Written by Benjamin Bailey and Joey Esposito
Pencils and Inks by Boy “Boykoesh”Akkerman
Colours by Ed Ryzowski
Letters by Adam O. Pruett
Review by Billy Seguire
Captain Ultimate is a kid friendly love letter to comics past. A throwback to a golden age of heroes who wore capes instead of grimaces and flew high over magnificent cities in bright blue cloudless skies. Heroes who didn’t kill or use guns, and who didn’t fight crime to redeem a tortured past, but simply because it was the right thing to do. Heroes with moustaches. Captain Ultimate reminds us of what it was like to be a kid rushing into the comic shop with nothing more than change in your pocket looking for a great super story. Currently funding a physical edition of their digital all-ages comic on Kickstarter, Captain Ultimate apes the superficial trappings of older comic eras to bring purehearted action back to comics with all the fun of a Saturday morning cartoon.
For readers who’ve grown tired of doom and gloom, Captain Ultimate is a bright spot on the comics scene. The Ron Swanson lookalike that is Captain Ultimate is an intentionally cheesy and outdated character, and he’s one that’s tailor made to capture a child’s imagination. Coming right off the comic page, his return brings heroism back to a city that’s been subjected to gritty pretender heroes who care more about landing a movie deal than actually protecting citizens. Yet even in with beefy muscles and a stylish ‘stache, Captain Ultimate is only part of the story. The real hero of the book is Milo, the brave, kind, and pure-hearted kid who finds himself going from fan to unofficial sidekick over the six issues. Kids will have an easy time latching onto this book, because they see themselves in Milo’s shoes as the hero in a comic book world. More than a simple avatar, however, Milo feels like a real kid whose excitement and noble spirit continually drives the book forward.
One of the plot’s greatest devices is the marriage of the past with the modern day. The second issue of the series introduces Ricki Ratcliffe, a tough-as-nails female reporter who’s also clearly from an era long departed. She reveals Captain Ultimate’s origin to the editor of the local paper as a scoop and doesn’t even know what a blogger is. Her pitch is summarily rejected for being too “comic book” to print. The book’s main recurring villains, meanwhile, stand in for the grizzled anti-heroes that many of us are still trying to pretend never actually happened in the 1990s, and their Super Revenging Society is filled with overdesigned, edgy costumes. Thankfully, this doesn’t come off as the creators of Captain Ultimate screaming about the “good old days” but instead focuses on a new generation that looks forward in embracing all the qualities that made those past comics great. An arc involving the redemption of said Super Revenging Society, particularly female ‘hero’ Venus de Muscles, makes for a satisfying look at the strengths of even comics darkest days.
As you can easily imagine, the book this premise delivers is chalked full of plain old fun. Bailey and Esposito clearly take delight in aping older comic styles and cling tightly to an optimistic sense of adventure that defines the book’s tone. Although the world Captain Ultimate inhabits is a modern one, there’s never any danger of Milo or Captain Ultimate becoming corrupted by outside forces, and the comic plays out with all the zing and zazz of a Saturday morning cartoon. You can feel safe that younger kids aren’t going to be exposed to anything too grim while reading this comic. The book delivers fast-paced excitement without talking down to them either.
The loose and bouncy art of Boy Akkerman is a perfect fit for the optimistic story Captain Ultimate delivers. You are constantly reminded that you’re reading a comic through the affectations of comic book cliches, but the wide open panels and joyful expression shown in the drawing of every object on the page makes it exceedingly friendly for younger readers who may be picking this up as their first introduction to the medium. Characters are drawn with a freewheeling cartoon sensibility, especially in case of Milo’s fellow students, that fills the book with an unmistakable sense of childlike imagination. Each panel is stuffed with such heart and playfulness that a few instances where the line art falters can be easily forgiven once you find yourself fully engaged with the story. There are treats for older readers as well, with pop culture references scattered throughout the book such as a Sgt. Al Powell cameo encountered on Halloween or the creators own likenesses hiding out in the first issue.
In one of my favourite choices for this book, Captain Ultimate and other heroes of the past come complete with the coloured dots of four-colour printing, making them stand out as relics of the past. It’s a simple touch that adds a lot of character to the book, letting kids instantly pick out who is a part of the “old school” comic book world. While the adult in me wanted to know more about what was happening behind Captain Ultimate’s sudden return, the child in me (and the book’s target audience) will have no problem diving headfirst into the cartoon universe that Captain Ultimate sets up. Thinking back to my own childhood, I know stories like this gave me opportunities to use my own imagination. Give kids some credit on this one: if you don’t give them an answer, they’ll easily come up with one on their own.
Buy It. For as little as $15, Captain Ultimate delivers an especially fun read with a great message for kids about doing what’s right and becoming heroes through friendship, bravery, and kindness. It’s the ultimate all-ages experience to bring new readers into the world of superheroes, while long-time comic readers will appreciate the winking homages to comics history and numerous pop culture references that Akkerman slips into his art. While it doesn’t dive as far into the depth behind the mythology as I would like, the team behind Captain Ultimate consistently creates the kind of storytelling kids need in comics without committing the cardinal sin of being boring. Check out the Kickstarter if you want to take a look for yourself. As Captain Ultimate himself would say: Just don’t forget the meatloaf.