From the title of Thomas F. Zahler's six-issue mini-series, Love And Capes (Maerkle Press), the comics-savvy reader might easily assume the book is in the vein of that critically acclaimed alt-comics heavyweight, Love And Rockets, but that is far from the case. Billed on the cover as "A Heroically Super Situation Comedy," L&C is an engagingly lightweight romantic humor comic that has more in common with Tom Beland's True Story, Swear to God than it does the Hernandez Bros.
The Capes part of the title is repped by Mark Spencer, a.k.a. the Crusader, a Superman-styled figure who works out of Deco City. (How much like Superman is the Crusader? So much so that he has his own Captain Marvel-styled imitator!) In his secret identity, Mark's a mild-mannered tax accountant ("I just do taxes at super speed," he explains at one point. "Except depreciation tables. Man, are those things complicated.") and it's in that capacity where he meets and falls for bookstore owner Abby Tennyson.
Within the first five pages of L&C #1, he reveals his superhero identity to the blond and lithesome shopkeeper, who now has to contend with parts of the guy's life (the tendency to suddenly drop everything when superhero duty calls, the pressure of keeping a Really Big Secret, a large-breasted Amazonian ex-girlfriend who could squish Abby like a grape if she wanted) beyond the bounds of most dating relationships.
As the sitcom subhead suggests, Zahler primarily plays this basic set-up for punchlines. Both Abby & Mark are given confidantes (in the former case, it's her sister Charlotte; for the latter, it's a black version of the Batman named Darkblade) with whom they can comically process the pitfalls of their particular relationship, and Zahler typically paces each page like it was the set-up to a series of one-liners. (It'll probably come as no surprise to read that Zahler is selling copies of an unproduced teevee script on the same page as he does pb collections of his more serious Raider action comic series.)
The plots are typically the stuff of romantic sitcomedy –- meeting the boyfriend's folks, struggling over getting each other a Christmas present, setting up the single sister with one of Mark's co-workers, etc. -– with the superhero underpinnings meant to add a smidgeon of comic zest to the essentially sweet proceedings.
As a scripter, Zahler has an easy ear for dialog (wish he didn't make his word balloons so translucent, though) and a facility with the quickly established character joke. Though he peppers his script with periodic fannish comic book japes, he's also smart enough to make 'em secondary to the situational punchlines. As a writer, Zahler plays fast and loose with his universe, occasionally alluding to comic book characters beyond the pages of Maerkle Comics. When Abby asks her Crusader boyfriend if he has any weaknesses, for instance, he notes that the "last guy I knew who told his girlfriend his weakness wound up seeing it splashed across the front page of a great metropolitan newspaper." Mark has reason to be wary of keeping too many secrets with Abby, we already know, since it didn't take any time at all for her to spill the beans to her sister Charlotte.
Zahler's art in Love And Capes is well-suited to the material: heavily outlined with thick brush strokes, cartoonishly retro in its look. If all the single women share the same humongous eyes and basic body type (so much so that when Abby frets over her meeting with Amazonia, we can't really see what she's stressing over), it's a small plaint. Gotta admit I chuckled over Abby's first meeting with the Parents, wherein Ma Spencer notes, "I like her Mark. She's not all skinny like that Amazonia girl." Abby's "Gee, thanks" response is humorously carried by the art – and those big big expressive eyes.
As for the boy/girl aspect of this series, well, let's just state that if you were ever enchanted by the Christopher Reeve/Margot Kidder flying scene in Superman: The Movie, then this is the book for you. If, like this romantically-challenged reader, you couldn't get past how damn stupid the song in that sequence was, you still may key into the jokes without fully accepting the scenes where the Crusader sweeps his girlfriend off her feet.
Still, Abby & Mark’s romance proves ultimately more believable than the one 'tween comic book Superman and Lois Lane – if only because that second has so many decades of passive aggressive pranks at Lois' expense in its history. Just coz you can change the course of mighty rivers, doesn't mean you can be a dick with impunity . . .
Note: Issue four of Zahler's mini-series is reportedly being prepared as a freebie to be distributed during this year’s May Free Comic Book Day – cagey Zahler has even included a front cover riff on the upcoming Spider-Man 3 movie – so if you're at all curious about this series, that may be the time to take a peak, provided your local comic shop has the wherewithal to go beyond the major publishers plus the smarts to stock up on a few back issues of issues #1-3.