A comic book centric blog and other sophisticated pleasures
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Project Superpowers: Chapter One
How many times will the Watchmen be attempted again? Granted, Dynamite's go at it here is more than 30 years later, but if you're not bringing something really new to the table I'm hard pressed to say why I should be interested. But, I didn't have to be. Lee was, or someone before him for all I know, and now it's arrived on my doorstep.
Like Watchmen, we have a bunch of old timey heroes that no one remembers. Actually, these guys are probably even less known than the cast of Watchmen's foundational characters. Our cast consists of The Fighting Yank, Samson, The Target, Mr Face, Masquerade, The Flame, The Death Defying Devil, Pyroman, The Black Terror, V-Man, Hydro, The Green Lama, The Scarab, and The Arrow. The only female in the bunch is Masquerade.
And lest we get into any of our recent controversy about spoilers in material that's 4 years old, I'm going to talk about the plot of the book, ok? If you're saving up to read this sometime down the road and have a particular fondness for surprises in plotting, stop now.
Not that there's anything much that's surprising here. Part of it is that I never felt like I had a feel for who the characters were the way I did with Watchmen. By the end of those twelve issues I knew what kind of people they were, what motivated them, and what their weaknesses where. Here there's a larger cast and only 8 issues worth of story. Really, more like 7 1/2, as the collection is issues 0-7, and 0 was just a teaser thing.
So, here's the gist. The Fightining Yank is the center of the story. He and all but The Scarab were heroes fighting the Nazis in World War II. Once the Germans surrendered they went to Japan. In fact, their last mission in the war was to try to get the Japanese to surrender before the second atomic bomb was dropped on August 9, 1945. They did manage to stop the dropping of the bomb on the first target but the plane just continued on to Nagasaki instead. Samson was blinded in trying to stop the bomb and The Flame disappeared, apparently killed by his own flames that he couldn't control.
What was really going on was that The Fighting Yank, at the direction of the ghost of an ancestor who had fought with George Washington during the Revolutionary War, was trapping his teammates in Pandora's Urn (not a box) so that they, representing hope, would cause the evils of the world to return to the urn and leave the Earth. When he proposed this idea to the team they refused, but he surruptiously started taking them out while on missions, starting with The Flame. He manages to get them all except Samson and The Green Lama, who's a mystic sort who has returned to whatever mystic province he inhabits.
The story really starts in the present, on a world not much like our own. It's run by Dynamic Man and his family of dynamic beings. They're all actually robots but people don't generally know that. They don't directly run the world but have a major corporation that essentially has a large influence on the US, at least. They're running wars for the US that no longer involved Americans dying. See, they just take the dead bodies of soldiers who died in previous conflicts and reanimate them, using them to fight instead. They mostly look like the stereotypical Frankenstein's monster, with the flat top and black hair. Each time they're knocked out of commission they're sent to a hospital that revives them, so long as they can be cobbled back together. Obsessions of the moment being what they are, they're mostly fighting in the Middle East over oil.
The Dynamic Family has the urn and doesn't want the missing heroes returned but The Fighting Yank, now elderly, gets it and breaks it, returning the heroes to the world from the dimension they had been all this time. Some are changed by their stay in this other dimension. The Face, for instance, who wore a demon mask, now finds it permanently attached to his face.
There are number of things going on, few of which are resovled in this arc. The Fighting Yank's ancester turns out to be a demon trapped in Hell who had thought that getting the heroes trapped in the urn would somehow atone for his betrayal of George Washington during the Revolution, freeing him from Hell. That's really the only arc that has some resolution, as that plot fails.
There's more with Dynamic Man trying to get a seat on some secret cabal that's actually directing him, and which turns out to have The Scarab as a member. The Scarab was operating under the radar in the Middle East, not letting anyone see him, even in costume. The Black Terror's sidekick hasn't reappeared from the urn's diminsion, though he was taken into it at the same time as The Black Terror. The fact that they showed up at different points on the globe and not in NYC where the urn was broken is never explained. I don't think they returned to the places they originally disappeared because The Flame returned in LA and disappeared in Japan.
Clearly this is an ongoing series, as is clear by the end of this volume, not to mention in the name - Chapter One. What this is bringing to reading enjoyment is nostalgia for an era. There's not much in the way of nostalgia for these largely unknown characters, but plenty for the World War II era and the heroes spawned in comics at that time. There's far too little development of the characters and far too much hopping around the globe chasing various conspiracy threads. At the back of the book are pages and pages of Golden Age characters drawn by Alex Ross, many of whom are not even in this volume. I don't know if this means they'll show up in some future stories (now past, I suppose, as I write this 4 years later), but more than anything this line up shows how often the characters were redundant of one another. That and some really awful names. Martin The Marvel Man? Professor Supermind & Son? Yank & Doodle? Really? Did even pre-puscent kids think these were great? I think my favorite is Jack. How's that a nom du guerre? It's just a version of John.
The credits say Alex Ross and Jim Krueger were behind the story, with Krueger doing the scripting. The original covers were by Ross but the interior art was mostly Carlos Paul, who did 1-7, with Douglas Klauba doing 0. It's a pretty piece of work, even without Ross doing any interiors.
I think the strength of The Watchmen is that it told one story limited to 12 issues. It was a large story with a lot of elements, but it had a huge amount of character development in those 12 issues and kept focused on the getting from point A of the Comedian's death to point B of Veidt's plan to unite the world. Oh, and that's a spoiler about The Watchmen, in case you haven't read it in the last 30 years.