Monday, September 7, 2009

Review: Capes 'N' Babes

Capes 'n' Babes is a strip about a strip mall--specifically, a comic book store in a strip mall. It's a black-and-white strip with occasional color, updated three times a week (MWF), drawn by professional graphic artist Chris Flick.

The webcomic centers around Marc, the manager of the titular comics store, Capes 'n' Babes. The store's owner is frequently absent (a fact lampshaded blatantly in more than one comic), so it often falls to Marc to tend to business. An early storyline introduces Joey, the "girl next door" who runs a hardware store and helps Marc build a studio for the comic shop's video podcast. Joey makes frequent subsequent appearances, as do recurring gags in which Marc interviews comic-book superheroes and characters on his podcast show. Throw in Roy, Marc's lecherous werewolf friend with dreams of becoming a comic-book artist, and the strip is ready to roll.

(A word of disclaimer before continuing: Roy's lecherousness and the language in general set the dialogue content at a PG-13 level. Early strips especially play up Roy's werewolf horniness, which readers such as myself may find off-putting and not terribly funny. Your mileage, as they say over at, may vary, so read with discretion.)

Creator Chris Flick greatly enjoys comics of all stripes, and it shows. The strip is filled with references to and parodies of superhero comics, webcomics, general sci-fi, and the fact that Capes 'n' Babes itself is a comic: goodbye, Fourth Wall. In fact, some of its best moments occur when it's poking self-deprecating fun at itself. Gags take aim not just at superheroes and comics, but at comic creators, and a recurring joke involves the appearance of H.R. Giger's "xenomorph" alien from the movie series of the same name. Some Alien strips are more successful than others.

Which brings us to a major criticism of Capes 'n' Babes: the humor. Gags all too frequently fall flat from overwriting or poor comic timing. Consider this strip poking fun at The Ghost Whisperer and another about Sonic's drive-thru burger ads. Both strips try to pack too much dialogue into the last panel, none of it especially amusing. Another strip, in which The Thing of Fantastic Four fame strikes out at a paper-rock-scissors tournament, has potential, but the joke is hampered by needless repetition and an overwritten punchline that hits the reader over the head. A visual, reveal-based punchline, with Grimm and his juvenile nemesis underneath the contest banner, would have sufficed.

Nonetheless, Capes 'n' Babes does have its humorous moments. A few strips, with bizarre out-of-left-field punchlines that leave you asking "Where did that come from?", elicited genuine laughs from me. If you enjoy a good pun--or a good joke about puns--the Capes archives have a few pun-liners for you. (Cue groans.)

So if you do tune in to Capes 'n' Babes, it likely won't be primarily for the humor, which lacks the polish of strips like Sheldon or Sinfest. However, the webcomic does have two things going for it that bear mention.

First of all, it's a strip for comic fans by a comic fan, and the sincerity shows. Creative works can run the risk of getting too self-referential and self-indulgent: whether a novel about a writer, a movie about a producer, or a strip about a cartoonist. Flick neatly averts that with his comics-shop-manager protagonist. Marc's job, as a guy trying to make a living off something he personally cares about, allows him to observe the industry with a bit of healthy distance. And Marc is as human as the next guy--his perspective is by no means immune to blind spots.

Marc is a likable guy--friendly, reasonably hard-working, and a bit of a marshmallow, though not without his sarcastic side. It's easy for readers to identify with him. His developing not-quite romantic friendship lends some strong social tension to the strip (again, blatantly and hilariously lampshaded). Readers can likely sympathize with Marc and Joey's hesitation to risk ruining a perfectly good friendship with something more, and the ongoing subplot has yielded some of the strip's best writing. Most recently, Marc has accidentally let slip a "love ya, bye!" to Joey before leaving for a comic shop owners' convention. I'm interested to see how he tries to defuse that relationship bomb.

Capes 'n' Babes, in summary, is a pretty decent webcomic. Like many comics, its interesting characters if nothing else may make it worth the ride (Sluggy Freelance, anyone?), and the competent caricature-based artwork is a plus. It's a comic for diehard comic book fans in particular, but the light-hearted look at relationships may provide some appeal for the casual webcomic reader.

Capes creator Chris Flick is an avid comic convention attendee, and should you wish to meet him in person, you can find him at Pittsburgh Comicon this weekend (Sept. 11-13) and at the Baltimore Comicon October 10 & 11th. Additionally, Flick has a weekly geek-humor strip, CMX Suite, that you may enjoy. If any of his work sounds like your cup of tea, be sure to check it out.

No comments: