I used to work security at the National Institute of Health, in the campus’ main building, where the Human Genome Project took place. My thrice-nightly beat took me past the rows of animal cadavers and near medical equipment with more “Warning: Radiation” signs than are posted outside Chernobyl. On one occasion, one of the numerous wall-mounted radiation detectors actually went off, and being the first responder on the scene I was required to secure the area while waiting for an emergency response team, who confirmed it was no equipment malfunction. If there was ever a place on earth for a real life superhero secret origin to take place, replete with mad scientists, excess radiation, and genetic engineering, here was it. My story would have been perfect, part Unbreakable, part Spider-man.
Similarly, Grant Morrison makes mention in Supergods about how, upon reading Captain Marvel for the first time, he opened up a dictionary and began to speak each word aloud, hopping to happen upon his hermetic incantation which would transfigure him into the hero he knew was within. He lifted this autobiographical detail and inserted it into his magnum opus Final Crisis. It causes me to wonder whether writers Jimmy Palmiotti or Amanda Connor ever tried to construct a suit of power armor or concoct a super serum.
The protagonist of their new series SuperZero, Drusilla Dragowski, at least has the promising start of an appropriately alliterative Stan Lee-esq name. But her heroic aspirations extend a great deal beyond that. Thus the conceit of the series: in each issue, she’s going to try to replicate upon herself one of the origins of classic four-color characters. She starts small here with the Dark Knight’s, going so far as hiring a vagrant veteran to mug her father and step-mother, though stopping short of wanting them murdered in order to avenge their deaths. Forgetting the fact that half of Bruce Wayne’s superpowers come from being a billionaire, Dru’s attempt to inject some much needed tragedy in her suffocatingly sunny suburban existence quickly flounders anyway.
I expect such will prove to be a repeated pattern in each issue: Dru being too “heroic” a character to commit the outright villainy required to replicate such origins verbatim, and her reality too closely a mirror of our own for them to work even if she did. But therein lies the obvious arc for the character, discovering herself to have the impact on her community of a superhero, sans the spandex, powers, and pizzazz. In this issue, her hiring the hobo prompts her to purchase for him provisions such as fast food and toiletries for grooming.
The narrative reason for such is almost certainly to establish her as having a kindhearted nature. Another, more interesting possibility exists as well, however. I once knew a man more active in charity work than almost anyone I’ve ever met. And yet, from what he’d said, was bereft almost entirely of empathy. He shared no sadness in the suffering of others, nor joy and happiness for those he helped. Yet he could reason right from wrong, discerning between the two intellectually if not instinctually, a skill he acquired having immersed himself in comic books, observing the clear patterns of behavior distinguishing heroes from villains. Given that familiar fandom is found also in Drusilla, having her goodness follow from her geekiness rather than be incidental to it would seem acutely appropriate.
In the past, Palmiotti and Connors have tended to cover characters I’d had no previous interest in*, which, combined with the fact I’d never been attracted to Amanda’s Disney inspired art, meant I never had occasion to familiarize myself with their writing or why they’d garnished so much praise from press and fans alike. Seeing Raphael de Latorre’s fantastic interiors (particularly Dru’s daydreams in which we see her heroic fantasies) finally gave me that occasion. I can only say that I finally get what the hype’s been all about.
Dru Dragowski is essentially the female Dave Lizewski: an every-nerd relegated to reality with heroic aspirations far more fantastic. As such, she’s preeminently relatable to exactly the type of reader who’d be picking up a superhero comic. Combined with the writing of superstars Palmiotti and Connors and the art of de Latorre, SuperZero could easily prove every bit the masterpiece as Kick-Ass before it.
*Though I strongly advocate following creators over characters, such only applies to creators one already knows. My usual approach to expanding my purview is to see if I like the art on a new series featuring favorite characters, and if the writing proves solid then I’ll have found two new creators to follow.
† SuperZero #1 was released in print on December 16th 2015, but not digitally until January 20th 2016, thus the delay in this review.