Monday, May 12, 2014

Review: Shutter #1

The first thing I like about Shutter: it starts on the inside front-cover. It's a great visual, and it uses the comics form in a natural and fun way. Astronauts! Moon-running!

The second thing I like: the credits, running mid-page across the first several pages, all Wes Anderson-like, giving us tour of the wallways of the Kristopher family. They're explorers and have been for generations, but like The Royal Tenenbaums shows us a once-great family at a low point, the this family of explorers has (for now) dead-ended with Kate Kristopher, a 27-year-old former writer and explorer who sleeps on her couch in the clothes she wore the day before. Unlike Tenenbaums, there's not a lot of charm or just-under-the-surface potential visible to keep me engaged in whether or not this family rebounds.

My biggest engagement problem is Kate Kristopher herself, the hero of Shutter and another entry in a long line of main characters who are too cool for school who can't be bothered to engaged in their world, or their story. "Did you get my voicemail?" her roommate asks: "Kinda, nope."

"Are you her? Kate Kristopher? Oh my gods, oh my gods, oh my gods," exclaims a young fan on the train: "Um. Hello. Thank you?"

"Life got pretty boring," Kate says, explaining both her malaise and the reason why she stopped writing about her adventures. Obviously that's not the truth -- a few pages later we learn that Kate's father died ten years previous, and we're led to believe this is why she stopped her adventuring ways.

Ghost ninjas attack Kate as she visits her father's grave -- a nice almost-splash page -- but again, we're reminded right away that Kate is so over this: "You think I'm helpless? I've seen some shit. I've led a life."

In the issue's backmatter, writer Joe Keatinge credits Corto Maltese, Tintin, and T.E. Lawrence as inspirations. That's a great pedigree, and Shutter begins in New York City in a world reminiscent of all of the science-heroes and explorers of pulp comics and magazines past. It reminds me of Alan Moore and Gene Ha's Top 10,  and the art by Leila del Duca and Owen Gieni feels lived in, artful, and fun.

A simple but swell touch: A swell touch: a minotaur getting off of the train ahead of Kate, after having seen him riding the train next to Kate on the previous page. Gieni's colors look almost watercolored at times, and the flashbacks to Kate's youth are dot-colored like old comics.

Keatinge's language also has moments of fun cadence: "The annual report is everything's everything as it always is." But occasionally the panel and page transitions are confusing -- scarves on scarves with a little gutter in between is jarring.

Kate's ghost-ninja fight takes her out of the cemetery and to ... somewhere else? It's just as likely to be "outside the cemetery gates" as it is to be "suddenly a parallel dimension." The problem with a world so wide open is that there's no solid ground beneath my feet by which I can say, "Obviously, they have tumbled out onto the sidewalk, where Kate encounters some kind of tick-tock-man riding on a griffon-powered junk castle." I could just as likely as "Obviously, the touch of the ghost-ninjas has phased Kate into another where & when entirely," and the fact that the issue ends rather suddenly with another splash page makes it impossible to decide which is which.

We're also left with a revelation that Kate has siblings -- but it's unclear if those siblings are remaining off-page, or of the ghost-ninjas are possibly them? Or if the ghost-ninjas are just the tick-tock-man's gophers, and the siblings are a threat to be realized next issue? I suspect the latter, but going by what's on the page it's hard tot ell.

In any event, we have 20 pages of art and story, but the pacing of those pages made me think we were only a third of the way through the issue. I'd definitely read the next issue of Shutter, because I feel like that's the best way to get the exhale to this issue's inhale.

I'm not, based on these 20 pages, convinced that I'll come back for issue 3. But as ever, I live in hope.

Shutter's letters page(s), remindful of SAGA's column, are titled "Processing." The instructions are in line with Kate's meh, whatevs attitude: "Send all electronic correspondences to and whatever physical you want to send to either of us..." It's definitely a matter of taste, and as a Midwesterner I'm also guilty of pretending not to care what folks think even (especially!) when I care quite a lot, but faux humility and an I'm not even supposed to be here today attitude are hard humps to get over when it comes to narrative.

When Keatinge and del Duca write directly to the reader in their letters column, they're clearly excited to be telling Kate Kristopher's story in Shutter. And I can appreciate a reluctant hero, refusal-of-the-call-to-adventure moment at a story's start, but I hope the next issues show us something different.

BACKUP FEATURES: "Mungore" (is possibly the title, but it is definitely), written and drawn by Ryan Alexander-Tanner and colored by Catherine Peach. It's a cute Brandon Graham/Mike Allred/James Kochalka mashup about giant monsters and giant robots and mayors and scientists.

A dynamically purple pin-up by Anthony Gregori and Mike Spicer shows Kate Kristopher and her father finding deep sea treasure and deep sea creatures, with lots of teeth all 'round.

A one-pager called "Tiger Lawyer in Sidebar," with story by Ryan Ferrier and art by Felipe Torrent wraps up the issue. It's poorly paced and telegraphs its "sidebar" joke three panels before actually delivering it. The script feels paced for an animated short rather than a one-page comic, but it does have the delightful line, "Help me, y' cat bastard."

Shutter is written by Joe Keatinge, with art by Leila del Duca, colors by Owen Gieni, and letters by Ed Brisson. Design by Tim Leong & Monica Garcia. Cover art (of my copy) by Brandon Graham. Created by Leila del Duca & Joe Keatinge. Published by Image Comics and dated April 2014.

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