Magen Cubed is a novelist and comics critic. Her superhero/SFF series THE CRASHERS is coming soon from Booktrope.
Shutter #13 from Image Comics is a book about a lot of things. Despite its fantastical settings, off-kilter storybook cast, and the distinctive theatricality of Kristopher clan drama, this title’s lofty yet deeply personal themes often fly close to the sun. To the credit of series writer Joe Keatinge and artist Leila del Duca, however, the presentation is deft, thoughtful, and delightfully understated. Seemingly disparate elements such as family, loss, memory, anger, and identity are all tightly interwoven components of Kate Kristopher’s journey, a complex web of ties so tight they often choke rather than bind. Shutter #13 is no exception to this rule. As this quirky adventure series kicks off its second year, Kate Kristopher is back in an issue full of surprises, mystery, and exciting possibilities.
Just when Kate finally learned the truth behind her family’s dark secrets, her mind was shattered, left in Venice by her mother under the watchful eye of Prospero. This is where we now find Kate, lost among snapshots of a life unlived, finding solace only in the pages of her journal. She is gone but not forgotten, her face blurred to others as a means to keep her separated from anyone who might remember her in her former life. Del Duca’s lush renderings of Venice explore Kate’s peculiar internal state as a balance of leisurely canal scenes and dark, winding street sequences. The open panel compositions of greater Venice emphasize the claustrophobic loneliness of Kate’s new daily life. She navigates narrow streets she doesn’t recognize in a city whose language she doesn’t speak as the walls, both literally and figuratively, close in on her, cutting off her exists.
MORE NEWS FROM THE WEB
Meanwhile, Kate’s best friend Alain has been working diligently with the family butler Harrington to organize search efforts. Alain, who played an intermittent role in the title’s first year, has engrained herself in the story with a far more commanding presence. Keatinge firmly grounds Alain’s characterization as a scientist and fiercely devoted friend, fleshing out her dainty mid-century American glamor with a much bolder voice than has been previously seen. Even as she continues to wear a comical amount of bandages, referencing the severe wounds suffered when a missile struck Kate’s apartment nearly ten issues prior, Alain steals the show with the best lines of the book. More importantly for the plot, her search also introduces Huckleberry, a fiery speckle-skinned cowgirl and former lover to Kate, with whom Alain has a rocky past.
The growing visibility of canon-recognized queer characters (Alain being the most conspicuous as a trans woman) continues to be one of the title’s strengths. Keatinge and del Duca organically fold them into the narrative with the same ease as, among other things, dinosaurs, anthropomorphic foxes, and living skeletons. This diversity adds a layer of complexity to a cast that is already multiethnic, largely female, and primarily features characters of interracial parentage. Shutter is a melting pot of myth, science fiction, and fantasy, but also of people, identities, and families. The story is principally about intergenerational strife and family secrets, but within that dramatic framework are surprisingly soft touches that help develop Kate’s world as a living, breathing place with unique people within it. Introducing a female love interest is a good way to delve into this aspect of Kate’s life, which has so far been left vague in service of the larger plot. Kate has always been a queer woman of color; now there’s a chance to fully explore her characterization beyond her depression and family drama.
As Prospero searches through Kate’s hidden memories to an as-of-yet unknown end, her handler Wilma tries to steer Kate away from digging into the past. What Kate knows is dangerous, and she’s beginning to realize her life is being dictated by strange outside forces. However, Prospero’s plans are quickly foiled. The appearance of a masked figure, claiming to be Kate’s twin, instigates a bloody rescue plan that sends them racing across tightly-clustered rooftops to engage Prospero face-to-face. Shutter has never shied away from gore, but del Duca and colorist Owen Gieni capitalize on the visual disruption of Kate’s peaceful life with graphic violence and vibrant blood splatter. In an issue constructed largely of lazy cafe scenes and bleak interior spaces, the sudden explosion of action sufficiently shocks Kate as well as the reader, carrying this sense of urgency through to the final reveal. By now the surprise twist of yet another Kristopher sibling has lost its novelty, even for the elaborate costume choices. But within that built-in theatricality lies important themes core to the series: loss, identity, and human connection.
Despite the detachment, loneliness, and confusion that plagued Kate for much of the series, she is deeply connected to the world. The initial loss of her father sent Kate in a tailspin as she retired from adventuring, gave up writing books, and shut herself in her apartment with Alarm Cat (now Cassius) and Alain. While the reverberations of her effect on the world as a children’s adventure book author have been mentioned throughout the series, seen in the bright faces of the children clutching her books, Kate herself as been largely cut off from it. It isn’t until her mysterious siblings burst into her life, and her wayward parents begin creeping back into its margins, that Kate is shocked out of her self-imposed isolation. Yet another long lost brother or sister provides another tie to the outside world, a new chapter in a story far larger than Kate and her enduring melancholy. It forces her to look at her life and appreciate those in it, such as Alain and Cassius. Kate’s family story is confusing, messy, and complicated, but it is hers to own and to reconcile on her own terms, rather than buckling beneath its weight.
Shutter #13 delivers an intriguing start to the title’s second year. Full of action and mystery, Keatinge and del Duca continue to craft a rich and engaging world for Kate’s personal journey to play out in. New characters promise to shed light on Kate’s past and further develop the secrets of her stormy family history. With her twin now in her life and her parents posing unseen threats, the coming year looks promising for this emotionally-charged adventure tale.
Magen Cubed is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow her on Twitter: @MagenCubed