Admittance of personal bias here: One of the four framed comics in my living room is a signed copy of Shutter #1. After buying that first issue though, I didn’t end up adding it to my pull list. While the story’s world was visually engrossing and the protagonist Kate Kristopher unlike many I had read about recently, the pacing felt a bit off to me, rushing through the most interesting aspects and slowing to a crawl whenever some moment of overplayed melodrama occurred. I figured at some point I’d get back to it when collected as a trade, and so here I’m at a few months later, having read the first volume in one sitting at a local Corvallis coffee shop that’s equal parts whimsy, grime and excellent Mexican mochas, an assessment that I don’t hesitate offering to this first volume if you’d replace Mexican Mocha with bloody dinosaurs. Shutter occurs in a fantastical version of Earth where monocled anthropomorphic buffalo ride the train alongside child fauns, and a platypus can be the scariest being in the room. In this world, Kate Kristopher is renowned as one of its preeminent explorers, her family’s legacy, uncovering new secrets about this amazing world such as battling giant squids on pirate ships. At least that was the case until ten years before we meet an adult Kate in the first issue. Since her retirement, Kate has taken up work as a photographer, feeling without much purpose on her twenty-seventh birthday when she’s attacked by purple magic ninja at her dad’s tombstone.
Throughout this first volume, Kate deals with the discovery of a family secret that thrusts her back into the world of danger that she’d abandoned after her father died during their last exploration together. Along for the ride are Kate’s robotic cat assistant (one of the most adorable characters to grace comics in a while), and a family member Kate meets about halfway through this first volume. Personality wise, Kate comes off as a smart, brave and cynical person who struggles to find a new place for herself in the world and cares intensely for her closest friends. As things progress, we meet a cadre of interesting characters who’s allegiances remain ambiguous, among them a copper-plated robot who mans a chicken vehicle and has mice mystics as his assistants, and a lion mobster called Shaw who seems present for almost all of the comic’s most gruesome scenes and who’s best friend Exland, a badass fox woman rides a TRICERATOPS. I could spend the rest of the review simply listing the interesting characters Joe Keatinge and Leila Del Duca unleash on us issue by issue, but I think once you get to the skeletal Chinese dragon thing you’ll get a sense of how manically imaginative the creators are.
Tonally, I was surprised by Shutter as it progressed. Pitched as Indiana Jones for the twenty-first century, I feel that the comparison only holds in that the character’s both explore at some interval, Kate having written books when not fighting things and Indy supposedly teaching archaeology. Beyond that though, it’s hard to say what the similarities are. While there’s face melting in one of the Indy films, things don’t veer towards gore too often. Then there’s Shutter that treats us to some on-panel deaths that left me a bit eked. The fact that many of the characters are non-humans I think lends this comic some darkness that would otherwise not be present. It’s one thing when a human gets shot in the head, but there’s something even more unnerving when a cute reptile shoots a Big Gun and maims a character. The funny thing is that the first issue gave me the impression that this would be an all ages affair, or at least something appropriate for teens. If I were a parent though, I’d consider flipping through this one before handing it over to someone younger than sixteen as its graphic violence may be a bit much for some.
Beyond the visuals and the characters, I found the story really lacking. While plenty of action and reveals happen each issue, I continued to feel as if we weren’t getting enough emotional development in most pages. Kate spends most of the comic being pissed at one person or another, and empathizing with her righteous anger can’t be the only feeling we’re expected to sustain throughout. The moments that most got to me were the quiet ones that I feel I rarely have seen in any ongoing comic, such as a page where Kate and her cat robot read side-by-side, the characters exhibiting a level of contentment we rarely see from either as they show the reader how therapeutic reading can be in a time of immense stress. Similarly, we’re later treated to a scene where Kate walks us and another character through the workings of a film projector. In these scenes, I feel as if Keatinge’s most invested in the story, revealing that in spite living so many adventures, Kate finds perhaps the greatest level of enjoyment in these quiet activities that us in our own mundane world often take for granted.
Despite how negative I may seem about this comic, I’m interested to checking in when volume two is released to see if Keatinge manages to inject the comic with greater pathos. Leila Del Duca is a stunner at character design, so even if things don’t improve on the script front I have full confidence that the world of Shutter will continue to be one of the more visually engaging comics out right now.
Writer: Joe Keatinge Artist: Leila Del Duca Publisher: Image Comics Price: $9.99 Release Date: 11/12/14 Format: TPB; Print/Digital