Review of Andrez Bergen’s “Who Is Killing The Great Capes of Heropa?” and “Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat”Books, Comics, Reviews
By the time you’ve finished reading this article it’s likely Andrez Bergen will have completed writing another book, because you could say he knocks them out at a prolific pace — so much so you have to wonder if he’s not taken a figurative leaf out of Kerouac’s book and Benzedrine speed-types at night on long scrolls of teletype paper. Or perhaps it’s more a case of adopting some super-powers from one of the super-heroes in his book, “Who’s Killing The Great Capes of Heropa?”
The last time we caught up with Bergez for Zouch was in relation to “Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat”, a hard-boiled futuristic detective story. Since then Bergen has been busy, following-up with “One Hundred Years of Vicissitude” in 2012, “Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?” and “The Condimental Op” in 2013, a graphic novel version of “Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat” just released, and “Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth” also recently published. Along the way he’s contributed to anthologies and designs comic books, and currently has a Kickstarter for one of these — the twelve issues of “Bullet Gal.” Phew!
“Who’s Killing The Great Capes of Heropa?” (published by Perfect Edge Books), or “Capes” for short, is part literary comic book, part dystopian gaming adventure. It’s a relatively long book by anyone’s standards these days, but a remarkably easy and entertaining read. The book is based mostly in Heropa, a modern, homogenous city patrolled by superheroes collectively called the Equalizers. The non-superheroes (you and me that is), the Blandos, are reset every night at midnight, leaving them with little memory. Groundhog Day indeed.
The Equalizers are gradually being killed off by an unknown villain and the book’s plot is on the face of it quite simple; the superheroes have to find out the identity of the killer. But this is no straight whodunnit – the main character, Southern Cross (in Heropa), or Jack (in Melbourne), is actually playing a four-dimensional video game, taking the idea of artificial intelligence for entertainment purposes to new limits.
There’s also a love story intertwined in the action, and the possibility of transferring from one world to another.
Authors have of course written about comic books before (“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” by Michael Chabon is a stand-out), but Bergen approaches the genre with originality.
He has an obvious love of his subject; his enthusiasm is infectious, so that it’s very easy to be drawn in to the story through the fast-paced, witty dialogue and use of colloquial language (if you have trouble understanding, there’s an interesting glossary of colloquialisms to help at the end of the book). Einstein once said that imagination is more important than knowledge, but in this particular instance Bergen combines both through his vivid creation of different landscapes and characters with a detailed understanding of the comic book genre. As well as being good entertainment, “Capes” has an undercurrent of interesting ideas to challenge the reader, making us consider how far technology should be taken, how the rules of society are made, and the sometimes blurred lines between fantasy and reality.
As already mentioned, Bergen’s 2011 novel “Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat” has recently been published as a graphic novel. It has a shared dystopian vision to “Capes” and, as one would hope, it’s a stylish re-creation of what is a great book. The graphic version has added techni-colour for dramatic effect; original comic book art, painting and inks along with cut-ups, collage, and “found art” referencing Dada and Marcel Duchamp, all forming part of a distinctive style.
With over half of the print-run already sold, you’d be best to grab a copy sooner rather than later – you can buy a copy from IF? Commix along with that previously mentioned monthly comic book series by Bergen, “Bullet Gal”, which relates back to Heropa.
Meanwhile, the Kickstarter campaign for the “Bullet Gal” collection, weighing in at 300-odd pages, is in its last throes here.
All in all, it’s the kind of output that puts lazier men to shame.