In today's world, walking into a movie theater and catching a 3D adventure starring your favorite comic book superheroes is about as easy as tying your shoes. But it's considerably less common to find 3D in the comic book medium these days, however, with the vast majority of sequential stories relying on a flatter and sometimes even colorless reading experience.
Then again, "Captain Wonder 3D" isn't most comics.
February marks a wondrous occasion for superhero and 3D enthusiasts alike when the two art-forms collide in "Captain Wonder 3D," a new Image Comics one-shot from the writing and art team of Brian Haberlin and Philip Tan. The 48-page issue follows the exploits of Billy Gordon, a ten-year-old boy who is utterly obsessed with the world-famous superhero Captain Wonder.
"You can think of Captain Wonder as the Superman of this world," Haberlin told CBR News in an exclusive interview. "He thwarts bad guys, saves people from natural disasters -- generally speaking, with him around, there are no worries."
Just like the world's greatest superheroes, Captain Wonder has a secret identity to protect; indeed, his secret identity can't be discussed without revealing a fairly sizable spoiler for the issue and the concept of Captain Wonder. Those who remain undeterred, read on.
"The truth is, Captain Wonder is a highly sophisticated exoskeleton whose creator deemed too powerful to be given to any government to use," Haberlin revealed. "It can only be used by a child who is true of heart, and there have been 24 of them. Once they're in the suit, they taste, touch and feel as Captain Wonder. The child can use the suit until he or she outgrows it, and each child is tasked with finding and training their own replacement. The only problem is the last Captain Wonder had a sudden growth spurt and now needs to rush to find someone to use the suit before everything goes to hell in a hand basket. But Billy has had no time to train and must become Captain Wonder before he's ready."
Already sporting a premise that's practically ripped straight from the collective hive mind of every ten year-old on the planet, "Captain Wonder 3D" comes equipped with an added bonus: as the title implies, Haberlin and Tan created the one-shot with the aid of 3D technology. An included pair of special 3D glasses are required to read the issue, which Haberlin says utilizes a new 3D process that he developed himself.
"I've built a method using Photoshop that is totally interactive, meaning that as you're making a page 3D, you can actually see the effect live and see what's better to push back or pull forward and to what degree you want to do it," he said, providing CBR with an exclusive side-by-side comparison of the original flat pages versus the 3D pages seen in the issue. "The control with the process is really incredible. In a lot of 3D, you only get things pushed back or pushed forward -- but we can do foreground, middle ground and background in one image."
Asked to recall where his interest in 3D storytelling first developed, Haberlin replied: "When I was Editor-in-Chief for Todd McFarlane, he had an exhibit at MoCCA and we took the first issue of 'Spawn' and converted it to 3D as a special edition for the show. That's where I first developed the process, but it has been very much refined since. The other thing that is unique about it is that the final product is in full color. Most 3D in comics is not."
Even though his interest in 3D technology dates back to that fateful MoCCA exhibit, Haberlin said that the story of "Captain Wonder" came well before the idea to create a 3D comic book. "The story came first; the 3D fit the nostalgic nature of the story," he explained. "Also, since it's a superhero book with big dynamic scenes, the 3D works well. But you'll see even in the quiet scenes, like in Captain Wonder's secret base, Phil drew all kinds of little things that come out at you. It just gives it all a unique depth."
As Haberlin himself briefly mentioned, "Green Lantern" and "Spawn" artist Philip Tan is the other man responsible for bringing the world of "Captain Wonder" to eye-popping life. "Philip and I have been working together in some form for his entire career," Haberlin said of his collaborator, who's tackling the majority of the one-shot's art chores while Haberlin himself handles most of the writing. "He really likes the superhero genre, so this worked out well. All I had to say was, 'Want to help create your own Superman?' and he was hooked!"
Having now crafted his own original tale while utilizing 3D technology, Haberlin is certainly in a position to discuss 3D comics with some authority. "I think we can push Anaglyph 3D to a place it hasn't been seen before by using modern technology," he said on the current state of 3D techniques. "You had to cut film to make it work in the past, a manual mechanical technique. We can also do the non-red/blue glasses type, but the glasses look so much cooler in red/blue. Again, it's for a print comic, so I think it fits the tradition better."
That being said, Haberlin recognizes that 3D comics aren't always successful, especially when there isn't a sound story backing up the innovative visuals. "I think that most 3D in comics has been really for gimmick's sake alone," he said. "Here, I think it's more like the frosting on the cake. If the cake isn't any good, 3D's not really going to help it. Together, if done right, it can really add to the experience, even to the point of creating a new experience."
"Plus, it's just fun to see someone with 3D glasses on," he added.
"Captain Wonder 3D" is just the first of many new original stories that Haberlin has planned for 2011. "One is a 300-plus page landscape graphic novel, and another 200-page one that I can't really talk about yet," he teased. "I've been working 99% on only creator-owned books for the last few years, with a cover here and there for Marvel or DC. I love this medium, and I've been on the sidelines helping others create books for a while. But now I'm back creating my own, and it feels really good."
As it stands, Haberlin's first major effort of 2011 is "Captain Wonder 3D," and it won't be the last time readers will see the child-turned-superhero in action.
"There will be more 'Captain Wonders,' probably a quarterly sort of thing," he said. "Doing the 3D doesn't seriously impact our creation time, and since Captain Wonder has been around for 25 years [as a character], there are a lot of stories to tell."
Brian Haberlin and Philip Tan's "Captain Wonder 3D" one-shot hits stores on February 16, 2011 courtesy of Image Comics.