Ryan Browne And Pete Woods On Their Superhero Satire ‘Project Superpowers: Hero Killers’ [Interview]
Dynamite Entertainment founded its Project Superpowers line as a way to reverently pay respects to the Golden Age superheroes that had fallen into the public domain, but later this year a new series is taking a decidedly irreverent spin on the concept. Ryan Browne and Pete Woods' Hero Killers is set in a town where everyone's a superhero and the old guard aren't retiring to make way for the next generation, so the up-and-coming heroes decide to do something about it.
Ahead of the release of Project Superpowers: Hero Killers #1, ComicsAlliance chatted to Browne and Woods about their take on beloved characters and their influences in applying satirical tropes to an established superhero universe.
ComicsAlliance: Firstly, I have to ask, did Dynamite come to you and suggest a send-up of its Project Superpowers line, or is it the kind of story you’ve been looking for a home for?
Ryan Browne: Matt Idelson at Dynamite was looking to do something darkly humorous with Project Superpowers as a 180 to the way the line was produced before. I’ve known him for a little while, and he is a fan of God Hates Astronauts (which happens to be a darkly humorous superhero book) so he reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in pitching something using those characters. I wasn’t super familiar with this cast of folksy superheroes from yesteryear, but these characters did seem to have an inherent silliness about them which is something I love to play off of with darkly serious stories. so I did a little bit of research and came up with something reasonably off-color --- thinking that it might not go over well --- but Dynamite was all about it!
Pete Woods: I’ve known Matt Idelson for almost as long as I’ve been working in comics. When he contacted me about trying something at Dynamite in the Project Superpowers universe I figured that it would be something a little off-kilter. When he suggested Ryan as writer I was sure of it.
CA: Is there a different sense of appeal in using established Golden Age heroes and subverting them for a story like this, as opposed to designing and making up your own heroes to lampoon?
RB: A lot of the jokes are already there with how goofy some of these characters are. It really was a lot easier than starting from scratch-- and most of their personalities are completely different from how the characters were portrayed before. I think of it as sort of an alternate reality to what you’ve seen in previous Project Superpowers. Like a What If? or an Elseworlds thing.
PW: When doing something like this it’s difficult to communicate the type of humor we’re going for with brand new characters. There’s a history and a sense of propriety that comes as part of the package. That gives you a lot more to play off.
CA: What can you tell us about the three would-be heroes that decide they want to get into the cape and cowl business?
RB: When I think of dark humor, I think of Coen Brothers films. So I set that up as my template --- seemingly innocent characters that see an easy chance at fame and fortune and immediately get in over their heads. Drastic solutions to overwhelming problems. that end up just causing more problems. That sounds like a job for three wholesome, all-American sidekicks! Sidekicks are inherently nonsensical so this was just an easy layup to find the comedy in their desperation.
CA: Visually, does the series follow Alex Ross’ lead established in Project Superpowers, but with your own spin or have you re-interpreted the characters to suit your style?
RB: Pete has a wonderful, clean-line style that gives this book a unique look. As for the design decisions on the world and the heroes uniforms, I left it entirely up to Pete. I always prefer that when I am drawing a book and I think Pete agreed.
PW: I have a great deal of respect for what Alex did with these characters and the time and energy he invested in them. That said, I’m not Alex. I don’t want to try and emulate what he is a master of. I went back to the original designs and for the most part decided to run with those. I wanted to keep the characters in these sometimes outlandish costumes and have them live in a world where that’s not seen as weird.
CA: Have you two been looking for a project to work on together for a while, or did Dynamite match you up due to similar sensibilities?
RB: I’d been a big fan of Pete’s work for many many years but I had never met him. It was really Matt Idelson that brought us together to make sweet comic magic.
PW: Matt has a great sense of who would work well together. While Ryan and I have never met, I think our sensibilities mesh really well.
CA: Superhero comics often have hardcore fanbases, even with characters you might not expect. Are you expecting any pushback, or have you received any, from die-hard fans of, say, The Black Terror?
RB: Just with the nature of comedy, this is going to be a polarizing book. I think that has to be accepted by anyone who works in humor. My hope is that old fans will be open to some humor in a universe that is usually told in a serious fashion and that we bring in a whole new audience to the universe that has never heard of The Black Terror.
PW: No matter what you do there are always people who think you’ve done something you shouldn’t have. As Ryan said, that’s the nature of comedy, but I also think it’s the nature of most entertainment. Whenever you do something that pushes characters out of the status quo people react. I hope that in the end readers realize that we love these characters and respect their histories. We’re just trying to tell a fun story and maybe get more people interested in these gems.
Project Superpowers: Hero Killers #1 goes on sale May 2017 from Dynamite Entertainment.