero adventures from which they were born. In fact, Ellis hinted to Newsarama that this distinction away from the superhero genre is a key part of his intent for the series.
“Note that I'm not using their superhero names. The trees are not what they seem.”