The Comic Book Club: Love & Capes and Power Man & Iron Fist

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up discussing what we picked up. This week, Graeme McMillan, Evan Narcisse and Douglas Wolk talk about the first issues of Love & Capes: Ever After and Power Man and Iron Fist.

DOUGLAS: I’ve always had a big soft spot for Thom Zahler’s superhero/rom-sitcom series Love and Capes, and I hope the new miniseries Love and Capes: Ever After brings a few more potential admirers into the fold. It’s a little strange to see a romantic comedy continue after the wedding, but I’m also happy to keep seeing these characters. It’s a pleasure to see a superhero story that’s so resolutely low-stakes and good-natured, too–this one’s mostly concerned about how the characters are going to deal with having the rent raised on them and how a couple of exes are going to deal with some minor jealousy issues.

A lot of the fun stuff here doesn’t particularly call attention to itself–the extent of the worldbuilding that Zahler’s doing (the dynamic between the Batman-analogue and the Alfred-analogue is particularly charming), the subtle look-and-feel trick of having all the word balloons slightly translucent, the way Zahler’s character designs are super-cartoony distortions but still manage to incorporate relatively subtle facial expressions, and so on. This issue continues the tradition of having action scenes that are entirely off-panel, too. It’s all very sweet and very mild–if it didn’t have the superhero routines thrown in, it’d basically be the comic for people who think True Story Swear to God is dangerously violent and gut-wrenching–but sometimes sweet and mild is exactly what I want, and I love just about everything about Zahler’s design and execution.

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EVAN: I’d never read any of Zahler’s Love and Capes stuff before. But, two pages into Ever After, I’d decided that I wanted to read all of it. Seriously. It’s tough to make mundane conversations about apartment hunting feel real in a superhero context. Money’s never a problem, perfect loft spaces are always available for super-dudes, and girlfriends always go along with whatever the hero desires. But it’s never like that, really.

Maybe it’s because I moved a few months ago or had a kid about six weeks back, but the groundedness of this one-shot really resonated with me. In most superhero comics, the workaday part of an alter ego’s life is usually the afterthought, playing second fiddle to the melodrama. In the Crusader’s universe, it’s the world-saving that gets relegated to off-panel. This decision’s got the added benefit of making all the hero characters look cooler. “Oh, yeah; that tidal wave? Wasn’t anything. Now, let’s talk taxes!”

Man, Douglas, I laughed so hard at the Darkblade/Mrs. O’Lonergan stuff. It really killed, like in a perfect sitcom kind of way.

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GRAEME: I am so glad that Douglas mentioned True Story, Swear To God, because this series has always seemed like the superpowered version of Tom Beland’s autobio run to me: very gentle, very sweet, romantic but also entirely… safe, I guess? Something you can read without expecting death or destruction around the corner. This continued that feeling for me, and I enjoyed it a lot. It’s like superhero comfort food, in a way, filled with familiar nerditry and some fan service (“what if Wonder Woman dated Batman?”) thrown in, but it works.

I’m with Evan: the highlight of the book for me, is the twist of keeping the regular superhero disasters offscreen while giving us the smaller stories instead. While both of the problems have fairly easy resolutions (oh, would that everyone could afford to deal with raised rent by buying the building from their landlord thanks to a loan from an Amazon princess), there really is something charming about seeing them take center stage in the first place.

DOUGLAS: I had moderately high hopes for Fred Van Lente and Wellinton Alves’ Power Man and Iron Fist miniseries–I liked the teasers for it in the last couple of issues of Amazing Spider-Man, I’ve enjoyed a lot of the comics Van Lente’s been writing, and I’ve got fond memories of the original PM/IF series. (It was a great idea in the ’70s when Marvel grafted together a struggling blaxploitation series and a struggling kung fu series to build a considerably more durable buddy act.)

But this one’s not quite clicking for me, and I’m trying to figure out why. The premise is reasonably sound–the new Power Man is an arrogant young kid learning the ropes under the same old Iron Fist. Still, there are some things here that don’t quite sit right: the bizarrely broad stereotype of the villain in the first fight scene (I kept waiting for that to go someplace surprising, and it didn’t), the fact that the cliffhanger in the first scene and the cliffhanger at the end are basically identical, the general lack of badassery in a series that stars a kung fu master.

