Thursday, November 29, 2018

Captain Crafty #1

Thanksgiving 2018
Forgotten Heroes
Captain Crafty #1

Ready for week-old leftovers? Here’s this book riffing on Mask

Writer – Brian Rice, Brian Miller, and Eric Copeland
Penciller – Brian Rice
Inker – Brian Rice
Letterer – Kristy Miller and Brian Rice
Colorist – Brian Miller
Editor – Uncredited
August 1996

This Captain wasn’t crafty enough to save it from the Forgotten Heroes stack. The brainchild of writer Brian Rice, Captain Crafty evolved from a costume Brian wore to promote his arts and craft store in his home town of Estes Park, Colorado way back in 1987. The character was a hit, and Brian formed a partnership with Brian Miller and brother-in-law Eric Copeland to create a story. Brian handled the art chores himself.

Rice and Miller hammered out a couple of black and white issues by 1994 and hit the bricks with Crafty, literally marketing and distributing the good Captain by themselves around the Missouri region by driving from one store to the other. They also bought table space many local comic book conventions and used their time there to promote the character. Part of this promotional strategy was to have other luminaries give a brief positive quote which they could slap on the back cover or inside as a seal of approval.

The book garnered a following, enough for Rice and Miller to go back to press and reissue the first two stories with color in 1996 and a half issue called Captain Crafty 2 ½ later that year. After that Rice’s store of ideas dried up. Rather than produce a third issue that didn’t meet his standards, he shelved the character.

And his character is likely to never see the light of day again as now he’d have to fight Zoe of the Captain Crafty website for ownership of the copywrite on the name.

So what is Captain Crafty? Who is he? What are his powers? After reading all three color issues, I’m still very much at a loss for some of this.

Crafty is a “superhero” and those air quotes mean exactly what you think they do. He’s really just a buffoon who wanders around a few comic panels speaking to the audience and doing weird things. There is a villain in issue 2 but speaking about it would spoil some of this issue, so I’ll leave that off for a bit. And there is the fact that Crafty usually causes more destruction and chaos than he averts, so I’m not certain you can state he does the hero’s job even when presented with a villain.

His powers are…unusual. Basically, he can do anything he wants as long as it somehow involves working with art supplies. This gives the character the unlimited potential of the Mask character created by Mike Richardson and Captain Crafty is used pretty much in the same way. He sews chaos and mayhem in a very literal fashion.

However, he is an inscrutable character. His goals, which he states out loud in the first few panels of issue one, are a one-off joke. We don’t know what he is doing or why and most of the book has little clear direction to it. It would have been a much better start had Rice given Crafty some kind of grounded persona first instead of having him wildly flinging about all the time, throwing punchlines at the audience.

If you’re thinking this is a Deadpool riff, remember that at the very least we know Wade Wilson’s very human origin story and why he might be an insane, fourth-wall breaking weirdo. What this book comes off as instead  fits more of a Mad or Cracked magazine take on a super hero parody, which is fine in its place. Just remember those get stale when they run for more than 7 pages. Here we have an entire 19 page book to fill. And then another almost 20 pages next month. And another the month after…

I think I see Rice’s problem with coming up with a third issue.

The art by Rice is pretty spectacular. He gives Crafty a decent “Spawn” type look about him with this huge cape and these page spanning visuals. I actually thought the art was pretty amazing through most of this. Just the story didn’t grab me. It was just… too “out there.”

And that’s coming from a guy that reads “out there” stories for a full time hobby.

Let’s get this over with. We let Crafty sit around too long and it will be like giving a kid a bottle of white Elmer’s glue and nothing to do. Pretty soon you’ll come back to an empty bottle and the kid peeling weird, hardened glue shapes off his hands.

We begin with Captain Crafty sitting on a rooftop, like a Spawn trainee. Only this one isn’t minding criminal activity, he’s peeping through the window across the way at what appears at first to be a naked neighbor who is fresh from the shower. In the end it is clear he has no interest in her, only in her wall coverings.

The buxom lass spies him spying on her and confronts him through yon window…

Which leads to this messy, extravagant splash-page as she sends in the cops to arrest him. 

Crafty introduces himself to the audience here with his mission to “bring evil-doers to justice” and “install the values of art and creativity in everyone” and what seems like a mish-mash of a billion other things. Basically, Crafty is a loon that makes mischief for pretty much everyone around him. If you want to paint him with the broad brush that is Marvel’s Madcap and Dark Horse’s Mask I wouldn’t stop you.

