By Ben Boruff
For nearly a decade, a friend and I have been working our way through Smallville, The CW's melodrama starring Tom Welling as a hormonal, somewhat simpleminded Clark Kent. My friend and I live hours apart, but we find time every few months to meet somewhere and watch a couple episodes. (We recently finished the ninth season, and I am very excited to start the final season soon.) It has been a rocky journey. We had to endure the infuriating awkwardness of teenage Clark; the inclusion of one-shot villains like Alicia Baker, a lovestruck high schooler who surprises young Clark with both kryptonite and sex; and, more recently, the inability of the show's writers to reconcile their desire to highlight Lois Lane's confidence and their knee-jerk assumption that every season needs a Damsel in Distress.
We watch Smallville because we appreciate the fun absurdity of melodrama, and I recommend Captives for the same reason.
My review of the first issue of Captives examined the silliness of a young boy loving an unseen princess. This plot point is particularly frustrating when it functions as the hero's Call to Adventure (a concept that exists as part of Joseph Campbell's seventeen-stage monomyth, or hero's journey). The Call to Adventure is an important part of a hero's journey, and love at first distant glance is not a compelling Call to Adventure, especially when the hero bullheadedly accepts it. The young boy never questions the mission (meaning that the narrative skips the Refusal of the Call), which weakens the reader's ability to emotionally invest in the journey. I do not care about the boy because I do not understand his motivations.
Few of those problems are resolved in the second issue, but the plot does intensify. Captives' characters are now captives, stuck inside a labyrinth filled with monsters. This issue highlights writer and creator Alexander Banchitta's talent for developing battle sequences: Banchitta artfully crafts the movement of the fight scenes, allowing the reader to flow ceaselessly through panels filled with cinematic sword swings.
The comic's dialogue is still clunky, often relying on cliches, but it is beginning to grow on me. Some lines almost have a hint of farce. When asked how many villains might be in the labyrinth, an old man named Irwin replies, "I don't know...How many fish are there in the sea?"—an unnecessarily sarcastic remark, given the circumstances. This panel paints Irwin as a sardonic, weathered mentor—a sassy Gandalf—and it is immediately followed by an epic, half-page image of the entire Captives fellowship preparing itself for battle. This emotional incongruity enhances the comic's entertainment value as a lighthearted action story. The comic's histrionic dialogue and blatant characterization overshadow any emotional gravity otherwise suggested by the plot, thus giving the reader permission to interpret the comic's lack of relatability as narrative brevity. In other words, read this comic for its action, not the reasons for its action.
After Banchitta's impressively choreographed battle sequence, a couple characters begin fighting over a sword, and one character suggests that "some type of competition suited towards strongmen like yourselves" could settle the argument. Unlike the kill-count banter between Legolas and Gimli in Lord of the Rings, this conversation completely shifts the tone of the narrative. An important, character-building battle has just ended, but readers are given no time to process its events. One character even points out the absurdity of this: "We just were attacked and now we're fighting over a sword. This is mad!" But old Irwin replies, "No, this is perfectly normal...It always starts out this way."
I guess we'll have to take his word for it.
Writer: Alexander Banchitta
Penciler: Robert Ahmad
Inker: Dan Parsons
Cover Artist: Mike Dubisch
Letterer: Fred C. Stresing
Publisher: Fright Comics