Monday, March 14, 2016

Project Superpowers: Blackcross #1-6

Long hailed as a genre innovator, Warren Ellis has recently been chosen to spearhead another superhero universe relaunch, this time concerning Dynamite's "Project Superpowers". The Golden Age characters, long since in public domain, have already enjoyed a revival, having been chosen by Diamond for a more conventional return in the previous decade. "Blackcross" comes on the heels of the writer's rejiggering of the "Supreme" mythos and in many ways acts as a companion piece to this earlier effort.

Finding a way to recast an odd assortment of characters in a setting that is decidedly not a major metropolitan city once again leads to a small-town mystery concerning ordinary citizens coming into contact with existing superhero lore. Their subsequent transformation is threatened by a serial killer trying to dispose of the group before they form a rag tag superhero unit.

Tasked with bringing Ellis' scripts to life is Colton Worley, a Dynamite mainstay that has yet to make a name for himself in the broader superhero industry. The relative novice has been fitted with the unenviable task of redesigning the characters placed in a gloomy forest setting, as well as animating a decompressed script that asks a lot of its artist.

Foregoing the captions, Ellis has crafted a fast paced story with frequent wordless action scenes followed by long conversations featuring the bedazzled characters trying to come to grips with a mystery involving a parallel universe and a hidden superhero community. Coupled with colorist Morgan Hickman's earthy crayon colors, the artist mostly succeeds in arriving at a view of Blackcross as a dark and hostile place, brimming with secrets and deep seated aggression. His work is raw and powerful, presenting an atmospheric tone that sometimes comes at the cost of clarity. 

The art certainly fits the story, whose ever expanding cast could have threatened to overwhelm the plot. Ellis wisely presupposes that the reader is unaware about much of anything regarding these old superheroes, past maybe the nicknames and assorted visuals. Instead, he focuses on bringing their weird characteristics to the fore, crafting a horror story more in the vein of Alan Moore's "Swamp Thing" than "The Avengers". 

The mystery regarding the transference of superhero personas past the boundaries of space and time is quickly subsumed within the conflict involving the superhero serial killer. In this way, the startled characters are dragged, snarking and bickering, into the fight with the antagonist before really getting to known each other. Their impromptu team-up presents a desperate skirmish where the cast gets to demonstrate the powers hinted at throughout the story.

The focus stays stays firm throughout, with Black Terror and Lady Satana providing a strong core for the series. It's hard to say that the other characters leave much of an impression, having largely been represented by their special abilities. Even then, they are designed realistically with only the barest hint of their original costumes.

If the company chooses to use the mini-series as a new start of their Project Superpowers universe, the hypothetical individual titles will still be tasked with having to provide character development and major world-building. Taken on its own, "Blackcross" is a professional work that tries to provide a compelling origin story for the disparate Golden Age superheroes that have yet to endure a complete overhaul which would enable them to be presentable for a potential TV series adaptation.

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