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Comics We Love: Thom Zahler’s ‘Love and Capes’

It ought to be pretty obvious at this point, but here at ComicsAlliance, we love comics, and every once in a while, we want to turn the spotlight onto books we especially enjoy. This time, CA contributor Chris Sims brings us Thom Zahler’s “heroically super situation comedy,” Love and Capes!

The interplay between a superhero and a non-powered love interest is something that’s as old as superhero comics themselves, but in all the years of Lois Lanes, Iris Wests and Mary Jane Watsons, it’s rarely been done as well as it is in “Love and Capes.”

For readers who aren’t familiar with the high concept, it’s an easy one to grasp: Accountant Mark Spencer and bookstore owner Abby Tennyson have been dating for three months when Mark reveals that he’s got a secret. Under normal circumstances, this sort of thing tends to be disastrous (falling somewhere between “I’m married” and “I’m a robot sent back from a dystopian future to murder you”), but it turns out that underneath his glasses, Mark’s actually The Crusader, the local superhero.

It’s essentially the Superman/Lois Lane dynamic, but instead of dragging it out for six decades of plots, schemes, and outright lies, it’s taken care of page 5.

And once that’s in place, things really start to get good.Zahler’s populated the book with some pretty familiar faces — aside from Abby and Mark, there are supporting characters that bear a striking resemblance to Batman, Wonder Woman, and even Spider-Man, whose movie deal is a source of jealousy for Mark — but while the superhero elements form the framework and lead to some fun jokes…

…where Zahler takes his storytelling cues from other media. And not just in the way that he sets up time-honored plots like meeting the potential in-laws and setting their single friends up on blind dates or how he focuses on the day-to-day lives of the characters rather than on the action (there’s not a single punch thrown in the six issues that make up the first trade paperback), but in everything right down to the way the panels are laid out.

Almost every page of the book, with the exception of the occasional splash, is done with eight rectangular panels set up with four-panel beats, with the effect being something that mirrors a TV sitcom more than the average superhero comic. And even when that formula’s broken, there’s a reason behind it: When Abby and Mark see the movie based on Mark’s fellow hero, the Spider-Man-esque Arachnerd, the panels shift from “sitcom-style” rectangles to wider, “movie-style” panels.

It’s a small thing, but it’s indicative of how much thought and effort Zahler puts into the book, which comes through in the characters more than anything else. As easy as it would be for Zahler to get away with straight-up analogues of Superman & Co., the stock archetypes are just used as shorthand so that the relationships can grow organically from what’s going on in the story. He’s actually built characters that are easy to like, and therefore easy to care about, so that it actually does feel romantic, rather than just sappy and cloying.

Darkblade, for instance, is the “LNC” equivalent of Batman, but with small differences that skew him into something distinctive that fits the sitcom/romcom nature of the book. Heck, he’s not even an orphan, and while the dedication and confidence that characterize Batman are there, Zahler plays up their relationship as coworkers rather than casting him as the grim foil to the Crusader’s optimism that’s become such a cliche for Superman/Batman analogues, and it ends up working really, really well.

Which brings us to the other great thing about “LNC”: it’s actually really funny. A lot of that comes from the fact that Zahler’s built great characters and there are plenty of laughs to be had from the natural juxtaposition of super-heroics and how they impact a relationship, but it often comes down to the simple fact that he’s just plain good at writing jokes. Whether it’s comic book in-jokes like the “Kirbivore” — a giant, Jack Kirby-esque monster that could’ve stepped from the pages of “Tales to Astonish” — to simple one-liners like this one…

…which we are sure had to be the first joke for “LNC” that Zahler wrote.

So that’s “Love and Capes,” one of the few comic book “romantic comedies” that actually manages to live up to that genre by actually being romantic and funny. But as LeVar Burton used to say, you don’t have to take our word for it: In addition to making a good comic, Thom Zahler’s made “Love and Capes” one of the easiest books for new readers to jump on. There’s a trade of the first six issues from IDW available now (and another coming this summer), and he’s been an active participant in Free Comic Book Day, offering up full issues (#3 and #7) for the price of on the house, with #13 scheduled for this year’s FCBD. And if that’s not enough, you can read a good chunk of the first trade webcomic-style on the Love and Capes website for free too!

It’s a comic that wants to be read, and we here at ComicsAlliance want you to read it, because it is most definitely a Comic We Love.

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