Or – “A Crowning Moment of Superhero Awesome…”

There are comics that are interesting, comics that are innovative, comics that are completely amazing on multiple levels, but every so often, a comic comes along that is just brick-upside-the-head amazing.  When a jaded ol’ comic fan like myself encounters a concept like this, it reminds me of why I love comics in the first place…

This is one of those stories…

Alphabet Supes #1
Script: Jim Krueger
Pencils: Anthony Castrillo
Inks: Matt Brundage
Letters: Sean Konot; Chris Carroll
Publisher: Big Bad World Comics

Previously, on Alphabet Supes:  Hundreds of superhumans have come and gone in the years since Siegel & Shuster’s Kal-El rocketed to Earth, with names like Nukla, Brain Boy, Rope-Man, Xykon and more.  Their powers have ranged from the banal (Zan could turn into water) to the sublime (Mr. Immortal is, as the name would suggest, immortal) to the ridiculous (Die Fledermaus looks like a deflator!)  Some have been funny (Billy Batson as Captain Marvel) some self important (Mar-Vell of the Kree as Captain Marvel) some have been just plain awful (Roger Winkle as Captain Marvel) but seldom has a concept as deceptively simple and brilliant as this been set to paper.

Professor Wordsworth, a man of letters (See what I did there?) invented the alphabetron transmodifiers with the intent of making the world a better place, allowing his superheroic charges to transform themselves into anything they can spell.  To that end, he has assembled twenty-six eager heroes of differing ages, backgrounds and ethnicities, each entrusted with a transmodifier, and each dedicated to the belief that you can conquer any foe if your mind is sharp and your vocabulary strong enough.  The story starts at their super-secret secret headquarters…

What I like about that sequence, by the way, is the appearance of what I can only term the Golden Age Alphabet Supes monuments there in the garden, implying a decades-long history of superheroes with these powers and modus operandi.  The “forces” mentioned in that last panel turn out to be internal strife, as team leader Eddy (with the power of E) and team lancer Indio (with the power of I) have come to a disagreement on the management of the supes, while their 24 teammates watch in not-precisely-mute horror.  “The way *I* see it, Eddy, ‘I’ should ALWAYS come before ‘E’!” yells Indio in rage.  Things get even worse when Chrissy (with the power of… Oh, you get it already?  Carry on, then…) gets in the middle of their scuffle, a scuffle during which Indio’s transmodifier is damaged.

The damaged unit causes all three of the heroes to be entombed in ice, leaving the rest of the team not only leaderless, but without two of their most versatile members in Eddy and Indio.  Luckily, Uma steps up to the plate, collecting her friends to try and get them out.  “WARM” fails, as does “THAW”, while spelling “SUN” nearly melts the entire headquarters.  The various members wonder if there’s any way out of this predicament, when their all-knowing sponsor/inventor returns with the answer:  “We will free our friends with a little help from our enemies!”

I love the art in this issue, as smooth and professional a job as I’ve seen in an independent book, very reminiscent of John Byrne, with elements of Scott Campbell folded in.  The robots, by the way, are called “Alphabots” and can mirror the powers of the transmodifiers when a word requires double letters.  (Yes, I love that concept, too.)  Wordsworth explains that only Anna Graham’s (HA!) Syn-Tacks (HA Again!) can save the day, breaking up the constructs long enough to fix Indio’s wristband.  But how to get to her?  With Chrissy frozen, a car is out, as are nearly any other forms of transportation without Eddy and Indio’s all-important vowel powers.  Suddenly, O (whose name I don’t know, so I’m’a call him “Orlando”) realizes that a random comment about all the hot air being spewed is the answer, and leads the squad in transforming into a…

This may be the greatest display of superhuman powers ever committed to paper, ladles and jellyspoons.  Wordsworth’s words serve the team well, as they cleverly attack the Babbler with “tar,” knowing that her Syn-Tacks will allow them to reform into a giant rat (one of her great phobias.)  It’s also interesting to see that The Babbler’s own uniform is oddly similar to the Supes, making me wonder if Anna has more backstory with the Professor than we’re being told.  Either way, she returns to Alphabet City with the Supes, and enlists Dane (with the power of “H”…  Okay, I’m just seeing if your watching) to free the team’s members, transforming the block of ice into a pair of dice!

