If you know something about the history of American comics, you’ll recognize the scene on the cover of Captain Gravity: a superhero delivering a knock-out punch to an evil Nazi henchman. Captain Gravity is a fun superhero adventure, but it’s first and foremost a tribute to Golden Age comics and the Golden Age of Hollywood. The comic has a lot going for it: sympathetic characters, a good old-fashioned swashbuckling story, and lively, colorful art that’s a nice mix of classic and contemporary. Our hero, Joshua Jones, is a young black man struggling to find a place for himself in a prejudiced Hollywood. Working as an assistant to a kind-hearted director, Joshua dreams of his boyhood hero Captain Marvelous. Little does he know that his life is about to collide with the movies; on location in Mexico, shooting a movie about fictitious hero Captain Gravity, Josh stumbles onto a Nazi plot. Soon he must assume the mantel of the movie hero to keep an extraterrestrial power out of enemy hands. It’s a good premise, and it comes with great supporting characters like plucky and egalitarian starlet Chase DuBois. The problem is the dialogue. Cheesy soliloquies and exclamations are all part of the adventure-movie experience, and Captain Gravity obviously means to poke fun at its own cliches. The characters deliver their clunky lines with a wink and a nudge, but that doesn’t make them any less painful. Every character has to play “exposition ball”; they pretend to have conversations while clumsily filling the reader in on the plot. Just when the story gets going, Joshua will launch into a speech about his unresolved feelings for his dad that’s totally implausible in the scene. Josh’s father was lynched, a fact we learn in a flashback that’s unexpectedly detailed and (obviously) disturbing.
Captain Gravity would be perfectly appropriate for middle school and high school readers; it contains no sex or gore. Adults may be more likely to appreciate the references (and the significance of the Nazi villains) but anyone familiar with Indiana Jones movies will recognize the classic adventure elements. The language is fairly sophisticated, but the story is easy enough to understand. I just wish it was a little better.