Written by ZACK DOLAN & JUSTIN PIATT/ Art by ZACK DOLAN/ Art Assistance by TARA KAPPEL/ Colors by EVERADO OROZCO/ Color Assistance by ESTELLA YAÑEZ/ Letters by JUSTIN PIATT/ Published by UNLIKELY HEROES STUDIOS
Super!, the Kickstarter-funded debut work from Justin Piatt and Zachary Dolan’s Unlikely Heroes Studios, is a damn good comic and a breath of fresh air to boot. As described by Piatt, Super! was conceived as a response to the grim, dark and overly serious tone that has saturated and often suffocated comics for years. It’s part parody and part celebration of good old-fashioned comic book fun, while managing to be its own work as well.
Super! sets itself in Cosmopolis, a semi-City of Tomorrow so overrun with superheroes and supervillains that its old slogan used to be, “You can’t fall out a window without someone swooping in to catch you.” There are heroes and villains of every possible breed, and our main heroes are mostly veiled parodies of different hero archetypes. How thin or thick that veil is depends on the hero – the Streak and Fire-Ant are obviously Flash and Spider-Man, Max Archer has Mr. Fantastic vibes, but the vigilante Blood-Death takes the cake in terms of dedication to a joke and how hilarious that joke can be. He’s an over-the-top, mega-extreme lampooning of not just the Punisher but the entire aesthetic of 90’s bloody anti-heroes. He monologues about justice, he swears enough to put a sailor to shame, and his idea of crime includes parking in a fifteen minute zone for seventeen minutes. It’s a wonder he doesn’t also suffer from Youngblood’s Disease! Even Blitz, the main character, takes visual cues from Booster Gold for her costume. The only joke that doesn’t quite work is the Unquenchable Lush, a Hulk parody who gains super strength when he gets wasted. It’s lame, though further writing may rescue it.
Though its cast is mostly parodies, that doesn’t stop Super!’s characters from being, for the most part, fun and engaging. The odd man out is the Streak, who is an obnoxious creep. The story calls attention to his overwhelmingly terrible personality, but that doesn’t make it tolerable. Otherwise, Fire-Ant is fun, and Blood-Death and the adorkably enthusiastic Max Archer steal the show.
Blitz, known to civilians as Paula, is a strongly written heroine. She’s smart, she’s sassy, and she doesn’t take anyone’s nonsense. Her takedown of two pain in the neck customers is quite cathartic to anyone who works in the service industry. But she’s not all grit and nails, because that would make her just the kind of boring character Super! is trying to avoid. She’s still as starstruck as anyone at the brief appearance of Superstar, Cosmopolis’s very own Superman analogue, and loves her boyfriend Adam, who she is coarsely playful with. She’s clever, knowing how to maintain her secret identity practically, and fiercely loyal to her friends, even the Streak.
The art, a collaborative effort between two artists and two assistants, is a blast to look at. The action scenes are dynamite, and Zack Dolan has a serious way with expressions. He and Piatt reportedly spent a year creating each character’s costume, resulting in cool outfits even for background characters. They are well used in the scene set in the heroes’ favorite bar, showing that there is a friendly and fairly tight-knit community of supers, and also just how commonplace the bizarre is in Cosmopolis. Everado Orozco and Estella Yañez’s job on coloring is gorgeous, and really works to sell the creep factor of the supernatural vigilante, Silhouette. Piatt’s lettering is good, particularly when he goes outside of the box to convey Black Atom, Silhouette, and Blood Death’s voices, and when he gets to use different font styles for Max Archer’s goofy names for his team.
The art is good, the characters are good, and the story, such as it is, is a good, engaging, and fun introduction to the characters and the world they inhabit. But the best thing Super! has going for it is that it gets superheroes on a core level. Blitz spells it out early on, “heroes are people who can’t sit idly by and tolerate injustice… there are more people who are willing to put up their hands, ball them into fists, and take up that fight [against injustice] every day.” It’s a relief to be able to pick up a comic about heroes who are out there giving their best and most brilliant efforts to help and do good in the world. They mess up, they cause some serious damage, but they’re doing their best and having a ball. That tone of brightness, of optimism and fun, is something many current superhero comics are sorely lacking. Super! makes it its reason for being, and that’s why it works.
Super! #1 is a 52-page book in full color, retails for $2.99, and will be available in stores and on Comixoloy on September 25th. For more info visit Unlikely Heroes Studios.