By any standard, Alex Ross has enjoyed a rather prolific year over the past 12 months, redesigning characters from Buck Rogers to Nightwing and Flamebird, co-writing Marvel's "Avengers/Invaders," solo writing and drawing his first standard pencil-and-ink pages for "Justice Society of America Kingdom Come Special: Superman," and of course, producing more cover artwork than most fans can keep track of.
The heart of Ross' comics work these days seems to land at Dynamite Entertainment, where he and writer Jim Krueger's "Project Superpowers" series grew from one Golden Age revival into a burgeoning universe. And along with Ross' covers and extensive character designs, an army of artists follow the painter's lead to bring the new universe to life.
"It's all a perfect mess coming together," Alex Ross told CBR of the balancing act he and collaborators including Carlos Paul and Mike Lilly pull off across their "Project Superpowers" releases. "I wouldn't want to hand us the gravity that we've figured this all out. It's kind of us writing by the seat of our pants a little bit too -Â kind of like a big plan made while also throwing things at a board."
As with any superhero universe, a larger plan has begun to coalesce. The second volume in the main narrative of the "Project Superpowers" story cycle arrives in comic shops this June with "Project Superpowers Chapter 2" #0. While the zero issue that kicked off the first volume of "Superpowers" contained a short tale and voluminous character designs, "Chapter 2's" debut ups the ante with an original 22-page tale and a two-page backup featuring the origin of The Black Terror, all for just $1.00.
Beyond that, Dynamite announced a 48-page, fully returnable issue #1 in July, featuring variant covers by Stephen Segovia (who will remain in that job for the length of the series) and Jae Lee, one of many superstars contributing covers in advance of names like John Cassaday and Marc Silvestri.
Of course, Alex Ross remains the main attraction when it comes to the "Project Superpowers" characters and the series covers, and he launches "Chapter 2" with an homage to a Golden Age great of a different stripe than the magazines that launched characters like The Target or Pyroman. "It's outrageous in its context, but if you remember the old 'All-Star Comics' [#37] cover from the '40s with the Injustice Gang cutting up the map of America -Â instead of them all holding these daggers, [the #0 cover is] Black Terror holding the one sword into the middle of the Pentagon. So it's kind of an over-sized tribute to that image," explained the artist, foreshadowing his character's attack on the government as "Chapter 2" gets underway. The move to have the heroes of the universe make their own claim to power comes on the heels of the first book's revelations as well as seeds planted within last year's several tie-in miniseries.
Explained Ross, "'Black Terror' is the most immediate in questioning how the U.S. government he left behind changed in the absence of all the superheroes -Â putting that on the table most directly. [But] the substance of the series introspectively moving forward will be 'Who is the 'Devil?' or 'Who are any of these characters?' really. And 'Masquerade' gave more of a human perspective on her being a hero who was robbed of her original time period and thrust through time. Each mini gave an interesting spin on the experience all of them would have shared."
Beyond the general anti-establishment attitudes of Black Terror and company, Ross teases that "Project Superpowers: Chapter 2" will pack in more plot lines, including the final unveiling of series villain The Claw, as well as the untimely reemergence of another Golden Age hero. "The aspect with the government is one part, and the parable to that point of heroes going further than they've ever gone before is seen in caricature form with the emergence of one of their former hero partners - a guy called Captain Future, who basically acts like a demigod when he walks the earth again," Ross revealed. "He's absorbing the spoils of mankind with no thought towards what his previous role had been as any kind of defender or hero. He's just having a rollicking good time. That's something that the heroes themselves will find they need to be on guard against it as an out of control first.
"There's also the continuing question of 'What is The Claw?' - this presumed organization that's almost like a multi-headed organism connecting with all these individual bodies across the world. What is that leading up to? We've got a big climactic finish that's coming in the rebuilding of the classic Claw along with this superhero caricature taken to an extreme which points the finger at the heroes themselves. Are they taking too far of a leap from becoming the defenders of mankind to becoming the one determining where we should go as a nation and how we should be run."
Aiding Ross and Krueger in bringing their vision to the new book is artist Edgar Salazar, who earned the "Superpowers" interior gig after impressing the creators with his work on Joe Casey's spinoff "The Death Defying 'Devil." "I definitely liked how exact he was towards reference and showing a good understanding of human characterization in the faces of characters," Ross said of Salazar. "That was very inspiring to me.
"I'm also very satisfied and happy with everything Carlos Paul has done and continued to do for us on things like the 'Masquerade' series. I want to still be working with both."
For his part, Salazar approached the new job with equal amounts excitement and trepidation. "It was all very scary when presented to me, you know?" he told CBR. "This is the first time I had a team book, and in fact 'The 'Devil' was my first superhero comic book, so it is very demanding. But drawing so many characters is turning out to be extremely fun as you have to give everyone his own personality. Pretty much I get quite a bit from Alex Ross' designs as he clearly reflects the personality of every character in each design."
Salazar continued, "'Superpowers' is more balanced than ''Devil' in terms of action and 'calm' (but very interesting) sequences, so in that sense it's easier as you have the chance shift to one and to another, for how the 'Superpowers' will handle the Pentagon - and it's wild - but I prefer to let you guys see it on your own so I won't spoil the fun. Let's just say, it's like Dynamite said, it's 'faster, more intense, but more back story on more characters.' If I had to compare this to anything before, it's 'Empire Strikes Back.'"
One of the most significant challenges for artists on "Project Superpowers" from Salazar to Ross remains finding space for so many characters to share equal time, and as expected, Salazar began picking favorites early. "I am not counting Black Terror and 'Devil as they may have the coolest costumes, so stating that fact aside I have got to say that many of them are really fun to illustrate. Pyroman is really cool to draw which is weird as I didn't recall him as much in the first series. I also like Samson, which has all of the biblical influence, plus the guy is strong as hell! Mr. Face is such a great character. I think he's my favorite so far - and I would imagine that you can really make some really awesome stories with him with hinting around his demon face and his really neat outfit. I would love to see him in some sort of noir cinema type of comic book with some Lovecraft elements, but I think I am getting ahead of myself and away from the theme."
Ross similarly expressed interest in expanding the stories of Mr. Face and Pyroman before admitting, "I want to bring everybody into the fore more, but it's a question of how much space we're going to have. I can say that we've got all these ideas, and then it will be a question of how well we get Jim to write these ideas along the way. Jim's a little bit like our weird savant. You have to trap him and go, 'Jim, remember when we discussed this?' and he'll go, 'Oh yeah, yeah...right.' Wish us luck.
"We've got major points we've got to hit on some subplots that have been developing, but I fear -Â being perfectly honest on the reality of -Â that we've got guys we brought on stage a few issues ago that we may never get much more depth on. Like the Owl, who showed up at the end of the original series, may still never get a greater moment other than he's around and you see him. I would love to spend some time to identify this character as a classic Batman archetype who had all this great equipment and even an Owl-Girl sidekick. I'd like to bring all of that on stage, but over the course of the series, we've got a lot we're trying to bite off."
Return to CBR tomorrow for a look inside "Project Superpowers Chapter 2" from a storytelling end, as writer Jim Krueger reveals what it takes to balance the cast and drive the story. Additionally, artist Doug Klauba previews the secret origins of the series' stars.