Project Superpowers: Black Cross #1

There are people who write comic books and then there is Warren Ellis.

Very few scribes working in comics today command professional respect and fan following in equal measure to that of the Essex born writer and novelist. Since the 1990s with his work on titles such as The Authority and Transmetropolitan, Ellis has continuously pushed the boundaries of storytelling in the medium of comic books. Having worked with both mainstream and independent comics publishers, his unique worldview has produced some of the most challenging and innovative comics of the last twenty plus years.

As is the case with his fellow writer and contemporary, Grant Morrison, Ellis has been more prolific on the comics’ scene over the last year. His critically acclaimed six issue run on Marvels' rejuvenated Moon Knight title, with artist Declan Shalvey, was swiftly followed by two books for Image Comics, Trees and Supreme: Blue Rose, the latter of which is a surreal re-imagining of Rob Liefield and Alan Moore’s 90s superhero opus in which Ellis channels concepts as far apart as European art-house cinema and time travel.

Given the task of reviving Dynamite Publishing’s line of superheroes salvaged from the Golden Age, and assembled under the umbrella title of Project Superpowers, Ellis has spliced two genres together to create a strange, but immediately satisfying whole. Project Superpowers: Blackcross #1 is the first book in the Project Superpowers reboot and, if this particular issue is anything to go by, the reader is in for some classic stuff from Ellis.

Set in the small, remote town of Blackcross in the Pacific Midwest of America, this is a hybrid tale that combines both the superhero and horror fiction genres, and yet one of the first references from popular culture that springs to mind while reading this book, is David Lynch’s TV series, Twin Peaks

Through the darkness of future past
The magician longs to see.
One chants out between two worlds
Fire walk with me.

From the opening scene that focuses on a brutal, yet almost poetic, pyrotechnic suicide, both words and visuals combine to give a sense of reality to the unreal, an almost matter of fact-ness to actions that are out of the ordinary.

One of the joys of Ellis’ take on Supreme was his succinct wordplay and the interchange between word and art, knowing when to let the visual take over certain aspects of the stories exposition and working to the adage that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, this occurs again throughout Blackcross, with artist Colton Worley in fine form.

Worley is an artist I have never encountered before this issue even though he appears to be quite prolific at Dynamite. His style, somewhere vaguely between that of Francesco Francavilla and Francis Manapul, completely suits the surreal, noir tone of the book and fits in perfectly with Ellis’ writing.
The superhero aspect of the story is noticeably underplayed here. This is not to say their presence is not felt or recognized, but this issue is already packed with mood and a sense of impending horror in the shape of a serial killer on the loose and a subplot that hints at demonic possession. To bring in too many contrasting elements at once would overload the reader so Ellis focuses on scene setting with the main players merely glimpsed (as with American Spirit) and teased. Anyone expecting a full on superhero epic should look elsewhere perhaps, but it is credit to Ellis that he has deliberately paced this issue to slowly build an atmosphere of unease into which he can introduce the tantalising pulp figures of Black Terror and Lady Satan in future chapters.

If you like your comics to be well written and illustrated, and to be just that little bit different, then I recommend you give some time over to this book. It’s a slow start, but there is a richness to this book that I feel elevates it above most of what currently sits in the racks today.


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