Uma and Suzy (her name isn’t given, so again, I’m just vamping) and two Alphabots are called up, but no one is sure what’s going on until The Babbler smiles, “You do want me to SUCCEED, don’t you?”  Anna’s plan (isolate a word wherein Indio’s broken transmodifier won’t be a factor) works, but the villain slips away in the ensuing chaos, as the team reunites again.  Indio and Eddy even mend their fences, because there is, after all, no “I” in team.  (There is, however, “Eat me” if you’re willing to use an Alphabot.)

Roughly a million years ago, on a show called the Electric Company, there was a superhero spoof called “Letterman”(not THAT Letterman) wherein the title character would save the day with the power of proper spelling and grammar, a clear influence on this issue, but the concept here is so elegant and simple that even Mark Waid admits in the foreword that he’s jealous that he didn’t come up with it.  I’m likewise awed, but even more so by the “Coming Attractions” page at the end of the issue, which promises analysis of Quentin’s codependence on Uma, a villain called the Apostrophe Catastrophe who uses Suzy’s “S” power for his own ends, and a story that is brilliantly titled “It’s Only Funny Until Someone Loses A ‘I’.”  I have to say, I love this book from top to bottom.  The art is clear and well-done, with each character remaining recognizable from panel to panel, even with their symbols aren’t visible, and different genders, phenotypes and ages represented within the group as well.  Each member gets a bit of screen time, and we’re shown enough to get a feeling for nearly all of them (a tremendous achievement, given the group has 26 members and the book only has 24 pages!)  The story is suitable for younger readers, but not insulting to a more complex intellect (presuming you know anybody what has one, ‘r sompin’) and serves as a delightful one-shot of which I wish there was more to enjoy.  Alphabet Supes #1 earns a well-deserved 5 out of 5 stars overall, giving me a story that never fails, some terrible/clever puns, characterization that shows amazing complexity, and a simple plot that nonetheless entertains from front to back.

Rating: ★★★★★

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  How often do you take a risk on an independent or lesser-known comic?  What obscure delights number among YOUR fave-rave comics?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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8 Comments

  1. November 14, 2010 at 11:31 pm — Reply

    Totally agree on the Byrneisms. I see a little les Campbell and more Bagley. This is something I’ve never heard of! Thank you, sir!

    • November 15, 2010 at 9:21 am — Reply

      Totally agree on the Byrneisms. I see a little les Campbell and more Bagley. This is something I’ve never heard of!

      I can definitely see Bagley in the hairstyles and costume designs, but there’s more than a little Campbell in the female faces and some of the younger feminine characters for me. Still, I had to check thoroughly to debunk a clear thought that Byrne or his ex-stepson Kieron Dwyer were involved in the art somehow.

      Something you’ve never heard of that is cool = The reason for Retro Reviews. :)

  2. Josh Mayfield
    November 14, 2010 at 11:33 pm — Reply

    I love this book. I picked it up at a convention years ago along with Fly Boys, which has some great Phil Hester art and another winning concept. A flying squadron wherein its members ARE the planes.

  3. November 15, 2010 at 12:33 am — Reply

    That looks like comics gold! I am sad that I missed that fine tome. I shall have to look it up.

  4. Xybec Katta
    November 15, 2010 at 5:23 am — Reply

    I guess they share the hanger with a group of mutants? Anyways, Great review.

  5. Stefanie
    November 15, 2010 at 10:52 am — Reply

    Wow. I LOVE this website!! I get to learn about the vaguest and coolest heroes. It’s awesome.

  6. Mokin
    November 15, 2010 at 11:50 am — Reply

    “reminiscent of John Byrne”

    I really thought at first that this was a John Byrne creation I had never heard of…

    …then a noticed the subtle changes and wondered…and finally read the credits…

    …I mean…some of the faces look like they are lifted from Byrne (to me, at least…)…

    …I’ll see if my local comic pusher has these somewhere…

  7. Brainlock
    November 20, 2010 at 9:21 am — Reply

    Did they not try and throw Ned in in next to Indio? they were having an argument, after all. I mean, if DICE worked, then so should NICE, right?

    and yeah, totally Byrne-tastic.

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