Shutter is one of those rare comics whose monthly developments each feel like a series finale where it seems like nothing can likely top the events of the preceding issue. The effect is that no character, kingdom or storyline seems too be safe from death or destruction, much in the way that The Walking Dead knocks off its characters and eradicates communities just as things seem to be going well in its walker-infested world. I read a piece recently that looked at how Shutter bucks the typical conventions of serialized comics, thrusting readers into the comic’s world in the first arc without bothering to explain the internal logic of its very strange world. Reading it made me feel a bit embarrassed for initially writing off this series after its first three issues as I recognized that I had been so accustomed to a structure that provided me background info early on that I wasn’t able to appreciate that creators Joe Keatinge and Leila Del Duca were intentionally subverting traditional plot dynamics. And with the cliffhanger of its third arc, Keatinge and Duca are moving this comic into territory that will challenge traditional conceptions of the protagonist, but not before settling things in the lion kingdom and killing off a major character or two. This issue does a stellar job of featuring most of the core cast, even giving two pages to check in on Kate Kristopher’s grandfather who was absent last issue when Kate got the call about her younger brother’s capture by Shaw. While Cassius defends the actions of him and his team of rescuers following the death of Shaw’s brother last issue, Kate sneakily makes her way through Leonis, the kingdom of anthropomorphic lions hidden from the rest of the world. Once Kate makes her presence known, events take an unexpected turn as Kate works towards diplomatically resolving the conflict rather than allowing her anger about her brother’s capture to lead to further violent conflict. Not everyone seems happy to let things go so easily though, and before the issue ends there’s plenty of savage behavior to satisfy any reader’s bloodlust.
Kate, following her peyote-fueled epiphany and encounters with her siblings, has developed into a truly compelling character capable of self-serving behavior while maintaining a well-defined code of ethics. Much of this comic so far has revolved around Kate’s uneasiness upon recognizing at the end of the last arc that she has, and perhaps never had, much control over her life due to the influence of the Prospero group and her family’s association with what basically amounts to this world’s Illuminati. Newly equipped with information from her grandfather’s records and a haircut right out of the how-to-be-badass handbook, Kate moves through this issue with a confidence we haven’t seen since the first issue when she took down those neon purple ghost ninjas. And in addition to all that, the comic introduces the potential for a romantic relationship between Kate and a character we’ve only recently met that’s sure to inspire reams of fan art.
As equally vital to Shutter’s success is Keatinge and Del Duca’s willingness to depart from the main narrative, and flesh out the world by showing us how average citizens, or as average as folks get in a world with a monocled bulls and rocket-launching newts, deal with circumstances brought about by the main characters’ actions. In this issue, that’s seen early on when an anthropomorphic cat responds to a call about a busted sewer caused when Kate snuck into Leonis’ royal palace. Del Duca illustrates these one-time only characters with the same eye for detail and nuance that she brings to the main characters, rendering the bureaucat’s exasperation with such authenticity that you’ll believe Del Duca has encountered these beings in her everyday life. Getting to see the messes that Kate and company leave in their wake helps to ground their actions, and makes it apparent that they’re not operating in a Tex Avery-like world where a wall is automatically reset soon after its destroyed.
My only qualm with this issue is the characterization of Cassius, formerly known as Alarm Cat. Since losing his head, Cassius has understandably become a bit more morose and prone to fight over flight. Here though, I was unable to adequately make the connection between the Alarm Cat that once baked cookies in an effort to cheer up a sad Kate and the headless robot that speechifies with Shakespearean eloquence before telling someone “Go Fuck Yourself.” Perhaps on rereading the arc as a whole, I’ll be able to track what caused Cassius to change so drastically as its characterization felt like the sole black mark in an otherwise riveting issue.
With Kate’s proposed plan at the end of the issue, most other comics would probably call it a wrap once the Kristopher siblings and their friends pull it off. So far though, Shutter has shown that any assumptions about where its story might go should be immediately discarded or reserved for fun bouts of online speculation. This is a comic that has continuously proven that it knows how to do humor, action and heart, featuring a diverse cast of queer, gender non-conforming characters that refuse to be one-dimensional. In an ideal world, this would be THE neverending story, and I hope Keatinge and Del Duca are having just as much fun, likely more, making it as I do reading it every month.
Shutter #17 Writer: Joe Keatinge Artist: Leila Del Duca Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 11/18/15 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital