All posts by Ken

A Review of Project Superpowers, Vol. 1

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):

5 of 5 star rating

Nostalgia Corner Presents: A Review of the Runaways, Vol. 1

Maybe it’s just me but I’m not in love in with Brian K. Vaughn’s latest series, Saga.  The surreal tale of a mother and a father on different sides of a galactic war fighting to be left alone and for their life of their child should be compelling but the book seems almost silly in its inclusion of gonzo sex scenes and bizarre twelve-breasted characters.  Brian K. Vaughn has done much better stuff such as Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, and Runaways.

The story opens on six children, ranging in age from eleven to sixteen, who are keeping themselves company while their parents have their annual meeting about the charitable foundation they run.  When the six discover a secret passageway that leads them to the meeting room, they see their parents dressed in outlandish costumes making a human sacrifice of a young girl.  Stunned at what they see, they dig deeper into their parents’ secret lives discovering not only things about their felonious guardians but about themselves.  Hunted by their parents and just beginning to learn about their powers, they are also unaware that one of the six is actually a traitor.

This book does almost everything right.  Every character feels fully fleshed out, a difficult task when you have so many central characters (and both of each’s parents) and have to quickly introduce them all.  The series even finds time to plant seeds of stories that will be told in the next volume such as tipping Karolina Dean’s sexuality.  At only eighteen issues, the storytelling is tight and to the point but still manages to include different threats and subplots which keep you reading.  With the women outnumbering the men on the team 2:1, Runaways has also been praised for its strong central female characters.

The artwork is very clean and easy to follow.  The artist fully renders each character with no artistic shorthand but still in a cartoony enough way to pop on the page.  The colorists also deserve praise for their contribution, Brian Reber for the first twelve and Christina Strain for the last six.

With its quick wit, solid plot, beautiful art and heartwarming interpersonal relationships, Runaways creates a credible, interesting origin story for its characters.  Steeped in teenage angst and girl power, this book never comes off as trite or naïve due to the strength of the writing.  Much like Fables, it’s a book I enjoy and it’d also be on the top of my list to recommend to any female comics reader.

Final rating (out of 5):

Star 5

 

 

Writer:  Brian K. Vaughn
Artist: Adrian Alphona