Anyone who's been following the ins and outs of Alex Ross and company's growing "Project Superpowers" line of comics through Dynamite Entertainment knows the one thing the series has an abundance of is characters. From the over one dozen heroes trapped outside of time at the saga's inception to the multiple hero and villain combinations that have cropped up across the first major arc and multiple spin-off series, the Superpowers Universe is well on its way to a cast of thousands.
Keeping score of the redesigned characters that Ross paints into each new "Superpowers" cover and weaves into each new story can spin the head of even the biggest fan, so to introduce readers to the newest names in the Superpowers Universe, CBR tapped Ross for a character-by-character breakdown of the fresh faces in both the main series – "Project Superpowers: Chapter 2," whose second issue ships this week – and the current "Meet The Bad Guys" spin-off miniseries.
While the as of yet unseen members of the cast in "Chapter 2" obviously come as natural outgrowths of Ross' big plan, the writer-artist told CBR, "Ironically, what this all symbolizes is that all of these [heroes featured in the 'Bad Guys' series] were never trapped in amber or held in time. They're not the guys who were trapped in the Pandora's box. Green Lama, Fighting Yank and Samson have either aged or remained un-aged but lived that 60 years since their friends disappeared."
Read on for a more detailed take on the new villains testing the heroes, including exclusive sketch art from Alex Ross and the debut of the "Meet The Bad Guys" #4 cover.
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The Golden Age of comics was also the Golden Age of teen sidekicks. Aside from giving young Depression-era readers giving a character to identify with in books, most of these domino-masked dynamos give modern readers something to chuckle about while studying comics history. But Ross and "Chapter 2" writer Jim Krueger are on their way to proving teen sidekicks don't have to be silly, since the debut of the rough and tumble teen team The Inheritors in issue #1.
ALEX ROSS: [Making the sidekicks a team] helps the main adult characters to seem less absurd in that context of men hanging out with little boys in the way that the boys are on the same level of crime fighting. The innocence of the Golden Age of comics is something you see a lot when you look at the typical Batman and Robin kind of relationship. Separating the two and having the later arrival of the sidekicks where they make their own Teen Titans kind of team seems a good way to spotlight the ideal of youth and what they were supposed to represent. That's where the name Inheritors comes from as opposed to calling them The Sidekicks. It seemed a unique thing to suggest – this is what it was really all about. And we see that currently with Dick Grayson taking on the mantle of Batman. We never expect to see these things happen in comics, but that's what's intended: the younger hero being prepared for the role of older brother or parent.
And in regards to the unique position of the leader of this group – Boy King who was never anybody's sidekick – he should be the leader. He's a kind. And he's a metaphor for the more Middle Ages type superhero like a Prince Valiant, who he was obviously inspired by. It's a great way to try and make their very existence in our story line a touch more unique than pairing off all the heroes with their sidekicks of old. We're trying to find new and unique ways to make this material palatable for a modern audience.
THE FUTUREMAN A.K.A. PRESIDENT POWER
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A frightening twist on the standard "hero in a rocket-powered future" trope of Golden Age comics, Ross' redesign of the character once called Power Nelson debuts this week in the second issue of "Chapter 2" -- although his introduction to the present raises many questions about the past and the future of the U.S. government.
ROSS: I got this idea into my head for making a character a metaphor for the American president, which was a different guy a year ago. But the idea was making a metaphor for abuse of power embodied in this particular representative. And the name President Power had stuck in my head. Looking at the cast list of all the guys we could revive, the character called Power Nelson, the Future Man seemed a good fit for that. Reading up on who he was, it was bizarre how it seemed tailor-made to the purpose I had. The character was not supposed to be in adventures in the 1940s. He was written for a “Legion” time period of the future, which at that time was the 1980s. Now that we're in the 2000s, this character's glory days are actually behind him, but he still represents the future of where these other characters came from. He wasn't a character who bounced back in time to the '40s – his adventures simply took place in his own made up future 1980s.
