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Comic Book / Project Superpowers

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Public Domain Characters galore! A couple dozen Golden Age super heroes are thrown together in one continuity as planned by Alex Ross, renowned fan of The Golden Age of Comic Books and comicbook artist.

The story goes that, back in World War II, the American government got Fighting Yank, a Super Hero with Charles Atlas Superpower, the ghost of his great-grandfather who gives him advice and a magic cloak, to retrieve Pandora's Urn from Nazi clutches. The mythology of Pandora's Urn goes that when she opened it, all the horror and evil in the world was released from it, but also "hope".

Fighting Yank's great-grandfather's ghost believes that if all the other super heroes currently fighting along side the American Army against the Axis were to be sucked into the Urn, them theoretically being "hope", then all the evil would go away too.

The other heroes, such as the Green Lama, the Flame and Death Defying 'Devil (the Golden Age Daredevil), weren't too keen on the idea but Yank kept on with his great-grandfather's plan and secretly captured all the heroes, one by one, in the urn after the war.

Over sixty years later, racked by guilt, Yank is visited by the American Spirit, a spectral flag, apparently made of the blood of patriots, who tells Yank that the world is worse off without the heroes that the Yank had captured in the Urn and that Yank only had a short time to live. Against his Great-Grandfather's wishes, Fighting Yank decides to don his magic cloak once again and follow the America Spirit.

In 2015, a...sequel? Successor? Prequel? ...series called Blackcross ("From the Pages of Project Superpowers") written by Warren Ellis was published that sees the American Spirit stalking across a different, more familiar Earth attempting to prevent the heroes from crossing over into this world. As this is a book written by Warren Ellis, this plan involves brutally murdering the heroes' counterparts on this Earth, and isn't completely successful. As of issue 5, it's been revealed the new book takes place before the previous series, as the heroes are explicitly trying to escape from Pandora's Urn in it, but how (or even if) this effects the events of the original Project Superpowers hasn't been revealed yet.

In 2017, another series "from the pages of Project Superpowers" debuted - Hero Killers. In this series, which appears to take place in a different continuity, all the heroes relocated to a small town, where they now hunt supervillains for bounties. When Tim Terror, Sparky, and Captain Battle, Jr. get tired of their respective mentors hogging all the glory, they decide to strike out on their own.

In 2018, the original Project Superpowers franchise was revived with a new series, Volume 2. In this series, the Earth is invaded by alien warlord P:Andora, who kills the Green Lama, enslaves the 'Devil, and disables the world's electronics. With the armies unable to mobilize, Earth's fate lies in the hands of Black Terror, Masquerade, Samson, the Scarab, and Imani Cooper, the new host for the American Spirit.

In 2022, another new series based on the concept was released, Project Superpowers: Fractured States, by Ron Marz and Andy Lanning. Set in a dark alternate future, it follows the adventures of John Doe, an amnesiac who must track down the other Superpowers in order to stop a killer who is targeting America's patriotic heroes.

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Project Tropes:

