This week, one of Dynamite Entertainment's big franchises starts back down the path of new publishing with "The Owl" – a new superhero mini series set in the world of Alex Ross and company's "Project Superpowers" revival of Golden Age characters.
But while the previous revivals that were part of "Project Superpowers" run – characters like Black Terror and the original Daredevil – had some name recognition with fans and collectors, the Owl is a figure from the fringes of comics history. Ross explained to CBR News that the relatively unknown status of the hero allowed him and series writer JT Krul and artist Heubert Khan Michael leeway to take some liberties that helped set the Owl up for modern audiences.
Created by artist Frank Thomas for Dell Comics "Crackajack Funnies" series in the '40s, the Owl saw a brief revival during the heyday of the Adam West Batman show where (as written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel) he enjoyed the trappings of a dark night superhero from an Owl mobile to a spunky teen sidekick. In the Dynamite version, the hero is recently returned to the present after being trapped in a magic urn since the '40s. But the the idea of a fleshed out Owl world gave Ross and Krul a chance to comment on modern comics in the mini series.
"Our Owl character's cross to bear is defined by a modern form of crime fighting taken by a new Owl Girl who replaced the old one he knew in the '40s. She's much more dark and deadly than he cares to perform his duties," Ross told CBR News. "It's sort of a commentary on the nature of the increasing violence and bloodshed in comics...It's mostly JT's series, but I remember recommending the idea that we'd focus on his old companion Owl Girl as being modernized in some capacity. But I have a feeling that it's not in there because I recommended it. We had a meeting of the minds. It was exactly what I wanted to see – this character in his own milieu of sidekicks and superheroes from the Golden Age. If he's a winged creature of the night character, he's somewhat defined by who he works with.
"Of course, the truth of the character's publishing history is that he didn't have a partner for much of his time," the artist explained. "It was only in one story towards the end of his run where his girlfriend, who had been in the book a long time, ended up putting on a costume. We've extended the idea that that's what was going on all the time with that character."
Ross said that the return for "Project Superpowers" should be seen as a heralding more work set in the world, though the future may look different than the past. "Certainly, that's been the plan for a long time," he said. "For 'The Owl' was a matter of Nick [Barrucci] finding the right writer for us to work with on this series. We were basically going to throw up everything in the air for a change, which whether or not will include my part is very much still possible. But with 'The Owl' this was a series we'd commissioned maybe a year or two ago. It was originally part of a plan where we'd release another number of series spinning out of 'Project Superpowers,' but Nick liked the character enough, and he'd barely showed up in the background of the main book so far. Nick felt he'd have legs as a cool-looking comic book hero, so we decided to get this out there. To Hell with waiting anymore.
"Now this character is arriving in a pretty owl-heavy comic book universe," laughed Ross, alluding to the popular Court of Owls characters Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo introduced in "Batman." "Similarly, the original 'Project Superpowers' pitch was not meant to coincide at all with the reemergence of other characters who had been gone for 60 years at that point. You had other books like 'The Twelve' popping up, and it's not like we were all talking to one another to coordinate this. It's a very weird world where these things are popping up. Here the Owl is something we were putting together long before Scott Snyder's Court of Owls was around and certainly before the subsequent 'Talon' series. So there's no relation at all."
But for his part, the painter and designer did draw heavily on his knowledge of comics art past to give the Owl a costume facelift, though he embraced the wild purple and green color scheme of the original. "We are starting to dull down the primary colors of superheroes so much that we're losing the almost subliminal messaging that came from the characters and time in the first place. When you get caught up in the weave of Superman's suit rather than the fact that it's bright blue, you lose some of the primal impact of that character. When you see a character in purple like the Owl, you go 'Gee, I don't see that much in comics! I don't see that in life!' And especially this is rare because this is not a villain.
"But I just liked the character design from the '40s because of all the characters we redesigned, he was the only one with a full face mask like that. It had these large yellow eyes that were very odd and then this little beak over his nose. Of course, that won't look too great if you bring it back exactly, so I devised this sort of headpiece treatment that would imply the beak without having a giant beak right on top of his nose. It's like a Spider-Man mask with the crown of an owl shape on top of it."
"The Owl" is in stores today from Dynamite Entertainment.