I’ve reviewed a number of indie superhero books over the last few months, and the common thread shared by all of them is the passion these creators obviously feel for the genre. The dark and twisted superhero series, Caliber (which has recently released its third issue), shares this passion. While, like other indie cape-and-cowl tales I’ve read, it has some rough edges, buried in this slightly derivative tale is an unsettling and original take on the superhero-born-of-tragedy motif.
Caliber is the story of Matthew Macadams, a young man who has been training to be a masked hero and a weapon of vengeance since he was a toddler. When Matthew was four, his parents were out for a romantic evening when they were viciously attacked. Matthew’s father was beaten to death and his mother was raped but survived the horrific encounter. Her life irreparably altered, from that point on, Matthew’s mother raised him to become the ultimate crime fighter and her way to strike back at the city that had taken so much from her.
On Matthew’s eighteenth birthday, he stepped onto the streets as the masked warrior, Caliber, for the first time. In a single night, Caliber makes a name for himself among the scum and villainy of Elmhurst City, as he quickly punishes his way up the criminal food chain through thugs, enforcers, and hit men. Eventually, Caliber butts heads with an ex-con known as Mr. Licantropo . . . who just happens to also be a genetically-engineered werewolf. Much of Caliber #3 deals with our hero’s fight to the death with his werewolf opponent, which is a bloody, drawn-out affair.
Creator Shane Will (who also happens to write and illustrate the book) has definitely conceived a bizarre and unexpected offspring with his indie series. While the character of Caliber and the basics of his origin are clearly heavily influenced by heroes like Batman and the broody Arrow TV series, Will has touched upon something captivating with his concept of a child raised by his mother to deliver vengeance and the twisted, yet intriguing, relationship that would exist between a mother and son who have taken such an extreme, damaging, and lonely path together. There is some indication that Will doesn’t always have a complete grasp of how disturbing a concept he has on his hands, given that some scenes are played in a very straight-forward and classic “heroic” tone, but the unsettling nature of who Caliber is and why he exits never leave the page. At one point in issue three, we see the origin of Caliber. This takes place when Matthew’s mother takes her four-year-old son to visit the grave of his recently murdered father. There, she explains to her son, to a fairly specific extent, what happened to her and his father that horrible night and that she had decided that Matthew, if he agreed, would grow up to “fight for mommie” and save those “being hurt out there.” She explains that if Matthew accepts this mission, he will have to give up many things, that he will be hurt at times, and that his training will start the following day. Being a four year old, Matthew simply says, “Yes, mother.” I cannot imagine to what lengths just this one event (not to mention the others that take place in the book) would royally #$%@ up a child, but in the vein of morbidly fascinating stories like that of Hit Girl, Kick-Ass, or Frank Miller’s All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder, I think if Will really embraced the truly disturbing elements of his story, it could offer and engrossing examination of what kind of insanity could spawn an individual who could actually be considered a superhero and add real layers to his character’s relationships.
While some might consider Will’s artwork a little stiff, I would argue that his style, while basic at times, really fits the feel of his story. Inker and colorist Susan Schulz certainly ups the “caliber” (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) of Will’s art with her talents, and, together, they make a good art team for the book.
FINAL VERDICT: If you dig unique and unknown superheroes with a dark edge, I would certainly recommend that you get your hands on Caliber! While I won’t try to convince you that it will be the best book you’ve ever purchased, I do believe that with its unique mother-and-son crime-fighting tale, the hero’s unsettling origin story, and a superhero vs. werewolf throwdown depicted with comic book glee, you’ll certainly feel like you’re getting your money’s worth from indie publisher Scattered Comics!
You can find out more about Caliber and purchase your own copy by visiting the official Scattered Comics website.
That’s all for now, comic book sniffers. Now, before you go . . . show me your caliber!
‘Till the end of the world,
-Bryant the Comic Book Slayer