After breaking out of the Project: Superpowers series and into his own well-received mini-series, The Black Terror strikes again. Picking up where the mini left off, this #5 inaugurates the ongoing series. This time, Phil Hester is in the writer’s seat (with direction by Alex Ross and art by Jonathan Lau). We caught up with Hester to talk about bringing heroes of the past into the present, and what kind of Terror the readers will be feeling.
Newsarama: For people that don’t know Black Terror, what are three major things that they need to know coming in to this book?
Phil Hester: 1- Black Terror is sort of a lost icon. If he were somehow continually published from his debut in the golden age to now his status would be up there with Captain Marvel, Namor, Batman, and other greats of that era. This is the golden age Black Terror, once trapped in a mystical limbo-like prison, alive in our present time. His time in this prison has honed his powers, attitude, and look into something sharper and darker than his golden age persona.
2- He's the heavy-hitter of the Project Superpowers universe. Not necessarily the most powerful character, but definitely the biggest personality. I see him as an unholy combination of Superman, Batman and Wolverine. Noble, but unsentimental and a little bit rebellious.
3- For all the heaviness of the story lines, the book is going to be a fun, action-oriented series. Terror's hard driving determination combined with his almost flippant disregard for his own well-being make for some breakneck adventures.
Nrama: In terms of updating super characters of the past for the present, what are some of the keys?
Hester: Well, Alex is the master of this sort of thing. He has a keen eye for distilling what is essential about any character, and not just visually. Jim and Alex spent a lot of time successfully illustrating just who these characters are and where they've been for the last sixty years. It's my job to find stories that further explore Black Terror's assimilation, or lack thereof, to our modern world without getting bogged down in tropes. For instance, I'm not going to spend one second on Black Terror being amazed at cell phones, but will spend a lot of time dealing with the changes he perceives in the attitudes of the American people.
That said, there's a lot of fun to be had here, too. He's got a rich history to explore and it's been largely untouched for the last sixty years. I hope it will be a chance to explore a character with the gravitas of other golden age greats without all of their continuity baggage.
Nrama: How has the character changed, if at all, between the first Project Superpowers mini and the mini-series to now?
Interior Page from Black Terror #5Hester: As I said earlier, he's been honed. His time in locked away in limbo wasn't spent merely sleeping. It's as if he had been burning in a crucible for sixty years and what came out when he was freed was a more refined, pure, hard edged version of the golden age Black Terror. Even back in the '40's he was a no-nonsense guy, so unleashing him today is almost like giving Clint Eastwood's character from Gran Torino super powers. Despite his rigid moral code, he's a funny guy, so even the darkest stories are going to be leavened by some good one-liners.
His moral compass has stayed at true north, but the world around him has changed so much that he's gone from seeing himself as a defender of the status quo to a pirate, maybe even a terrorist, who must go to extreme measures to retrieve our freedoms.
Nrama: Will Tim (Black Terror’s former sidekick) be an ongoing presence in the book and, if so, in what capacity?
Hester: I think he has to be, but there's so much to explore with Bob/Black Terror on his own that the majority of his stories will revolve around resolving just how he feels about the America he's been dumped into and just how far he'll go to put it right. Tim's a lot like Bucky in that you can tell great Captain America stories without him, but it adds a layer of depth and resonance if you can find a way to include him.
Nrama: P:SP and the first Black Terror mini obviously have larger political connotations. Is it difficult to explore politics in super-fiction, and how will those themes factor in as the book moves along?
Hester: Like I said earlier, Black Terror is a man out of time. Even a liberal fellow from 1949 would find his views to be old fashioned in 2009. By and large, the biggest political issue in the book is the perceived abrogation of freedom and responsibility the people have given over to the corrupt, villain-backed government of the PSP universe. Read into that what you will. Black Terror is struggling with a tyranny that wasn't imposed as much as acquiesced to. He's fighting to free people who were perfectly happy being enslaved, and this is right after fighting a war to free the world from fascism. In his world WWII was just a few years ago, and here we are giving up our freedom willingly. It tears him apart, and since violence is his stock and trade, he tries to make the world right through it.
This may be a satisfying solution for both Terror and the reader following his exploits, but it's unsustainable. He's got to solve this problem, change, or die.
Interior Page from Black Terror #5Nrama: Do you have to be well-versed in the other P:SP books to follow this series? As in, will there be tight continuity between all the titles, or can you safely read this one as its own book?
Hester: It helps to know the very basics of the PSP universe, but I think if a story is well told people should be able to get into it and follow where we're going. I know as a kid continuity never scared me away from anything. I couldn't make heads or tails of the continuity in X-Men, but the story was so intriguing that I dove right in and learned on the fly. I think anyone picking up Black Terror is going to be treated to the emotionally gripping, action heavy stories comics are best at. Hopefully the effort Jonathan and I are putting into the final product will be enough to keep people coming back.
Nrama: What makes Black Terror unique in today’s marketplace? If a reader’s going to check out a new book, why this one in particular?
Hester: I may have teased at this earlier, but Black Terror represents a chance to see a character on a par with Superman or Human Torch through a lens untainted by decades of continuity. When you read a Marvel or DC comic these days all the big moves feel temporary. You know Steve Rogers is coming back. You know Bruce Wayne isn't dead. You know Mary Jane will wind up with Peter Parker again. In the PSP universe all bets are off. We have no rules, no vested interest in the status quo. We can shake things up without approval from the corporate offices. So, when a dramatic turn of events rolls around in Black Terror it's for keeps, and Jonathan and I are doing our level best to make it feel that way.