    Project Superpowers 
  • Affirmative-Action Legacy:
    • American Crusader bequeaths his powers to his black caretaker.
    • The American Spirit, having previously chosen a succession of white men to take its power, ends up bonding with black teenager Imani Cooper in Vol. 2.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Lady In Red says she's not usually attracted to guys. It's implied that she might be in a relationship with Lady Satan.
  • Author Tract: The series takes a lot of thinly-veiled swipes at neoconservatives. Alex Ross is somewhat notorious for his hatred of the ideology.
  • Badass Bookworm: The Black Terror, Hugo "Doc" Strange, The Target, American Crusader and a handful of others had professional vocations with various scientific qualifications before they got their powers and decided to drop everything to fight Those Wacky Nazis. They're largely pharmacists and metallurgists.
  • Bad Future:
    • President Power originally came from a version of 1982 where Emperor Seng I conquered the world and established a dictatorship.
    • Super-American was summoned from a future where America won World War II and everyone had superpowers. Black Terror notes that nobody bothered to ask whether or not this was a good future.
    • In the opening of the 2018 series, Green Lama is given a vision of a future in which the Devil's true form has been unleashed, to disastrous effect.
  • Bad Powers, Good People: Some of the powers granted by the Urn are less-than-desirable for a hero.
    • Mr. Face has the power to manifest the greatest fear of anyone who looks upon him.
    • V-Man causes anyone near him to get deathly ill.
    • American Eagle (now called the Burning Eagle) is perpetually on fire and burns anything he touches.
    • Black Owl has become a living black hole, warping anything he touches.
  • Bee-Bee Gun: Yellow Jacket, who has the power to control - wait for it - yellow jackets, a type of bee wasp.
  • Beware the Superman: Captain Future has gone a little crazy since his time in the Urn because he's actually Zeus, and he did not take kindly to being trapped away in an urn that he himself created.
  • Blessed with Suck: Mr. Face. Previously known as The Face, a non-powered superhero who used a rubber mask to frighten criminals, he gained the ability to manifest anybody's greatest fear as a reality as long as he wears the mask. It's stuck.
  • Blinded by the Light: As a result of his time in the Urn, the Owl now has the ability to project fields of black light at his foes, temporarily blinding and disorienting them.
  • Bomb Throwing Anarchist: The Revolutionary, Fighting Yank's successor, is a violent anarchist convinced that the American government is too thoroughly corrupted to be worth defending.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Nearly every character has this power, sometimes along with something else to distinguish themselves from the others.
  • Coat, Hat, Mask: Masquerade's costume consists of a trenchcoat, mask, and fedora.
  • Cool Boat: Black Terror gets a ghostly flying galleon as a boon for freeing Mystico.
  • Cool Plane: The Ghost is capable of summoning a spectral aircraft.
  • Crapsack World: Since Fighting Yank captured nearly all the heroes, the world has become ruled by the Dynamic Family, which controls a corrupt police force and uses Frankenstein-like technology to bring soldiers back to life so that they can fight on for their employers after death.
  • Crusading Widow:
    • Mrs. Octopus is implied to be the widow of the Octopus, one of The Spirit's enemies. Apparently, he was killed in battle, so she tortures Flame Girl in the hopes of getting information about it.
    • The Owl series implies that after the Owl disappeared into the Urn, his former partner and lover Owl Girl went through a dark period in which she resumed her vigilante career with a much harsher bent. Her granddaughter Megan also went this route after losing her parents in a bank robbery; she took up the Owl Girl mantle in order to murder criminals.
  • Darker and Edgier: The Owl miniseries introduces a new Owl Girl, granddaughter of the original, who has a much less lenient approach to crimefighting.
  • Divine Parentage: Pyroman turns out to be the son of Zeus.
  • Dying Deal Upgrade: At the end of the first volume, Fighting Yank dies, but agrees to take his cursed ancestor's place in Hell in exchange for being granted sufficient power to save his friends from an ambush.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Claw is presented in this series as a giant monster made up of hundreds of normal people. Dagon might also count.
  • Flying Brick: Many.
  • Frankenstein's Monster: The previously mentioned F-Troops were based on the Prize Comics version of the character (the designs are certainly similar.)
  • Freak Lab Accident: Black Terror and Tim got their superpowers when their attempt to create a Super Serum literally blew up in their faces.
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: American Crusader has had his powers replicated to create a mercenary band of superhumans.
  • Gone Horribly Right: After World War II, Fighting Yank set out on an ill-advised quest to capture every hero and trap them in the Urn, in the belief that their imprisonment would help seal evils inside the Urn. Somehow, he managed to capture nearly every hero. And then the world went to shit.
  • Green Thumb: Green Lama's powers enable him to summon plant life.
  • Heartbroken Badass: While the Owl was trapped in the Urn, his partner and lover Owl Girl got married, had a family, and died. Much of his miniseries is devoted to coming to grips to the fact that while she was his whole world, she managed to have a life without him.
  • Her Heart Will Go On: In The Owl, the titular hero learns that his wartime partner and lover had a whole life on her own while he was in the Urn.
  • The Hero Dies: At the end of the first arc, Fighting Yank dies in order to become part of the American Spirit, granting him the power needed to save the other heroes.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Captain Future (AKA Zeus.)
  • Human Shield: During Black Terror's series, poor Nelson Drew is used as a human shield by the titular character.
  • Impeded Messenger: Fighting Yank's ancestor, Bruce Carter, was a Revolutionary War soldier who had been charged by Washington himself with delivering secret battle plans to the American forces. Unfortunately for him, he stopped for a drink and was killed by the British. For failing to complete his mission, he was cursed to guide his descendent, Bruce Carter III, into becoming Fighting Yank to protect America against enemies.
  • Implacable Man: Samson was this. Being a direct descendant of the Biblical Judge Samson, he was born with and shares all of his ancestor's strengths and abilities to the point where he could survive direct contact with an atomic bomb and boasted only God Himself could do him harm. Unfortunately for Samson, the god vulnerability wasn't limited to the one he worshiped and was later harmed and eventually killed by Zeus.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: The current champion of the American Spirit is The Revolutionary, a borderline anarchist. As part of his penance, Fighting Yank is expected to help guide him into becoming a better hero.
  • Knight Templar: The modern Owl Girl, granddaughter of the original, is waging a vicious war against the organized crime in Yorktown.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo - The original Blue Beetle appears as "Big Blue" to avoid trademark conflicts with DC Comics. Ditto several other characters whose codenames are currently trademarked by Marvel or DC. They could have used the original names, but then, they couldn't have sold a Blue Beetle comic, Blue Beetle action figures, etc without getting sued by the current trademark holders.
  • Legacy Character:
    • The 'Devil inherited his costume from an Aboriginal tribal chief.
    • American Crusader eventually passed on his powers to a young black man.
    • The Revolutionary is the current champion of the American Spirit.
    • Owl Girl's granddaughter took up her old moniker in order to fight gangsters in the present.
  • Les Collaborateurs: The Patriots are a team of patriotic-themed superheroes who willingly serve the Supremacy.
  • Lost Lenore:
    • The Flame spends a lot of time mourning the loss of his partner Flame Girl before finding out that she's still alive.
    • While the Owl was trapped in the Urn, his beloved Owl Girl married, had a family, and died. In his own series, he comes to grips with her loss while also contending with a violent young woman who has taken up the mantle for herself.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Pyroman is Captain Future's son and he tells Future that.
  • Making a Splash: Hydro, who can transform his body into water.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": The entire team had this after Captain Future killed Samson, their oldest and physically strongest member.
  • Mercy Kill: The second arc of Black Terror's solo series seems him going on a quest to kill his old friend Archie Masters, the original American Crusader, in order to stop the Supremacy from exploiting his weakened state to create more clones.
  • McGuffin: Pandora's Urn, that Fighting Yank used to capture most of the heroes.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: After realizing that the Supremacy sees him and his "family" as nothing more than expendable machines, Dynamic Man decides to turn on the Supremacy and aid the heroes.
  • The Mole: This series has several:
    • Scarab is a mole within the Supremacy.
    • "Tim" is actually Dynamic Boy in disguise, spying on the Inheritors.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In the Superpowers 'verse, everything went to shit after World War II, when Fighting Yank became convinced that he could end all war forever by rounding up his friends and trapping them in the Urn. He succeeded, and because of that, the world was left without any superheroes for around sixty years, during which time the supervillains went legit and infested governments, media, and corporations.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: F-Troop (not that one) are zombie Super Soldiers! Yank's grandfather is a racist ghost!
    • Word of God says that Black Terror is "pirate Superman". Hell yes.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: It's stated that the 'Devil came closest of all the heroes to stopping Fighting Yank from capturing him. The resultant fight promises to be awesome (Boomerang flinging Badass Normal vs a superstrong Nigh-Invulnerable Brick, and the Badass Normal almost WINS!). However, all we see of this is some narration and the image of the Yank's Urn lying on the ground next to one of 'Devil's bloodstained boomerangs. A later issue reveals that we didn't really miss anything - 'Devil simply gave up the costume and walked away.
  • Older Than They Look: All the heroes from the Urn would be old men and women were it not for spending some sixty years in suspended animation.
  • The Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The Supremacy, which consists of the Dynamic Family, President West, the Clown (a sadistic Joker-like Golden Age villain) and a handful of other as yet not really fleshed out villains.
  • Physical God: Captain Future is actually Zeus.
  • Powered Armor:
    • Scarab's gimmick, also worn by the Police Corps.
    • The modern Owl Girl, Megan Keller, uses a high-tech suit in order to fly and shoot projectile blades at people.
  • Power Incontinence: Burning Eagle (currently always on fire) and Black Owl, who seems to be constantly radiating some sort of miniature Negative Space Wedgie. Mr. Face's fear-manifesting mask that doesn't come off.
  • Precision-Guided Boomerang: Death Defying 'Devil's main weapons, other than his fists.
  • President Evil: President Gene West, a member of the Supremacy, formerly a superhero known as Power Nelson and wearer of an Eyepatch of Power.
  • Public Domain Character: Every character is in the public domain and free to use. A few have had their names changed, though, like Yellow Jacket (Who's just became "Jack") due to potential conflicts with trademarked characters.
  • Radiation-Induced Superpowers: American Crusader was the first superhero who got his powers through this. Several other public domain characters eventually followed suit.
  • Rape as Backstory: It's implied that the reason Kitten follows the Cat around is because he saved her from a sexually-abusive relative.
  • Reclaimed by Nature: Manhattan becomes overrun by plant life as a result of the Green Lama rebuilding Shangra-La there. A similar thing happens after he and the other Superpowers invade Washington, with large trees sprouting around the White House and the Pentagon.
  • Religious Bruiser: Samson is the same Samson from the Bible.
  • Resurrective Immortality: All of the heroes are cursed with this as a result of being trapped in the urn.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Dynamic Man and the Dynamic Family.
  • Scarab Power: Scarab got his powers from a scarab-shaped ring. On the other hand, when Amon Khadul found the ring in modern times, he received no powers from it and thus sold it, but made a fortune on the sale, which he used to buy his way into the The Supremacy, the shadowy group which secretly controls the world. After realizing how evil they were, he then created a superhero identity for himself - the Scarab.
  • Secret Public Identity: Doctor Hugo Strange (Doc Strange), William Battle (Captain Battle). Magno the Magnetic Man is an interesting case - he has no civilian identity at all. In all his appearances, he is always referred to as Magno and he never appeared out of costume (not even when he relaxed in his home.)
  • Sidekick: Most of the characters have had one at some point or another, mostly teenage versions of themselves. One of Black Terror's current motivations in following Fighting Yank and Green Lama is to find his sidekick, Tim.
    • Yank & Doodle, a teenage superhero duo, are an interesting subversion. They started out as independent superheroes, but when their father became Black Owl II, they started working together with him. When he revealed his identity to his sons (they were unaware of each others' secret IDs at first), they became his sidekicks.
  • Spin-Off: The main series has inspired a number of spin-offs:
    • In Black Terror, the titular hero wages a campaign of revenge against the Supremacy.
    • In The Death-Defying 'Devil, the 'Devil is pursued by his ex-sidekick, who has become a supervillain.
    • In Masquerade, Diana Adams recounts the early years of her career.
    • In Meet the Villains, four of the returned heroes encounter supervillains, each with a connection to a different hero.
    • In The Owl, the titular cop-turned-cape battles against an anti-heroine modeled after his wartime partner.
    • In Blackcross, the American Spirit tries to prevent the heroes of an alternate universe from crossing over to the Project-verse.
    • In Hero Killers, all the heroes relocate to a small town to solve the town's crime problem, but end up running out of crime to fight, and thus start turning on each other.
  • Stealing from Thieves: The modern Owl Girl is a brutal vigilante who is open about the fact that her fight against criminals is funded by money stolen from the various gangsters and drug dealers she's killed.
  • The Straight and Arrow Path: The Arrow uses a bow and arrows.
  • Stripperific: Bloodlust wears a ridiculously skimpy red costume.
  • Supernatural Fear Inducer: Mr. Face's mask causes anyone who looks upon it to see their worst fear.
  • Super Serum: The source of Blue Beetle's/"Big Blue", Black Terror's and Tim Roland's super powers, plus a handful more of the Heroes (the full list would require a separate paragraph). Beetle got his "Vitamin X-2" from Dr. Franz and Black Terror, an accomplish pharmacist himself, formulated "formic ethers" to give him and Tim powers.
  • Terrorists Without a Cause: "The Claw", a mysterious organisation named after a Golden Age Yellow Peril villain. Currently causing troubles in France.
  • Token Good Teammate: The Liberator serves as the heroes' ally among the Patriots.
  • Touched by Vorlons: Every hero has powers now, including immortality. For those imprisoned, time in Pandora's box has magically altered them.
  • Trapped on the Astral Plane: Fighting Yank dies and becomes stuck on the astral plane after he agrees to take his ancestor's place in exchange for receiving enough power to save his friends from a deadly situation.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Dare is an Asian Muslim.
  • Yellow Peril: The original Claw was one of these. Emperor Seng II might also count.

