If you really think about it, superheroes do spend a huge amount of time being superheroes. Saving the world, protecting the innocent and fighting for truth and justice would quite naturally eat up most of a superhero's best years. You can say goodbye to your 20s. Most if not all of your 30s, too. But if a superhero had none of the safety nets normal people have - things like an education, a day job, and a regular income - what would he do when he got a little bit older? What would he do if he had a problem with money? What would he do if he had a problem with alcohol? How would he take care of his spouse? His children?
These questions were asked by the wife of comics writer Howard Wong, who decided that someone ought to answer them. Thus was born "After the Cape," a new three-issue superhero action-drama by Wong and artist Marco Rudy from Jim Valentino's Shadowline imprint and Image Comics. CBR News spoke with the entire Shadowline team about "After the Cape," its story, its striking artwork, and its place in the world of superhero fiction.
"This is a tragic story about a hero's fall from grace," said Kristen Simon, Shadowline editor. "We find out that superheroes are just as susceptible to addiction and temptation [as normal humans are], perhaps even more so due to the burden that is placed on their shoulders daily."
"After the Cape" tells the story of Ethan Falls, aka Captain Gravity, a once respected superhero who finds himself trapped at the bottom of a bottle. Ethan's problems with alcohol lead to an inevitable falling-out with his colleagues in the superhero community, at which point the disgraced Captain Gravity chooses to provide for his wife Ellen and their kids in one of the worst ways imaginable - becoming a criminal. The path Ethan chooses is one of corruption and sadness. He is forced to lie to his friends as well as to his family - not just about his new life of crime, but of his escalating substance abuse as well.
The story and themes of "After the Cape" come at a very interesting time for superhero comics. In the last year, readers have seen stories like DC's "Infinite Crisis," Marvel's "Civil War" and Image's "Meltdown," all of which are along similar lines to that of "After the Cape" in terms of superhero… well, meltdowns. "After the Cape" sits apart in that Captain Gravity's struggle is largely internal, but the Shadowline mini-series is nevertheless part of what has been called a movement in the genre.
"I don't pretend that I read and know everything about superheroes," Wong said, "but from what I feel about it all, I can that it's a good movement. It creates more depth for character development, allowing for interesting stories to be told."
Jim Valentino agreed. "I think it's indicative of the current audience for comics. When school-age children were the primary demographic, altruistic superheroes worked. But as the comic reader has grown older, a more sophisticated approach to characterization is necessary. We must look at these characters as human beings, albeit with extraordinary gifts. But we all know human beings are fallible. It stands to reason, then, that superheroes would be fallible as well."
Artist Marco Rudy added, "[in 'After the Cape,'] we see a hero who is as human as me, you and the next person, with flaws like the next guy. And, contrary to most heroes, who tend to recover from bad situations or from bad things happening in their lives (even they die, they tend to return), Ethan deepens into his own problems, his own condition. He makes as much a mess as anyone with drinking problems, poor spirits or just being tired of it would. "
Exemplifying the creative team's vision of "After the Cape" as a street-level tale of a superhero on the rocks is Rudy's intensely realistic black & white artwork. The high contrast, heavy ink style is what a reader may expect to find in a sexy noir or "Sin City" graphic novel, not in a superhero action piece. Indeed, Rudy lists among his influences David Mazuchelli, Frank Miller, John Cassaday, Alex Maleev, Jae Lee and Hiroaki Samura, just to name a few. His style choice is one Rudy settled on after some experimentation.
"Normally I draw in a very detailed way (or I try to), but for this book I had to try a different approach, since there would be no colors or grays," said Rudy. "I tried other styles, such as using lots of pencil rendering, that didn't work. Then I came across the movie 'Renaissance,' released in 2006, where the action occurs in this heavy black & white contrast style. I loved it! I went looking for more of the same, saw works by Jim Steranko, the obvious 'Sin City' reference, and went back to the story of a fallen hero in his darker days and the style matched perfectly."
"I met Marco Rudy online when he answered one of my ads," writer Howard Wong said, explaining "After the Cape's" origins. "When I saw his samples I was blown away. I asked myself, 'why would he want to work for me? I'm a nobody.' But he assured me that he really liked the concept and we've hit off pretty much since."
Wong and Rudy's collaboration caught the attention of Shadowline chief Jim Valentino in the way more and more comics creators are being discovered: on a comics message board. "I met Kris [Simon] on the 'Small Gods' message board on the Image Comics site," Wong said. "She was the editor of that title, of which I was a huge fan." Simon helped Wong develop his "After the Cape" submission package, but what she didn't say was that she planned to show it to Jim Valentino.
"Next thing we knew, we got an e-mail from Jim telling us that he was interested! In life there are 'holy crap!' moments, and this indeed was one for me."
A gig at Shadowline is certainly a boon to a pair of first-time creators like Wong and Rudy, as Valentino and his team are known for their collaborative input as well as guidance of new talent. Valentino and editor Kristen Simon worked extremely closely with Wong and Rudy, fine-tuning plots, script, dialogue and angles throughout the entire creative process. The result is a comic that certainly does not look like a first-timer's work, and genuinely jumps off the stand.
"I plead guilty to that," admits Valentino, referring to "After the Cape's" obvious riffing on the classic logo to DC's "Action Comics" for its cover logo. Valentino and letterers Jason Hanley and Ed Dukeshire created the brightly colored logo, which contrasts loudly with Rudy's densely black cover art, making "After the Cape" impossible to ignore when it hits comic stores on March 14th.
"Let's see how 'After the Cape' goes and how the future can be for us, comics-wise," Rudy said. "My goal has been, since I came to the comics mainstream, to remain here -- drawing, and having a ball with it!"