The villain that he fought in those stories was a Ming the Merciless-type figure who he conquered. So now you can see in our story where he has the position of being the American president and he's also part of this conclave that controls the world, much like the Illuminati of legend. The central figure of that group is Emperor Seng who was his villain. What that leads us to understand is that some kind of peace or agreement must have been reached between this Mongol-like villain who conquered the world in the 1980s, and why doesn't the culture of the “Superpowers” present seem to know this? That Power Nelson fought against this oppressor in the past?
TRUTH & DARE
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One of the first brand new character concepts seen in the "Project Superpowers" world, the tag-team heroes known as Truth & Dare seemingly pull inspiration from marquee hero The Death Defying 'Devil. Beyond that, Ross remains tight-lipped about their appearance in next months "Chapter 2" #3.
ROSS: These characters are not from the '40s. They play towards a long range goal of creating not just new characters but new ways of attaching characters to our established heroes of the past – and also a way of designing characters as having been inspired by characters of old. I've got a great number of villains that are going to be coming who are all reflective of the classic superheroes, and their way of embodying a new design is reflection and a distortion of some of those sources. They do follow that Batman movie mold of “If you create The Batman, then the Joker is likely to result as a counterbalance."
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In tandem with the main "Project Superpowers" series, Ross and writer Joe Casey have been developing new villains for their growing universe, facing off against the heroes not held outside time in the pages of "Meet The Bad Guys." September 30's second issue of that series spotlights the ghostly Fighting Yank with a twisted take on the American Spirit known as The Revolutionary.
ROSS: It should be obvious when examining the Revolutionary that in counterpoint to the Fighting Yank, he looks like the Yanks old '40s costume taken to an extreme degree where the white shirt he wore back then is now seen as a guy wearing white makeup over his whole body and skin. He's got that classic tri-corner hat and other clothing accouterments that would seem to indicate a Revolutionary Wartime figure, which is what Fighting Yank was dressed at. But this guy is a revolutionary figure in the sense of being radical and anarchistic – revolution for the sake of rebellion. And that coming into conflict with the original -- who's no longer amongst the living but is an empowered ghost figure -- the Yank will have to see his legacy distorted. The same forces that shaped and inspired him have been taken to a degree of another kind.
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Alex Ross went truly old school for the menace in store for the blind man known as Samson. One of the more enigmatic heroes who stayed on earth while so many were swept away to Pandora's Box, the bearded battler holds strong connections to Biblical times...or does he? The answers lie in "Meet The Bad Guys" #3.
ROSS: In every character I'm trying to find some reflection of the hero's origins or some essential piece of their background inspirations, like with Fighting Yank. In the case of Samson, I've taken my inspiration from the get go not just on the '40s character but on the Biblical Samson. So, what if – not entirely different from what Mark Millar did in “Ultimates 2” where he had Thor questioning his belief that he's the actual god Thor – this guy may have come to believe he's the Biblical Samson of old. Reaching back into those origins, the villain of the Biblical Samson's time was the god that the Philistines worshipped – the enemy of his Hebrew god was the pagan creation Dagon. The character should show up with the impressive size and stature of the giant fish-god Dagon, claiming to be that Biblical figure and coming into conflict with our Samson. It's something to really get inside our characters mind and terrify him or reach towards his origins in a way that start messing with his mind.
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The final piece of the "Meet The Bad Guys" puzzle comes with the revelation that the series will wrap by looking into the life of possible double-crossing hero The Scarab. While fans have been wondering what the young armored hero’s connection to the shadowy cabal known as The Supremacy, Ross revealed exclusively to CBR that his solo issue will drive forward the plot of the entire "Superpowers" line by focusing on the specific ins and outs of that big, bad villain team.
ROSS: Scarab was already revealed in the series as being a sort of double agent of sorts that is part of that Supremacy group. So the villain of his story is The Supremacy. You get a closer view of how that balance works in his one-shot, all mixed in with fighting armor on armor action. Essentially, he's a bit of our Iron Man of sorts, so he'll be engaged in physical combat so we don't miss that all-important, must-have fisticuffs in every comic book.