Shrapnel #1 Review
Written by M. Zachary Sherman this 5 issue mini-series (subtitled Aristeia Rising) comes from the unified minds of Mark Long and Nick Sagan, son of Carl Sagan, the well-known astronomer. Bagus Hutomo and Leos “Okita” Ng provide the painterly art, which fits in with Radical’s easily identifiable aesthetic. The presentation is wildly different from what Marvel and DC offer weekly, so fans expecting some clean and slick style the likes of X-Men’s interiors will be disappointed here. With wild brush strokes and murky colours, this is more Mad Max than Star Trek, and it fits the story perfectly. However therein lies the problem.
Kicking things off with a bang, Lieutenant Marcus of the Marines beautifully describes what it really feels like to be in a mech-suit, before heading off to war, or at least, the preparation of war, before the real things hits them. We later learn from a newsfeed that the Marines secured Jupiter from a Helot uprising. Sam, and her miner friends Randal, Stap and Jammer also learn this during a bar fight against prejudiced Splicers. Helots and Splicers, or Genotypes, are the two dividing classes of humans (a concept mirrored in another of Radical’s sci-fi series, Freedom Formula). Helots are treated as lesser citizens by the Splicers, who are genetically engineered humans. This has lead to unrest across the solar system in recent years.
After fleeing the cops descending upon the bar, the miners return to work and Sam saves Stap’s life after he starts floating away in space and then recounts her thoughts of doing so to her holographic therapist, Ria. Ria is a hologram that helps Sam deal with the guilt of not saving her sister’s life in her youth, and resembles her younger sibling.
The Solar Alliance of Planets then effectively demands the running of the neutral planet of Venus, which the President is none too happy about, and rallies his quickly trained citizens to defend their homeland.
I was disappointed with this debut issue. It has an intriguing miners vs Marines concept, though not entirely original, and some great production design, with its weapons, costumes and vehicles. The problem is that the story itself, like the art is murky. For a first issue of a new series from a new publisher, that’s a mistake. Like all of Radical’s books, it’s daring in its look and plot, and aims to stand apart from the mass of superheroes in the market. The problem is that Shrapnel isn’t an easy read. I had to look at a few pages more than once just to ascertain what exactly was going on, which is a death’s knell for any issue. At times it’s disturbingly difficult to tell who is who. I think perhaps the painterly approach that works so well for Radical’s other series, should have been shelved here. Or, at the very least, they should’ve given a more distinctive look to the main characters. All the faces kind of blend in together. For a visual medium the characters must be easily identifiable. Hopefully, seeing as this is the first ish, the artists may hit their groove with later issues, rectifying these errors.
Perhaps too many cooks spoilt this broth, but Sherman manages his best. He mixes things up with a few silent sequences, and a few talky pages, heaping up exposition that details all the political back story. Plus there are some plot points that will certainly reveal themselves in the next four issues. Sam’s past as a Marine which is hinted at here, and how that will play into the conflict. Switching between the Marines and miner’s points of view with equal care. The bigger picture with the other planets and the goal of the Solar Alliance to unify all planets regardless of the cost. These are all concepts that could form an epic, and Radical hope to achieve that very thing, with a total of three separate mini-series planned, in the Shrapnel story.
This 48 pager kicks things off not brilliantly, but with the feeling that it will pay off for the dedicated reader. Under all the murkiness of character identification and artwork, there is definitely a good story at play. It’s just a shame that it’s hard work to get to it. I do believe this story is going somewhere great, so I’m not giving up on it this early. For those of you that are unsure, perhaps wait until the Trade and see if the series lives up to the potential.
To see more pics of this issue, read our free first issue, or view the trailer below.