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Sunday Slugfest - After the Cape #1 (of 3)

Posted: Sunday, March 25, 2007
By: Keith Dallas

Writers: Howard Wong & Jim Valentino
Artist: Marco Rudy

Publisher: Image Comics





Average Rating:

Bruce Logan:
Matthew McLean:
Chris Murman:
Kevin Powers:
Dave Wallace:






Bruce Logan:

Now this was…different. Not in the bad way mind you, but not quite in the “for everyone” way either. Negative as that might sound, my vote for After the Cape #1 still is a positive one (albeit a guarded one). The last time I reacted like this to a comic book was for The Boys #1, a title that I read only the first issue of and despite it not being to my tastes, I found to be quite promising. Whether I like AtC better is a still open for thought, but depending on where your tastes lie in the superhero genre this just might be up your alley. And no, that is not a Batman reference.

After the Cape is the story of Ethan a.k.a. Captain Gravity… or maybe I should say Ex-Captain Gravity. A former “Cape,” Ethan is out of the superhero business now thanks to his drinking problem (or in Ethan’s words “not a problem“). That he isn’t superheroing anymore doesn’t mean that Ethan isn’t using his powers. Having set down the cape, the E-Man (or is it Captain G-Man?) has picked up the wares of thievery and taken to robbing (a bank in this issue). All this he does without the knowledge of his loving wife and two kids, and when he runs into trouble, it is not only Ol’ Gravity’s behind that is on the line but that of his family, along with their other body parts.

The only thing that didn’t quite work for me was the artwork. Although impressive in certain areas, especially the “family” moments, both of Ethan with his wife, Ellen and of them with their kids, the alternating expanses of whites and black did become tiring after a while. While they worked in Ethan’s “dumping” scene (where his superhero partners expel him from the team), they didn’t in the panels with his current “teammates.” In the end, even with the positives the negatives do edge out in front.

Conclusion: Was this an interesting read? Sure. Is it for everyone? Well, not quite. Nevertheless, even leaving aside the superhero part, After the Cape story does have a promising start for an intriguing and (in ways) touching human story and that is where it scores the most.

You can find more reviews by Bruce Logan at www.xcave.net




Matthew McLean:

While After the Cape may not be original in its concept, it is in the way it handles it. Ethan Falls is working on becoming the next super-powered villain, but unlike the anti-heroes of Wanted or Villains, Ethan didn’t choose that lot in life. He was once the hero Captain Gravity but was brought low by his own human weakness. As opposed to some villains’ motivation that could be summed up in the phrase, “Because I wanted to,” After the Cape assigns a very real weakness to the protagonist that is disastrous in the case of someone with super-powers. Ethan Fall, commander of gravity, is an alcoholic.

Now before you think this title is Captain Gravity with a crack problem, let me assure you that it’s a good book. The crew behind After the Cape strikes a balance between Ethan’s problems and motivations, which is tricky. If they played it too weepy, it would have felt like they were going for the tear jerker. Play it too hard and the audience loses respect and empathy for the protagonist. Both traps are avoided in this first issue, which given some of Ethan’s behavior, is impressive.

The book also does an excellent job of reminding that Ethan was (and is trying to be) a good man. A flashback early in the book is a good reminder of this. When Ethan, dressed in full Gravity regalia, lands on a porch where his fellow extraordinary vigilantes are waiting, he looks like something out of the golden age. He’s all toothy smile and corny dialogue. It’s really hard not to crack a smile when he does this, since a moment later his friends are staging his intervention. That fades quickly, though, when he throws around all-too-human denial and anger like a very real alcoholic.

But old time cheekiness in the Underoo crew does not mean that Ethan is trying to be any better than he was. However, there are indications that he is a good man. For instance, despite his baser instincts, he has yet to hit his wife or children. Given alcoholics’ proclivity for this, the fact that Ethan hasn’t says quite a bit about him. The mounting lies he is telling his family, though, are piling up fast.

The art is reminiscent of Sin City in its black & white negative style. However, After the Cape has decidedly softer lines and relies less on straight lines and sharp angles than the former. This suits the book as the atmosphere is not as harsh as that of Sin City’s. Whether or not it is well founded, there still seems to be hope for the people in After the Cape.

If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of the author’s work at http://madbastard.hypersites.com.




