A little background on this graphic novel: It is based on a short story by Joe Hill, a man that lives a town over from me. It just came out in hardcover, but I had to pick it up.
Based on a true story!
- Written by Jason Ciaramella
- Based on the short story “The Cape” by Joe Hill
- Penciled and Inked by Zach Howard
- Colored by Nelson Daniel
- Published by IDW
- Collects The Cape One Shot and The Cape Issues 1-4
Heroes are dead
“With great power, comes great responsibility.” Everyone knows this saying, but what happens when a person with power does not want to be responsible? The Cape explores what happens when power falls into the wrong hands. The protagonist, Eric, is a man that suffered a lot as a child. After falling from a tree, he is hospitalized with severe injuries, and a metal plate is put in his head. Antagonized in school, he becomes a recluse and grows up to live a life where he doesn’t fit into society.
As an adult, he finds the cape he was wearing when he fell from the tree. Donning it for the first time in over ten years, Eric discovers that he now possesses the ability to fly. What follows is a path of revenge for those he believed did him wrong, which is basically everyone near and dear to him. With his mind twisted on imagined slights, he showcases the worst qualities in all of us. Jealousy, misplaced rage, paranoia, and a general apathy towards others are staples of this tale.
He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.
There is something to be said about writing from a villain’s perspective–to truly delve into the thought processes of someone thought to be despicable, yet still find a way to make that character resonate with the reader. Sure, you may not like Eric, but on another level you can understand his reasoning. Ciaramella gives great insight on the key reasons for Eric’s decline.
The story is short and intense. Flashbacks allow Eric to remain relatable, as they portray him as a man that is always getting the short end of the stick. Falling out of a tree and being hospitalized. Being called a freak in school. Having the one woman he thought loved him leave him high and dry. The transition from a boy that played superheroes with his brother to a ruthless murderer bent on revenge is incredible. The events in his life that seem mundane and harmless become fuel for his anger once Eric obtains a small amount of power. If there wasn’t the supernatural element of him being able to fly, this could read like a real-life story about a man’s descent into madness.
And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
When I first flipped through the book, I was hesitant about the art, because there is a lot of screen tone. After reading through it a third time, the style did grow on me. It hearkens back to the way comics were originally produced, with dots of color, but the actual color work is smooth and crisp. The tone is used for shadow effects. The violence is handled without going over the top, and the action scenes are dynamic. The best panels are the ones where Eric is in flight as you can really feel the weight of the character and the wind blowing in those scenes.
The art tends to be on the more realistic side, as is the case with many of the works that come out of IDW. It also faithfully recreates a slew of Boston landmarks, from the Zakim Bridge to the Prudential Center to a photo of Fenway Park. I like these little touches, as it brings the story into the real world instead of making up fictional buildings.
Bad to the Bone, Rotten to the Core
Violence, nudity, explicit language, blah, blah, blah. I’m almost at the point where I wonder if I need to mention this. If you have been reading thus far, you will realize this book is not the feel-good graphic novel of the year. No one will be crying as the main character learns to redeem himself and rainbows shoot across the sky as he flies off into the sunset. (Spoiler alert: that doesn’t happen.)
There is a lot of death in this book. In all but one chapter, someone dies. At one point, he drops a grizzly bear on two people. Another point of contention would be the whole morality issue of good vs. evil, but that is something you will need to decide for yourself. If you don’t like seeing how morally corrupt people can become, then stay away. This book isn’t a Dr. Horrible or Despicable Me villain–it’s a mass murderer.
The Final Word
The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.
I, for one, am fascinated with how the “other half” live. The villains, the killers, the big bads, and the sycophants. Stories like Boom! Studio’s Irredeemable or Marvel’s Books of Doom are always on my mind. I forget where I read it, but when I was younger I found a quote stating that a hero is only as good as the villain he faces. Villains are people too, and they need to be fleshed out, have a life and breath of their own. Fans of villains or even the physiological thought process behind evil would do well to read this.
As an aside, it is only in hardcover right now, but comes with about eleven pages of art at the end which are worth checking out.