Blackcross finds superstar writer Warren Ellis attempting to reboot the world of Project Superpowers. The collected edition is now available.
A spectral serial killer draped in the American flag leaves a bloody trail across the country, en route to the small Pacific Northwest town of Blackcross. He mutilates his victims by carving flag-esque symbols onto their chests. In the town itself, several people are hearing voices, seeing ghosts and enduring bizarre experiences that should kill them but don’t. The two phenomena merge, with a handful of locals channeling the powers of their doppelgangers from another world, imprisoned in a mystic urn. The American Spirit is determined to keep them trapped. A brutal showdown is inevitable.
Blackcross is an attempt to jump start the stalled Project Superpowers franchise. That was Dynamite’s attempt to carve out its own superhero universe by updating dormant, public domain characters from the Golden Age and bringing them into the present. Ellis takes a handful of those recreations and infuses them into a dark, moody noir, steeped in horror and supernatural elements.
It’s a fairly interesting idea and Ellis gets some decent mileage out of the mystery. He creates an effective atmosphere of constricting dread and sketches some damaged souls who keep the mystery involving even if they wind up feeling a bit underdone. Ellis upends the original premise of Project Superpowers by suggesting that the imprisoned heroes had earned their banishment and toys with the notion of which side is noble and which misguided. Ellis ends the story on a deliberately ambiguous note. If it’s not his most gripping work, it’s still interesting seeing him play in this sandbox and try to take the characters in a different direction.
Artist Colton Worley deploys a scratchy, shadow-drenched approach that fits the dark noir atmosphere. He’s effective at evoking the subtle horror of the primal natural settings and gives the proceedings the appropriate eerie tinge that makes Blackcross stand out from the average superhero offering. But at times the art can be almost too impressionistic, slipping into sludginess that can make some of the action difficult to track. Colorist Morgan Hickman does some effective work with a muted, moody palette that enhances the dark feel of the storytelling. The book has its own look and feel, but its graphic sensibility might not be for everyone.
Fans of the original Project Superpowers might be confused as to how this new take on the concept fits into the previous series. While Blackcross is an interesting riff, it also doesn’t quite come across with the colorful characters that made the original revival involving. It can also be quite violent, with plenty of scenes that will make even a jaded reader flinch.
Blackcross is a tricky book to recommend. It’s an interesting variation on a concept and Ellis is always worth reading. Beyond Ellis fans, it’s hard to peg just who this book is for. It doesn’t really pack what fans of the existing Project Superpowers books liked about the franchise and these characters don’t have much of a profile beyond that audience. It’s worth reading, even if it doesn’t quite hit the mark, but you really have to be ready to meet the book’s quirks on their own terms.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on May 20, 2016.