Alex Ross: The Project Superpowers Long View

Project Superpowers Chapter 2 for $1.00

Project Superpowers Chapter Two #0, page 9

We spoke with Project Superpowers’ Jim Krueger about the upcoming Chapter Two series, launching with a #0 in June. The new series picks up from the ashes of the first, showing just what would happen when a large group of superheroes from the ‘40s find themselves in the modern day. First, of course, take care of the immediate threats, and second – change the world.

Krueger gave us some insight on the ideas and plans behind the second installment of Project Superpowers, and now, it’s on to talk to his collaborator, Alex Ross.

Newsarama: To start off Alex, looking ahead at Chapter Two, how does it compare to Project Superpowers Chapter One? Obviously, a large element of Chapter One was literally finding the characters after they’d been released from Pandora’s Urn…

Alex Ross: Right – getting them on stage and telling them what it’s all about. Chapter Two is really about a much more decided plan of how to wrap these guys up in various conflicts that are natural outgrowths of their reemergence – conflicts with the world as it is, and conflicts with each other. That’s embodied by different groups fracturing off to go and do this thing or that thing. The main group of our superhero lineup is basically taking over the American government and taking over the Pentagon – usurping what they believe to be a very bad President. In doing that, it doesn’t necessarily seem to b the coolest thing for many of the idealistic, ‘40s heroes who are returning and are not quite in the know of everything they’ve experienced should be doing – so from the outset it looks like they’ve just lost their minds. So you’ve got a conflict.

And I drew the conflict line between the group that we revived in Chapter One, and the group that we’re reviving at the end of Black Terror #4 - the sidekicks.

NRAMA: Right – they’ve been mentioned here and there, and you did sketches that showed them with their mentors in the earlier issues…

AR: Right – nearly each one of these heroes had a sidekick – so what happened to them? If the heroes were taken, what about the sidekicks? Well, instead of just throwing out “sidekick with hero” en masse, I thought that it would be more fun to band them all together and throw them out there at the same time, and have them show an actual ideological split between them and their mentor heroes.

Ultimately, Chapter Two will serve as a conflict point between the groups, as well as a conflict point with an understanding of how bad it can go with some of the reemerged super powers that are within human hands – human minds basically run amok. An example of that would be Captain Future who we show in a good part of our story, and also, we’re going to get a resolution on what the hell this whole Claw thing is that we’ve been teasing for a while. The idea for the greatest non-Marvel/non-DC villain of the ‘40s will finally be answered for, and re-integrated. And with that, we’ll also see the ultimate payoff between the Death Defying ‘Devil and the Claw.

And new characters show up along the way.

NRAMA: That’s where I was heading – the first series and the side books have seen a fairly steady rollout of characters to repopulate the world with super-powered heroes. Will that stay at the same rate in Chapter Two?

AR: I would think so, yeah. I’m just basically killing people with too many characters in this thing, but to me, that’s the fun of it. I’m too attached to the joy of resuscitating old concepts and characters to let it go.

NRAMA: The characters that we’ll see in Chapter Two – are these characters that you gathered together with the originally group but realized they would be good for somewhere down the road, or are these characters that you’ve dusted off since the start of the larger Project Superpowers plan?

Project Superpowers Chapter 2 for $1.00
Project Superpowers Chapter 2 for $1.00
AR: Both. The original line-up was made of the characters that I thought of as being absolutely mandatory – the heroes of the ‘40s from all different original publishers and artists that had been lost in times and it seemed odd that they were…forgotten, just due to their uniqueness or unique nature. Whether it was the Green Lama, the Face, or Hydro Man – anything that I had a connection with, I pulled them in from the start. From there, it was a matter of digging into some of the harder to solve riddles. For instance, we’re going to have The Inheritors, which is the teen group of heroes that will go out and find some of these old heroes who’ve re-emerged that we’ve yet to run into – characters like the Black Owl, Cat Man and the Eagle. These are all pretty much by-the-numbers hero archetypes that I wanted to play with more.

NRAMA: So these characters offer themselves up to more interpretation and experimentation?

