Another week, another review of another comic book from yours truly. I imagine you enjoy them, though, seeing as no one ever comments to say “Ugh, Saika, write about something else!”
I finally picked up all my comics on Sunday after three or four weeks of not making it to my shop, and boy does my wallet ache. Among my spoils was Kaptara #1, the debut issue of an original sci-fi story from Image Comics. Although I saw almost no hype for the book until, like, the day of its release a few weeks ago, it seemed like everyone on my Tumblr dash who had read it was giving it a glowing recommendation. Needless to say, I was happy to see that my shop still had a few left when I finally dragged myself there.
Kaptara is a near-future sci-fi story following an exploratory crew headed to Mars. That is, until their trip through the asteroid belt gets a little weird. Protip, for future reference: when the asteroids you’re supposed to be passing by form into a weird tunnel with no logical explanation for doing so, it’s probably best to correct course around the weird tunnel. Obviously, the crew of the Kanga does not do this thing, and the tunnel, which (also obviously) turns out to be a portal through spacetime, hurls them into a distant galaxy. The ship is damaged en route, and the crew ejects in solo escape pods, tumbling down to the strange planet below. Our protagonist is Keith, a skinny, brown-skinned, gay guy, who doesn’t really get along with the rest of his crew. At least two of the crew die bloody before the book ends, but Keith is rescued by the native people of Kaptara, the planet they’ve appeared upon. They inform him that the portal was opened by a terrifying warrior named Skullthor who wants to conquer and rule the Earth. The Kaptarans promise to stop Skullthor and help Keith return to Earth, but apparently something happened before Keith blasted off that left a bad taste in his mouth. The issue ends on him scoffing “…why on earth would I want to go back?”
Kaptara is written by Chip Zdarsky, whom you may know as the artist from Sex Criminals. The only other thing I know of that he’s written as opposed to illustrating is the current Howard the Duck comic at Marvel, and despite its rave reviews, I have a grudge against Howard after Guardians of the Galaxy, so I haven’t been reading it. Basically, I went into this with no knowledge of what his writing would be like. And now, having read the first issue, I’m still a little unsure.
Sometimes it’s really easy to tell where a story is going when you read a first issue, or at least it’s easy to get hyped about the possibilities. A lot happened in this issue—by the time we got to the halfway point, they had already crash-landed. That meant there wasn’t a lot of time to establish the characters’ personalities or why they were even in space to begin with before they were suddenly running and dying. I’m not sure if this is intentional—if the motive of their mission and the characters’ relationships will be revealed in greater detail later on, as a plot development—or if it’s just Chip rushing to get the story to the exciting parts. I also can’t really get a read on the tone.
It seems like a serious drama with a bit of self-aware humor in it at first, but once they meet the people of Kaptara, the planet where they crash-land, it gets kind of goofy? The characters on Kaptara are weirdly parodic of, say, Star Trek’s humanoid sci-fi aliens in their speech patterns and dress. In a way it reminds me of all the punny signs and porno titles in the background of SexCrims scenes, but it seems at odds with the tone of the first part of the story. Furthermore, given how near-future the beginning of the story reads, it seems odd that they’d send a crew into space together that was so openly antagonistic toward each other; present-day space missions are so expensive that you wouldn’t want to risk a fistfight turning the whole mission into a wash. Maybe the reason for doing this will become clear with more backstory as well.
On the plus side, this story does not remotely fall into the all-too-common “white guys and aliens” trope that dominates a lot of sci-fi. Keith looks to be of Southeast Asian descent, which means we have a queer protagonist of color. So far his queerness seems like a pretty organic part of his character, too. At one point, he lashes out at his bro-y crewmate for teasing him, citing a teenagehood full of bullying as the reason he won’t stand for it; later, on Kaptara, he mentions to his captain that the captain looks kind of hot all rough-and-tumble. Even when he’s afraid for his life, he quips, “I can’t die! I’ve never even kissed a girl! I don’t want to, but still!” It’s a part of his character that isn’t brushed over, but it’s not the only part of his character, either. The two women on the crew, Samantha and Laurette, are both Black, and the other crewman seems to be East Asian. (We don’t get any last names or character monologues on background, so I can’t really guess more specifically at heritages.) The captain of the ship is white, but, well, he dies pretty quickly after making landfall. Going forward, this gives us some very interesting intersections of diversity to work with.
The artwork, done by Kagan McLeod, is fun, too; probably my favorite thing about it is the characters’ facial expressions. Keith in particular makes some really ridiculous faces when faced with stressful situations. It’s very dynamic, as well—whether the characters are running or fighting there’s always a lot of action on each page. The color scheme reminds me somewhat of Spider-Gwen, except instead of lots of vivid pinks and greens McLeod uses a lot of pinks, yellows, and purplish-blues.
In the end, I don’t know if I’ll pick up another issue. My budget is stretched thin enough that I really should be dropping some comics from my pull list anyway, and I’m just not in love with this enough that I’m dying to know what happens next. And not that there can be only one killer diverse sci-fi comic, but, well, Kaptara’s no Saga.