Don’t let the #1 on the cover fool you, this isn’t exactly a new reader friendly comic book. What makes that a bit strange is that there is a recap page and, yet, it doesn’t really prepare you for where the story begins with a group of the revived Golden Age superheroes taking on a superpowered president of the United States who is flanked by other Golden Age heroes? Where was that on the recap page? While this is the beginning of the second chapter of Alex Ross and Jim Krueger’s story, one would imagine that things would be a bit more self-explanatory. But, with a previous series and three different mini-series, the story of “Project Superpowers” has already reached convoluted levels.
The lack of explanation is a hindrance at first, but it is refreshing to see Ross and Krueger tell their story with confidence that the reader will catch up. However, that sort of approach is better left for issues that aren’t clearly meant to be a jump-on point. Thankfully, once the main action in the first scene is dispensed with, the plot slowly reveals itself as the Superpowers apparently try to free America from the grips of the Supremacy, but appear to have gone insane to the rest of the world, including their former sidekicks. This group, now calling itself “The Inheritors,” begins to prepare for a confrontation with their mentors and try to gather as many other heroes as possible to assist them, which leads to a few surprises.
“Project Superpowers” presents an entry problem beyond the plot since none of the characters stand out and grab the reader. With a cast so large, everyone just blends into the background, even those few who get a few more lines here or there. While previous works by the pair have included characters that act as stand-ins for the readers to allow them to figure out what’s going on with this mass of people, here, it’s difficult to find grounding.
The worst thing is that the best explanation of who everyone is and what their roles are happen after the story for this issue ends and a sketchbook section, much like the first “Earth X” sketchbook, details many of the characters. This section fills in a lot of gaps and, retroactively, makes events from the story clearer. However, after their work at Marvel and DC, Ross and Krueger don’t seem to understand that the casts in those books are well known, so explanations in-story aren’t as necessary, whereas two dozen public domain Golden Age characters (plus some brand new ones!) require a different storytelling approach.
Tapped for art here is Edgar Salazar, who earned the gig after doing some great work on “The Death-Defying ‘Devil” mini-series, and he’s even better in this issue. With such a large cast, he gives everyone enough space and distinctive looks, making matching them up with their headshots at the front of the comic or Ross’s sketches at the back easier. His work looks great and is very clear. In the opening scene, another artist would have turned in a convoluted, crowded mess, but Salazar makes the showdown between the two groups of somewhat generic superheroes work well. It’s hard not to wonder what sort of work he could do with a story that would allow him to really shine.
Fans of the first series and three minis will, no doubt, enjoy this issue, which picks up right where those stories left off. Everyone else may have a bit of work ahead of them, but the core ideas here are solid and may lead somewhere interesting.