Comic Fodder

Project Superpowers vs. the Twelve

Two comic book projects had a strangely similar theme, and both started at the same time. Since the paths of each have been different, it may not be fair to do a straight comparison, but it does present a good lesson for publishers to see the outcome.

In many areas of life, there are parallel projects, parallel scientific discoveries, and so on. The invention of many things that we take for granted today (the telephone is one example) were being worked on in different parts of the world at the same time. Maybe it is awareness of this phenomenon which has helped spread the idea of parallel universes, as people wonder how things might have turned out differently if somebody else had gotten to a particular point first.

In movies especially, this like-minded competition happens frequently. Rival studios often find themselves racing to complete a particular film when they hear the studio across the street is working on a similar concept. 1492: Conquest of Paradise and Christopher Columbus: The Discovery were both rushed to completion in 1992. There were a couple of Robin Hood movies that came out in close succession, and Tombstone debuted in 1993, overshadowing Wyatt Earp in 1994. The list includes Dante’s Peak and Volcano 1997, Deep Impact and Armageddon in 1998, etc. Today there are two different projects involving the year 2012 in development, and studios always think if they can get out the door first, that one will win.

In comic books, we’ve had a rash of visitations to Golden Age-era creations. Marvel has come up with The Twelve, and Dynamite debuted their Project: Superpowers. Not to be outdone, DC has tapped J.M. Straczynski, the writer of The Twelve, to come over and resurrect some old Impact Comics characters and incorporate them into the DCU proper. It may or may not be a coincidence that the push to incorporate Milestone characters has come around this time frame as well.

The Twelve started off with a bang, sizzling up the sales charts. It was by no means a guaranteed hit in the concept stage. I mean, these were very old, basic archetypes, several of whom duplicated each other on face value. Could there be enough differentiation between Mr. E and Phantom Reporter, both just guys in a cape and a mask? Then take a look at the Witness, with only a slight variation on the mask.

In actuality, the series worked. J. Michael Straczynski found a way to bring forward a large group of superhumans right into the Civil War era of Marvel, and present a stark contrast to the dynamic found everywhere else in the Marvel universe. These were people who grew up trusting in their government, never stopping to question its inherent goodness or integrity. Forget Steve Rogers trying to find his place in modern society, we had a whole group trying to learn where they each fit in! Weston’s art was great, and the series was tinged with nice bits of mystery and revelation.

About the same time, Project: Superpowers was introduced. Why, look at that! It’s based on a bunch of Golden Age forgotten heroes who are revived in the modern present! What a great time to do this! This series had a more complicated premise and a much bigger cast, and after the first series of seven issues, they still weren’t really done introducing everybody. The series was anchored by the stellar covers and brainchild of Alex Ross, with co-plotting by the trusted Jim Kreueger. Carlos Paul did a good job on the interior art, and the whole thing was published by Dynamite Entertainment.

The difference between the two series ended any possible comparison. One series actually reached the finish line, and ended.

The Twelve series ended after issue 8. Out of the twelve issues planned for the series, we have seen nothing for months, with no real explanation. As time passed, we set aside the regular ‘late artist’ explanation, and rooted around in the rumors of Straczynski’s discontent. Marvel’s editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada, had famously overruled the writer on the direction of Spider-Man and dismantled the nicely-written effort to reunite Peter Parker with Mary Jane. After all of those issues, Quesada’s editorial edict forced a story where Mephisto wiped the memory of everyone in reality, and erased the marriage between Peter and MJ. The story was horrible, and arguably ranks as the #1 or #2 mistake in the life of Spider-Man, if not all of Marvel’s history.

But wait, there’s more! No sooner had that mystical do-over landed than Marvel decided they absolutely HAD to have Thor in their next big crossover. Straczynski had been writing Thor, to great acclaim and great sales. Starting to see a pattern here? Quesada and company have glossed over this in interviews, and everyone is trying to remain professional, but in the back of the mind, you have to wonder how motivated Straczynski is to get back to finishing his Twelve story. Because Hollywood has come calling again.

Straczynski has had almost as interesting a time with Hollywood as he’s had in comics. His Babylon 5 series was tossed around so much on the TV viewing schedule, you almost had to have a time travel device to keep up and catch the next show. His follow-up series, Crusade, was canned after only a few episodes. In 2008, though, he was the writer for the movie Changeling, and deals were quickly announced to give him a role to play in several other projects: Silver Surfer, Forbidden Planet, and World War Z, among others. It is about this time that The Twelve ran into problems.

Official word from the Marvel suits is that The Twelve is still in progress and will be finished. Given the years that it took for Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk to be finished by a Hollywood person, and the legendary delays involving Kevin Smith in the past, I won’t hold my breath. The one unforgivable sin in comics is to not finish your story. If the higher-ups cancel your series on you, that’s one thing. The fans understand that. But to start something good and then leave it half-finished is the worst.

Project: Superpowers did the opposite. They not only finished their series on time, but they expanded. Three mini-series came out in rapid succession to better showcase some of the characters: Black Terror, Masquerade, and the Death-Defying ‘Devil. Their saga continues to unfold in Project: Superpowers: Chapter Two, the series with too many colons! With the star power of Alex Ross covers, a smorgasbord of variant covers, a solid plot and several good artists, this is proving to be an entire new universe that is slowly fleshing out. The sales aren’t as good, but that may partly be due to the death-grip the big two companies seem to have on fanboys wallets, leaving them with less money and/or inclination to branch out and try other places.

In a nice piece of irony, characters from The Twelve were also used sort of, in the Avengers/Invaders mini-series, their facades used to disguise the more modern heroes who ended up visiting the WW-II era. It’s ironic because Alex Ross did the covers for that series too, and had an arrangement with Marvel that gave Dynamite Entertainment a credit in every issue of that series. So while Marvel went out of its way to try to keep their Golden Age heroes in the fans’ minds, it was also inadvertently in the same place that gave publicity to the publisher of Project: Superpowers.

If The Twelve had finished, it might have won the fight, and even with its tardiness, it takes several more issues of Project: Superpowers to add up and make the same amount in sales, but it eventually will. Because it’s still being produced, on a timely schedule. The Twelve, no matter if it is ever finished now, no matter if the story itself might have been better, is already destined for the history books as a footnote of disaster, and one of the worst cases of tardy publishing in the history of comics. Give me Project: Superpowers any day. At least I’ll actually have a chance of getting it!

Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.