Last time I sampled "Black Terror," Jim Krueger was handling the scripts and Mike Lilly was handling the pencils. Since issue #5, though, Phil Hester has taken over the series, under the direction of cover artist, plotter, and all-around "Project Superpowers" mastermind Alex Ross.
The Hester/Lilly team is a better fit for this series.
I still don't particularly enjoy the Dynamite superhero approach of the pencil art covered in garish digital paints in such a way as to turn the entire issue into the 21st century equivalent of side-of-the-van airbrush illustrations. But that's the norm from these "Project Superpowers" comics, and Mike Lilly packs his pages with so much energy, so much swirling action and wild dramatic gestures, that it doesn't look so bad. It looks like superhero manhau drawn in a kung-fu spirit, something that might be called "Fist of the Black Terror" instead.
The colors still make the comic a bit sickening to look at, but at least it's not dull.
And Phil Hester packs issue #9 with story, giving us the kind of heavy narration that we rarely see in the decompressed comics of today, and giving Lilly plenty of panels to draw on each page. This sucker is dense, and I appreciate it for being so.
The narration is a bit like junior-league Alan Moore, with lines like, "The humble stone and wrought iron buildings of your youth wither like stunted plants on a forest floor, starved by the alien skyscrapers towering above." But that kind of tone is in keeping with the pulpy flavor of "Black Terror," and with so few comics even trying to aspire to the dense narration of early Alan Moore, it's kind of a treat to see it here. It's charming, in an old-fashioned sort of way. But this whole line of comics is all about old-fashioned kinds of stories, with Alex Ross as the grandfatherly figure ranting about how comics were better in the good old days.
And maybe comics were better then. But as entertaining as "Black Terror" #9 is, with its swirling Lilly art and its densely-packed Hester narrative, it's still overburdened in its traditionalism. There's nothing in the plot of this story that we haven't seen before -- it's another musty villain pretending to be something else, another conflicted hero trying to do what's right. It's a solid, dependable tale. But that's all.
Although the appearance of a giant flying pirate ship on the final page does hint at something better.