Project Superpowers: Chapter Two Prelude from Dynamite Entertainment has two things going for it. First, its cover price of $1.00 is very hard to pass up for any comics fan in a tough economy; even without actual story pages. Oh, there are four and five page excerpts that tease upcoming Dynamite spin-offs from Project Superpowers like Black Terror, Death-Defying Devil and Masquerade, but most of the issue is designed to highlight the second thing that this book has going for it, Alex Ross design work on the public domain golden-age heroes that make up the series large cast.
It is here that virtually all fans of Ross will experience a wave of major déjà vu, but first flip to the inside back cover of this issue for starters. There you will find credits listed for Dynamite’s upper echelon. President Nick Barruci, Chief Operating Officer Juan Collado, Associate Editor Joseph Rybandt, Creative Director Josh Johnson and Graphic Designer Jason Ullmeyer. I suspect that one (or all) of these guys are huge, and I mean HUGE, fans of the DC Comics mini-series "Kingdom Come" from 1996.
Even as Alex Ross was working on his breakout Marvels, published by Marvel Comics in 1994, he had already decided to create a similar "grand opus" about DC Comics fictional superheroes. Ross wrote a 40-page handwritten outline of what would become Kingdom Come and pitched the idea as a project similar in scope to Alan Moore's Watchmen (1986-1987) and Moore's infamous "lost work" Twilight of the Superheroes. Ross eventually teamed with writer Mark Waid to produce the sales dynamo set in a dystopian future about the final days of Superman and his heroic peers.
The design work that Ross originally created for the fictional denizens of the DC Universe has been featured over the ensuing years in many collected volumes, trading cards, etc.; and now Dynamite has allowed Ross to, in effect, duplicate the look, feel and tone of that mega-hot property from more than a decade ago.
One has to wonder though that given the impact "Kingdom Come" and similar properties had on conventional superhero universes from the major publishers, why Dynamite took the easy route in re-crafting their rather unscathed golden age heroes in the same dark vein. It may have been a harder sell to a jaded readership, to re-introduce this assortment of lost characters as true heroes with a simpler, more innocent perspective on the changed world that they’ve been away from, but NO, we get more arbitrarily changed, flawed, damaged or "darker" versions of the same-old-thing, than you can shake a stick out.
I understand the concept of mining a time-tested idea, but these guys are striking the EXACT same beats as "Kingdom Come". The sidekicks are cast in opposition to their elders, just like in Kingdom Come. The villains, plus a few corrupted heroes, control the world through a corporate setting, just like in Kingdom Come. As you sort through page after page of Ross designs, you see the same thing again and again, and how something like this doesn’t earn a copyright infringement suit is beyond me.
This has all been done before, and in better fashion, by Ross for sure. Sadly, if you are one of the readers of Project Superpowers, you already know that art wise, the ongoing series has nothing like the talent of Alex Ross on the interiors. It is astonishing that just having Ross participate on covers and character design alone, Project Superpowers has been effectively able to reel in so many willing fish, but given the apparent flaws in the entire output of Dynamite Entertainment’s Project Superpowers efforts, it won’t last forever.
Kingdom Come was an instant classic, and if you are a true fan of Alex Ross, go ahead and pick this up (because the price alone is well worth it), but this too-easy, rip-off, bullshit kind of intentionally, derivative stuff can't go the way of the dodo soon enough.