By Joe Keatinge, Leila Del Duca & Owen Gieni
Shutter’s fourth arc begins with a backwards glance: the stark image of a torn photo set against a white background. The picture depicts Kate and Huckleberry as they once were, intimately happy with each other. There is a sly smile on Kate’s face as she gently hangs her arm over Huckleberry’s shoulders. Below is the caption “There Was You.” It is a poignant note which suitably sets the tone for this chapter centered on the wounds of the past.
From this photo, the narrative switches to a flashback. Kate is in a deep funk. She walks away from a lucrative books deal because she has no interest in writing anymore. She would rather sit sullenly in her room. Her friend Alain, however, will hear no more of her moping. He drags her out to a party, promising, in the time honored tradition, the experience will shake her blues away. Instead she feels apart from it all, melancholy amidst the revelry. Colorist Owen Gieni emphasizes Kate’s isolation by covering the party goers with hazy hues, as if their figures were vaguely defined and Kate were the only solid presence present. Soon Kate is hiding out on the fire escape with a bottle of wine and no corkscrew. Luckily, a charmingly eccentric lady named Huckleberry joins her. It is only a matter of time until the bottle is empty and the women are kissing.
Similar to how they evoked famous comic strips to tell the secret origin of Alarm Cat, writer Joe Keatinge and artist Leila Del Duca reference other styles to tell the tale of Kate and Huckleberry’s relationship. The depth is flatter than usual for Shutter with abstracted back grounds and bright primary colors. The sensibility suggests Pop Art and its playful appropriation of the past. This is reinforced by the dialogue balloons which often wipe out pieces of conversation that might be strong language. What is interesting is how Keatinge takes “strong” literally, leaving the terms of endearment as censored as the vulgarity. It also suggests a blurring between the two: Kate’s entire dialogue balloon is blanked out during a sex a scene. Is she gasping something “unprintable” or something tenderer? Is there a difference? In the end, we remember emotional moods better than any of the actual words spoken. Sometimes, we even let our memory fill in the blanks of what was said. The most resonant panels of this sequence are unsurprisingly the silent ones.
However, this is not all that Keatinge is doing with this issue’s story. The (d)evolution of Kate and Huckleberry’s relationship is alternated with the present. Kate has gathered together her various friends and companions, including Huckleberry, in order to brief them on what happens next. She gives a PowerPoint lecture on her family’s centuries long dabbling in the course of history. As with the flashbacks, Keatinge does not give readers all the details, as Kate’s speech is sometimes cut off mid-sentence by a panel from the past. With such artistic devices, Del Duca portrays Kate’s distracted state. Kate has not seen Huckleberry in a long time and is unable to remain solely focused on the present. At the same time, Keatinge broadens his motif. What is not important is every detail of the Kristopher Family’s complicated history, but the immense arc of it. Again, those in the room will leave with more of a general impression than full understanding of the chronological details.
Finally, though, it dovetails the two narrative threads together. “The problem with digging deep,” the present day Kate explains, “is uncovering things you would later wish unfound . . . The truth gets ugly.” Kate and Huckleberry can apologize for harsh words spoken in the heat of the moment, but they can never erase them. Negative things you learn about your partner cannot be forgotten. So, just as Kate and Huckleberry’s romance disintegrates, Kate lectures on the buried sins of her family. When she speaks of “Prospero’s prison built for one,” Del Duca juxtaposes it with Kate and Huckleberry bitterly siting on a sofa, no longer able to look each other in the eye. And yet after the speech about her family is over and everyone filters out, Kate and Huckleberry share a moment of compassion. You cannot forget the past, but, perhaps, you might learn from it for building a better future.
All in all, Keating and Del Duca have crafted a stellar opening installment for their new arc. One of the best series of 2015 is back and starting 2016 as strong as ever . . .