In “Shutter” #1 by Joe Keatinge and Leila del Duca, Kate Kristopher, retired explorer and now a commercial photographer in NYC, is attacked by ninja ghosts at her father’s grave on her birthday.
“Shutter” falls into the action/adventure and urban fantasy genres, but Keatinge also makes it clear from page one that he intends for it to also be a character-driven story. Kate’s family history and her father’s speeches come off as overblown, particularly in her father’s cheesy lines about “the future is yours to decide.” However, this cozy, sentimental flashback is excellent as a setup for both the two-page title spread in outer space and the subsequent contrast with Kate’s humdrum morning in the present day, when she wakes up to an alarm clock like everyone else.
The heroine’s reactions are blase, but the details of her world, even the robot-cat alarm clock, are out of this world. Del Duca’s artwork alone makes “Shutter” #1 worth checking out. Her setting and character designs are wonderful, especially for the subway ride where Kate is approached by a young fan. The body language in the subway scene is also superb. The young fan’s thrilled excitement feels palpable, as does Kate’s more complicated reaction of embarrassment, feeling flattered and receiving a trigger for unwelcome associations and recollections.
Keatinge’s exposition in “Shutter” #1 is crisp and economical. In terms of pure action, it’s not very efficient, but he wisely allows del Duca more than the usual amount of latitude as his partner in storytelling. The results are excellent, and del Duca world-builds efficiently through background details without Keatinge having to dump the information into text boxes or shoehorn it into dialogue.
The world outside Kate’s window is fantastical and stunning. Del Duca’s imagery is lush and well-drawn, with particular strength in the architectural details and the flora and fauna. Gieni’s color work juxtaposes midnight blue and bright yellow and orange beautifully for the outer space scenes, but his palette for the present day feels unnecessarily heavy on cold tones and also duller and less imaginative. This may be intentional to emphasize Kate’s feelings, but it unfortunately underplays Del Luca’s linework at times. However, for the moment when Kate draws back the curtain to reveal what the present-day New York City looks, Gieni captures of the effect of pale morning sunlight perfectly.
It’s an amazing world and Kate seems oblivious to its wonder, but that’s the part of the point that Keatinge seems to be making about ordinary, everyday dissatisfaction and suffering. The packaging is wild, but by itself, “Shutter”#1 is really a story about family and identity, beginning with a memory and ending with birth secrets. The reader can see that Kate has — a very comfortable amount of wealth, fame, a career and at least one good friend – but also what she’s missing, namely her father and a sense of purpose. Keatinge walks a dangerously fine line, making Kate seem sympathetic without being spoiled. She is by most measures wildly successful and privileged, and aware of that privilege, but she’s still restless. Since Keatinge begins the story with Kate and her father, her grief and self-selected solitude on her birthday are easier to understand. Still, so far Kate is blander than her friend Alain and the rest of the world of “Shutter,” despite being the story’s fulcrum.
The ending scene gets its power from the introduction of family secrets, an old plot device, but Keatinge uses it effectively to shove things into adventure mode. The hook is effective, but the deeper suspense is in wondering what else Keatinge and del Duca have yet to reveal about the details of Kate’s world. “Shutter” #1 is a strong debut. The characterization and structure are solid, if nothing radical, but the world-building and visuals are remarkable.