Posted by: Graeme McMillan on March 22, 2007
AFTER THE CAPE #1: I have no idea whether it’s intentional or not, but the first issue of this new three issue superhero series from Image (specifically from Jim Valentino’s Shadowline imprint, and his plotting here is perhaps the best argument for his return to autobiographical comics yet) reminds me of nothing as much as a generic mid-’90s indie book. It’s not just the content of the book; even the format – the thick, inky pages that stain your hands, the lack of additional content beyond the story itself and full-page previews of the next issue’s cover, the attempt at a Bullpen Bulletin page that’s set in bland Times New Roman type just large enough to look as if there wasn’t enough text to fill the page normally – brings to mind Caliber or Trident books of my youth.
And that’s not necessarily a good thing.
There’s something that’s missing about this book, and I’m not entirely sure what it is. I’m tempted to be a dick and say that it’s “quality,” but that’s kind of cheap, and not entirely correct – The creators are definitely trying their best, but those efforts are somewhat misguided and unfocused, and the ultimate aim seems to be something unoriginal and unnecessary in today’s environment. I mean, do we really need another story about superheroes with feet of clay and problems just like normal people, when the largest superhero publisher is pushing their entire line in that direction and doing it with the big name toys that we’ve known since we were children? The only way to make a book like that work if you’re an indie publisher is to do something that the mainstream publishers can’t, or won’t – either take it farther, or do it better. On the evidence of this first issue, this series isn’t looking to do either.
Howard Wong – who’s listed as the creator of the book, but doesn’t plot it, interestingly enough – gives us a script that’s loaded with unsubtle scenes that don’t hang together well enough to provide a consistent plot. We’re shown that the superhero – Captain Gravity, whose very name sounds like an afterthought – is an alcoholic through a series of scenes with captions like “Hell one drink won’t hurt” and “Nothing to worry about… it’s just one drink.” His good-natured wife, who straddles the line between trusting and naive, seems to miss that he’s not only going to the office every day as he claims, but that he’s also an alcoholic and criminal. We know this, because we have two unnamed characters talking about her behind her back: “Sad, isn’t it? She still believes in him… How many more times is he going to put her through his bullshit? Breaks my heart, ya know?” More worryingly for the reader, the plot doesn’t make sense, because none of the characters’ actions are given any reason or context – How did the superhero become a criminal in the first place? And why? The story doesn’t give an explanation, which seems lazy and dilutes the drama of what happens after the crime takes place, because we’re not given any reason to care (Maybe an explanation is coming next issue? We’re not given any reason to suspect that that’s the case given the structure of this issue, but it’s possible).
The art, by Marco Rudy, isn’t entirely polished – The balance of black and white on the page is obviously “influenced” by Frank Miller, but it lacks the finesse that Miller brings, and the figures seem weightless and flat within the page; each texture is treated exactly the same in the way it’s stylized from skin to metal to cloth, and therefore nothing grabs the eye or has any greater weight than anything else. Like the script, it’s so close to being working, to being professional, that it’s kind of frustrating that it’s not there yet. And maybe that’s what makes this book feel so reminiscent of a mid-90s indie book: Not the unoriginality, not the underwhelming attempt at superhero relevance, but the “not-ready-for-prime-time-just-yet” feeling. This isn’t a bad book, per se – It’s no Civil War: The Initiative – it’s just not a good one. Eh, but nonetheless I want it to get better, in a weird way.