Shutter by Joe Keatinge (writer) and Leila Del Duca (artist)
Shutter is another fairly recent Image title that is a five-star read, and it’s further evidence that science fiction fans should keep their eyes on this publisher. Shutter opens up with a father-daughter outing . . . on the moon! After that quiet, peaceful moment, the story picks up pace in the first issue, and starting in the second, the action almost never lets up. It’s about family, growing up, and getting to know more about our parents than we ever wanted to know, attempting to reconcile our gilt-edged memories with our realizations that those memories may be less golden than we thought. The heroine of this story is kept so busy, however, that she has little time to deal fully with the emotional impact of her new-found knowledge.
The young girl we meet in the opening scene on the moon is grown up in the present of the comic, and as she rolls out of bed, we see what her daily, hum-drum routine is like right before her world is shattered. That day on the moon was the day Kate Kristopher turned seven. We see her again twenty years later as she is woken up by her very animate alarm clock/personal assistant/sidekick who is a very odd-looking cat-like creature. Her exciting past seems behind her since she’s traveled with her father all through her years growing up, apprenticing to follow in his footsteps, which, as he tells her, involves taking the path that was set by his mother, who was following “her own mother and great-great grandfather before her” in becoming an explorer. As we listen to Kate’s father explain the family business, we begin to realize that being an explorer in the world of Shutter is perhaps even more exciting than being an explorer in ours: “Our family’s long unlocked our reality’s secrets, chronicled her unyielding beauty. We’ve explored everything she has to offer for generations. Should you desire, we may for generations more.” But it’s all up to Kate since she is all that’s left of that family line.
Kate has led an exciting life, but at the age of twenty-seven, on the day of her birthday, she prepares for the day’s work in a world that, though it would amaze us, is one she takes for granted. The juxtaposition between her apparently daily malaise and the fantastic futuristic world she lives in gives us a shock: She opens the curtains of her apartment, and the city she lives in looks thrilling. We see skyscrapers, of course, but we see a bird’s nest with a small dinosaur-like bird creature in it. We see what looks like an ordinary man walking his dog, but he’s passing a young couple flirting, and the female is green with Medusa-like hair and a long, thick tail. We see more of this world when Kate gets on a subway. She looks as bored as any New Yorker even though on one side of her is a man who looks equally bored, but he dons a stereotypical astronaut outfit, including a fishbowl helmet. Perceived through his glass helmet, his dazed expression is odd-looking. On Kate’s other side is an apparently respectable, middle-class minotaur-like creature reading a newspaper and wearing a suit and monocle. Kate is pulled out of her own daze by an excited kid who has read and owns all her books. He can barely speak he’s so overwhelmed by her presence, and he holds up a copy of her book Scythe of the Fire Reapers. He’s saddened that she doesn’t write anymore, and he asks why. Her response lets us know that today is like every other day for her now: “Life got pretty boring. Had nothing to write about anymore.”
Kate’s life won’t stay boring for long, however. Apparently, she has a ritual of visiting her father’s grave every year on her birthday and telling him about her year. It’s been ten years since he died, and she has no reason to expect her visit to his grave to be any different than any other year. However, this year turns out to be a bit of a surprise. As she sits on his grave and starts to talk, she is suddenly attacked. What is she attacked by? Well, that’s hard to say. There seem to be several sets of creatures, some magical or spiritual or both, and they might not be attacking. They might be there to protect her. But from whom? It’s all a bit confusing. Keatinge seems to want to keep us guessing in this volume, and it’s as if he purposefully throws us off. In fact, it turns out that the biggest surprise isn’t the physical attack itself; instead, it’s the family secret that is revealed to Kate on the final page of issue #1. And you’ll just have to read Shutter to find out what that secret is.
The most important part of this secret, as I’ve said before, is that it relates to Kate’s family, and that aspect of the story is what grabs me the most. As wonderfully fantastic as this futuristic or alternative world appears to us, we can relate to the themes connected to family. How do we come to understand our parents? How does our understanding of our parents shape our career choices and even our sense of self? And if our understanding of our parents undergoes a radical shift, then won’t we find our own self-knowledge shifting right along with it? If that new knowledge is about a parent who has died and if we are angry about this information, what do we do with an emotion that can’t be resolved through confrontation? All of these questions seem to be raised by Shutter, and I think these thematic concerns make Shutter more than just a fun, page-turner, though it is certainly that as well.
Between the serious thematic concerns and the obvious fun of the fast-paced action, there are smaller, less-obvious pleasures offered by this book. Perhaps my favorite smaller aspect of the writing is the little bits of dialogue that made me laugh. For example, we meet Kate’s best friend when Kate gets off the subway just after meeting the young fan of her old books. Kate is talking on her cell phone with Alain, who wants to know if they can celebrate Kate’s birthday. But first, Alain, with the slight irritation of a long-time friend, asks Kate about the voicemail she’s left and to which Kate hasn’t been responding: “Well, did you get my voicemail. I mean, I know it exists because I recorded it with my mouth, but did any listening to it ever happen?” “Kinda, nope,” Kate responds. This short, clipped conversation has humor, has punch, and is indicative of the dialogue throughout the collection of six issues.
Another aspect of Shutter that I like is the wide variety of characters that the writer and artist draw into the story. Some of these characters — like the gorilla doctor and the nurse with the pumpkin-head — aren’t even essential to the plot: They merely make the comic more visually dynamic. However, there are characters more important to the plot that are perhaps even stranger: Shaw O’Shananhan and his Maahes Lane Gang are talking lions that wear suits and act as hired assassins. We first meet them when they are fighting glowing purple ghost ninjas who “speak” only one sound, “Kuu!” We meet other assassins, some small and meek-looking and others clearly a danger; however, all are gun-toting and lethal. My favorite odd character is Harrington, Kate’s childhood servant/butler. He’s a skeleton, but he wasn’t always one. We are given his backstory in brief, and it’s a great one, as is Alain’s backstory, which is also given in an extremely concise format. However, these two short backstories give us an even greater understanding of Kate’s life and what has come before the present of the story. It makes these six issues seems much fuller than we might expect given all the action sequences.
I really have only one complaint: I didn’t want the story to end. I want the second volume now, but as of this writing, the seventh issue has yet to be released. Volume one of Shutter is fantastic, and though much is revealed, there’s plenty more we do not know. I’m ready to read more, and you will be, too. I hope you’ll give Shutter a try.