Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? by Andrez Bergen
Perfect Edge Books, 2013
$26.95 (paperback) | Amazon
Andrez Bergen’s Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? is not just a love letter to comics throughout the ages, but one of the most entertaining books about comic heroes ever written. There are so many comic references spread throughout the book, I found myself looking them up constantly. Fortunately, even readers without any background in comics can enjoy the central plot: a group of heroes and villains inhabit Heropa, a digital, Matrixesque space that people use to escape a destitute future in Melbourne as the rest of the world has been devastated. Heroes and villains exist, but they have a “gentlemen’s agreement” that no matter how destructive their battles become, no one dies. Matters take on a Watchmen-like twist when someone starts killing off the “capes” and Jack, the “Southern Cross,” and his team of heroes have to find the culprit. Matching its comic book setting, the dialogue is pithy, animated, and picturesque. The banter between the superheroes and even the rogues is a highlight as their interplay is both self-conscious of their legacy while weaving their own identity:
“Yeah, well. I guess once Captain America hit the big time, copycat patriotic heroes became abundant,” Jack (the protagonist) said.
“Whatever. But your costume’s slightly different from the one in the picture.”
“The good Captain had a few wardrobe switches over the years, depending on the artist. This was my favourite.”
Gypsie-Annie glanced at her boss. “You didn’t have the imagination to conjure up your own?”
“I was a hero, not a haberdasher.”
Rather than chapters, we have issue numbers, starting with #100, implying we’ve missed the first ninety-nine issues and a rich backstory. Like the newcomer hero, Jack, we find out about the world as he finds it out. I’m hesitant to say it reminds me of videogames as that connotes something simplistic, which Capes is not. At the same time, games have taken so many leaps in their narrative story-telling that I’d say fans of the best of gaming would love the fast-paced nature with multiple story-lines and stream of twists that leave you guessing until the very end. Illustrations from fantastic artists help bring the world to life in stark black-and-white. The styles range from a Manga-styled Amazonian heroine to shots of the Southern Cross arrayed in dramatic splash page fashion. It’s a perfect complement to the vivid prose that captures the tone of old serials and seedy noir novels as in one of the first views of the city:
“Canvas awnings billowing in its doorways, a shiny, green, wood-panelled W-Class tram clattered past before they crossed a thoroughfare on which 1930s and ‘40s Packards, Buicks, Morris Minors, even a two-tone tan and chocolate-brown Summit Tourer from the 1920s, moved slowly. These vintage jalopies honked one another while a traffic cop in jodhpurs, knee-high riding boots and white gloves, standing with rod-straight posture as the next intersection, used his whistle and energetic arm movements to control the flow.”
Time and again, I found myself fascinated by the little details that act as gutters to border the universe: “You have Equalizer logos on your toilet paper,” is noted, as are the travails imposed by Jack’s mask which “was a tight, full-face hood with holes only for the eyes.” The book happens to have one of the most extensive and thorough Author Acknowledgements I’ve read detailing many of Bergen’s influences and inspirations, as well as Comic Highlights and a Glossary in case you’re wondering who figures like Buster Crabbe and the Great Gazoo are. There’s debates about everything within the story which reflects Bergen’s passion for not just comics and pop culture, but the quirks of an artificial world and the ramifications for those who hide within. The “Hero’s Journey” takes on new meaning with digital shackles, where even love is wiped away as easily as the memories of the citizens within. Ontological inquiries, though, aren’t as important as the sociological and psychological dilemmas of creators versus created. As superheroes have secret identities, Heropa can be read on many different layers and when each is stripped away, the question of “who” isn’t as important as the fun-packed journey getting there.
In Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?, Bergen creates a world we care about. The comic references and gaming form a backdrop, but it’s the individual heroes and villains we root for and against. The original word for Manga means “whimsical drawings.” It was only when those random drawings coalesced into narratives reflecting our own lives and times that they resonated so deeply with audiences. Bergen reminds us that superpowers aren’t just about performing physical impossibilities, but also encompass our capacity to inquire, evolve, and remember. We are all wearing capes in digital worlds we construct. But don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret that others can find out only after they wander the streets of Heropa.