We all played superheroes as kids, but what if as teenagers we were to somehow magically get those exact same powers?! That’s the central premise for The Pantheon Project a refreshing slice of old-school superhero story-telling from Erik F Taylor and Leila Del Luca and available now on ComiXology Submit.
Publisher: Off Panel
Writer: Erik F Taylor (Adapted by Kevin Caron)
Artist: Leila Del Luca
Price: £0.69/$0.99 from ComiXology
A group of childhood pals play superheroes while their parents held a book group, but as the kids grow up the group fragments, thanks to a succession of key trigger moments. The first is the brain tumour suffered by the games’ mastermind Milton Manners, which sees him taken out of school by his over protective mother, and ultimately push away his long time friends as he regresses into his own fantasy world where he creates comics based on their childhood games (the titular Pantheon Project!). The second is a mysterious car crash involving the death of one of the group, which remains shrouded in mystery but inevitably causes emotional tension and repercussions.
As we fast forward from those halcyon days to high school a freak incident involving some lightning controlled by the increasingly maniacal Milton gifts the teens the super powers they had as kids, as well as a secret base and costumes, all to Milton’s specific sketches, but at what cost have they earned these powers and how has Milton made his comic book creations come to life?!
As a concept The Pantheon Project is nothing new, evoking everything from classic Lee and Kirby to Saturday morning cartoons like Dungeons and Dragons through to modern-day post-modern superhero tales like Chronicle. Inevitably with any kind of superhero teen story, the book feels very ‘Stan and Jack’ with the interplay between the group and the powers they receive feeling very familiar (right down to Milton’s alliterative name!). Although their powers seem hokey and a bit naff to a modern audience, Taylor and co should be commended for not attempting to reinvent the superhero genre with some failed effort at creating a ground-breaking new character (we’ve seen pretty much every variation possible by now!) or adding on layers and layers of angst and swearing. Instead they rely on creating compelling and believable characters who you actually care about and the book is much richer for it.
By the end of this first issue, The Pantheon Project poses just enough questions and leaves the right amount of them unanswered to make you want to come back for more. The mysterious event that gives them their powers is pretty daft, but plausible enough that you accept it’s results (and what ti find out more about what Milton was up to). While the mysterious car crash that killed Sophie has a wide reaching impact on the group’s dynamic that we don’t yet fully understand.
Despite having a fairly dark centre with the death of Milton that sparks off the group’s transformation, The Pantheon Project keeps just on the right side of the light that it doesn’t rely on the 21st superhero cliche of angst and violence to get it’s point across. In the current climate, that return to more traditional, family friendly, approach for superheroes is actually quite refreshing, and helps make the book appealing to older and younger fans alike.
“Rather than try to reinvent the world of superheroes yet again, The Pantheon Project mixes a compelling story with classic conventions and a generous hint of nostalgia to create a smart and engaging piece of classic superhero story-telling. All of which feels refreshingly original in the current overly angst-ridden comics climate.”
Author: Alex Thomas
Alex Thomas is the Editor and founder of PIpedream Comics. He grew up reading comics in the 90s, so even though he loves all things indie and small press, he is easily distracted by a hologram cover.