There’s some promising stuff here–a commedia dell’arte troupe of killers would be a better idea if something similar hadn’t already appeared in Batman. Alves’ art, though, isn’t much more than functional: it’s slicker than, e.g., Ernie Chan’s and Mark Bright’s were in the old series, but doesn’t have their sense of grit and urgency. For that matter, the specific callbacks to minutiae of a series that ended 25 years ago sometimes hamstring the “all-new, all-different” setup the cover promises. I kind of hate that cover, too: there’s dramatic foreshortening, and then there’s drawing a character in a pose that makes it look like his leg’s been amputated above the knee.

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EVAN: It’s February, which means it’s Black History Month, which also means I’ve been thinking about black superheroes a lot. (I mean, I always think about them a lot, but the shortest month of the year is when people must put up with my yammering about them.)


That said, I can’t help but notice how rough it’s been out there for a super-powered brother. Steel’s just so much shiny cannon fodder, and what’s been done to T’Challa is just such an ugly and bland fate for a really great character.

So I was wary on this book. The original PM/IF run was a seminal foundational document in young Master Narcisse’s nerd-dom. In particular, the Jim Owlsley (before he changed his name to Christopher Priest) and M.D. Bright tenure stood out as a clever, self-aware example of comics work that was way ahead of its time, in terms of characterization and meta-commentary.

I picked up the Shadowland tie-in where the new Power Man made his debut and was left cold. Honestly, I wanted to hate this new series. But I don’t. I love this first issue. I think it’s a great example of how to use legacy in a shared universe, in how it seeds new characters in the soil of what’s come before. One of the things I loved about old PM/IF was that it felt like New York City: the rhythms of the dialogue and the way the characters moved through the panels generated a sense of place that echoed early-1980s Manhattan to me. Van Lente–with the very able work of Alves–pulls it off here. Using the West Indian Day parade as a backdrop for a fight scene just fits, really fits, for these characters in this comic.

The world-building also drew me in. Calling back to the third-tier characters who also rolled with Heroes for Hire (El Aguila!) while introducing new villains and mystery folk could’ve been tricking, but it left me intrigued.

The other thing Van Lente pulls off–also crucial to PM/IF–is the buddy chemistry. The teacher/student thing here is way different from the street dude strongman/rich martial artist dynamic that Luke and Danny had, but the tension driven by class difference and racial difference is intact. The snappy dialogue makes none of those moments feel overly weighty, rather like Van Lente knows that the stuff is there and nods at it. I laughed a lot at the repartee between Vic and Danny, and I’ll definitely be back for more.

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GRAEME: I’m closer to Douglas than Evan here. I, too, loved the original PM/IF series, which remains one of my favorite Marvel series of all time (especially when Jo Duffy was writing, although the Owsley/Bright run at the end was wonderful in a much more cynical way), but I can’t help but feel that I should like this book so much more than I actually did.

Part of it is that it feels so rushed; I actually went back and counted the pages, because I was convinced this was somehow shorter than the average comic, it felt so light. Maybe because the opening sequence and the final splash page cliffhanger are essentially the same page? Maybe because we get expositionary flashbacks that don’t really add that much to the story? I don’t know. But, as much as I liked the characters and the overall sense of humor at play here (Calling a villain Don of The Dead? I mean, that’s great), it felt like it failed as a first issue. I didn’t pick up the Shadowland debut of the new Power Man, and I really missed some kind of introduction to him here beyond “He’s a smart-ass and does something with collecting chi” (what does that even mean?). Why is Danny teaching him? Why is he agreeing to Danny teaching him, considering that he doesn’t seem to appreciate it? Is all of this in the earlier series, or am I not supposed to care?

Alves’ work is… all right. It seems to vary throughout the book; the first appearance of the leads seems drawn by a different guy than the one doing the out-of-costume scenes later, if that makes sense. I’ve seen better from him elsewhere, and think that a different inker would’ve done him more favors, to be honest.

I don’t know; I like the idea, I like the humor and the characters, but it isn’t coming together for me, which really frustrates me. I want to call myself a fan, based on the legacy of the title. I don’t know if I’ll pick up the second issue.

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