Writers: Howard Wong, Jim Valentino (plot)
Artist: Marco Rudy
Publisher: Image Comics/Shadowline
After the Cape continues the story of Ethan Falls, ex-superhero, and his battle with his self-destructive alcoholism. In many ways, Ethan is the perfect tragic hero: a man with a single fatal flaw, who makes some bad choices and, in trying to atone for them, is trapped by a vicious cycle of events which he finds impossible to escape. This issue opens with a vision of optimism in the form of the Falls family's new home, an idyllic image which is underpinned by the knowledge that Ethan has resorted to criminal activity to attain it. Wong and Valentino make it clear that Ethan is trying to do what is best for his family but is going about it in the wrong way, and the constant deception of his wife and children and inability to control his self-destructive urges ensures that even the happier scenes have a bittersweet quality, underpinned by a stomach-churning knowledge that things are going wrong. With Ethan's secret criminal escapades discovered by the Triads and his family threatened, our "hero" is blackmailed into more serious illegal activities at the same time as his former peers look to bring an end to his decidedly unheroic activities and expose them to his wife. Whilst the drama might not be the most original to have graced a comicbook page, it's executed well, and Ethan remains sympathetic to a certain degree despite his problems being largely self-inflicted.
Many of those who have criticised After the Cape for its artwork seem to think that Marco Rudy's black-and-white art has been left uncoloured due to budgetary restraints; however, whatever the reasons, I think that the stark, clean, high-contrast look really works in the book's favour. Rudy has a gift for capturing realism, particularly when it comes to architecture and vehicles, all of which feel very real and solid under his pencil. Character models are consistent, and body language and facial expressions really ring true without coming off as overly stiff or photo-referenced. There's also a continuing trend of illustrating Ethan's gravity powers in an understated yet effective way; in this issue, his levitation of a glass of whisky captures the essence of his abilities in a visually attractive way, but one which is careful not to over-egg the scene in such a way as to distance the book from reality.
Rudy also makes an excellent and inventive use of negative space; yes, some of the panels occasionally take some deciphering (some, like the crowded action sequence at the end of the issue, are too cluttered, and some, like Ethan and Ellie's nose-touching before their kiss, are a little too abstract), but there's a real beauty and intricacy to the artist's linework, with fine detail and strong composition evident in panels such as Ethan's entrance into the foyer of the Triad headquarters with its elaborately engraved columns. That said, one criticism would be that there's an inconsistent level of detail from one page to the next, with the bigger panels feeling like they've been drawn at the same size as the smaller ones and then enlarged. However, it's a minor complaint, and one which doesn't detract too much from the visuals.
Ultimately, the art makes the best of an already fairly decent story. I somehow feel that the plot has fallen into a slightly more derivative and predictable pattern with this issue, and there's less to mark Wong and Valentino's tale out as original or innovative here than there was in the first issue - especially by the time the "intervention" of Ethan's ex-colleagues has descended into an out-and-out superhero brawl in the book's closing pages. However, the marrying of traditional superhero archetypes to a more grounded examination of Ethan's self-destructive alcoholism is part of the book's core concept, so I perhaps shouldn't criticise it too much for making these elements feel a little overly familiar. It's also perfectly possible that next month's final issue will surprise me, and that there are more twists left in the story of Captain Gravity. Still, even if the story follows what looks to be a predictably downbeat path to its finale, it will have been an above-average miniseries from creators who definitely deserve wider recognition as a result of their efforts here.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!