When a series of animated Superman shorts from the 1940s entered the public domain, artist and writer Brian Fies used one as a launching pad for this Eisner-nominated webcomic about the Inventor, an aged villain, and his protracted plan to wreak vengeance on his enemies. The original Superman cartoon forms the backstory—Superman and Lois Lane defeat the Inventor and his army of mechanical monsters after a jewel heist, destroying the robots and landing the mustachioed, tuxedo-wearing inventor in prison (take the 10 minutes to watch it here, it’s a true gem). And here’s where Fies picks up the story: more than a half-century later, the Inventor, now 99 years old, has been released from prison and he’s determined to pick up where he left off, tuxedo and all. But 2005 is a long way from 1941, and the Inventor has a lot to learn.
The curmudgeonly old villain sets out to reassemble one robot from the pile of remains in his secret lab, but he’s not as spry as he used to be, and not only is he woefully behind on the latest technology but his favorite components—vacuum tubes—are hard to come by in the twenty-first century. Reluctantly, he comes to rely on the help of a few unlikely townspeople in the economically depressed small city. They all seem to have a soft spot for the old man, but they don’t let him push them around, either. Fies seems to have a soft spot for him, too: The Inventor is a vengeful villain determined to rob the city bank, sure, but look how much he loves his robot!
The Inventor doesn’t get any backstory in the original cartoon, but Fies fills it out beautifully with dream sequences filled with hope and longing and tales of the Inventor’s youthful brilliance. He uses every part of the page to tell the story, from the spare black-and-white figures to the panel layouts that occasionally resonate with meaning. Though Fies’ panels are largely black-and-white, his spare, infrequent splashes of color makes those moments so much more striking.
Fies’ playful, nostalgic, and heartwarming comic is still ongoing, so be sure to check back on his site for updates—new pages go up on Tuesdays and Fridays. And if you want to read more from Fies, he has a couple books in print, too: Mom’s Cancer (2006) and Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow (2009).