AR: Right – you have the unique characters, as I mentioned, but after a while, you just run into characters that are copycats of Batman, Superman, and Captain America. I want to look at these characters and ask what can we do with them, without fundamentally changing them, to make them more unique, even though they share many similarities with other characters. That’s the next creative challenge.

Some of these characters, like The Black Owl, ran for ten years back in the ‘40s – they were successful properties. Is there some way that you can make this thing that, probably, doesn’t hold up as well looking just as it did before – a guy in red and blue wearing a big, Spotted Owl headpiece – can you make him look a little more modern and fit in with today’s world?

NRAMA: Taking Black Owl as an example, when you and Jim bring a character in to update – do you bring them out of the Urn with a more modern sensibility, and that’s it, or is there more of a “deconstruction” going on where what readers originally saw in the Golden Age stories wasn’t really what was going on, and a layer of modern subtext is added to the past stories in order to give the character depth for the modern view?

AR: Well, one o f my key concerns is that we don’t want to re-write the past. We don’t want to find that these characters were anything other than what we saw them published as – which is hard, because we don’t have all of the published material, and we might be misrepresenting that past, but since we’re focused on telling the present, the transformative process of being captured, put in a box for 70 years, and brought back out possibly worse for wear, that allows us the latitude for reinvention on a certain level, but the “modern” aspect of that reinvention is really not meant to be modern for the sake of capturing modern attitudes. It’s more like just trying to present this property in a way that seems viable for a modern audience, without making them have an iPod, or having them be into some contemporary aspect of culture.

And part of that is simply design – if a character looks cool to modern collectors and readers of comics – that’s the key thing. I need to hit readers and potential readers with the pure graphic image. The substance of that person inside there doesn’t necessarily have to be so spruced up for a modern audience in terms of making them hip. They can stay true to their source, but still, we’re not going to take the time really to have characters like Black Terror ruminate about what it was like to hear a radio and all the culture from his original days. That would be a much more involved work that we’re missing out on that we can probably do in the future with somebody, but now, we’re focusing purely on the superhero terms – what does this guy think of the now, and the world he sees, and how does he react to it? Not in terms of the little, stupid stuff, but in terms of the big issues. Superheroes are supposed to be about trying to solve the big issues – the problems of man’s inhumanity to man, and trying to right wrongs. We want to keep our heroes locked in that main concern. While there might be a few bits here and there commenting on things like how they’ve never seen television before, or the changes in the structure of the world…ultimately, things are kind of the same, and people are kind of the same, no matter what decade you find them in.

If you get caught up in the minutia of time-displacement, that makes for a different kind of project.

NRAMA: And kill forward momentum and replace it with, essentially navel-gazing, or beating readers over the head with “these characters are not from this time.”

AR: Right – you would end up spending so much time saying, “Wow, this guy is so out of touch – he’s a silly relic of the ‘40s.” I don’t want anyone to think that these characters are silly relics of the ‘40s. We’re not resuscitating them because we’re ‘40s hogs, we’re trying to make a group of superheroes that seem to have the same gravitas as those from the publishing companies that have been publishing the same characters for 50+ years. We’re not trying to make it seem as these guys are your father’s Oldsmobile. We’re trying to make them fresh and cool, so dwelling on how they’re out of synch with the now is not the best use of our time.

NRAMA: Judging from the broad strokes that you gave, not to mention the three covers for issue #0, this is very much a “superheroes out to change the world,” story in Chapter Two. We’ve seen that done a few times here and there in comics, but in this instance, these characters are holding on to the original throughline of a super hero from the Golden Age, that they did what was right, no matter what. Superman had social causes in the Golden Age that he would never be allowed to do today. Is that what’s at the base of these heroes’ feelings now – that “change the world” call that remains undiluted in them?

AR: That’s the core of all my thinking. It’s that simple. It’s connecting with the most simplistic form of the ideology form where superheroes came from and what their purpose was. Superman’s origin was all about responding to the ills that were in the world before he ever encountered super-powered or supernatural threats or adversaries. Comics didn’t start out all about characters dealing with other costumed characters – even though that’s what it eventually became.