Chris Murman:

We love our fallen heroes, don’t we? Batman rose to glory after he became a paranoid, stuck-up prick. DC’s last big event centered on how the Trinity had become the rotten apples of the JLA. Even the current Marvel U. is centered on Iron Man and Spider-Man being about as broken as you can make a super hero. It makes for good reading in our age of comic books, and After the Cape is no different.

That being said, this comic book is off to a pretty good start. I am not singing its praises yet because of a few bones I have to pick, but you can count me on board for this short run.

I was discussing this book with Dave Wallace earlier this week, and we agreed that this onion had many layers worth delving into. For my money, I would have liked to see a few more of them than we were actually treated to, but that’s not really a gripe. The fact I want more is a good thing. Have your Obvious Award ready?

The story seems to flow alright from scene to scene, considering our protagonist appears in costume for only three pages. I do like the choice of power; it complemented his alcohol addiction rather well. The rest of his interaction with his problem with the bottle didn’t seem exactly right to me, though.

I have known alcoholics as friends and had friends with one for a dad. I have never known an addict to spend his day FUBARed, then come home and be dad of the year. Kids know when their dad is on the bottle at a very early age, and regardless of how much the wife knows…they show a bit more concern than we saw here. Ethan’s actions outside of the home were great, and the makeshift roundtable discussion with Captain Gravity’s team playing intervention was actually moving. You just can’t have the good dad and husband as well as the drunken S.O.B.

That’s a bit more of a problem, and it did detract from the story for me, but it didn’t become a death sentence for the book.

Everyone I’m sure will be pretty divided on the artwork as well. I loved Rudy’s drawings, but I would have just liked to see some color with it. After sleeping on it, I decided the black noir feel suited the somber story, I can’t deny that. But there are many good books with stories along these lines that use color very well. It could have been a budget thing, and I can’t fault the team for that. The inking though, that’s a different story.

It just looks very last minute and sloppy. The panel with the falling clothes on page 3 kept me staring at it for way too long trying to figure out what happened. I did that on several panels, in fact. Maybe it was because the ink coverage was too heavy for me. The problem with doing so much black is it can muddy the pencils on the finished product, also leading to smudged fingers and that smell I’m sure you all got after opening the book.

I know it seems as if I’m ripping this crew a new one, but for a new indie series I hate to see stuff like this happen. I wasn’t really upset at the read I was given, more like disappointed. I think this story has excellent potential, and these mistakes are not hard to atone and get back to the business of telling us more about a fallen hero who knows he’s hurting those around him but doesn’t know how to dig himself out.

You know what he has to do; it involves telling the truth to his family, coming clean about his addiction, and actually kicking the crap out of the bad guys instead of working for them.

Just give me a more believable alcoholic and leave some of the ink on the press next time. I look forward to more from what seems to be a growing Signature line from Image.




Kevin Powers:

This comic book presents one of those ideas that any writer will look at and say, “I wish I thought of that!” That was my initial reaction after reading the solicitation for After the Cape. So often do comics find themselves focused on the beginnings of a hero or the post-criminal careers of some villains that it is rare to find a story that focuses on a superhero after he has given up. Stories like The Incredibles, Kingdom Come and Batman Beyond tend to focus on a superhero’s return to glory, rarely ever touching on his post-hero lifestyle. For example, what would have happened if Superman hung up his boots and turned himself into a corporation? Check out Superman INC. for that bizarre take. After the Cape can potentially start a creative spur for different stories featuring superheroes when they have quit.

The one thing about being a superhero is that unless you are born into money like Bruce Wayne or you are Booster Gold and brilliantly sell advertising space on yourself, there is no money involved. Sure, you can get endorsement deals, but if you’re saving the planet, you can’t morally keep that kind of money; you’ve got to give it to charity. So unless you have a really good day job, being a superhero doesn’t always pay the bills. After all, “with great power…” you know the rest.

One of the positive things I will stress about this title is the general idea behind it. Being a superhero looks good for the moral standing and the moral resume, but if you’re out looking for a job, “Previous work experience: saving the world over 100 times” doesn’t cut it for pencil pushing. This series explores not only the psyche, but also the extracurricular activities of a former superhero: Captain Gravity. This comic book is an almost no-holds-barred look into the life of an average guy who used to be somebody but now succumbs to lying to his family and a bit of a drinking problem.

