Hero Squared #3

This story starts off full-speed in the style of a classic Marvel superhero battle, right down to the adjectives in the bylines on page one. Our hero, Captain Valor, does epic comic book battle with his arch-enemy Caliginous, all the while delivering heavy doses of sound effects and exposition.

Then the reader’s point of view is pulled back to reveal a young woman reading the comic and crying. This ain’t no classic Marvel superhero comic, true believer. It’s part of the reality of Milo and his alter-ego, Captain Valor.

Milo and Captain Valor are different versions of the same person pulled from different realities or parallel universes or something, and they seem to constantly bicker. Milo, by all appearances a single 20-something-ish slob, takes great delight in reminding Captain Valor that his (their) middle name is Eustace, as if this unglamorous, old-fashioned name serves to keep the Captain down to Earth. In this reality, the super Captain is in fact much more down-to-earth than he realizes. Not accustomed to failure, Valor was unable to get a dying man to hospital in time and now struggles with guilt and frustration, attending the man’s funeral with Milo. Milo wastes little time in pointing out that in this reality, Valor is just as fallible as anyone else.

On the other hand, Captain Valor tries to convince Milo that in spite of his personal problems, he has the potential to be a less selfish person; to rise above his own troubles and to help others — to become a hero in his own right.

Through most of this story, we watch the two main characters, Milo and Captain Valor, argue and defend their different life choices and points of view. At the same time, using a perfect sense of comic staging and techniques like identical facial expressions, artist Joe Abraham draws us (pardon the pun) the similarities between these two conflicted characters.

Abrahams artwork matches Giffen’s writing very well in the way they each create a balance between serious dramatic, realistic moments in some cases, and wild, silly slapstick or flippant dialogue in other cases. It is refreshing to see a Galactic supervillian bantering almost playfully with her toadying assistant. The story’s style swings between seriousness and playfulness, without seeming inappropriate or forced.

Thus far, there seems to be an imbalance in the roles between the male and female characters: the only female character in the story, Stephie/Caliginous, plays respectively the long-suffering girlfriend of Milo and, in the parallel reality, the galactic enemy of Captain Valor, his past lover, now shunned.

So, why is there only one major female in this story, and why is she either at a disadvantage (e.g. a lousy, selfish boyfriend), or playing the role of the scheming, vengeance-minded super villian?

Meanwhile back at Milo’s friend Blaine’s apartment, the boys are bonding — sharing in their dilemma while trying to tease a few details out of the Captain about his sex life. I sincerely hope that this is the creator’s comment on overgrown, socially-underdeveloped man-boys and their struggle with grown-up relationships. If, on other hand, this portrait of our (sym)pathetic male leads doesn’t progress beyond this stage, then I’d pass on this series character-wise, and suggest that the creators rethink the idea of balance in their universes. Judging thus far by the quality of the characterization and writing, I’m rooting for the former.

Comedy plays a major role in this story, both between the characters, from the fun that Milo has at Captain Valor’s expense (“Eustace!”), to the way that the art and the story approach otherwise sad or bleak events, such as a bereaved old lady accidentally falling into an open grave in a slapstick manner. This use of humour is surprisingly refreshing, reminding me of some old Will Eisner Spirit stories I’ve recently read. As a kid growing up with comic book superheroes, especially DC superheroes, I suppose they did seem to take themselves too seriously much of the time.

After a little bit of research on the web, I learned how much I missed out on this style of superhero storytelling. The artwork and writing in the late ’80s/early ’90s Justice League titles had this same sophistication and sense of humour and ironic wit. All I can remember of this whole JLA era at the time was Guy Gardner’s funny haircut and wise-ass attitude, and of feeling like it seemed to cheapen the idea of a super team. Back then, I still wanted the characters to take themselves more seriously, so that I could take them seriously as well.

Anyway, I’ve since gotten over that, for the most part. If Hero Squared is representative of this same level and style of storytelling and tongue-in-cheek human drama, then I think I’m sorry that I overlooked this whole phase earlier.