Project Superpowers: Hero Killers
Writer: Ryan Browne
Artist: Pete Woods
Review by Sean Frankling
Project Superpowers: Hero Killers walks a bizarre line between legitimately disturbing and goofy as all get out. This trade collects the story of three retooled Golden-Aged sidekicks in their quest to become fully-fledged heroes. And, as the title would suggest, they pursue that goal by killing whatever fully-fledged heroes get in their way.
It’s a similar premise to where Watchmen began, if you think about it. Like Alan Moore, Ryan Browne and Pete Woods set out to revitalize defunct characters with a brutal deconstruction of the themes and relationships at their core. But Hero Killers is no Watchmen.
The primary difference is tone. Hero Killers lands somewhere between The Tick and Deadpool. From the former, it borrows the tradition of imbuing its superhuman community with selfishness, vice and infighting. From the latter, it borrows the tendency to play ultra-violence for shock laughs.
Unfortunately, where Browne and Woods fail is in integrating those elements.
Hero Killers starts out rooted in the cartoonish innocence of its Golden Age heroes. And at first, it seems Browne intends to slowly transition into creeping, manic evil. If that was the intent, Woods’ art would be the perfect fit. It blends crisp, bright character design and a clean, colorful palette with startling bursts of realistic gore. It perfectly sets the eye up for a disturbing bait and switch.
Rather than that gradual slide into darkness, though, the jokes bounce repeatedly back and forth between silly and horrifying. In one scene, the humor switches from a gag about a sidekick never drinking anything but Capri Sun to mocking the same sidekick’s psychotic break when he accidentally jams a robot’s antenna through his mentor’s eye socket. It’s less a gradual decline into terror and more a recipe for tonal whiplash.
The problem isn’t exactly that the comic tries to be a dark comedy. In fact, the core idea is full of comedic potential. Exposing some of the concerning assumptions that underlie the apparent innocence of the Golden Age. What a great setup for some thoughtful laughs. However, Hero Killers can’t seem decide how dark it wants to be, so the overall effect is more uncomfortable and creepy than transgressively hilarious.
Likewise, the goofiness refuses to let up long enough for any of the series’ attempts at serious commentary to land. It throws in corrupt politicians, abusive superhero-sidekick relationships and a deeply misguided gay joke about an affair between Libertyville’s mayor and superhero Rainbow Boy. (At least, I think it was supposed to be a joke.) But, Hero Killers doesn’t stick with any of these issues long enough to provide any meaningful story significance. Instead, it seems more like each new element is thrown in for the sole purpose of being the most shocking thing that could happen next.
Skip it. If you’re in the market for a tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of old-school superhero tropes, I’m pretty sure they’re still publishing The Tick.