Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Just Like Opinions, Everyone Has One

Assholes. We’re all assholes. Me, you, the guy in front of you buying the latest issue of ROBIN. Even Larry Young is an asshole. And that’s exactly the point of his latest graphic novel.


Written by Larry Young and Drawn by Brandon McKinney

Published by AiT/Planetlar

PLANET is young’s first, and a good bet, last foray into the world of superheroes. Sort of. Because, while on the surface, this is a story about superpowered folks, below that surface, that is a lie quickly exposed. PLANET OF THE CAPES is a graphic novel about the comics industry’s reliance on superheroes, the destructive power of that reliance, and why that reliance makes us all assholes.

Young noted before the book was published that the characters were really stand-ins for various parts of the industry, so with that in mind, here’s how I interpret the book. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I feel pretty good about my take.

The Grand (Marvel Comics) is a powerful, pompous, overbearing dick consumed with his own importance. Justice Hall (DC Comics) is the latest descendent of a long line of heroes. Too serious to a fault, he’s concerned with maintaining the status quo and making sure everyone looks good and does the right thing. Kastra (Indy/alt comics) is a cute little pixie of a heroine, powerful, but also the bearer of questionable judgment. She’s not above flirting or seducing in order to raise her profile. Her father, Schaff (a grotesque melding of fanboys and retailers, perhaps best named as “the direct market”) is a mindless hulking beast that leaves destruction in its wake while only wanting to have fun. Almost completely brain dead and running on instinct, he’s in his own way the most heroic of the team, but he’s continually guided in wrong directions by the others.

Beware, I’m going to somewhat spoil the plot as I go.

Anyway, thanks to a strange accident, the heroes find themselves transported to a different Earth, our Earth, a planet where there are no superheroes. (Amusingly, they’re immediately rescued by pastiches of Reed Richards, Sue Richards, Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm.) Faced with a real world that thinks they’re silly and non-existent, The Grand decides to cash in his moral chips and take over, allowing Schaff and Kastra to die in the process. Explaining to Justice Hall that they should set themselves up as rulers now that they are here and have eliminated the others, Justice Hall denies their right to take those actions and instead sets in motion each one’s plan to kill the other, which they do. As it says on the back of the book, “nobody learns anything, everybody dies.”

So you can see what Young’s point is right away. Look at Marvel these days, so desperate the make inroads to the mainstream popular culture, flooding the market with films, more books, you name it. They’re literally trying to use their superheroes to conquer the market. DC, a company known for trying to maintain a below the radar presence sets out to stop them, but in the end, they destroy each other, just like Marvel is destroying the independent comics makers and the direct market. It isn’t exactly subtle once you see where Larry is going.

The over-reliance of the comics industry upon superheroes, and Marvel in particular, is not just a slippery slope, it’s suicide. Too much power is residing in one spot, and in the hands of an extremely amoral corporation. And yet month in and month out, they have the highest number of top twenty selling books. Making us all assholes, which is the point. PLANET OF THE CAPES is a book that has a tough road ahead of it, because as a standard superhero tale, the basic fanboy isn’t going to get the joke. And the ones who do are going to be pissed that they’ve been had. (They should have been pissed about being had long before they bought this book.) So its audience might be a bit limited.

I’m not really sure Larry would mind, though. Grade: A-

review materials may be sent to: Marc Mason, P.O. Box 26732, Tempe, AZ, 85285