Review: “Heroineburgh” web series & comic book – plus swag giveaway!
For the last two years, a collective of comic book enthusiasts from Pittsburgh has undetarken one of the the most ambitious independent superhero projects I’ve ever seen: Heroineburgh. Combining the talents of dozens of actresses and other creators, Heroineburgh started as a web series featuring the exploits of a large cast of superpowered characters. The project has expanded to a bi-weekly comic strip and now a full comic book, too, bringing the live-action world to the illustrated page.
In Heroineburgh, people have started to develop superhuman powers due to a process called epigenetics, in which a person’s genetic activity is augmented without changes being made to the underlying genetic code (science!). Essentially, genes begin to express themselves differently if given the right push.
When a meteor explodes over the skies of Pittsburgh, PA, a dark energy wave activates the dormant epigenes in hundreds of the city’s citizens. The wave shows a strong proclivity for the XX chromosome, which means that nearly all of the super-powered characters – both heroes and villains – are female. If that makes you worried that there may be some kind of agenda or heavy-handed political messaging, don’t be. To be honest, I didn’t experience anything like that, at least not in the material I was provided.* The Heroineburgh project was inspired by mainstream superhero media such as Wonder Woman ’77, and everything here looks to be made for the enjoyment of everyone.
The Web Series
I had the opportunity to watch the most recent two episodes of the web series (season 2, episodes 2 & 3). The playtime for each episode ranges from about 20 – 40 minutes each, so the web series isn’t bounded to an artificial runtime.
The episodes follow several concurrent plots, including the heroines Spectrina and Arogya who are investigating mysterious stones which are causing the people of Pittsburgh to become super-powered villains, heroine Gardenia who takes on a new sidekick named Zinnia, while Cybrina and X-Machina are threatened by an underground group known as the Black Faction who are armed with the power-draining tech of the villain Crainiac.
Jumping in mid-series, there were a few developing sub-plots that I didn’t fully understand, but I wasn’t completely lost. The overall stories still made sense, and despite the expected production limitations, were generally fun to watch. There’s enough variety in each of the characters – both in look and personality – that you will probably find your own favorites pretty quickly (mine were Lunessa and Crainiac, while my daughter’s favorites were Zinnia and Mesmera).
Being an independent venture, there is quite a range of acting skill on display. Most of the cast goes for a bombastic tone reminiscent of classic superhero stories. This certainly keeps everything light and fun, though if you prefer superhero dramas that take themselves more seriously, Heroineburgh won’t satisfy you.
For whatever reason, sometimes the actresses for certain characters change from episode to episode. One episode explained this away with a tongue-in-cheek line, “It seems that I’m slowly mutating the more I use my powers.” Nice save. Hey Marvel, what’s your War Machine excuse?
You may also be disappointed if you’re hoping for a Hollywood-quality production. There are no expensive set pieces or jaw-dropping special effects, and the costumes are on par with fairly well done superhero cosplay. None of this really distracted me from enjoying the show for what it is, however. The biggest distraction is possibly the sound recordings, as the dialogue is echo-y or muffled at times.
As I mentioned above, I did watch both episodes with my oldest child, and she definitely enjoyed it. However, while there is no graphic violence or nudity, there is some swearing from time to time. So some “parental discretion is advised”, in that regard.
Overall, the Heroineburgh web series was a nice surprise. You won’t get any break-neck action or mind-blowing special effects, but you will find a fun, ambitious project made by a group of clearly passionate superhero enthusiasts. I honestly would prefer watching more episodes of Heroineburgh than several mainstream superhero TV shows, but that’s admittedly with my expectations being held in check. If you are still on the fence, Heroineburgh has a YouTube channel featuring clips from the series, so I suggest checking a few of them out to see whether the Heroineburgh web series is to your liking.
After doing the web series for a couple of years and the serial comic strip in the local newspaper, the Heroineburgh team has created a full comic book bringing the live-action world of the web series to the comic page. Issue #1 of Heroineburgh feels like a natural progression for the project, as the web series will always be limited by its budget. On the illustrated page, there are no limits to the action and scope of the adventures. Want to do a story about oversized robots fighting giant reptilian monsters? Just draw it, right? As a result, the stories of the first issue of the Heroineburgh comic book are much more ambitious than those in its live-action counterpart.
The interiors of the first issue are illustrated by Benjamin Zeus Barnett, while the cover is illustrated by veteran DC Comics artist Jason Wright (Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps). The book includes two separate 8-page tales for a total of 16 pages of story (though the paper stock is particularly heavy, making the book feel a bit bigger than it actually is).
The first story features the heroines Arcana, Etherea, Spectrina and Lunessa, who team up to stop the villainous Mesmera. Despite the 8-page length, the plot is fairly well realized, and for those who aren’t familiar with the characters from the web series, it’s easy to jump in without being completely lost. There are plenty of superheroics stuffed into these pages, and several moments that are legitimately quite funny. Mesmera’s take on Wolverine’s “I go where I want to go” line is one of the funniest one-liners I’ve read in a while: “I go where I please, bitch.”
The second 8-page story follows tech-based heroine X-Machina and ice-powered Arctica as they team up to take on the oversized terrors created by the evil Serpenta – very much a tale that would be nearly impossible to tell in a low-budget web series. This second story reads faster and didn’t quite reach the heights of the first, but it was still a fun – if not quick – knock-down, kaiju romp.
The artwork across both stories is a bit uneven. The characters themselves look to be photo-referenced, but they are generally well-drawn and have a lot of expression. However, oftentimes they appear to be cut-and-pasted over the backgrounds, with some rough edges and possible compression artefacts as a result. The level of detail in the backgrounds also varies quite a bit.
The lettering may be the book’s biggest weakness. The font type is a bit too large, which causes much of the art to be unnecessarily covered up. More importantly, the word balloons are sometimes placed in awkward positions, causing the story to be read out of order. However, it was much easier to navigate during my second read-through.
Overall, the tone of the comic book feels more akin to more standard superhero tales with grandiose villains, big action sequences, and catchy one-liners. It could use a few visual tweaks to make it really shine, but it was still a fun read (and re-read).
In the end, I’d say that I very much enjoyed the time I spent with the ladies of Heroineburgh. The creators’ enthusiasm for the project is infectious, though there are plenty of rough edges to smooth out across both the web series and the comic book.
You can find much more information at the official Heroineburgh website, where you can purchase copies of the Heroineburgh comic book for $9.99 or purchase episodes of the web series for $7.99 each. Don’t forget that you can also visit the Heroineburgh YouTube channel for select clips of the web series and try them out ahead of time.
The Heroineburgh team also intends to crowdfund future issues of the comic book via Indiegogo later this spring. There will be options to pick up both issues 1 and 2, with additional issues planned for a later date. Stay tuned to The Splintering for more details, and you can also keep up with the Heroineburgh team via Facebook, Twitter, or their official website.
If you are already a Heroineburgh fan, or you’re starting to feel the vibe and want to get your hands on some free Heroineburgh swag, you’re in luck! The Splintering is giving away one Heroineburgh prize pack, which includes three Heroineburgh stickers and a Heroineburgh t-shirt (size large – it’s all we’ve got)!
There are two ways to enter:
1. Leave a comment below (with email address – we have to be able to contact you, after all)
2. If you follow The Splintering on Twitter, you can retweet our contest entry
The winner will be selected at random on 1 February 2020. U.S. entrants only. Good luck!
*Disclosure: A copy of the Heroineburgh comic, as well as episodes 15 & 16 of the Heroineburgh web series, were provided to The Splintering for the purpose of this review.