Superhero comics operate on wish fulfillment. Readers get pulled into storylines featuring metahuman abilities because the power to fly or do things at superspeed seem like they’d let us solve all our problems. But a new comic from two great writers looks at the gap between a normal life and superhero adventures.
I’ve enjoyed Mark Waid and Tom Peyer’s skill at, in their own individual projects, updating the tonalities of Silver Age superhero work into the present day. Waid’s tenures on JLA, Daredevil and Kingdom Come and Peyer’s take on Hourman all had a multifaceted complexity that made the stories much more than flat punch-em-out contests. They’re co-writing a new book for Aftershock Comics called Captain Kid, a series that asks why anyone would live a humdrum everyday existence when they could change into a superhero whenever they wanted.
Captain Kid #1—with art by Wilfredo Torres and Kelly Fitzpatrick, book design by John J. Hill and editing by Mike Marts—opens with the 44th birthday of lead character Chris Vargas. He’s an editorial cartoonist at a small local paper that seems like it’s about to blink out of existence. A TV news report shows that a superhero exists in this world, but we don’t learn that Chris has powers until a mysterious woman prompts him to use them to investigate a man at the bar where he’s celebrating.
I like how Captain Kid assumes some genre awareness on the part of its intended audience. You’re supposed to know that a newspaper job is an allusion to Clark Kent. Likewise, Peyer and Waid are banking on familiarity with superhero comics lore to drive home the concept at the heart of the book. The magic thought invocation that turns older Chris into younger Captain Kid is an inversion of the magic word transformation that turns young Billy Batson into adult Captain Marvel/Shazam. That assumed familiarity, however, sets the reader up for some surprises.
For example, after that bizarre meeting in the bar, Chris transforms into Captain Kid and takes flight to follow a white-haired man who was muttering villain phraseology. Once he arrives at a warehouse where evil is supposedly afoot, the superheroing doesn’t quite go as expected and Captain Kid gets put off by a simple call to the police. In another sequence where he’s holding up a crumbling bridge, it’s also made clear that Chris isn’t an all-knowing, cool-under-pressure superhero type.
Torres’ art is the perfect vehicle for the ideas being executed here. His linework is spare enough to evoke the simpler days of old-school superhero comics but also uses modern-day cinematic camera angles and invitingly expressive faces.
Thematically, this isn’t new ground. The much-lauded Miracleman comics of the 1980s—themselves a pastiche of the Captain Marvel/Shazam mythos—began with the same core premise of a normal man fighting the temptation to stay in his super-identity all the time. But where the series written by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman elicited more of a sci-fi/fantasy tone, Captain Kid reads as a more grounded take. Chris’ concerns are heartbreakingly familiar.
His elderly father comes off as depressed and lonely after the death of Chris’ mother, and his own body is nagging him with signs of aging. He’s got responsibilities and duties but not much in the way of joys or thrills. While Chris has seemingly been in action for a while as Captain Kid, this first issue makes it clear that there are some problems that wish fulfillment can’t solve. He’s not fundamentally happier because he can change into a superdude. Captain Kid feels like it’s going to interrogate the superhero fantasy most mainstream comics take as a given, while also taking a poignant look at what it feels like when life is passing you by.