I think the biggest surprise of Superzero is how serious it is. Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner have worked on plenty of books but they’ve recently made their names on madcap adventures like Harley Quinn and Starfire and the premise of this book seemed poised to continue that tradition. Despite this, Superzero has a critical grounding in reality that distinguishes this strange comedy from its contemporaries.
Dru Dragowski has it all figured out. Religion, philosophy, pop culture, they’re all a code leading to one truth: superheroes are real and we need them now. To that end, she’s going to test various origin stories until she finds one that works. It’s a very cute premise, but I came in wondering how it would fill an entire series. The answer is surprising depth of character.
Conner and Palmiotti paint an impressively realistic picture of Dru. The book neither validates her nor laughs at her and it balances our desire to see her succeed, our innate skepticism of her mental state, and our memories of adolescence really well.
The suspense of the issue guides it towards its conclusion and glimpses into Dru’s mind reveal much, even as they skillfully lampoon frequent tropes of the superhero genre. There’s clearly a focus on setting up characters more than using them, the actual plot of the issue is fairly simple, but in a first issue that’s understandable.
In terms of dialogue, the exposition is a little more obvious at times. It’s nothing that television doesn’t get away with regularly, but characters are just a little too eager to tell you their relationships and history.
The writers’ signature humor and irreverence work well with a limited dose of cynicism to balance it out. The characters, especially Dru’s parents, are really fun and stand out all the more for this being a world more similar to our own than DC’s.
Though Conner’s distinctive work graces the cover, Rafael de Latorre and Marcelo Maiolo employ a different style for the interiors. De Latorre’s art seems simple at first, an inoffensive blend of realism and stylization, however it says more than it first appears. This is a slightly exposition-heavy issue and de Latorre spends a lot of time drawing conversations. He may not utilize many clever tricks or breathtaking compositions, but de Latorre holds your interest and maximizes the power of his characters.
The actors look distinct and the emotions are clear. There are a few panels that reveal the mechanical nature of de Latorre’s constructions, notably one of a man eating a muffin, but the only serious complaint I have is that the linework is dependable but uninspired.
No, the real draw is colorist Marcelo Maiolo and his collaboration with de Latorre. Maiolo gives this book a flattened, oversaturated color scheme that looks so much better than it sounds. Something about this light-blasted look conveys not only physical setting but emotional desperation. And as much as I can pontificate about what it all means, on some level, it’s different without distracting and that’s big.
Maiolo and de Latorre also make excellent use of ominous red and white panels that serve to accentuate the major story beats. It feels like at any moment this could become a horror series, or maybe it already is.
Hardly the straight comedy I expected, Superzero #1 reads like the brainchild of some kind of irreverent Bizarro-Grant Morrison. Conner and Palmiotti imbue our nineteen-year-old high school senior supernerd protagonist with legitimate angst, an honest ridiculousness, and just a hint of horror while populating their take on Tampa with an odd but lovable cast of characters. The art and writing are distinctive to say the least and the colors have a strange beauty to them. Though I could see some readers being turned off by the heavy, if not necessarily weighty, themes and bold colors, this issue lays a sturdy foundation for the series.