Captain Gravity
by Stephen Vrattos, Keith
Martin, Rober Quijano
(Penny-Farthing, 1999)

It's almost like picking up a comic from the medium's heyday.

Captain Gravity is a pure pulp indulgence, freshly squeezed from the Golden Age of comics. There are tell-tale signs that give it away: Over-the-top dialogue. Exaggerated postures. Two-dimensional villains who are superstitious and easily fooled. (Better yet, they're Nazis -- and what better villains can there be?) There's a beautiful but steely heroine. And, of course, a hero who comes into power by accident, who is plagued with self-doubts but who always comes up with the right idea and the necessary courage -- or who stumbles luckily into the right place at the right time -- to come out on top. He even has an alliterative name: Joshua Jones.

The story features ancient cultures, alien visitors and a secret magic. Set in 1938 in the ruins of Chichen Itza, the Mayan center of Mexico, the story revolves around filmmakers, archeologists and, of course, Nazis, who seek a legendary power to lend oomph to der Fuehrer's assault on the world. Jones is an assistant to the director, and he's just where he needs to be when the mystical Element 115, with powers over gravity itself, is found and the Nazis reveal themselves and their plan.

It must be noted to that Jones is black, a character choice that would have been much more daring if written in the true Golden Age. As it is, writer Stephen Vrattos doesn't sidestep the racial issues that existed; rather, he confronts them head on, and you can guess from each meeting who the good guys and the bad guys will be -- because the good guys, of course, haven't a biased bone in their bodies, even decades before the advent of the Civil Rights movement. (Captain Gravity's costume, designed for the movie, reveals not an inch of skin to onlookers.)

Captain Gravity hearkens back to a simpler time in comics. The story is fun and never asks readers to think too hard -- and it's entertaining to boot.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 29 November 2003

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