Last Sunday at Toronto's Fan Expo, superstar illustrator Alex Ross appeared for long lines of fans clutching copies of everything from his classic "Kingdom Come" graphic novel to his more recent work including covers and co-writing duties for DC Comics' "Justice Society of America" and "Superman," his own "Project Superpowers" series for Dynamite Entertainment, and "Avengers/Invaders" for Marvel. And beyond the full bore output Ross is putting into those projects, around the corner he's got more JSA stories in the pike including the recently announced "Justice Society of America Kingdom Come Special: Superman" one-shot, which he will both write and draw by himself, and three new miniseries set in the Project Superpowers universe leading into volume two of the main title.
With all that's on his plate, how did Ross fit in a convention appearance?
"[It was] just a giant miscalculation of scheduling," laughed Ross. "It's something that seemed like a good idea earlier in the year when there wasn't a book on my schedule many, many months ago when this was committed to. I'm not going to wind up being a more heavy conventioner after this point because I don't seem to manage all the various things that come up. And the thing is, at the end of the day I still get characterized as a guy who never comes to show. I figure you can't please everybody, but as long as I'm pleasing people with finishing the work I'm committed to doing, that's hopefully all that will matter."
And the project that Ross is furiously working to complete first is the Kingdom Come Superman one-shot, which will feature the version of Superman that he and Geoff Johns brought into the Justice Society for the storyline, "Thy Kingdom Come" and its follow-up, the currently running "One World, Under Gog." Ross admitted that going it completely alone for the "Justice Society of America Kingdom Come Special: Superman" has been a challenge so far. "I can't claim to you that I've already written the first script." Of course, that doesn't mean he isn't working yet, just that he's drawing as he writes.
"This is also the first attempt for me at doing normal comics," Ross added. "There are painted sequences because he recalls in flashback events from 'Kingdom Come' and any time we've referred to 'Kingdom Come' in this series, I've painted those panels so you're looking at a page done by Fernando [Pasarin] or Dale Eaglesham, and you'll see suddenly a page by me or a panel by me. In the book itself, the majority of pages are done pen and ink style. I'm just about done with my pencils and need to get started on inking as well as painting the ones that are in full color. And then and I'll have my stuff colored like any other comic artist. And I have no experience inking either, so the whole thing is a giant experiment so everybody should check in to find out whether or not I've failed."
Because he broke out the 23-page story as thumbnails before starting on the finished product, Ross hopes that sketch material will see print in the finished issue, as the other two one-shots in the "Kingdom Come" mini-event (subtitled "Magog" and "The Kingdom") clock in at 30 pages a piece.
"We've been talking about the payoff for this 'Kingdom Come' storyline for the last three or four years -- back to when Geoff first invited me onto the book," said Ross of the build to this pivotal moment for the JSA franchise. "I had made this recommendation of putting [the 'Kingdom Come' Superman] onto the team because I thought it would bring in the older Superman character that to me always separated the Justice Society from the Justice League.
"This also worked out to be a very personal thing for me. It's not just an experiment of what it would be like to try and write a comic. It kind of was writing itself for me as I approached the product, and it seemed like, 'If these words and the scenes and breakdowns are coming this clearly, I don't want to necessarily try and put this on the very overburdened Geoff Johns.' So I could make this my first attempt to try and write something, and this is my most personal contribution to comics with the way I approached Superman, and the version I drew of Superman would have more resonance than anything I would do in the modern day.
"I'm trying to take ownership of ['Kingdom Come'] so in a way, it would wipe away the presumption that you would put anybody else on 'Kingdom Come' material but me," Ross continued. "Obviously, if I'm available, that's the main point, but I would rather not have anybody else paint images of those characters or illustrate anything with them. I'd rather let it be only a universe which can be touched by my visual handling. It's probably because I'm a very creatively repetitive person. I'll definitely re-approach themes if I think I can do a better job."
One universe that will be holding Ross's signature style forevermore is "Project Superpowers," whose story of classic Golden Age heroes lost to the world since the '40s and returning to find themselves at odds with the modern day holds more than a few thematic similarities with "Kingdom Come." In his words, the key to reviving and reworking forgotten heroes is "Making sure you're taking good advantage of these historic properties that had a lot of importance and equal standing of sorts with the legends of the Golden Age of comics."
This October, the Superpowers Universe expands with miniseries featuring the Black Terror, The Death Defying 'Devil (originally called Daredevil in the '40s) and the superheroine Masquerade. "Black Terror was a guy who ran throughout the entire decade of the original comics boom just like Daredevil, so those would be the first two guys that we were drawn to. They were the absolute musts of the entire project," said Ross, who called the new miniseries "The connective tissue between the first and second series" of the main "Project Superpowers" title.
"I guess to a certain degree, one could go from the first main series to the next 'Superpowers,' but there's greater substance being added in terms of the turn of these characters fates into becoming Marxist terrorists and ultimately seeming to be against the government powers that be," the artist said of his long terms plans for the characters. "You're getting nuance of that more greatly, especially in the 'Black Terror' series. His entire thing is taking a hold of that character as a representation of anarchy and independence, which the Jolly Roger flag was for pirates.
"We're not going to get into everybody's story as quickly as possible or everybody's nuanced backgrounds because we keep adding more characters in this whole thing. There's a lot of guys we're reviving."
More specifically, the reason the trio of characters was picked was their ability to step into the symbolic roles of Superpowers' own holy trinity. "We have, in more standard comic form, two lead males and one female, much like your Supeman/Batman/Wonder Woman dynamic that is your main three cornerstone of comicdom," Ross explained. "You'll have to see who end up being our fourth and fifth, our Green Lantern and Flash types, although I don't think it'll be quite that specific or have anyone resembling them per se."
Of course, there are scads of possibilities for those fourth and fifth mainstays to emerge as Ross and his writing partner Jim Krueger have already revived over a dozen Golden Age heroes from public domain obscurity with even more on the way in "Project Superpowers" Volume 2, including a whole gaggle of teen sidekicks and the extremely powerful and possibly unbalanced Captain Future. "He might be an examination of power unchecked and that they themselves have within their own confines of being groups from a seemingly pure history where men were men and superheroes were all good and nice, even in those boundaries, there is excess," Ross said. "Given to the world today, they might have as much problems with their own power excess and what somebody might do with that. Captain Future will embody that problem."
Ross continued, "[The theme of the second book] is to see how far they're going to take their judgment of contemporary society. It's following through with 'If you have a problem with the government that is, what do you put in its place?' It challenges the status quo by having them take on the ruling world and the complications that eventually would rise from taking that kind of dramatic action. It's a very confrontational book."