Joe Hill’s The Cape
– By Jason Ciaramella (Writer); Zach Howard (Illustrator); Nelson Daniel (Colourist); 2012
Summary from Goodreads
Every little boy dreams about putting on a cape and soaring up, up, and away… but “what if “one day that dream were to come true? Eric was like every other eight-year-old boy, until a tragic accident changed his life forever. The Cape explores the dark side of power, as the adult Eric – a confused and broken man – takes to the skies… and sets out to exact a terrible vengeance on everyone who ever disappointed him.
A book I only recently heard of, Joe Hill’s The Cape — published by IDW —was recommended to me by an acquaintance. Beyond what they had briefly summarized for me, I knew nothing about the story going in. At first I thought this comic book was done by Joe Hill, since he is well known for the series Locke & Key. This volume is actually an adaptation of a short story of the same name he wrote that appeared in his 2005 horror anthology 20th Century Ghosts. While some places I’ve seen credit Hill as co-writer for this adaptation along with Jason Ciaramella the book itself specifically only credits him for writing the original story, leading me to believe he did not have a direct hand in the comic’s creation.
This is a self-contained story from start to finish, which was a nice change of pace from what I’ve reviewed so far. The plot is rather straightforward, the story dealing much more heavily with character and emotional turmoil. The protagonist, Eric, is a deeply troubled man. Though it does so in the most extreme way, the book touches on the unfortunate reality that most everyday people would misuse extraordinary power.
I have mixed feelings about how dark this story gets. On the one hand I like that it was able to evoke such feelings of despair, but on the other I dislike that it gave me nothing else. It was emotionally exhausting to read, short as it was. Eric, though having suffered from a tragic childhood accident, was an irredeemable character to me. Completely selfish, toxic, and petty, he does nothing to improve himself and blames others for his problems. Furthermore, he is surrounded by loved ones who at no point treat him truly unfairly, yet he shows no appreciation for their presence in his life and lashes out with a vengeance at the first opportunity.
When I consider that this story was first written for an anthology of horror stories, I understand why it is such a bleak and heartbreaking story. This comic book, however, doesn’t make that entirely apparent. The cover art shows a serene-looking Eric, unkempt but hovering in the air as if he has finally found purpose. The back description speaks of boyhood dreams clashing with harsh reality. What we get is a low-life turned psychopath the second he finds himself powerful. There are no shades of grey and this story badly needed some.
The art is a nice blend of realistic and cartoony, enough to soften the blow of a lot of the violence that takes place. I had no problem with this blood, it felt very appropriate to the story, but it was quite raw as it was. The visuals particularly use a dot matrix effect when shading that is reminiscent of pop art, contrasted with grittier, semi-realistic looking characters. The colours convey a lot of dreariness, both in the warm and cold spectrum, which helps to set the tone. There really is nothing cheerful about this book, not to say that that’s a bad thing in this respect. Bleakness is presented quite beautifully.
The only thing that rubbed me the wrong way is how much Eric is drawn heroically, specifically in cover art. During scenes it is understandable as it reflects his own internal feelings while he is going about his revenge. What he is doing is completely wrong, but he feels justified and empowered, so that’s reflected in the art. In the covers and extra art in the back, however, I get the impression there’s a fixation on him as a character who is hapless and down-and-out, but he’s got this powerful secret that can help him do great things in spite of himself. That’s not who Eric is though. Eric is a monster. It could be the intention was to fake-out the reader. I don’t know.
The only extra, as stated above, is an art gallery at the back with illustrations done by various artists. It’s unclear to me if these are variant covers of the issues that came out, if they’re from promotions, or just professional art done for the sake of it. They’re well done nonetheless and worth flipping through. Some feel in tune with the story, while others more disconnected.
Despite my problems with The Cape, I do recommend it. It’s a fairly quick read and did manage to inspire some really strong emotions in me, which isn’t always easily done. If you’re a fan of Joe Hill or are just interested in some dark fiction, pick this up. Just don’t expect to find anything uplifting to balance how bleak it gets. This story goes to a dark place and stays there.