CBR News spoke recently with Alex Ross about his work on Dynamite Entertainment's "Superpowers," a new series that revives classic, Golden Age superheroes now in the public domain including fantastic names like the Green Lama, The Fighting Yank, The Black Terror, Samson, Pyroman and many others. In many cases, these early superheroes inspired the creations of more popular characers that remain in publication today.
On "Superpowers," Ross is playing creative and artistic director and is joined by his long-time collaborator Jim Krueger, with whom he is writing the series. Taking all these different characters and bringing them together in a single universe won't be an easy job, but it's a challenge Ross and Krueger are up for. The project launches this December with a one-shot that comes with two interconnecting covers by Ross, and then the series proper launches in January, 2008.
While we've spoken with Ross about the origins of the series, we've yet to get details on the story and what thematic direction "Superpowers" will take. To get the answers to those questions, CBR News sat down with Jim Krueger to learn more about the team's plans.
We've spoken with Alex at length about how this project came together, the selection of characters and what not, but what we don't know anything about yet is the direction the story is going to take. Let's start there - what's the initial outlook for "Superpowers" story-wise? Does it begin with an origin story?
I'm not certain if "origin" is the right way to think of the first issue, or "#0" issue or one-shot. These characters are lost characters, really. They were major players at the beginning of the comics industry, and inspired the creations of so many heroes, but not too many people know them or remember them.
Fighting Yank, the Green Lama, the Devil, the Black Terror, the Flame, Target (I can't wait to get to him... er... them, well, him) and etc. We begin not with how these heroes got their powers or started in their heroic careers, but with the story of how and why they were lost and why we haven't heard from them in years.
There's a real sense of tragedy to the first issue and these heroes' attempts to stop an evil that was bigger than they were. The initial one-shot really focuses on the Fighting Yank as the one survivor of the past. He lives in regret, and sadness and guilt. But that's all going to change when he finds himself haunted by a ghost that tells him he's going to die.
As to why he's guilty, well, that's a big part of the story and the quest to bring about these heroes return.
The story is also about change as a central idea. When the heroes begin to arrive, how have they been changed, how has the world changed in their absence, how will they change the world, and how will they be changed by seeing each other again?
Also, this is a change in my writing. I find myself focusing more and more on the relationships between the characters -- their friendships, the frustrations with each other, the lies they tell each other, etc.
It's also about guilt as a theme, but I don't want to give too much away on that. Sorry. I mean it, sorry.
All good heroes also need some good, well, evil villains -- are you pulling from the comics archives for these characters as well? Any clues as to who we might see?
Well, initially, and this is part of an explanation for what happened in the past, some of the team have sort of been their own worst enemies. Not all the heroes were lost. Some joined the military, some became businessmen, some died, and more. But not all walk the high road anymore.
In answer to your question, though, yes, some of the old villains will return. Not sure I'm allowed to say who as of yet. But in some cases, there's even a comfort to facing the old villains. After all, they make sense.
These heroes have returned to a world that also does not seem to want them there. These heroes presence is upsetting the status quo, and that creates all kinds of new conflicts.
We know you guys are re-imagining a whole host of characters with "Superpowers," but what about wholly new characters? Will you guys create new characters in addition to resurrecting these classic characters?
Yeah, there will be some new heroes, many of which just begin to be introduced in the first limited series. At the same time, though, characters like the Devil and Black Terror are such fantastic characters that how can I not focus on them?
Talk a bit about the challenges of world building with "Superpowers." What shape will this world take? Will it be fantastical or realistically based? More of a DC style or Marvel style universe, or something else completely?
You know, the most interesting thing about this is that I don't know how to answer your question. Of course, that will not keep me from talking, though.
I've now written the one-shot and almost the first half of the first limited series. I love it. It's a blast, but there are things happening in it that I really haven't done before. I feel like this project has been a real growth in my approach to writing team books. Also, it's more charming and funny, I think, than I originally thought it was going to be, which I'm really happy about.
Aspects will feel fantastical, I'm sure. Part of what happens in the story is that these heroes tried to end "evil" as even a concept. But how is such a thing possible? Some would say it's done through social boundaries, through authoritarian force. Others would say this is a philosophical issue,or something to be dealt with in the realms of magic. Science might even suggest a purely physical way of getting rid of antisocial behavior. All these ways of dealing with the "evils" of our world don't really seem to get along, either, and are the reasons for loads of arguing and frustration and war.
So that's my academic explanation.
For those that have left school behind, but not the drinking they did while in school, I'll describe the book in terms of a martini:
Think of it as a shot of Claremont/Byrne "X-Men" mixed with a healthy dose of the Dematteis/Giffen "JLI" with a splash of "Planetary" and an olive plucked from Alan Moore's "Swamp Thing" (yes, that's kind of gross, but it wasn't just yams that he could grow). Oh, and of course, it's shaken, not stirred.
