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Captain Gravity
and the Power of the Vril #1
writer: Joshua Dysart
artists: Sal Velluto and Bob Almond

If you look at Penny-Farthing Press' Captain Gravity and think "cheesy movie serial rip-off, er, homage," you'd be right. But you'd also be wrong. The concept puts its origins right out in the open, with Captain Gravity being the hero of a series of 1930's cliffhangers, all with lurid titles mysteriously more creative than those of George Lucas. However, they seem to be loosely based on the real-life exploits of a hero running around Southern California with complete control over gravity. In turn, that Captain Gravity actually got his powers while filming the first Captain Gravity adventure.

It sounds a little loopy, and Joshua Dysart could have done a better job explaining what has gone before. Although Penny-Farthing Press works hard to keep their back issues available to new readers, nobody buys a new comic wanting to wait until they get all the backstory straight.

As for the new story in this second mini-series for Captain Gravity, Dysart spins one of my favorite combinations, Nazis and mysticism. It worked for Hellboy; it works for Captain Gravity. This book cleverly mixes high adventure with a social conscience, and it has a hero doing the right thing for the right reasons, to boot.

Told in flashback, The Power of the Vril establishes its premise early, but also sets eerie parallels to modern day. Not that we have Nazis looking for ancient artifacts bearing the swastika, or broken cross, but it can be no accident that the real important news of 1939 gets buried on page 31 of the newspaper. Hindsight, after all, is twenty twenty. But with narration from 1962, Dysart juxtaposes our own time of unease with that of earlier times.

On the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis, special effects artist turned amateur scientist Willie Ley gets interviewed by an obscure science fiction fanzine (shades of the web!) about a 1947 book, Pseudoscience In Naziland. Clearly, Ley wrote it after aiding Captain Gravity, which takes us back to a tale of intrigue, danger and superheroics. All that, and in a nice nod, Dysart even writes a cameo role for Ian Fleming, who was a spy for England during World War II.

Like many of the Penny-Farthing books, Captain Gravity has complexity. Steeped in as much historical accuracy as flights of fancy, it's not a breezy read, but it is fun. Adventure does come first, but if Dysart makes you think a little bit about political theory, all the better. The only thing he simplifies, unfortunately, is writing American society a little too progressively, to make a sharper condemnation of Nazism. It's hard to believe that the book's hero, Joshua Jones, never encounters racism in Hollywood.

The art by Velluto and Almond more than makes up for that imbalance. It's about time for Velluto to have a resurgence; he draws cleanly and solidly, without a lot of stylization. With him, storytelling comes first, and he packs as much detail into a panel as he possibly can without cluttering it. Almond's inks are a good complement; he steers Velluto's work into an individual look.

Penny-Farthing Press always waits until its books are the best quality possible before releasing them, and doing them only in short bursts of mini-series. While that may keep the imprint from ever truly breaking into the mainstream, it also ensures that each title they release is a safe bet. This month the publisher has doubled down with this book and the penultimate issue of The Victorian, and both give a lot of bang for your buck.


Derek McCaw

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