By Joe Keatinge, Leila Del Duca & Owen Gieni
I’m beginning to worry that this comic is going to break my heart.
Over the course of twenty-one issues Joe Keatinge and Leila Del Duca have crafted some of the most imaginative world-building in comics. The environments may resemble our own in some ways, while at the same time being full of fantastical features. The most prominent of these elements is the wide range of life residing therein. From subtle twists on the familiar humanoid to gigantic monsters, Shutter is full of visual surprises. Indeed, this expert combination of idea and image has ensured that each installment has been packed with moments of wonder.
This observation is as true as ever today with the release of Shutter #22. The book opens with an ominous two-page spread much of which is white space. In the upper right-hand corner, though, a splattering of red bursts forth. Below it is the equally foreboding chapter title: “Terminus.” Turn the page, however, and the reader is offered a lighthearted explanation: The Leopard has spilt his glass of wine. Ulisses, the group’s host, quickly defuses the awkward moment, assisted by Gato (a green alarm cat, aka adorable). Shutter’s heroine Kate has been gradually gathering her estranged half-siblings and Ulisses is the last on her list. His dwelling is located Santar, Portugal, depicted by Del Duca as deep within a lush sprawling countryside. A sense of tranquility pervades these surroundings, reinforced by the verdant greens of Owen Gieni’s coloring. In order to further strengthen bonds of kinship, Ulisses insists that Kate’s entire traveling party join him for dinner.
Each arc of Shutter has widened the cast and along with it the emotional resonance of the narrative. As more characters are introduced the web of connections binding Kate to others has strengthened. This theme has become particularly prominent during the current arc. In one instance Kate has been forced to revisit the tender wounds of an old romance; in another she has wrestled with weighty questions of responsibility. Kate has been truly building a family around her, a point made clear in the image of Ulisses’ dinner. Here all of Kate’s disparate allies sit side by side sharing a meal. It is a charming scene rendered with affectionate details (my favorite being Nero assisting Gato in clearing the table). The relaxed camaraderie of the moment mirrors the genial vibe of Ulisses’ environment.
If only it could last.
Remember that spilt wine from the opening? It seems the reader’s initial instincts were correct after all. Without going into details, #22 takes a violent turn which plunges the second half of the issue into a deadly bloodbath. Del Duca illustrates this sequence with the same vibrancy she brought to earlier laid back moments. Characters lunge, dodge, and shoot their way through a frantic melee. Del Duca emphasizes the fast paced nature of combat where fortunes can flip in an instant. Indeed as the dust settles, the reader anxiously surveys the scene for signs of who might still be among the living.
This heightened emotional involvement in the material is a testament to the great character work done by Keatinge. These are not cannon fodder players knocked about for a cheap shock, but developed personalities for whom the reader cares. The pain on Kate’s face as the issue (and arc) draws to a close is earned. The reader not only understands Kate’s shock, but feels a bit of it themselves. Then for good measure Keatinge and Del Duca toss in an epilogue that depending on perspective is either a ray of hope or a final twist of the knife. Or perhaps a little of each. Regardless it is the biggest gut punch of the week.
As I said, I am beginning to suspect that this series is going to break my heart.