Micro-Face Review

By | Friday, June 03, 2022 Leave a Comment
Last year, I noted NPR's Planet Money team had a series of episodes explaining intellecutal property and they did so by attempting to work on their own superhero franchise. Over the course of a few episodes, they landed on updating a public domain character from the Golden Age called Micro-Face. And after a series of delays that I never bothered to look into hearing an explanation about, they came out with a brand new comic about the character about a month and half ago.

The story follows Sam Salazar, a reporter at NPR who's initially looking into a series of corporate buy-outs prompted by the takeover of the company his grandfather founded. He then learns that, before creating the company, his grandfather was the original superhero Micro-Face and through a few necessities of circumstance, Salazar picks up the mantle with a modified version of his grandfather's costume. In the classic superhero fashion, he saves the day but looks towards a future of stopping other unscrupulous villains. (The character behind the takeovers was, in fact, a costumed villain that his grandfather had fought back in the day.)

The issue was written by Alex Segura, drawn by Jamal Igle (with a character redesign and cover art by Jerry Ordway), colored by Ellie Wright, and lettered by Taylor Esposito. I like that Planet Money took the time and effort to pull together an entire crew of professionals for this work. A lot of these types of projects, I've found, tend to pull in folks who might be talented but aren't necessarily professional comic creators. So they might know in theory how a comic is created, but lack any practical experience to make the entire thing work smoothly. So you wind up with something that might look professional at first glance, but doesn't quite work once you start examining things closely. But because there's an expereinced team here, you don't get any of that.

In fact, the story is pretty solid all over. Not only do we get a solid origin story for the new Micro-Face without belaboring the fact that it's an origin story, but we get a good explanation for why the original Micro-Face disappeared to begin with. (I mean, an in-story explanation. Not the obvious, "sales of the comic were terrible.") Everything is well-researched, with some fun name-drops of other old characters and companies, as well as -- as explained in the back matter -- the most accurate depiction of an NPR interview ever illustrated. There are some smart modifications to Micro-Face's powers and some clever uses for them. A nice touch, too, is that the two protagonists, Salazar and one of his co-workers, are both non-white. All in all, it's a good read and a fun exploration of what can be done to modernize seemingly absurd, out-of-date comics characters.

The only real complaint I might make is that, while the back matter does explain some of background of the original comic and what prompted Planet Money to make an update of the character, we don't get much in the way of seeing what they started with. They do include some of the creation process, including sample script and art pages prior to completion, but there's not much to show what the original Micro-Face stories were actually. I would have liked to have seen an additional ten pages reprinting the original Micro-Face story. Or even just six pages to reprint the shortest of his original stories. Just some point of reference to compare what was done back in the 1940s against today. As the stories are in public domain, it's certainly easy enough to find them online, but I think it would've made a nice overall package to include one of them here.

But in terms of the new material, a solid comic. I've seen a number of updates of public domain superheroes the past decade or two, and this one is definitely up towards the top of that list, second perhaps only to Gene Luen Yang' and Sonny Liew's Green Turtle update from a few years ago. I'm not sure if Planet Money will do anything else with the character, but I'll certainly be on board if they're able to continue the story.
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