Knowing how superhero publishers have treated the creators of their billion-dollar IP, working with Marvel and DC to tell new stories with those characters might not be the best way to honor those legends who shaped the genre. For the last seven years, Michel Fiffe has carried on the legacy of his artistic heroes in the pages of Copra, a superhero series combining different concepts and filtering them through his unique storytelling perspective. The main influence is John Ostrander and Kim Yale’s Suicide Squad, with Copra following a team of heroes and rogues brought together by the U.S. government for missions with a high mortality rate. But Fiffe doesn’t stop there, pulling inspiration from three decades of superhero comics: the surreal ’70s, the grim and gritty ’80s, and the x-treme ’90s.
Self-published from 2012-2017, Copra moved to Image Comics this year, giving the series a much wider distribution. All five of the previous Copra collections were rereleased on the same day, and then Fiffe waited a few months for people to check those out before launching an ongoing Copra at Image with a new #1. If you missed out on the first 31 issues of Copra, Fiffe includes a back-up comic at the end of Vol. 2 #1 with an issue-by-issue breakdown, providing a rapid-fire summary that maintains the visual excitement of the story that precedes it. In fact, each issue of Copra ends with a separate back-up comic: The one in #2 details Fiffe’s admiration of the Image Comics founders, and he continues on this reverent path in Copra #3, which concludes with a deeply personal tribute to Steve Ditko and Norm Breyfogle.
“I can honor those creators in my own way, working on the foundation they built,” writes Fiffe. “All of them created something worth our love and respect, page by page. Panel by panel. Breyfogle forever. Ditko forever. Comics forever.” Copra is a pure expression of this appreciation, pushing genre boundaries with a singular vision. Fiffe looks at the comic page in a different way than most superhero artists, and having complete control over every element allows him to experiment with layouts, line weight, color, texture, and lettering.
Fiffe’s work combines imagination, sophistication, and spectacle, taking advantage of deep artistic knowledge to make bold stylistic shifts that heighten the superhero storytelling. Copra always delivers big thrills, but Fiffe also uses subtle visual elements to build anticipation. As Copra and the villainous A.R.M. face off in #3, Fiffe puts a small meter on the page that gradually fills up, telling the reader that something major is coming. The meter shatters at the climactic moment, and the layout of that two-page spread delivers the promised punch.
Like that classic Suicide Squad run, Copra has a cast of charming characters who are very grounded despite their extraordinary circumstances. This issue features a romantic flashback built on the mundanity of a couple working out their schedule and transit situation, reinforcing past intimacy before tragedy strikes in the present. It ends with a woman giving her dog grief for a poop fake-out, a bit of humor setting up a cliffhanger that hits like a hammer on an anvil. The humanity of this cast makes Copra an emotionally satisfying read in addition to a visual smorgasbord, creating something beautiful and heartfelt by embracing the innovative spirit of superhero pioneers.