Also he has the vague power that he can create anything he wishes from craft supplies. Here he is able to use acrylic paints on his cape to paint an entire skyline drapery to hide behind. How it hangs there or looks realistic enough to fool two cops at close range means his power set is so undefined to be limited only by the writer’s imagination.

And therein lies the reason that I lost patience with the short Crafty tale, the book’s lunacy becomes so extreme that I got bored with it. For these Looney Tunes tales to take off I have to find the antics of the main character understandable on some level. Relatable is the word I would apply to it. I actually bailed at mid-point each issue (I have all three Crafty books) to return later.

A stronger antagonist in this issue would have helped as well, something issue 2 does a better job of. Instead we just have Crafty trying to get home. First by leaping off a building into his Crafty Car…

…and then by relying on his faithful butler Frank to explain he hasn’t seen anyone matching Crafty’s description. The Batman insert is a little bit of genius and drew my one giggle this issue. And again the art is superb, if a touch busy.

And that translates to the story as well, as Crafty continues to wander into things that cause havoc for the police department. Here he tries to get gas for the Crafty Car and ends up being mistaken for a robber.

Which leads to him dashing out the back and into a brief meeting with a cleverly hidden Raph.

But in spite of these occasional wins, the book gets boring in that Crafty can do anything. There is no limit to his power that we are aware of and after seeing his tricks once we really become disinterested. Here he uses poetry and art supplies…

…to turn a cop into a walking Picasso painting. That should be funny, but instead it’s kind of deflating. Crafty’s escape is assured, so we are supposed to enjoy the pathos he creates. Trouble is, I just don’t find him all that fun a character to read. 

Like Crafty meeting these two delinquents graffitiing buildings and he buys their paint supplies. I like the joke just fine, but Crafty hasn’t sold me on himself first. I don’t empathize with him. There’s no origin story in the book or scene of Crafty as a normal person that we can latch on to. He’s just zany, crazy guy with weird powers. And that doesn’t engage me. 

This bit with these Italian street hoods mistaking Crafty for a cop and shooting him fairs a bit better. At first it appears Crafty might be injured in a way we could care about…

…but that’s not going to happen, as Crafty ignores any damage he might have and dispatches the pair with little trouble. It does point out that his cape might be some interdimensional space holding skads of art supplies…

…and one disoriented mobster in a green suitcoat.

As for the other guy, Crafty paints him up and passes him off to the cops as his “evil twin brother,” letting the criminal take the rap for all his activities of the night. 

Or not. Frank has to bail him out. 

They make for the Crafty manor…

…and Crafty encounters his model/girlfriend Dana (Don’t get attached! She isn’t around long.). We learn Crafty’s name is Maurice.

And that Dana isn’t a fan. She gives Maurice an ultimatum: either Captain Crappy goes or she does. At this point, I’d say Maurice would be crazy to give up a girl like Dana for his nincompoopery, but expect the story to have him do so anyway…

Wow! One issue in and we’ve seen the end of a superhero. Given the non-story that preceded this shocker, I’m inclined to state this is a GREAT decision. Maybe now Rice can move on to penciling a hero that someone else is writing.

We end with Frank going to find the fuse box to turn on the power, locating it along with a box full of his endless string of accomplishments and a mound of flammable/explosive materials. While outside, Maurice visits his Father’s grave and says goodbye to Captain Crafty.

Unfortunately setting fire to a cloak filled with spray paint cans leads to some exploding debris. One such flaming can ends up mansion bound, flying right in on Frank…

…it will cause a massive two page explosion, which ends Crafty Manor and the issue. But not Frank, as Crafty’s man-servant returns next issue in a much deformed and demented manner. His new objectives: kill Captain Crafty and destroy the artworks of Paris in an act of revenge that Rice calls “Louvre and Hate.”

And a much muted version of love and hate describes how I feel about this issue. There are points where Cap’n Crafty is entertaining and moments where I find a few panels astonishingly good. However, on the whole the character doesn’t really grow on you and his wackiness seems tacked on. The story arc here doesn’t resonate. Having him give up his identity at the end of issue one is novel, but dumb. And having him take on cops as the introduction feels like riffing on the Mask too much. The addition of Frank as a villain next issue does some good for the book, but overall the stories are just too easy to put down.

I wish I liked it more.

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