Hosted by Kris Bather and Mladen Luketin from Western Australia, ES is a weekly podcast filled with news, reviews and pop culture shenanigans. Kris (loyal superhero fan) and Mladen (manga, anime and indie defender) chat about their varying, and occasional overlapping, interests in the wonderful world of sequential art.

Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising #3 Review

shrapnel3aI missed issue 2 of this series, but thankfully there’s a recap page. I wasn’t too impressed with the debut ish, but could see past its flaws (namely of the artistic variety) to see the epic being built. I’m glad I gave this title a second shot. In a nutshell the premise of this sci-fi tale is this – Samantha Vijaya is an ex-soldier hiding from her past, as a miner in Venus, when the Earth Alliance attacks. When I left Sam she had a tough call to make. Would she face her mistakes and become a leader once more, or would she retreat into the shadows again?

From the first few pages it becomes obvious what Sam has chosen, but that doesn’t mean things go easy for her. With her fame rippling across the planet she becomes and increasingly useful ally for the Venusian troops. With the opening showing the remnants of the initial battle, ie, shipping containers filled with corpses, Sam is called into the military command and given charge of her own squadron to help fight off the invaders so the colonists can escape. The problem is Sam doesn’t want a bar of it.

She talks to her holographic counsellor, which is in the form of her deceased sister as she grapples with her identity and her fear the she may truly hate who she is. As her sis tells her, “You have the ability to change who you are every day. All it takes is a desire to do so.” Walking back to her superiors with renewed confidence she presents a plan that offers a huge gamble, with surrender the only alternative if they fail. Sam meets one of the men responsible for her disappearance from the Marines and they have a surprisingly frank discussion, but both parties remain stubborn. War it is then.

Not before a desperate 600 mile journey for Sam and her crew though. They practice their mech shooting on the arduous journey and Sam reveals the haunting error of her past.

This a great read. Far more engrossing than the debut with much more refined scripting. Each page, each scene serves the purpose of moving the story forward and writer M. Zachary Sherman deserves credit for bringing a greater focus. There’s no sense of rambling with characters that have no meaning. This is Sam’s book. She drives the story and her humanity has an effect on those around her, even her enemies. With the grand diatribes on politics and technology wisely left behind, this is a more accessible entry into this title, as the nitty gritty of war breaks the surface. Sherman is a skilled writer. Creating empathy for comic book characters is never easy, especially new ones, but he does that here, without going overboard. Every character, even the face of the enemy is painted with multiple dimensions. There are no cardboard cut outs, and when Sam unloads emotionally on her sister, and describes her past to a fellow soldier, it all seems real. That last scene in particular reminded me of Quint’s fantastic recounting of the shark attack he witnessed in WWII, in Jaws, in that it’s a lengthy, but well told story of loss amidst brutality.

Artist Bagus Hutomo isn’t my fave Radical artist, and I’d be curious to see another of their talented roster approach Shrapnel. Hutomo’s work is a little sketchy for me, and looks too much like concept art rather than the finished product. However, with fewer characters face recognition is no longer a problem, and unlike most sci-fi epics, the emphasis here isn’t on shiny tech. The focus is on the characters, their raw emotions and the unity that battle brings. For that, Hutomo’s earthy tones and broad strokes work, for now.

With two issues left of this particular series, before more mini-series begin, this could very well become the epic it promised to be.


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