Captain Stone is Missing by Liam Sharp and Christina McCormack is the closest thing to a traditional superhero title that digital comics visionaries, Madefire, are putting out at the moment. I say “closest thing to” because, really, it’s nothing at all like a traditional superhero story. In fact, five chapters in, and our hero, the guy that this story is supposedly about, has only been shown in brief flashback sequences, often through the eyes of other characters. You might even say that he’s…missing.
For those of you unfamiliar with the kind of work that Madefire does, I’d like to direct you to this overview of their unique approach to digital storytelling. If you don’t feel like reading more of my ramblings than absolutely necessary, allow me to summarize: Madefire makes digital comics unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. They have somehow managed to add subtle animation, music, and sound to “traditional” comics without interfering with your actual reading experience. Reading a Madefire “motion book” on an iPad is nothing at all like reading a comic that’s simply been adapted for an electronic platform, but nor are you ever passively “watching” a story unfold. Instead, these are stories designed specifically to take advantage of the best that these devices have to offer. Best of all, the Madefire app (and all of their content) is FREE. Okay, so are we all caught up? Good. Now I can talk about Captain Stone is Missing.
The basic concept of Captain Stone is Missing is fairly simple: the world’s only superhero, a man with no notable super powers other than his own immense physique and athleticism, appeared on the scene in the late 80s/early 90s, and began to right various wrongs. Celebrity status, and the inevitable fall that tends to come with such status, followed, before he vanished under mysterious circumstances. Sounds simple enough, right? Not exactly. Captain Stone is Missing isn’t another superhero deconstruction story, nor is it a Watchmen clone. What is it, then? I’m not exactly sure, but I know it’s utterly compelling.
Captain Stone’s story is revealed to us slowly. Like I said, we’re five issues in, and we haven’t exactly seen this guy busting heads. Instead, Stone is a looming presence and a relic of a bygone era. His physique recalls not only the excesses of the comics of the 90s (wonderfully lampooned in the Captain Stone: Confidential feature, which functions as both prologue and “bonus content” for the main story), but also the misshapen, chemically-enhanced physiques of that decade’s baseball players and pro-wrestling stars. In short, Captain Stone appears to be a perfect distillation of focus-group masculinity circa 1990. However, this isn’t a parody. The outlandish purple tights aside, Captain Stone is portrayed, for the most part, as a remarkably effective force for good. He not only takes out criminals, he’s also the first on scene distributing aid when there’s a natural disaster.
Ah, but none of this is the REAL story. Like the title says, Captain Stone is MISSING. Why is he missing? Well, somewhere along the way, things went south for the Captain. Some of it was his ill-advised attempt to make his identity public, some of it was his even more ill-advised revelations about certain details of his personal life. We see this play out virtually every week in the tabloids and on our screens, so why wouldn’t it happen to a superhero, especially in a world unaccustomed to them?
What we’re left with, then, is the world surrounding Captain Stone and the people who know him (or think they know him). You may even forget who you’re supposed to be reading about during the extended first chapter of Captain Stone is Missing, as it does such a good job of establishing these supporting characters that you just find yourself immersed. Five chapters (six if you count Captain Stone: Confidential) into the book, and we’ve yet to see the title character in the here and now. Instead, we meet him in flashbacks told by other characters and in television clips, magazine articles, comic books, movie posters, and title sequences to animated cartoons.
Who DO we meet? Incredible jewel thieves, supermodels, animal rights activists, and Olympic gymnasts. All of them have stories to tell, and all of them, whether they know it or not, are connected to Captain Stone. If you aren’t at least intrigued, if not hooked, by the end of the first chapter, then I don’t know what to tell you. Madefire titles tend to be released in “bite-sized” installments, but Chapter One of Captain Stone is Missing is exhaustive, immersive, and thoroughly entertaining. The following chapters are shorter, but no less masterful in the way they construct this story. The prologue, Captain Stone: Confidential, can either be read before or after you’ve caught up with everything else in the story and it’s another way that Sharp and McCormack craft this remarkable world. Consisting of excerpts from “traditional” comics (from an issue of an imaginary Captain Stone comic from 1991), a very detailed and informative “tell-all” interview that the Captain had done with “Playbunny” magazine, and other ephemera, “Confidential” may not be essential reading, but it’s clever, and I suspect there are clues scattered throughout that will pay off down the line.
The visuals are stunning. Every “page” of Captain Stone is Missing is virtually a story unto itself. Liam Sharp plays with styles based on each era he’s flashing back to. The segments detailing a swingin’ jewel thief’s adventures are told in a style that’s a little bit Saul Bass and a little bit Friz Freleng Pink Panther opening credit sequence…and this follows hot on the heels of a Steranko-esque full page splash. Dream sequences fade into reality and back again, and layouts evolve and overlap as each piece of dialogue is revealed. At one point, to illustrate the possibly prophetic nightmares of one of the main characters (I don’t do spoilers, y’all) we’re treated to a stunning, 360 degree scrollable piece of art, which you can explore by moving your finger around the screen. I dare you not to get lost in that page, folks. Of all the Madefire titles I’ve read so far, Captain Stone is the most visually impressive, and that’s saying something, as none of their books are exactly lightweights in the visuals department.
I’d like to think that I’m not just blinded by the incredibly slick presentation of this story. There’s something quite real here. There’s a legitimate mystery (or two…or three), and a procession of layered, complex characters to follow around. I don’t know how many chapters Sharp and McCormack have planned for Captain Stone is Missing, but I know that I’ll be reading all of ‘em. You should be, too. They’re free. Captain Stone is Missing? I hope they take their time finding him!
You can download the Madefire App, Captain Stone is Missing, and the rest of their content right HERE.
You can read more about Madefire right HERE.