  • Affirmative-Action Legacy: The Blackcross versions of Death-Defying 'Devil and Lady in Red are black, as is at least one of the American Spirit's prior victims/potential superheroes.
  • The Alcoholic: Marietta drinks heavily to try and stop her visions of Lady Satan.
  • Faceā€“Heel Turn: The American Spirit in Blackcross, now working to prevent the release of the heroes from Pandora's Urn by brutally murdering their counterparts on an alternate earth.
  • Fortune Teller: Marietta works as a fortune teller. Unfortunately for her, she has started experiencing actual visions.
  • Powers as Programs: As well as superhero identities in Blackcross.
  • Prequel: As of issue 5, Blackcross is revealed to be this to the events of the original Project Superpowers series.
  • Race Lift: The Blackcross version of Green Lama is an Asian man.

    Hero Killers 
  • The Alcoholic: This series' version of Black Terror spends much of his time drinking and carousing.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Over the course of the miniseries, Tim Terror loses his hand, while Sparky loses a foot.
  • Camp Gay: Rainbow Boy wears thong underwear, sings Spice Girls when he thinks that no one is listening, and is sleeping with the mayor.
  • Cynical Mentor: Black Terror has largely stopped giving a crap about the public good, and certainly no longer gives a crap about Tim, thus treating him as an errand boy.
  • Eye Scream: In issue #3, Sparky panics after being confronted by Big Blue and pushes him, causing him to fall and have his eyeball impaled on an antenna.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The Mayor of Libertyville invited the superheroes to his town in the hope that they would get rid of all the criminals. They did, but they all decided to stay, and now they're all fighting each other in the hopes of squeezing more money out of the Mayor.
  • Gosh Darn It to Heck!: Sparky never swears.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The first issue has Tim Terror finally snap and accidentally kill Black Terror after getting tired of the crappy treatment he's received.
  • In Name Only: The miniseries is ostensibly "from the pages of Project Superpowers", but none of the characters behave anything like they do in Project.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Towards the end of the series, Sparky loses one of his feet. By this point, he is so far out to lunch that his only reaction is to wonder if he left the bottom part of his boot at home.
  • Sanity Slippage: Poor Sparky grows increasingly disconnected from reality as the miniseries wears on.
  • Smug Super: Most of the "heroes" have become selfish assholes ever since they got rid of all the crime in Libertyville.
  • Wretched Hive: Libertyville used to be a dump because of all the crime. Now it's a dump because their payouts to the superheroes have bankrupted them.