Travails With Larry
Planet of the Capes
Written by Larry Young
Illustrated by Brandon McKinney
Lettered by Ryan Yount
Planet of the Capes was the talk of the Internet earlier this summer — mostly because of some canny marketing by AiT/PlanetLar. After reading an extensive interview with author Larry Young over at Ringwood, I decided I had to see this sucker for myself. A few weeks later I picked up my copy from Copacetic and prepared for a night of heavy reading.
Fifteen minutes later I was throwing the book across the room.
For those of you who haven't read Planet of the Capes, here's quick plot summary. We open with superhero Justice Hall responding to an emergency downtown. The emergency? Fellow superhero Schaff is going on a mindless rampage with a baby strapped to his back. Fortunately, Schaff's daughter Kastra is able to calm him down and rescue the child, but before the three of them can rest they're whisked into space by another hero, the Grand. Apparently, there's an alien battlecruiser in orbit around the planet, and it needs their help. By coincidence, it's the same battlecruiser where, years, ago, Kastra's father was accidentally merged with another hero, the Red Fez, to form Schaff. But before the heroes can enter the ship, it explodes. Somehow the explosion transports the heroes into our world, where everyone knows superheroes don't exist. In a matter of minutes, Schaff and Kastra are killed by an exploding dam, the Grand goes nuts and decides to rule the world, and a disgusted Justice Hall takes out his former friend but dies in the process. The end.
What a boring, badly-paced story. The characters are mere ciphers — despite the fact that over forty pages are wasted introducing them. They don't even do anything — things happen to them. There's nothing even resembling conflict until the last twelve pages, and the conflict and its solution come out of left field.1 Why have otherwise intelligent members of the blog-o-sphere wasted their time lauding this piece of crap?
Because there's another level to Planet of the Capes. You see, this isn't just a meandering, plotless superhero story. It's an allegory for the comics industry, with Justice Hall standing in for DC, the Grand standing in for Marvel, and Kastra and the Schaff standing in for independent comics. When the Grand and Justice Hall struggle for the fate of the world — that's DC and Marvel struggling for control of the direct market! When the Grand lets Kastra and Schaff die, it's a reminder that Marvel only looks out for number one!
An good allegory works on two levels — as an enjoyable story and as a hidden commentary.2 But Planet of the Capes isn't a good story — it's a meandering mess. The allegory is a bit suspect too. But since the blog-o-sphere is in on the secret, they've convinced themselves that it's a book worth reading.
Larry Young's original proposal for Planet of the Capes is much more interesting.3 (Read it for yourself: here are parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, courtesy of Ringwood.) The proposal lays a better foundation for the allegory, and includes a more extensive "real world" sequence that would be much more satisfying than the third act we currently have. I would have paid good money to see a fully realized version of the proposal.
Unfortunately, I paid good money for something completely different. As it stands, Planet of the Capes is just a mess that doesn't say much of anything. You'd do well to leave it on the shelf.
I should probably discuss the art while I'm at it.
Brandon McKinney's art is adequate. His fundamentals are solid — he daws backgrounds, superheroes, and weird space aliens with equal aplomb. He has a knack for composition, and his two-page spreads are excellent. Unfortunately, his character designs are uninspired and his panel-to-panel storytelling needs a lot of work. Consider the following sequence...
In this sequence, the alien who invaded the Mykryl ship teleports away and tries to do the same to the shift inverter the Mykryl are guarding. McKinney's art fails to make it clear what's going on — namely, that the teleportation beam is slowly moving through the ship. Instead, it looks like there are multiple teleporters randomly beaming around the room.
Panel two on the left-hand page is completely unnecessary; the environment of the Mykryl battlecruiser has already been effectively established. Cutting directly to panel three would make for a more action-packed transition. Panels three and four are too similar — it makes it seem like Justice Hall and the Grand are slow. A panel showing them colliding would have made the point more effectively. It's also unclear what's happening on the right-hand page — namely, the Red Fez and the Mykryl commander come to a horrifying realization very slowly, but four panels is too much space to devote to this rather unremarkable sequence.
It's also strange that there's no dialogue on this page, given that it's part of an extended Silver Age pastiche. I'm not saying that Young has to lay it on thick like Stan Lee, but some redundant dialogue would have helped clarify the action.
- Though Young introduces the shift inverter halfway through the story, he never actually explains what it does. In its only use before the climax, Justice Hall uses it to yank a leg off the Schaff in a horribly confusing sequence. It's only at the end of the story, when Justice Hall sticks his hand right into the Grand's chest, that you realize it's some sort of phasing technology. I'm not stupid, and I don't need everything spelled out for me-but really, would it have been too much trouble to give the device a more descriptive name like "the desolidifier?"
- Gulliver's Travels, Gargantua and Pantagruel, and Candide spring to mind as allegorical works that are still enjoyable even if you don't read the footnotes. Even lesser allegories like The Crucible have competently-crafted plots, though they don't resonate as much when the audience isn't in on the secret.
- Which isn't to say that it doesn't have problems of its own. There's a lot of extra fluff in Young's original proposal that could be trimmed to save a few pages — for instance, the weird neural technology aboard the Mykryl ship is a great idea but it adds absolutely nothing to the story.
- This is the best scan I could come up with of these two pages. Unfortunately, the page borders have been set for a saddle-stiched book instead of a perfect bound book, so you lose the inside edge of each page. The funky color is the result of a low-res screen they use to give the flashback sequence a Silver Age feel, even though it doesn't resemble Silver Age dot screens in any way.