It wasn’t until about one hundred pages in that I began to get a glimmer of what this novel was about. That isn’t to say that I didn’t get it from the beginning, just that the many layers of the story began to show themselves as I ventured deeper into its pages. To clarify, Who Is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? is a novel and not a comic book, which probably has a few of our readers perplexed, but it actually fits perfectly in the comic book genre. Not only does this story star “capes” and villainous rogues, but it’s rich with comic references and history. This novel reads like a love note to the medium, but at the same time manages to tackle other subjects much like the medium it pays homage. I’m not a fan of the prologue in novels. If it was important then I don’t see why it’s not included in the story to begin with, but now I’m wondering if I’ve just never had the pleasure of reading a good one. Heropa’s prologue does a fantastic job of giving you a taste of the world you’re about to enter as the character the Aerialist plummets to her death. As she falls the distance in which she will travel crosses her mind. She begins to calculate just how long it will be before she hits the ground and thinks of notable landmarks that would shorten her fall. At the end of it all though all that she can mutter out loud is, “Flame on” followed by a laugh as she continues to fall to her death.
From there the true story begins as we meet Jack. His entrance into Heropa is a bit of a mystery to us as he wanders the city’s streets. The cities citizens can’t see him for some reason except for one man that he meets. Stan the Doorman is the first to greet our costumed hero Jack aka the Southern Cross. Stan the Doorman (an homage to Stan the Man) introduces himself as the doorman and welcoming committee; he guides him to the Timely building and the two talk about the obvious homage to Timely Comics the one time title for Marvel Comics. Jack takes a ride on the elevator up to the penthouse to meet the Equalizers the cities superhero team whose numbers have been dramatically cut.
He arrives at the penthouse and begins to take in the eccentric design of the heroes headquarters. The first member he meets is Pretty Amazonia a towering woman that’s described as a cross between Wonder Woman and Salior Moon and dragged from pages of a Manga. The next member he encounters is Brick, a ton of bricks staked together to resemble a person. They cover several things with Jack including the death of their former leader Sir Omphalos, which for the most part they keep tight-lipped about. They go over the rules with Jack or at least the ones that they can remember such as: no hardcore swearing, no drinking or smoking, no killing and other classic comic book tropes. It seems though, that the last rule about killing is being broke a lot lately leaving Jack and the team a mystery to solve.
A huge aspect of the story that I’ve failed to mention up until this point is that Heropa isn’t real. There are comic books references because the characters come for our world, be it a future that is on the verge of becoming dystopian. Jack or as we later learn his name to really be, Jacob, has volunteered to enter Heropa to get away from his life of hopelessness. This of course is in a way a reference to comic books and superheroes being a classic for of escapism.
The other major element of our story is the two terms created to describe the different classes of citizens that live in Heropa: Blandos and Bops. Blandos refers to the NPC (Non-playable character) average citizens of the city that are essentially terrorized by the Bops aka the Capes. Bops, of course also refers to the villains that cause the trouble the Equalizers stop. Most of the Equalizers refer to the Blandos almost as if they were trash and hate how boring they are. Because of this, most of their direct interaction is pawned off on Jack to take care of. This begins another layer to the story as Jack becomes infatuated with one of the Blandos named Louise who works at the bank.
I’ll admit that I was put off a bit by the comic book references at first, but that’s because the mystery of the world wasn’t completely explained yet. Granted it’s not until about a fourth of a way in before the book spells it out for you, but it gives you plenty of clues prior to that and once that happens it all clicks together. While it pays heavy homage to comic books with its setting and name drops there is plenty more that it refers to including art, literature and automobiles for readers to discover and appreciate.
Author Andrez Bergen does a wonderful job of crafting a realistic fake world. It’s kind of crazy when you sit down and think about the fact that you’ve become captivated by a world that isn’t exactly real. It’s a world within a world, but because of the vivid description you manage to forget that while reading it. Aside for the realistic settings the characters also become very human throughout the course of the story. At first they start of as the tropes or homages to other characters that they’re meant to be, but once you become familiar with them they grow with each encounter. The wit and sharp dialog is also a key feature of the writing to point out. Jack’s tongue is sharp and he’s never afraid to let his mouth get him in trouble. Practically every line of dialog from him has a pulpy charm to it as if he had a dialog tree of perfect answers just cued up to use and I absolutely loved it.
While the novel isn’t widely available for purchase yet I think that it’s going to be quite successful with fans of comic books with its references and the classic comic book feel that the story captures. My interest was piqued from the first page and I found myself more and more immersed in the story as I continued reading. It’s definitely the best non-comic book superhero story I’ve ever read. I would also be remiss not to mention that there are drawings throughout the book. Sometimes it’s of a logo or the Jack in his Southern Cross costume, but the variety of these pieces blur that line between novel and graphic novel and really do amplify the already great story.
When it becomes available I would highly recommend picking it up; especially if you’re a fan of the golden and silver age of comic books, but as a modern age reader I too found it extremely enjoyable.
Writer: Andrez Bergen
Cover: Rodolforever Reyes
Southern Cross Art: Paul Mason