Humor and superheroes are a strange, often awkward combination. While superhero comics can have humor, the genre doesn’t normally fare well when comedy is the main focus. For every Tick there are too many high hopes dashed by such horrors as the Inferior Five or the Great Lakes Avengers.
Perhaps the reason is that these two genres spring from separate places in our psyche. The superhero is born of wish fulfillment, the desire to see justice prevail and the bad guy punished. Humor comes from our recognition of the absurdity of life, and how easily our pretensions and self-delusions are shattered.
Dying it has been said is easy, comedy is hard. And romantic comedy is perhaps the hardest of all. Most romcoms are just meandering messes, maudlin morasses or dull duds (apologies, an acute ardor for alliterations affected me.)
So it would seem that a romcom superhero story is doomed to disaster. Romantic comedy in a mashup with the superhero genre has been, thankfully, rarely done. There are two instances where this has been brilliantly pulled off: BBC’s My Hero and Thom Zahler’s Love and Capes.
My Hero ran for five seasons until Ardal O’Hanlon left and the suits tried to keep the series alive with a replacement. (Unlike Bewitched and Doctor Who this didn’t work. Among fans, we never mention seasons 6 and 7.) The series wisely dealt with hero, George Sunday’s (Thermoman) home life, and the domestic issues he faced. The early romcom elements quickly elided into more of a domestic comedy, as George’s and love interest Janet’s stories emphasized less their courtship and more their relationship to the “normal” people around them.
Love and Capes involves Superman stand-in Mark, an ordinary accountant who fights crime as the Crusader. His ladylove is Abby Tennyson, who owns a bookstore and works with her sister. Early on, Mark reveals his identity to Abby and he finds out balancing being a superhero and having a girlfriend is harder than managing the tax tables.
Zahler has continued to focus more on the romcom elements, but also finds time to address how Abby’s sister and Mark’s superfriends react. His 20-page stories are constructed in four-panel elements. Each fourth panel generally ends with a punchline. This is not surprising as this is a webcomic, collected by Image into a trade paperback. Like most webcomics, Zahle mimics the style and pacing of newspaper comic. However, he also has his eye on the 20-page comic book format. As a result, each four-panel element is part of a larger story arc, which fits comfortably inside a regulation-sized comic.
Zahler is a talented writer/artist who does a wonderful job in the pacing of the story and the artistic construction of the panel.
Perhaps one of the funniest sequences in the first volume is when Abby meets Mark’s ex, Wonder Woman stand-in Amazonia. I won’t ruin the jokes by describing them. Just read the story.
Mark’s best friend is the Batman stand-in, who becomes good friends with Abby’s younger sister. Like any best friend and younger sister of a happy couple, these two often talk about the happy couple and take delight in making playful digs at their expense.
Love and Capes is a light fun read, with many genuine laughs. Zahler has constructed some very likable and funny characters. The essence of his humor is bringing the reality and humanity of these characters to the forefront, and not using them as foils to deliver jokes.