Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising #1 (Radical Comics)

shrapnel-header.jpgInterplanetary war looms on the surface of Venus in this video game-inspired sci-fi epic.



48 pgs., color; $1.99

(W: M. Zachary Sherman / A: Bagus Hutomo)

Possibly the worst thing that could be said about Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising is that, according to co-creator Mark Long, it was a video game concept first and a comic book second. Once you’ve heard that, it’s easy to get into the groove of this expository comic. The cover is the stuff that long nights in front of a glowing television screen are built on: a girl and her gun and the wreckage they’ve crafted.

To be fair, Samantha "Sam" Vijaya seems to be pretty tightly wound. She’s exiled herself on Venus in the far distant and dark future where a central Alliance based on Earth is slowly but surely taking over the entire habitable solar system. Society is split into two groups: helots, who are non-genetically engineered regular ol’ folks, and splicers, who are just your average super-human. We don’t find out which camp Sam falls into quite yet. In the meantime, she’s working in a mine with two helots and, in her off-time, trying to keep them from beating handy splicers (to be fair, the splicers are totally asking for it) in their local bar. Yes, in the future, it’s not the color of your skin that matters. It’s the color of your wires. When she’s not saving her coworkers’ butts in space with strangely unexpected bursts of brainpower and speed, she’s bailing them out of jail. When she’s not doing that, she’s in her tiny room talking to a post-traumatic stress counseling computer program that looks like her dead sister. It doesn’t sound like much fun, to be totally truthful. One could see where Sam would be a little different.

As it often turns out, Sam may be an interesting and, admittedly, beautiful disaster but there are bigger things afoot. The Alliance, after handily crushing a helot rebellion on Jupiter, is turning its attention to Venus. In one corner, we have Venus with a Helot President and an entirely independent government that treats everyone as equals. In the other corner, we have the Alliance and they have a lot of Marines and a record of human rights violations against helots. So when they come calling on the President of Venus to offer to take over their government, he politely tells ’em to get packing, ‘cuz Venus isn’t buying. And while the Alliance General sent to offer the sugarcoated ultimatum seems sympathetic, at the end of the day, orders are orders.

So Venus prepares for war. The last we see of the planetary government, they’re wishing for a handy former Marine to advise them on tactics. Oh, wherever will they find one?!? No one comes forward and, in the meantime, a thousand mecha-suits wait for pilots and there are five hundred trained men in the militia. Venus was allied with Mars, who was absorbed into the Alliance a year ago. Five hundred men aren’t enough to defend a planet, mecha-suits or not, and the last we see of Sam’s coworkers, they’re dashing off to enlist. The last we see of Sam, though, she’s preparing to blast off of the surface of the planet. The issue ends on Venus just after the Alliance landing and it’s not looking good for the home team…

I mentioned earlier that this is the brainchild of two publicized creators and named one of them, Mark Long, at the beginning of my review. Mark Long is an executive at Zombie Studios, the producer of the video game version of Shrapnel. He has a fairly impressive bio, listing computer technology R&D in both the private and military sectors, and has worked extensively in virtual reality development. The other creator of this book, however, has a last name that you’ll recognize. He’s Nick Sagan, the nerd’s Lisa-Marie Presley. Nick Sagan, you see, is the son of Carl Sagan, who was internationally renowned as a scientist and best-selling author. I’m not going to lie, I was a little starstruck and that was enough to get me to read this premiere issue. One has to admire Radical for getting Sagan on board, both doing promotion on the convention circuit and on the front of their book. The credit for writing, however, ultimately goes to M. Zachary Sherman, a Marine reservist and the writer on titles including Star Wars and SOCOM: Seal Team Seven. Sherman gives the book a touch of realism that grounds it, even in that celestial setting.

Sadly, Shrapnel loses points on the art. The color, done by Leos Ng in a painterly style, is far, far too dark and murky. Shadows are layered on top of shadows until the reader is left squinting to comprehend what’s happening. If there was any definition done with actual lines, it might be a little easier to read. As it is, my interest in the story has to compete with my desire for easy reading. I understand that the colors may suit the mood and the eventual look of the video game but it doesn’t work well in actuality. In short, Radical Comics, the Resident Evil look may be great on your screen but the translation to ink-and-paper is poor.

Ultimately, I come away from this mixed. This isn’t a light-hearted romp through anything and the future it portrays is both believable and slightly frightening. I hope that later issues will show a sharper image that utilizes both the darker end of the palette and a stronger line to define the mood. I would recommend this comic for fans of hard science fiction and war dramas. Good eyesight and bright lighting wouldn’t hurt, either. | Erin Jameson

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