Ethan, the main character, really seems genuine and likeable. He’s a guy who just wants to work hard to care for and protect his family. Unfortunately, he’s got a bit of a troubled past, both in and out of tights. Without spoiling too much, Ethan, a.k.a. Captain Gravity, is an alcoholic and even got smashed while donning his iconic cape and cowl. I suppose everything our heroes go through today is enough to drive anyone to drink. But now Ethan is a retired hero, and it’s what Ethan does to make money that really makes this story worthwhile.

Sure, at face value you may think you’ve heard a story like this a dozen times: a hero goes bad, he’s fed up with the system, and he goes criminal to make some money. While this may seem unoriginal, it is anything but. Ethan believes everything he is doing is absolutely justified, as long as he can provide for his family. It’s a respectable enough personality trait; he just wants his kids to have a happy life and doesn’t want to have to worry about money. So what if what he is doing is wrong? It’s respectable in that he is doing it for his family. Of course, his greatest flaw comes with his alter ego. Once a great hero and no doubt the center of attention, Ethan feels the need to take credit for everything he does. While that may go over okay enough in the superhero community, that doesn’t quite cut it in the criminal underworld.

The one thing I don’t like about this book is the art. Everyone loves Sin City, and this title no doubt looks like Sin City, but there’s a lot of emotion behind this story, and I really wanted that to come through in colors. Everything comes out too dark in this issue; I would have loved to even see just the flashbacks in color. The pencils are good; it all just feels a little too bare.

I really hope this book puts a new and unique spin on this story. The former hero’s moral dilemma is a good one, and it is different, not so much about right and wrong but rather about family. After this first issue there is great potential for this series. I just hope that it delivers.




Dave Wallace:

After the Cape explores the concept of a flawed hero: hardly an original concept in literature, and one which has become an integral part of superhero comics. However, it’s not often in the genre that you see alcoholism addressed in such a head-on fashion, or with such brutal honesty, and the fall from grace of a once-great hero (Ethan Cassidy - once Captain Gravity) thanks to his inability to control his drinking makes for some compelling drama. Jim Valentino’s plot is a strong hook, and Howard Wong’s characterisation through his dialogue adds real depth to supporting characters which might otherwise risk coming off as lazy archetypes, such as the loving, forgiving wife, concerned friends and relatives, and cute, dependent children.

I like the way that the core of the story is enriched by the superhero context, rather than feeling like an ill fit; Captain Gravity using his powers to steady himself after a drinking binge is a lovely touch, and his accidental crushing of buildings and reckless endangerment of life in the course of his adventures is a great detail which amplifies the potential for the hero’s alcoholism to cause harm to those around him, but in a more literal than emotional sense. His decision to put his powers to illegal use is understandable in the context of the story, his alcoholism is depicted objectively and realistically rather than demonising the drink, and even if you can’t exactly root for the hero’s actions, the book’s depiction of his misadventures is sympathetic enough that there’s still a sense that he could be redeemed. Cassidy is doing what he knows is wrong but with the best intentions for his family, and I’ll be interested to see how his moral arc plays out as the series progresses.

People will likely compare the style of the artwork to Frank Miller’s Sin City due to the stark, high-contrast black-and-white approach, and the homage of the opening image of the book doesn’t exactly try to disabuse readers of that notion. However, as the book progresses, we see that Marco Rudy’s style is far more realistic and less exaggerated than Miller’s noir caricatures, making the story feel very grounded in reality - albeit a heightened one which is filtered through the artist’s monochrome eye. The restrained, unfussy visuals suit the tone of the book well, and the storytelling is mostly very clear. Although I did occasionally catch myself wondering what a fully coloured version would look like, the book uses a few tricks to overcome the lack of visual variation, notably a grey filter which sets the flashback sequences apart from the main story and an inventive use of unusual angles to give the panels variety.

This is a strong first issue from virtual unknown creators, which is always heartening to see. The solid grasp of characterisation and compelling plot makes me confident that future instalments will be worth picking up, and I’m definitely interested to see where the story goes. I also have to commend the book for its stark, striking cover with its splash of red. It’s an instantly attractive image which also captures the essence of the story within in the way that all good comic covers should. An impressive package which deserves to find a wide audience.



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