Review: “The Cape”

Eric's best memories revolve around playing superheroes with his older brother.

Eric’s best memories revolve around playing superheroes with his older brother.

Eric liked playing superheroes with his older brother. Eric was the villain Red Bolt, with his well-worn blue cape, while Nick became the masked hero known as the Streak. The two would race around the house and yard for hours, fighting for and against truth, justice, and all the other things that invariably brought good guys and bad guys to blows. But this was all for play. Nobody could expect that Eric would grow up to be a real-life supervillain.

Jason Ciaramella adapts “The Cape”, a short story by Joe Hill about a troubled young man who gains the ability of flight from the old blanket he used as a cape when playing with his brother as a child. Unfortunately, Eric’s newfound power comes at the lowest point of his sad sack life and he chooses to use it to do terrible things. Just terrible.

During one of their outings, while Nick and Eric horsed around in their backyard, Nick has a nasty fall from a tree which almost kills the boy. It seems, for the slightest of moments, that Nick levitates, but the boy’s cape is caught on a branch and he plummets violently to the ground. Artist Zach Howard, whose work is superb throughout, captures the disturbing fall with the ferocious realities of an accident.  Sadly, for everyone in the story, Eric is never the same again. He continues to suffer from debilitating headaches and he becomes an aimless slacker while Nick leads the life of an overachiever.

Everything comes easy for Nick in Eric’s eyes. The younger brother just lies around letting life pass him by. Even when Eric begins dating a girl name Angie, who he meets through Nick, Eric is never motivated to do much more than play video games and has a tough time staying employed as a pizza delivery guy. Howard’s character design for Eric is excellent. His shaggy hair, stained t-shirts, and ripped jeans are all unkempt and most of the time he’s slouching or looking disinterested with everything.

Then Eric finds his old cape. The one he was wearing right before everything went wrong. His mother said she had thrown it out, but there it was, hidden in the basement. His mother lied. His girlfriend has walked out on him. His brother graduated from Harvard medical school and was about to steal away Angie, who was now on the market. Well, at least this is how Eric sees things. Ciaramella and Howard do a great job of presenting the distinction between the real world and Eric’s twisted perception.

This is the greatest strength of “The Cape”. Every warped insecurity and paranoid thought that crosses Eric’ disturbed mind just isn’t so. We see, through a series of flashbacks, that life hasn’t played out the way Eric observes things. In one scene Eric says that his mother threw out his cape: “When I came home from the hospital, it was gone. She said she threw it out because she had enough problems already and didn’t need a cripple to look after.” However, the following chapter features a flashback where his mother is sitting beside her boy in the hospital. When he asks for his beloved cape she says, “No, baby. No more cape. You almost got yourself killed because of that silly thing. I have enough to worry about—I don’t need to add a crippled kid to the list.”

The words are rearranged a bit, but the distinction between the meanings of the two quotes is enormous. Of course Erick’s mother didn’t want him to have the plaything that inspired him to hang dangerously from a tree and nearly kill himself. To the reader it’s clear that she loves her son, but Erick perceives things differently. We get more scenes where it is obvious that Nick, his mother, and Angie all love Eric, unconditionally, but Eric’s anger is too immense to see this.

Ciamarella, Hill, and Howard find that there are some pretty awful things that can be done with the power of flight.

Ciamarella, Hill, and Howard find that there are some pretty awful things that can be done with the power of flight.

Ciaramella has written a swift adaptation of Hill’s story and Howard has been given plenty of room to deliver stunning visuals. The writer’s story is structured simply between present day and flashbacks of Eric’s past. The cast of characters is small enough so that the story never seems overcomplicated as the focus stays mainly on Eric and his violent plans for revenge. Hill and Ciaramella have concocted truly heinous crimes to commit on other humans using the power of flight. Where most people imagine soaring through the clouds happily, Eric murders his victims in mostly imaginative ways (none of which will be completely revealed here).

Howard delivers one fantastic chapter after the next as we follow Erick’s total descent into madness. Howard’s cartoonish style is exceptionally lively and his character work is distinctive. The unique characteristics the artist gives to each of his cast is impressive. As is Howard’s action sequences, including a harrowing scene featuring a chainsaw that is simply astounding. Howard doesn’t appear to cut a single corner as Eric’s destructive nature hits its highest note. That said, the artist doesn’t go overboard with the gore. For example, he allows Ciaramella’s dialogue to let our minds do the work as a doctor explains, in great detail, the perplexing injuries of Eric’s first victim.

Colorist Nelson Daniel uses lightly spattered strokes of color to add complexity to Howard’s textured artwork; the artist utilizes cool newsprint-style dots to create shadows throughout the book. Daniel employs a vibrant palette in the flashbacks prior to Eric’s accident, and deeper tones for the remainder of the book to capture the gloom of Eric’s current state.

Ciamarella’s script is excellent and expertly balanced, using dialogue and narration when required to set up the story, then stepping aside to allow Howard to do his part of the storytelling. “The Cape” is an imaginative horror story that reminds readers that we can be anything we want when we grow up. Even a supervillain.

Grade: A

The Cape
Written by: Jason Ciaramella (based on the short story “The Cape” by Joe Hill).
Art: Zach Howard
Colors: Nelson Daniel
Letters: Shawn Lee
Publisher: IDW
Original Publication Date: December 2010
Pages: 132 pages

You can find this book at one of the following recommended retailers:

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