Science fiction is thriving in comics; in fact, I would say there is no better medium for the genre right now. While film and television have capitalized on the influx of geekdom in popular culture, they only showcase a fraction of the great stories out there. Whether you’re interested in intimate character dramas or epic space operas, your comic book shop is the place to be.
Shaper, the new limited series from Dark Horse, didn’t start as a comic book though. It started as a screenplay penned by Eric Heisserer, an already established screenwriter. I was lucky enough to have had the chance to read the script the few years back, and it was fun and adventurous and captured the essence of the space fantasy stories I love. Which is why I was so excited to hear that it was coming to comic form. Some stories are best told in novels, or in films, but as Eric comments at the close of Issue 1, “this story is a comic book,” and I couldn’t agree more. Let me fill you in:
“Shapers” are all but history at the start of this story; as an old race with the ability to bend time and shape shift, they were hunted to near extinction by a universal force known as the Caliphate. Since then, they’ve become nothing more than a myth, along with the now championed heroes that fought them, known only as characters in games or stories to most. That’s exactly what Spry, thinks of them. A young man, with smarts and skill but a penchant for trouble, he spends most of his days absorbed in work and avoiding class. Even with the guidance and support of Niva, one of his school counselors, Spry is undeniably lonely. With few friends and no family in his life, his goal is to join the Caliphate, for friendship, a sense of purpose, and more than anything a place to belong.
Spry is where our story begins and he’s a grounding force for us readers; mainly because he’s just as awe inspired and clueless as we are. Heisserer packs a lot of information and action into 32 pages and it’s overwhelming at first. Between setting up Spry’s character and filling us in on decades of backstory, his work is cut out for him. Luckily, the genre works in his favor. The Caliphate by all intents and purposes seems like it should be the side we’re rooting for. They’re the idolized heroes, the soldiers, the ones fighting mythical creatures with extraordinary powers. And yet, we aren’t. Whether it’s conditioning to be wary of galactic empires, or just love of the underdog in science fiction, the Shapers are a group I’m waiting patiently to learn more about, and what it is that makes them such a threat to the Caliphate’s leader, Victus?
Spry is very much the classic young hero, but that doesn’t mean he’s a dull protagonist. He learns a lot about his past in this issue, and comes face to face with a new identity, but comes to terms with it a little too quickly. His perception of the world changes dramatically and instantaneously, and the information he learns is not easy to process. Yet, by the end of the issue we see him ready to charge into a new and unforgiving world. I will be interested to see how he reacts to all the knowledge he’s gained, once some of the action and excitement dies down. Considering that he’s been alone most of his young adult life, I can only hope he faces oncoming challenges with a thread of caution.
On paper, Shaper reminds me of Star Wars in a lot of ways, and that’s probably why I enjoyed the screenplay so much. It read like one of my favorite films, why wouldn’t I like it? But when coupled with Felipe Massafera’s art style, it only proves why this medium is the perfect fit for this story. Though the narratives may be similar, Massafera’s art drastically changes the mood, tone and overall feel of this retelling of the Hero’s Journey. This story reads like an 80s sci-fi action piece (think The Terminator, or 2000 AD) mixed with its own unique blend of flavor. Spry’s young protagonist is thrust into a world of violent action; panels capture that energy and fly by with intensity, using Wes Dzioba’s vibrant colors to round out each and every page. It’s everything the kid in me wants in an action comic: gritty and energetic, yet beautiful to look at. Even scenes with simply dialogue are given style through rugged facial expressions — this is certainly galaxies far far away from Lucas’ universe.
Though the story thus far has stuck to a lot of science fiction traditions, it’s delivered in a refreshing way. By combining elements of a classic space opera with high-octane action, Heisserer delivers on a concept that has truly found a home in comic book stores. Shaper #1 releases March 18, published by Dark Horse Comics. The series is written by Eric Heisserer, illustrated by Felipe Massafera, and colored by Wes Dzioba.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy from Dark Horse for the purposes of this article.