Famed comics writer Roger Stern, who has handled characters and teams from Superman and Spider-Man to The Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, has teamed with publisher Sitcomics (headed by Seinfeld veteran Darin Henry) and artist Ron Frenz (also of Superman and Spider-Man fame) to create The Heroes Union, a comic that introduces a bunch of new characters all at once, then throws them into an accessible adventure in a single, oversized “binge-book” that doesn’t require fans to come back to finish it next month. The model, inspired by the rising success of the graphic novel market, is what Sitcomics is leaning into for their new superhero universe, which includes The Heroes Union as well as October’s The Unbeatable Blue Baron.
So — what’s it like creating a whole new generation of characters? We asked Stern, no stranger to such things, as well as Frenz, who designed the “electric blue” Superman costume in the ’90s and was the first Spider-Man artist to draw the character in his black costume.
“Working in the Heroes Union-verse, as we’re going to start calling it, has been a completely different experience,” Frenz admitted. “Re-imagining the classic superheroes is always nerve-burning. I didn’t design the black costume; I just was the first guy to draw it. With Superman, they invited everybody that was working on the Superman books to submit a design. I wasn’t planning on it, because I was the new guy, but I figured, what the heck. I had this one idea, I threw it in, and they ended up picking it. In this case, working with Darin Henry and Roger Stern, we worked out this incredible thing, where [Darin] would get an idea, and he would send me all this disparate reference of a helmet here, and boots here, and maybe a jacket. Like, ‘kind of like this and maybe something like this,’ and I would pull them all out. I would set up all the JPEGs and then think, ‘how can I bring these things together in something that looks like it was deliberate?’ When it worked, it was incredibly gratifying. Even when it didn’t work, it was fascinating. It was a wonderful creative exercise for me, to just create on command, which is what we get paid to do.”
One of the other interesting elements of The Heroes Union is the fundamental concept of getting supervillains off the street by giving them work. This helps establish characters who have a variety of different motivations — some of them are altruists, while others are just there to punch a clock — and suggests that the bad guys are really bad since they couldn’t be won over with the promise of honest work doing basically the same thing.
“The Heroes Union is an actual union,” Stern told ComicBook. “It was started during the 30s by The Blue Baron. As far as anyone knows, The Blue Baron has been around since the Revolutionary War. Super-powerful guy, and as he said at one point in the first issue, looking back, he says, ‘In the 30s, other super beings started coming into existence. And times were tough. It was the Depression. And some of them turned to crime because they needed the money. And the public started worrying a little bit about these super characters.’ So The Blue Baron said, ‘You know, we need a union.’ He convinced some of the characters like, ‘Don’t turn to crime. Help me and you’ll get regular payments and healthcare and all sorts of stuff.’ And the guys go, ‘Where do I sign?'”
We’ll get more of the Baron’s backstory (hint: he isn’t really immortal, but instead a series of characters, all of whom have shared the secret identity to keep up the illusion of immortality) in his own solo book in October, which you can learn more about at the Sitcomics website.
You can get a copy of the first issue of The Heroes Union either at your local comic shop or on Amazon.