Any time a popular hero or villain is killed off in a comic book, you know they’ll be back. You don’t know how, why, or when, but you know it will happen eventually. Unsurprisingly, there’s a legal reason behind all of this. If a character goes unused for a long enough stretch of time, that character may end up in the public domain. Characters in the public domain can be used by anyone for nearly any purpose.
In the modern era, big publishers are well aware of this and have legal teams to police their intellectual property. That’s why Jean Grey is always appearing in Cyclops’ and Wolverine’s fever dreams even though she’s been dead since 2005 (assuming Phoenix Endsong is in canon, if not she was killed by Xorn in 2003). But back in the Golden Age, the public considered the products of the comics companies to be little more than vulgar pulp fun, and many of the smaller publishers folded and allowed their characters to lapse into the public domain. That’s where Project Superpowers comes in by reintroducing characters originally used by Fox Comics, Crestwood Publications, and Nedor Comics to a new generation.
The story opens on an old man who was once the Fighting Yank, a patriotic-themed hero, who is directed at evil by the ghost of his ancestor, a soldier who fought in the Revolutionary War. He is quickly visited by another apparition, the American Spirit, who has bad news regarding the direction that the Fighting Yank had gotten from his phantom companion in his younger years.
In the closing days of World War 2, Fighting Yank and his allies came across Pandora’s Box. Being an otherworldly object, Yank’s ghost tells him that Hope has decayed in these “modern” times and is no longer in the box. His solution is for all the heroes to sacrifice themselves to the box because they represent Hope. However, when Yank conveys this to the team, they quickly shut the idea down. Sacrificing themselves after earning their victory on the say-so of a guy who may speak to ghosts or may simply be schizophrenic is just too tenuous for the high cost. Undeterred, the Yank spends the next years secretly hunting the heroes down and trapping them inside the box which explains why we haven’t seen any books with these characters in the last 50 years.
Although originally billed as a way to prevent World War 3, the American Spirit reveals that trapping the heroes in the box (which is actually an urn) was actually a plan to take them off the board so the United States could become the dictatorship that the heroes were fighting against in the Big One. As the Yank realizes his mistake, the old man sets off to free the heroes with the help of the two phantasms.
There’s a ton of reasons to love this book. Alex Ross’s covers are phenomenal, seeming to combine modern photo-realistic art with Golden Age flair. Carlos Paul’s interior art is always clear and attractive and has an oil painting-like quality that seems inspired by the Ross covers. Jim Krueger’s writing on the series helps introduce all the main characters in an organic way.
I’m definitely picking up the second, and final, volume of Project Superpowers based on the strength of this trade. Lucky for me if I’m still not satisfied there are multiple solo spinoffs such as The Black Terror, Masquerade, The Owl, and the Death-Defying ‘Devil.
Final rating (out of 5):