Grotesque Anatomy
Sunday, April 25, 2004
  Biting The Hand That Feeds Me Reviews:  Planet of the Capes
Sugar daddy of the Comics Blogosphere Larry Young graciously sent me a review copy of the upcoming Planet of the Capes, which was especially gracious considering I still haven't reviewed the other comics he sent me over a month ago.  (Insert clichéd Catholic guilt here.)  So I feel bad that I didn't like the book more than I did.  (Catholic guilt now off the charts, which is especially bad considering I'm not even Catholic anymore.)

Let's start with the good.  I loved the slogan on the back cover:  "Nobody Learns Anything.  Everybody Dies."  Great, I thought:  an unsentimental look at superhero comics.  And while the book certainly is unsentimental, it's also unsatisfying.  At the end I felt I had read an interesting idea for a story more than a finished work.

In her review, Laura Gjovaag mentioned that she was won over from page one because she's "such a sucker for alternate history stories, and the alternate story of how Benjamin Franklin supported the raven as the national bird instead of the turkey or the eagle was very cool."  Other than that, though, there wasn't really much that stood out as "alternate" about the PotC world, so in my case it bugged me from the beginning.  Why start out the story that way if it's not really important to the story?

Things didn't improve from there.  We're introduced to the first of the heroes inhabiting the Planet of the Capes, Raven, as he's on his way to an emergency scene.  He's interrupted by a young boy seeking Raven's autograph.  It was amusing to see this Batman analogue act all grim-and-gritty before he eventually caves and gives the kid an autograph, but it was also distracting in terms of the overall story:  Wouldn't it be better for Raven to come back and sign autographs later, after he'd helped deal with the situation at hand?

That situation, by the way, is one of Raven's teammates, Schaff, rampaging through the city, à la the Ultimates version of the Hulk.  Plus, Schaff is holding on to a baby girl as he has his little property damage tantrum.  Bizarrely, another hero, Kastra (Schaff's daughter), tells the girl's mother not to worry because Schaff "just wants to show you a good time."  By smashing cars and holding a toddler hostage?  Uh, OK.  Kastra finally goes to "rescue" the women's child, but along the way she stops to give the same boy from before an autograph.  I guess that mom will just have to wait while Kastra does more important things, like flirt with an underage admirer.  When the mother is finally reunited with her child, she runs off, frightened.  Kastra is visibly annoyed, cracking, "No thanks needed, ma'am.  Just doing our job."  Yeah, who does that ungrateful mother think she is, not even thanking you for saving her daughter from your violently destructive father?  Sheesh!

Later an accident transports Raven, Schaff, Kastra, and a fourth hero, Grand, to another world, one unpopulated by superheroes.  Out of the blue, Grand (a Superman stand-in) decides to turn evil and take over the world.  His reason?  Because on this world there are no other superheroes to stop him.  The only problem is that, for all we readers know, Grand's home world didn't have any other superheroes either.  It's not a strict inconsistency by any means:  We can imagine that the other world was teaming with superbeings.  But the fact that no other superheroes were ever mentioned or depicted earlier in the story does lessen the impact of Grand's actions at the end.

In the end, Planet of the Capes was a frustrating read.  I felt as though there were some good ideas in there but they're never fully executed in any satisfying manner.  I never cared about any of the characters, nor was I interested in any of the situations they found themselves in.  One might argue that 72 pages isn't enough space in which to introduce brand-new superheroes and make readers care about them, but Kurt Busiek has done it with even fewer pages in issues of Astro City.  I wish I could recommend PotC, but I can't.  Your $12.95 would be better spent snatching up the early issues of Demo.
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by John Jakala

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