The Patron was the world’s mightiest superhero, a champion from a Utopian dimension who protected humanity because he believed in them.
The key word there is “was.”
When the ancient monster known only as Woe awoke, the Patron faced him in mortal combat. They waged a ferocious two-man war, an all-time titanweight prize fight with humanity’s fate as the trophy.
When the Earth fell silent, Woe was dead. And so was the Patron.
Or was he?
As the world mourned the loss of its noblest knight, a miracle occurred.
You cannot keep a good hero down, not when there are people who need saving. The Patron returned, and he’s been Earth’s once-and-future champion ever since.
But the Patron isn’t the Patron. The Patron died heroically, slaying Woe and saving all of humanity. In his place rose Project: Patron, a conspiracy with two missions. Mission One: carry on in its namesake’s stead, protecting humanity and inspiring them to be their best selves. Mission Two: preserve the illusion that the Patron is well and truly alive. The Project’s tool? An ultra-advanced remote-control android replica of the Patron that amplifies and devours its pilots. The pilots? A motley band of anonymous-by-choice heroes dedicated to the Project’s missions.
They’re good people with the best of intentions. And they’re balancing on a toothpick in the middle of a tornado full of swords.
As a superhero story, Project: Patron has an intriguing hook — a team of heroic folks “playing” the part of the long-dead Patron, with different experts for different occasions. If the Patron has to fight some horrible monster, a master martial artist and all-around brawler will pilot him. If there’s some sort of disastrous peril, a brilliant scientist will take the helm. It’s simultaneously a solo hero book and a team book, with deliberate echoes of the pilot/support team dynamic from Mobile Suit Gundam.
As a conspiracy comic, Project: Patron is similarly strong. However well-intentioned the Project is, however much good they’ve done, their entire mission is predicated on a massive deception that has been perpetuated for decades. The physical costs of operating the android are catching up to the piloting team’s older members.
People, from the Patron’s fellow heroes to influential op-ed writers, are starting to ask questions that could turn loose a thread. A thread that, if pulled, could undo everything. And that’s before factoring in the Project’s newest recruit and his secret mission OR the possible return of one of the Patron’s oldest enemies.
As a pastiche, Project: Patron is downright refreshing. Where some recent books that riff on major pieces of popular culture have been swallowed up by the act of reenacting, Project: Patron uses The Death of Superman as a springboard, tipping its hat to the work that inspired it and then building itself into something new.
With the context provided by the in-universe documents that close the issue (an ad for a documentary about the Patron hitting Blu-ray and the earlier mentioned op-ed) provide and the very nature of the Project itself, Pizzalunga and Orlando successfully give the Patron and this Earth their own history — one that echoes Superman and the DC Universe without coming across as a pale imitation of them.
Pizzalunga’s illustrations, barring the frustratingly stilted excerpts of the Patron and Woe’s battle that open the issue, are structurally and visually excellent.
Consider the preview pages in this review. Pizzalunga, Lopez, and Maurer deftly move not just between moods, but between looks. The bold white and red of the Patron’s costume and the grand expanse of space give way to the grays and greens of the Project’s practical athletic and tactical wear and the cramped confines of their secret base. Project: Patron is visually consistent without being flat. Pizzalunga, Lopez, and Maurer move from the superheroic to clandestine with grace and skill. Given the way this first issue closes, the work they are set to do to blend those moods is promising.
In addition to his impressive handling of Project: Patron as a work of pastiche, Orlando’s scripting is strong throughout. The Project’s team dynamic is clear and carries with it a similar weight to the Patron’s history (which is appropriate, given that collectively they are the Patron). He juggles the many plates that give a good conspiracy story its character smoothly. When one breaks, it’s because Orlando means for it to break. After all, what’s a good conspiracy without a dagger or two to the heart?
Project: Patron is an excellent comic book. I’m excited to follow it.
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