Masquerade #1The latest hero from Dynamite Entertainment’s Project Superpowers universe, Masquerade is currently headed toward her second issue, courtesy of writer Phil Hester and artist Carlos Paul.
The series tells the story of a young heroine, growing up - quickly – in the male-dominated hero world of the 1940’s. As readers of Project Superpowers know, the Masquerade who came out of the magic urn that imprisoned the heroes for decades is very different from the one that went in – a darker, more intense version of the cheerful young woman who was betrayed by a fellow hero.
With one issue (firmly set in the past) out, we spoke with Hester about his approach to Masquerade, and what’s to come in the series.
Newsarama: Phil, now that the first issue is out, we can dig into the story and structure of Masquerade a little more. First up, why did you start the series with a full flashback story instead of a present-day story, or even splitting the narrative between two time periods. Why go that route over the other options?
Phil Hester: I really wanted Masquerade to serve as a bookend to Project Superpowers. Project Superpowers is a book that takes place in the future, but hearkens to the past quite a bit. I wanted to start a book in the past PS was built upon and follow those characters all the way through to the present.Masquerade #2 NRAMA: When we last spoke, we didn't get a chance to go into it, but what were you given from Alex and Jim about who Masquerade is and what you had to work with? Can you give us an example or two of where you were given bones, and you had to add muscles and skin?
PH: I think the best example is in the Project Superpowers series itself. In the series she's shown as someone who is obviously capable of being a crime fighter, but her time in the urn has left her sort of unmoored in our present time. Alex has stated repeatedly that the whole PS endeavor should respect existing golden age material regarding any given character. So I took that to mean I had to build a character who made sense as the golden age Miss Masque as well as the Masquerade we saw in Project Superpowers. That meant showing this transition from civilian to rookie crime fighter, to respected peer, to newly powerful, but confused super heroine, to finally a completely grounded individual. That growth is what I built the whole series on.
NRAMA: In your first issue, you showed Diana as a precocious child, full of curiosity, and that curiosity has stayed with her. Is that her key reason for becoming Madame Masquerade - to "find answers?"
PH: Oh, yeah. I'm treating the time the heroes spent in exile as almost a crucible. Their personalities and powers are honed or intensified by time in the urn. In Masquerade's case, that curiosity is her anchor. It keeps her whole. The curiosity is also what inspires her to become a super heroine in the first place, as we'll see in #2-#3.Masquerade #3 NRAMA: In fleshing out a "new" female superhero, it seems that many roads have already been gone down. How important was it for you to steer clear of other paths and keep Diana on her own, unique way?
PH: I tried to approach it with honesty and imagine myself in her situation. What exactly would inspire a rich, well cared for person to become a risk taking super hero? I had to gin up some trauma for her and see how she reacted.
NRAMA: I found it somewhat interesting that here, in her first issue of her own series, she had to be rescued by the other heroes of the Project Superpowers universe. In terms of both story and character, why? Doesn't that....diminish her a little? After all, neither Black Terror nor the 'Devil had to be rescued in their first issues...
PH: You might notice that she actually rescues all the other super heroes in the climax of the story by forcing the robot to self-destruct. I wanted to play on some pulpy golden age stereotypes by making her a damsel in distress, then puncturing that by showing her saving all these larger than life heroes in the end. In a way, it's how those heroes feel about her on some level. It's the 40's, she's a dame, she's got no powers. They can be condescending (we get a big dose of that in #2). She turns all that on its head by being the person who actually figures out how to beat the bad guy. Also, a rereading of #1 will show she had already affected her escape and was holding her own against the robot before all the other Golden Age heroes arrived.
NRAMA: Fair enough. Coming up in the next issue - at least from the solicitations, it looks as if you get to tell the story of how the PS heroes were drawn into the urn. How does Masquerade get involved?
PH: Masquerade will be kicking around in that twilight time of the heroes between the end of WWII and 1950 and begin to notice the gradual disappearance of her former comrades. She begins to investigate it like a criminal case. Also, a lot of #2 is devoted to her secret origin.
NRAMA: We've seen who Diana was pre-urn, and in Project Superpowers, we've seen her after coming back out. Can you tell us a little bit more about who she is after her experiences in the urn, compared to who she was before she went in?Masquerade #4 PH: That's what issue #4 is all about. I think we see that pre-urn she's a driven, focused crime fighter, but afterward, even though she has these new powers, she's sort of adrift in the 21st century. In #4 she finds the answer to a mystery that's been plaguing her since the 1930's that finally allows her to ground herself in our time and become that razor-sharp intellect she was as Miss Masque.
NRAMA: In some ways, is the mystic urn a metaphor? After all, we're seeing these bright heroes prior to their "urn days," and have seen them afterwards - they've been betrayed, they've gone through...something to change them in the urn...with the end result being that the versions of the heroes that come out in the present day reflect well, heroes of the present day - grim, darker, cynical, when they used to be more happy and hopeful...
PH: As I said, and Jim may have a different take on this, but I see the urn as a crucible. It's a limbo that forces you to really hold on to your ego to survive. In Masquerade's case, she holds on to her deductive gifts. Black Terror holds on to his ferocity, etc. Each of them come out of the urn intensified. Now, if some of them come out bitter it's probably because their last moment before going into the urn is one of betrayal. I don't know if it speaks directly to the differences in publishing eras. I mean, a lot of golden age stories are pretty grim.
NRAMA: That’s very true. Let's wrap this with a tease - where are things heading from what we've seen in issue #1? The heroes start to disappear...and from there?
PH: We wrap up Miss Masque's origin, she has encounters with both Black Terror and Pyroman that set her on the course of discovering exactly what's happening to all the missing heroes, but before she can solve that she becomes another victim. In the end, it's about Masquerade putting all the disjointed pieces of her past together in a way that allows her to become a whole person in the future. Also, she kicks a lot of bad guys' asses.
Masquerade #2 is due in stores on March 18th. Click below for your first look at Dynamite's trailer for Masquerade.