Creatures from another world are crossing over into Blackcross, Washington, but something else has already come through, and it’s killing everything in its path. Karl Siewert reviews Project Superpowers: Blackcross, Volume One by Warren Ellis.
PROJECT SUPERPOWERS: BLACKCROSS, VOLUME ONE
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Colton Worley
Colorist: Morgan Hickman
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Cover Price: $19.99
“Be Careful With Fire” warns the sign marking the entrance to Lake Nedor in Washington State. A man in a flannel shirt and jeans walks to the shore, strips naked, pulls a gas can from his backpack, and then says “Please. I don’t want to do this,” as he douses himself and strikes a road flare. Burning, he walks into the water, leaving a slick of flaming gas on the surface. Thus begins a story of ordinary people possessed by superpowered beings from another dimension. Both the themes and the images of this story are dark, and heroes seem hard to come by. The focus moves among a large cast of characters, including a false medium, a criminal lying low, a serial killer, and several members of law enforcement. In the end, a killer is killed, but we aren’t sure that the world is a better place.
Marietta is a “medium and channeller” who goes by the name Lady Satan. She lives in a decrepit cabin with a man who treats her badly.
Rob (formerly Bob) is a pharmacist in the witness protection program who’s getting what he thinks are threatening texts from someone called “bl@ckt3rr0r”.
Bart Hill is a worn-out FBI agent hunting a serial killer they’ve dubbed The American Spirit.
Maggie is a local sheriff’s deputy, a little too eager and short on social skills.
Gary is the burning man, now wandering the woods.
Jeff is the prodigal son of the Blackcross elite, returning from parts unkown just in time to meet the others.
Each of them undergoes a traumatic event that puts them in touch with their “other selves”, which we come to learn are costumed vigilantes from an alternate Earth, imprisoned by The American Spirit who now hunts for them on this side.
There’s a lot of killing and near-killing in this book, much of it shockingly casual. The American Spirit literally murders everyone he meets, carving a star and stripes into their chests. Rob becomes his “other” after a box explodes in his face, and Maggie’s doppleganger shoots her in both eyes. When Marietta’s housemate Brett finds Rob recuperating there and starts a fight, Rob punches his jaw off of his face, and in the final confrontation, someone’s spine is torn out. From the front.
DEUS EX MACHINA
There are a number of plot elements that seem too convenient. Gary’s wanderings take him to Marietta’s cabin and she teaches him to tame his flame just in time for him to dispose of Brett’s body. Jeff doesn’t show up at all until the middle of issue three of six. He arrives at the scene of Bart’s fight with The American Spirit right when Bart needs an escape, and he becomes Mr. Exposition once the whole crew comes together. Many things are explained by the mysterious “others” simply knowing what’s going on or where people are.
The six-issue arc stands on its own fairly well, but definitely leaves the reader with a lot of questions. We know almost nothing of the powers of the “others”, though we do eventually learn their identities. Rob is The Black Terror, Marietta is Lady Satan, Bart is The Daring Death-Defying Devil, Gary is Pyroman, Maggie is The Woman In Red, and Jeff is The Green Lama (Yes. There is a llama joke.) These are, of course, Golden Age characters from off-brand comics companies to which Dynamite owns the rights, but this reviewer didn’t know anything about them going in, and that didn’t detract from the story. Those in the know will probably recognize who the “others” are much more readily, though. We do learn that the “others” were imprisoned in their world. Some seem to think that was undeserved, but not all are so sure.
The art is the highlight here. Dramatic scenes are rendered in high contrast with colors keyed to the “others”. Backgrounds are rich with detail and stippled shading. All of the characters are distinct and instantly recognizable, including the two Black FBI agents and the Black federal marshal in charge of Rob’s case, who of course are all wearing the same suit. Speaking of which, it was an interesting choice to make every member of law enforcement (except for one briefly-seen female dispatcher) African-American. The doctor who treats Rob is also Black.
THE BOTTOM LINE: NOT BETTER THAN CATS
Overall, this is a story with some intriguing angles and great art, but also more than its share of flaws. Recommended for fans of Ellis or those who like a darker take on stories of established heroes, but not for a general audience.