Blackcross #1 is the latest spinoff of the Project Superpowers series, published by Dynamite Comics back in 2008. This series was a long-form story featuring many public domain superheroes from the Golden Age of Comics, and was co-plotted by Jim Krueger (Earth X) and Alex Ross, who also did the painted covers.
Blackcross #1 explores the supernatural underbelly of this universe as several former superheroes living in the rural Washington town of Blackcross are drawn into a creepy murder mystery.
The series is written by comics legend Warren Ellis with art from Dynamite veteran Colton Worley (The Shadow Now) and colors by Morgan Hickman (Lady Zorro).
Do I need to be familiar with the previous Project Superpowers books to enjoy Blackcross #1?
Yes and no. As someone who has sadly not read Project Superpowers, I’m pretty sure that reading the original series would fill in much needed backstory about the main superheroic characters in this series, who are an unnamed Human Torch type, a ex-occult superheroine with the weird moniker of Lady Satan, and Rob, a former hero who is enjoying retirement in Blackcross.
There’s also a coterie of government agents running around with a connection to these characters, some creepy murders, and the supernatural. It’s all a little confusing. However, artist Colton Worley gives the comic an eerie sense of atmosphere, and the story sometimes reads like True Detective meets Watchmen. He and Ellis let the mystery develop at a natural, if slow pace with gorgeous establishing shots of the peaceful lake, shadowy woods, and abandoned cabin where Lady Satan rips off tourists. But then things get weird.
How weird? Are we talking Transmetropolitan eccentric or his recent work on Supreme and Trees weird?
Well, sometime the color in the art shifts for seemingly no reason. For example, the flame hero at the beginning is colored like the original Human Torch in Alex Ross’ Marvels in a full painted style. But then there’s a shift to a film noir style and then this ghosted over photograph technique for some of the supernatural bits. It’s quite the head trip.
Ellis also throws a lot of possibly important arc words, and there are a couple pages of images that may be important or not so important down the road. There are also three separate plots going on at the same time, which don’t really start connecting until the last page.
This kind of hurts characterization because Lady Satan is an enigma wrapped in a mystery to go along with the murder mystery, and the rest of the people who show up are detective/conspiracy thriller archetypes or just townsfolk. Rob Benton is the only cast member who get any kind of depth, and he doesn’t appear until the last third of the comic.
So should I check out this book?
Going back to the beginning of the review, my answer would be “Yes and no”. Warren Ellis is one of the most intelligent comics writers in the business and excels at crafting long-form plots with interesting concepts and themes. But Blackcross #1 is just surface level atmosphere. Colton Worley uses light and shadow masterfully in his art, especially when the detectives are rooting around in the woods. And despite his inconsistencies in transitioning from the different plots or coloring lakes, Morgan Hickman has some evocative panels, like when Lady Satan turns red in an early scene.
As a serialized conspiracy story, Blackcross will definitely read better in trade so I would wait until that comes out unless you’re a big fan of Ellis, Project Superpowers, or like soaking in a shadowy, rural atmosphere for a while.