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Planet of the Capes
posted July 5, 2004
Larry Young and Brandon McKinney
If you have a bunch of big-name superheroes or their equivalents stand near one another for long enough, there likely exists some way to assert their story holds some deeper, special meaning. Characters wearing costumes that act as social agents based on an outsized formative social experience tend to make empty vessels of the highest order. Not only can just about any writer leech some of the thematic power those properties can be asserted to represent, it frequently proves not very difficult to expound on a whole other school of meaning by having the approximated characters simply make points at the expense of their better-known equivalents. Supermen equal America equal Superman. Problems arise when an author assumes that the subtext will communicate clearly through the formidable combination of the rainbow of interpretations such characters allow and the level of noise generated by the typical physical adventure in the foreground.
While someone very invested in superhero comics may see in Planet of the Capes a clash between varying belief systems, a battle between modes of presentation or even commentary on different stylistic periods with the art form's development, most of us are likely to see a pretty dull superhero story. In a opening sequence so deliberately paced it borders on wicked commentary all by itself, Young and McKinney introduce us to a Superman, Batman, Hulk, and Wonder Woman/Zatanna character. Young breaks down the personality types according to how they react to a young autograph seeker (turns out Superguy is the only prick, which in this story passes for foreshadowing). Young sends them briefly into outer space where we get a nicely presented origin story for the Hulk equivalent, and then they end up on a world closer to "our" planet earth, where Superguy and Batguy get in a nasty fight. The best stuff comes when the superheroes and their insipid, self-absorbed posing can be compared to the matter-of-fact, half-successful heroics of a carload of regular guys. That provides the most obvious clue that Young is criticizing the ideas he's playing with rather than just marching them through their paces, and one has to admire the abrupt ugliness and unnecessary stupidity of his story's conclusion. That many pages for that blunt a criticism might be easier to take if there were other delights along the way, but the origins given are cursory and the ending seems rushed, slightly out of left field and over-dramatic.