Alex Ross Prepares for "Masquerade"

While scads of lost superheroes flood the streets of New Shangri-la in the pages of Alex Ross and Jim Krueger's "Project Superpowers" series for Dynamite Entertainment, an equally impressive release-slate for tie-in books has overtaken comics shops in recent months led by solo series for the Black Terror and the Death Defying 'Devil. Painter and writer Ross's plans for his own holy superhero trinity become complete in February in the form of "Masquerade" #1, courtesy of himself and writer Phil Hester and artist Carlos Paul. Reviving the post-war Nedor publisher superheroine Miss Masque for the 21st Century, the series actually kicks off much further in the past.

"The beginning of the storyline is set in the past, setting up where she came from," Alex Ross told CBR. "Unlike the other two series, which are much more focused on the here and now, this is more of a 'How did we get here?' thing. Her journey is specifically being used to tell the tale of how the superheroes themselves started disappearing. It's from the unique point of view of someone who began to notice and then was themselves snapped up. We need to see it from the layman's perspective of being in that time period where there were these superheroes who were slowly disappearing, and then the terrible answer of what that turned out to be is finally revealed."

While the original seven-issue "Project Superpowers" miniseries (whose sequel arrives in the first quarter of 2009) left plenty of mysteries as to what exactly happened to the superheroes while they waited for release from the prison that was Pandora's Box, the issue of which writer would help unveil those mysteries remained as clear as any creative decision made in the project. "Jim Krueger recommended that Phil as a writer could help us out with writing because he knows these old characters," Ross said. "That seemed like a perfect fit to me because I've known Phil's work for such a long time that it seemed like a nice way to keep it in the family.

"I've known [Hester] to be very interested in more classical kinds of subjects, and I remember fondly the story he did Mark Millar on 'Swamp Thing' where he interacted with a character who was the metaphor for Green Lantern in the story. They weren't allowed to use Green Lantern, so they created a character called The Black Box, which was a very interesting and dark, fascinating story from back when Mark was still mostly unknown for his good work. And all the stuff he's done like 'The Coffin' and things he's worked on with Jim have shown me that he's very modern in artistic sensibility but very interested in the old school characters and concepts."

And concept serves as the watchword for what the entire **Project Superpowers** team hopes to pull off with "Masquerade," as the character's Golden Age gun-shooting basics have been updated with some face-stealing super powers and a more intense attitude falling in line with today's comic book characters. "The Golden Age Miss Masque was certainly not a dark character, but we're brining more of that sense to her life through the transformation through the timeline," Ross explained. "From then to now, it's the same person, but there's been a bit of a metamorphosis and power added to her mistique at this point. Changing the name to Masquerade implies more of a sinister cloaking of oneself or one's intentions.

"What we get in this series is a more personal perspective and a grounding of the character as a human being by Phil that's going to be taking some steps towards why her personal journey is so unique, particularly the transformation from being captured and held for 60 years and then reemerging in the world with this new ability and one's own identity folding into the very implication of the name Masquerade. In a way, her identity is going to be thrust through a number of changes because of her power."

Although, part of making the character fit into the new world Ross and Krueger have built involves recognizing that up until, now the Masque's main defining trait was the fact that she was...well, a she. "She came around just at the end of '46, just after the World War II era of superheroes. So she's a latecomer to the superhero scene at its height, but she's the dominating female character from the Nedor company, which is where Fighting Yank and Black Terror and many of the guys who are our lead protagonists come from. There weren't a lot of female superheroes. It was still a fairly rare position to hold back in the '30s and '40s."

Turning Miss Masque into Masquerade remained fraught with other troubles, including representing the character in the right way. "There's also a fine tightrope line you walk in whether or not you're over sexualizing them. Are you taking advantage of that part of their nature to sell the sex first?" Ross said. "Ultimately, that's what Miss Masque seemed to a apply when she came out: sex appeal. And we need a bit of that in our universe as well as we've got a mostly male revival going on so far. That will change going forward, but approaching here, I wanted the sex element but also a viability. The costume as it had been with the big, exposed legs and short-sleeved arms and tiny cape wasn't playing up the impressiveness. It wasn't what you'd go into a fight with. I wanted to alter that to pull back a little to her original clothing design to get to some kind of a trench coat appearance that would evoke a female Shadow. In a weird way, that's what she is in our series: a female Shadow...in bright red."

For more on "Masquerade" check back to CBR next week for a talk with series writer Phil Hester!

"Masquerade" #1 goes on sale in February from Dynamite Entertainment.

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