That said, much of our story is going to be our people fighting other super-powered people, but with the implication that it has this higher motive, having to deal with the world that’s wrong.

NRAMA: When we talk about superheroes changing the world, we’ve all seen examples of this in our own world over the past ten years or so of, “Our way is better, and we’re going to change the world to match our views.” That doesn’t always work out. More often than not, it’s “Meet the new boss…”

AR: Right – it’s very much a learning curve for the heroes in Chapter Two, but they’re shaking things up too. Things are screwed up, and it is fair to go ahead and make this symbolic assault. What are we doing, really? We’re making a comic book about an idea that you need to change the status quo. That’s an idea to put out there. We’re putting superhero fisticuffs to it in order to fold it into entertaining medium of comics, but the reality that’s behind making those changes to the status quo is a lot more boring than our story, and a lot less based upon physical assault.

So when you take it literally, no it’s not the best thing to have men that fly and punch take over your government, but when things are as screwed up as they are, you need to have some upheaval along these lines based upon intellectual force and ideology – basically, you need to put your money where your mouth is in terms of your ideology. And these are guys who are defined by believing what they do is right, and holding themselves to that standard. They’re not beings of compromise, as we find with most people in politics and the ruling class.

NRAMA: Let’s talk about the scope of the project – Project Superpowers Chapter Two is 13 issues total - #0-#12. This is back you you’re and Jim’s Earth-X days…

AR: (laughs) Of biting off more than we can chew?

NRAMA: Well, not that, but format wise – a main storyline, as you said, with a philosophical grounding, and spin off miniseries. Why does this format appeal to you?

AR: The big book allows for a cluster of everything in one place – all the major characters are playing in that book, so it’s not purely going out there on the idea of following one, revived character. Doing miniseries highlight some of the key characters, which is great. I always found it much more engaging to me as a fan, collecting comics, where I had a limited amount of money and wanted to get a sense of the entire universe, I’d get the comic with the biggest cast. That’s the approach I’ve tried to replicate in a lot of my projects – from Earth X to Justice to now on Project Superpowers – provide a large perspective where you can see the universe in one place.

That’s why, when they created things like Secret Wars, Contest of Champions, and eventually the original Crisis on Infinite Earths – those things were right up my alley. Those were what I wanted as a consumer, due to my limited funds.

NRAMA: Chapter Two is being drawn by Edgar Salazar – how much are you working with him on the designs and look?

AR: Not that much – I’m not holding his hand or anything like that. Edgar was a choice based upon where things were going in terms of schedule, and being a good time to make a shift. I’ve been thrilled watching his pencils come in on the ‘Devil miniseries – he shows great care with the detail to rendering faces and bodies. He has great ambition for what he can lay out in regards to backgrounds and full scenes and god knows how many other things going on. I just saw a startling amount of work that he put into our #0 issue – it’s just such beautiful work that I demanded we get the best colorist we could for him to make the art look the best it can. We’re in as competitive a time that you could ever find in comics’ history. This is not a time to slack off at all. You’ve got to deliver your best effort, always.

NRAMA: Last question for you Alex – does Project Superpowers Chapter Two beget Project Superpowers Chapter Three?

AR: Oh, absolutely. We always bite off more than we can chew (laughs). When you come across the history of characters that can be revived or resuscitated in creative ways, there are so many ideas that have to be put on the shelf that you have to figure out where to bring in down the line. Right now, there are still whole groups of characters that I’m looking to bring into the universe that we are building – and create even more from there. And there will be room for miniseries and specials that will be used for building a villain class of characters – there have been hundreds of heroes revived, so you need someone for them to fight. And I don’t want to go to making heroes go bad – I don’t want to go through with that too many times. It’s very insensitive if you take a character that someone else may have lovingly put their their best effort into, and then decide that they’re say, a serial killer. If you have that intent with a character, it’s best of you do it with one you make up. But there will be some surprises like that coming – and hopefully I’ll make up for it in the long run.

But yes, Chapter Two is not the end. Not by a long shot.

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