Kaptara Volume 1 by Chip Zdarsky, Kagan McLeod

Kaptara is definitely one wild ride. While reading this, I couldn’t help but feel like I was reading an extended version of a Mad Magazine or National Lampoon riff on a cheesy fantasy or sci fi movie – complete with homoerotic artwork and smutty humor. It could have been one-note and pedantic but the imagination and inspired visuals make up for a singular lack of likable characters. My best description is that this is like a car wreck that you simply can’t turn away from as you slowly drive around it. Fascinating, disturbing, and a guilt-inducing experience.

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Story: Keith is a disenfranchized teen with a chip on his shoulder on a long-haul space flight courtesy of his Auntie. But an anomaly thrusts his ship to another world/universe and it all goes South from there. He has to find what shipmates are left, survive the new world, and find a way to get back home. But does a gay NEET with no friends really want to go back home – when there are so many handsome muscle-men in this new world?

A lot of this does read like a nostalgic take on seminal 1970s/1980s sci fi satirical works. From the 1974 erotic spoof Flesh Gordon to the ludicrous cult favorite 1980 Flash Gordon with Sam Jones, it is homoeroticism taken to the nth level. And while the humor is neither juvenile nor particularly witty, it is fun in its own unique way. There are a few laugh out loud moments but for the most part it is more entertainment than comedy.

Most of the characters are anti-heroes and for the most part either incredibly odd or thoroughly unpleasant. That works with the story, though, since the spoof here is that the perfect muscled hero is turned into a sniveling, selfish, and immature geek. We don’t get Buffy’s Scooby Gang and instead follow a band of eccentrics as they go on a ‘quest’.

While Flash Gordon was an influence, clearly so was another 1980s cult favorite: He Man. I have to give kudos to an author who can take an already uber-kitsch show and manage to make it even sillier. But with a villain named Skullthor and a companion named She-La, the homage is obvious. Certainly, I never thought I’d be typing a review of a graphic novel that successfully combined elements of Mad Magazine, Monty Python, He Man, and Flash Gordon. But once I recognized that those are all of an age, it’s a wonder that someone hadn’t done it sooner.

I didn’t love Kaptara but I couldn’t stop reading it, either. It was a trippy journey and one never knew where the story would go next (even if it never does really go anywhere). Really bizarre – but not necessarily in a terrible way, either. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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