The Cape came recommended to me by Graham Crackers staff on several occasions. I want to know- what about me makes them think that I would like this incredibly dark story with an anti-hero who is so very twisted? But they were right…I really liked it.

The story is based off a short story written by Joe Hill in his horror anthology 20th Century Ghosts. I haven’t read it yet, although it is on reserve at my library so I can end up comparing the two. I am shocked I haven’t read this collection, as horror short stories are a favorite of mine. This review will actually be covering two stories, the original The Cape, and the prequel The Cape: 1969.

The Cape– Joe Hill, Jason Ciaramella, Zach Howard & Nelson Daniel

The story begins with two brothers playing superheros together. The older brother Nick plays The Streak, while younger brother Eric wears a cape and is named Red Bolt. While climbing a tree Eric falls onto a tree branch that pierces his head. Fast forward to the teen years and Eric is  slacker who inexplicably gains a beautiful and tolerant girlfriend Angie. After numerous surgeries, he is plagued by blinding headaches that he claims prevent him from attending college or gaining meaningful employment. A few more years go by, and Angie has become a nurse and Eric’s brother Nick is attending Harvard Medical. Filled with jealousy and resentment, the relationship ends, with Eric moving back to his widowed mother’s house.

In his childhood home he rediscovers the cape he had worn as a child that he thought his mother had thrown out after his accident. Putting it on for nostalgia’s sake, he is shocked to realize he can fly. He visits his ex-girlfriend Angie to show her what he can do, and this is where the story goes sideways. O.M.G.- what he does next! I will not spoil it, for you need to experience it yourself.

The narrative continues with Nick and their mother getting pulled in. There are some flashbacks, showing the boys with their mother, which does not explain the rage that Eric has inside him. He had a loving mother, a big brother that teased him but also protected him, and a supportive girlfriend. What shaped him into the monster that he became? A final showdown between the brothers occurs at the end, and a bit of dialogue found at the beginning is repeated at the end, this time with a different significance.

The artwork is a perfect match for the ominous story. A subdued color palette represents Eric’s current darkness, while a lighter more colorful palette show his happier flashbacks. The art has a gritty realism to it, with an interesting layout of panels. I definitely was reminded of the Locke & Key series that Hill also penned, although the artists are different.  For me, the only drawback of this story was how Eric so quickly became evil. I wish there had been more character development in his story arc to explain his choices. Perhaps after reading the short story this graphic novel is based on, it will add more depth, and I will understand how Eric became so depraved.

The Cape: 1969– Joe Hill, Jason Ciaramella & Nelson Daniel  *This story was written by Jason Ciaramella, but based off Joe Hill’s earlier story and included his input.

This second story was an interesting prequel. We are transported back to the Vietnam War to explain how Eric’s cape came to have powers. First we meet Eric and Nick as even younger children with their mother reading their father’s letters from Vietnam. Their father Cory is a captain and is a medevac helicopter pilot. We learn he is MIA after his helicopter crashes in the jungle.

We are shown how Cory makes it out of the crash alive, but is quickly captured by the Viet Cong. Forced into a cage, he is later joined by a tattooed witch tribesman that the soldiers found living in the jungle.  The two men are pitted against one another by the cruel captors, with the intent for only one to survive. Cory is shocked when the mystical man begins to levitate, and despite the other man not seeming to be evil, Cory kills him so he can survive the contest. Before the tribesman dies, he touches Cory’s army patches on his shirt, and imparts his power to him. This begs the question- what’s the story behind the magical man? Unfortunately, we never learn more.

With this new found power Cory is able to escape his captors, but wants revenge. He comes back determined to kill all the men in the Viet Cong encampment. Instead of using his powers to truly leave and return to his family, Cory is determined to inflict as much pain on others as he can, and to no one’s surprise, it proves to be his downfall. Later another soldier finds some remains of Cory that includes the patch that is mailed back to his wife. She sews it on Eric’s cape to remember his father, not knowing that is is infused with power and rage.

The art is again excellent and very evocative of the era. Despite much of the story taking place in the jungle, little to no green is used. Instead, the camp is a dull brown, which I think embodies the loss of hope. Oranges and reds are used liberally in the Vietnam narrative, with the colors symbolizing to me the phrase “war is hell”. The colors definitely influenced my interpretation of the story, which was melancholy and grim. You knew as a prequel this story would not end well, and it did not disappoint on that regard.

Both stories were excellent but had plot holes that begged for more backstory. Looked at as a whole, I liked them, but do not go in expecting the stories to truly make sense if you start thinking too deeply about them. The violence is extreme, so consider that if you want to read the two stories. However, I would definitely recommend to mature readers who like their stories dark.

-Nancy

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