Has the prospect of bringing these disparate characters together proven challenging?
Yes, especially in terms of how the story sets certain members of the team against other members. I don't want to give anything away, but it's all about finding something uniquely human and important to each character. You know, I can write an issue of "Justice" and most readers bring a real care for the characters and an understanding of their histories. I can write a single piece of dialog for Aquaman, and that single word balloon carries a lot of emotional weight.
But with "Superpowers," and heroes most people don't know, finding that emotional center and universal humanity is vital and has to be established really quickly.
As you've been working on these characters, which have surprised you the most? Which have really got your imagination working overtime?
The Green Lama has been such a surprise;a blast, really. Not at all what you would expect from a Lama. (that's the Tibetan kind, by the way) His friendship with the Fighting Yank has been really fun to write,as has been the Black Terror. He's such a cool character. Like this Goth pirate hero.
Also, there's what we do to New York City. I love it.
As I mentioned earlier, too,the humor of how these characters relate to each other has been really fun. Also, because "Superpowers" carries its own sort of multiple-meanings in the story, there's sort of an audacity that Alex and I are enjoying when coming up with how these heroes go up against governments and nations themselves.
As you sit down to write these stories, do you do so with any particular goal in mind?
Yeah, certainly. It's not always "to make a point" or "here's the moral of the story," but sometimes it really is. In the case of this series, the whole point is to focus on the complexity of really trying to stop "evil." And then, to reach a point where it seems impossible and then try anyhow. It's the total heroic journey.
I do also have a goal of showing something cool and exciting and new in every issue. Something that visually kicks ass. I think that's important. But that's because I don't always read a comic, sometimes I just look at the pictures.
You said the whole point of the series is to focus on trying to stop "evil." In today's world, we hear a lot about good vs. evil in the news, primarily influenced by the War on Terror. So, the world itself is more focused on the idea of evil than it has been probably in 60 years - do you think this societal state-of-mind affects your writing of "Superpowers?"
It certainly does. I really don't like projects that try to be too "in the moment" as they tend to merely make a political point and tell people what they should believe (actually, though, what the author believes). And, of course, five years later, when the social pendulum of thought swings in the opposite direction, the book seems terribly out-of-date as we all read it and say, "were we ever so naive to think that??
I would argue, though, that the debate as to where evil comes from is about as giant as to how to deal with it now that it's here. It's the questions that I think are interesting to write about, not the giving of answers. And the debate itself is almost a common issue to the entire history of our race, not just the last 60 years. Having different heroes/villains believe and act in different things creates interesting conflicts and speaks to more than just the "flavor" of the moment philosophically.
You also mentioned that "superpowers" has multiple-meanings in the story - can you elaborate on that a bit?
"Superpowers" was a phrase first given not to superheroes but to the nations that run the world. This series will certainly be global in its approach to telling a story. But more than this, I don't think I should mention.
I never want to explain all the metaphors or meanings of anything I do. One, because it sort of takes away the relationship the reader has with the work. It steals "the thoughts" the reader might think, or worse, direct their thinking to a conclusion, again, that I inadvertently want them to have. That reduces the worth of our story. Because the worth is not just in the story but in its relationship with the reader.
As we wrap up here, talk a bit about how writing for these superheroes outside of an established universe differs from when you write books featuring Marvel or DC characters.
Well, one of the interesting things about this series, and really something that can't be done in a Marvel or DC book, is that here, a major character can change. Not only that, they can all change. That can't happen when there are four or five books out there all starring the same character.
It's like Disney. Mickey can never leave Minnie for Daisy no matter how much like Angelina Jolie Daisy appears. And I'm not saying that would be an appropriate move on Mickey's part. Mickey's on too many lunch boxes. It's not allowed.
In "Superpowers," the heroes can change allegiances, they can admit they were wrong, and be transformed by it. They can die and will.
Imagine Batman one day giving up being Batman with all the conviction imaginable and saying that he believes in society to bring criminals to justice, and there won't be a Batman any more. He was wrong. Bad guys need mercy and hope and hugs. And then there is no more Batman.
The truth is that Batman is one of the greatest characters ever. And I'm glad there will always be Batman and Spider-Man comics.
But just once, wouldn't it be great if "death" meant something? A character never went back to an old costume? Retiring really meant just that?
I think it's the reason something like "Civil War" and the "Death of Captain America" has been so successful. It really feels like a change. And we all want to be a part of that. We all want to see how the death of a hero changes people. Not that I'm not saying that Captain America won't be back in the "Avengers/Invaders" series Alex and I are, oh, wait, this is about "Superpowers," right?
Right. Back to "Superpowers." These are not going to be golden age stories. And they are never going to go back to a pre-established status quo of how these characters relate. These characters are going to grow and change and for every moment of heroism, there will be tragedy. Tragedy that can't be turned around. Moments of heroism that are not forgotten. I can't wait to write the next issue.
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