Today, Michael and Mark are discussing Kaptara 1, originally released April 22nd, 2015.
Space, why you gotta be like that?
Michael: Compared to other genres of fiction, science fiction is still relatively young. Despite this, most science fiction — smart science fiction — relies on the intelligence of its audience in the way that it references and respects the space epics that have come before it. We’ve made similar observations in our write-ups of recent sci-fi books like Saga and Nameless: good science fiction trusts that even if you haven’t seen every Star Wars or Alien film, you will be familiar enough with the situation that they are trying to honor, re-enact or subvert. And when you’re dealing with a comic book produced by an independent publisher like Image, there is more freedom to directly reference these situations and tropes in-story. Such is the beauty of Kaptara.
Issue 1 introduces us to protagonist Keith and the rest of the crew of the Kanga, on a mission to Mars. We get some exposition here and there but most of the introduction of this issue deals with fun banter between Keith and other members of the crew. Keith is the readers’ entry point into the space adventure as the cynical everyman with an arsenal of sarcastic responses and pop culture references.
The ship enters an anomaly in space and chaos ensues, ripping apart the ship, killing some of the crew and crashing their escape pods on the alien planet. By the issue’s end, it looks like Keith is the sole survivor of the crew stranded among a primitive warring society of Kaptara (Hey! That’s the title of the book!)
Writer Chip Zdarsky delivers a script with sharp dialogue and self-aware characters that make the 30+ page comic a quick and engaging read. A character that knows their sci-fi pop culture and references it throughout the story is not a new device, but it does what it’s supposed to do: grounds the audience in something they know. I liked that Keith wasn’t the only character that did some meta sci-fi genre referencing either. A great bit that Zdarsky played with several characters was their questioning of the inane logic that the Kanga’s computer system used when making drastic alerts.
It’s refreshing that after Keith loses the ship’s captain to a “Fusciabeast” and wakes up in the kingdom of Endom that he doesn’t automatically question everything around him. I mean, he does remark on the strange goings-on a bit, but otherwise he seems ready to take whatever ride is ahead of him. Knowing his sci-fi, he is content to just follow along as he learns the rules of this new society around him. You get the arbitrary jokes of this civilization misunderstanding concepts from our world like the internet; it’s an old joke, but it still lands.
Kagan McLeod has the enviable opportunity to draw whatever creatures, landscapes and costumes her imagination and pencils can muster. You have the wondrous and terrifying Fuschiabeast that bulldozes through the pages in its path of wanton destruction. There’s Skullthor, who is poised to be the villain of the series: decked out in Kraven-like-fur and a “Mammolithic Tuskuloid” helmet. Zdarsky provides great descriptors in that panel, my favorite being: “STATUS: Evil. Single?” Another great addition to the cast of characters is a simplistic sphere robot (?) with arms that looks like it will just be a floating ball of inspirational quotes.
I had absolutely no idea of what Kaptara was going to be going into it, but I’m very glad that I got the opportunity to read it. This is a 21st century sci-fi book that has so much fun with itself and the possibilities it presents. I’m looking forward to the next issue and to see what the Inspiration-bot has to say next. Mark! How did the issue find you? Do you enjoy the meta witticisms as much as I did? Or did the pollen of the linguaflora not rewrite your brain as it did mine?
Mark: I’m not sure! The hardest part of writing fast-paced, quirky dialogue is that in order for it to work the dialogue has to be clever without feeling like it’s trying too hard, and I’m not quite sure Zdarsky clears that bar. Here’s where I’m torn: as a gay man I, on the one hand, appreciate that the lead character is gay. On the other hand, I question why the gay character has to be the sassy one, and a great dancer? This is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario for Zdarsky, and I feel a little shitty bringing it up…but it rubbed me the wrong way.
Though maybe I’m looking at this from too selfish a perspective. There are undoubtably many people who see themselves in a character like Keith, and they deserve representation as much as anyone else. It’s not like there are an overabundance of gay characters in comics. I generally like Zdarsky’s work, so maybe I should trust that over the course of the series we’ll see him having fun with these stereotypes the same way he is having fun with classic sci-fi tropes.
I’m a big reader of fantasy and sci-fi books, and one of my favorite aspects is extensive world-building. We see only glimpses of Kaptara, but there’s a lot to get me excited for the issues ahead. And, yes, big ups to inspirational quote orb. It makes an appearance again on the inside of the back cover, and is kind of my favorite part. Because of the trailer last week I have Star Wars on the brain, and my mind immediately turned to BB-8. There’s something very fun about whatever Quote Orb is, and I like that it’s left unexplained for now.
I’m a sucker for bold coloring in comics, so McLeod’s art with a color assist by Becka Kinzie really worked for me. What I find interesting is that the world of Kaptara is really no more or less colorful than how our known reality is presented in the beginning of the issue. When Keith wakes up, the hallways of Kaptara are just as sterile as the spaceship he left. It’d be all too easy to do a Wizard of Oz and show life before as dull before revealing Kaptara as a technicolor dream, but that’s not what happens here. Kaptara isn’t better or worse than known reality, it’s just different.
Like you, Michael, Kaptara 1 wasn’t on my radar at all before, but now I feel compelled to find out what’s up with Quote Orb. I love Quote Orb.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?