Shrapnel is like a mash-up of some of my favorite things: take Gattaca, throw in two parts Halo and a little bit of Greek mythology and Joan of Arc, and you’re getting close. And paired with Bagus Hutomo’s eye-popping paint-like illustrations, and you’ve got a recipe for a compelling graphic novel.
Thanks to Radical Publishing, I got to take a look at the trade paperback which was published in August. (It’s getting a re-release through Random House in February, but you can get it now directly from Radical.) Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising collects the first five-issue story arc set in this universe, and the creators have two more chapters planned, Hubris and Nemesis. Samantha “Sam” Narayan is a former marine captain who left the service for guarded reasons and is now on Venus, one of the few places where Helots, the genetic have-notes, are allowed to work alongside the gene-enhanced Splicers. But when the Solar Alliance shows up and demands Venus’ surrender, the Venusian government resists and instead issues a call for volunteers for the militia. Sam joins, reluctantly, but then becomes the leader of the resistance.
The series was created by Mark Long, CEO of Zombie Studios, and Nick Sagan, writer and son of Carl Sagan, and scripted by M. Zachary Sherman. Both Long and Sagan have an interest in Greek mythology, and so although they like to describe Shrapnel as “Joan of Arc in space,” they explain that what they’re really after is something more like Achilles in the Peloponnesian War. Aristeia refers to a warrior’s prowess, the finest moments in battle, and Sam’s rise to power in this story is a sort of righteous vengeance. As such, the characters do fit somewhat into certain types, and there’s a familiarity to the overarching storyline, but the details really bring to life this new universe. It’s predictable in the way that you know who the good guys are and you’re pretty sure they’re going to win, but you still want to watch how it all plays out.
The artwork, as I’ve said, is what really grabbed me. The battle scenes with the armor suits do look like paintings (though they’re done digitally) and can be overwhelming at times. My only complaint is that it’s often hard to tell what’s going on in some frames, like the way the extreme close-ups and quick cuts in some movies takes away from the choreography of an action scene. But at the same time, it does convey the action and disorientation of being in the midst of a huge battle with activity on all sides. The creators of Shrapnel don’t hold your hand and introduce you to everything; you start off in media res, as it were, and they expect you to just keep up.
As far as kids go, I would probably give this a PG-13, comparable to a video game like Halo, a little bloodier than Star Wars. There’s some profanity scattered throughout (these are Marines and soldiers) and a good bit of firepower (exploding mechs in some places, spattered blood in others).
I really enjoyed Shrapnel and read it almost in one sitting. I’d like to see where the story goes after this, particularly with the titles Hubris and Nemesis (which Long describes as being the ancient Greek meaning, a “payment for hubris”). Are they setting up Sam as a heroine now and then knocking her back down? I’ll be waiting to find out.
Wired: Mech suits! Splicer vs. Helot discrimination! Amazing space epic with gorgeous illustrations!
Tired: Battle scenes a little hard to follow visually; borrowing from genre traditions makes some things predictable.
For a little more about Radical Publishing, check out my previous post.
Images provided by Radical Publishing, used with permission.