This week we feature a guest review by the talented writer Jaythreadbear. Who graciously agreed to fill in for me this week as I get situated at my new job. I recommend that after you finish reading this fantastic article you give his blog a visit. Jays blog is stuffed full of interesting and well written content, so give it a view https://jaythreadbear.wordpress.com/. Or I’ve made his name clickable. Seriously, do yourself a favor and check it out. Now without further delay:
When I was a whole lot younger I used to play with my older brother’s toys. He had a bit of everything, Ghostbusters, He-Man, Thundercats, Trolls(!), they were all there. Rather than play with just one thing I’d mash them altogether and create wondrously outlandish adventures, Bebop & Rocksteady would defend Castle Greyskull from ninja turtles and Bucky O’Hare riding dinosaurs (everyone rode dinosaurs back then!) I was a kid, I didn’t know these were all characters from different cartoons, different worlds, but it sure was fun to just smash them together and tell crazy stories. In all the best ways it seems like Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod are still telling stories just like that. The great news for us is that drawing all the rich fun influences of fantasy and scifi pop culture and mashing them together can lead to a rewarding comic book experience.
There are a lot of strong indie/creator owned scifi books on the shelves right now, many taking place on brilliantly realised, uniquely devised worlds; yet surely in contention for the most creative planet amongst them is Kaptara. Every issue of this scifi comedy has brought with it inventive, original, and surprising creations. Cat tanks and blow dart champions and motivational orbs. Zdarsky regularly introduces new concepts which further the story and give us more insight into this diverse place. Great credit for the success of all this world building (and some of the narrative drive) has to go to McLeod though whose art somehow brings all of the disparate visual influences to life in a surprisingly coherent way. McLeod also manages to purvey a great degree of physicality and slap stick comedy in the book (stuff like the inevitability of Dartor’s dart mishap is elevated by his sheer proximity to the prince). Since the very first issue the colouring in Kaptara has been inventive and surprising and this issue is no different. Handled by Kagan McLeod with an assist from Becka Kinzie the colouring here is bright and unexpected, the action takes place in verdant green and yellow fields, and moves on to the wonderful roiling blue-purple-pink constructs of the Hive. You’d be hard pressed to find a more colourful, immersive world in comics at the moment.
The book isn’t without problems though. Much of the supporting cast, for all their whimsical originality, remain somewhat broadly drawn. Dartor in particular presents a problem in this respect due to the huge amount of page space he takes up. The character is hewn almost entirely from oblivious prince tropes (arrogant, proud, stupid, etc) and whilst he has generated some good comedy (other characters affection for his ridiculous hair being a prime example) he is also a bit of a repetitive and obvious joke. There are many more interesting characters and corners of this world that I would rather be spending time with. Keith, for example, already the most complex character (unsurprisingly given his status as protagonist) offers a chance to explore conflicting feelings of survivor guilt and relief, and his ultimate desire to make Lance’s sacrifice count even though he’d rather be chilling out in Endom. All of this complexity is in danger of being lost behind some of the broader ‘humorous’ moments, for instance, the low-key reunion between Laurette and Keith that perhaps should have been a bigger moment for our lead (after all he’s no longer the only survivor!) is overshadowed by the prolonged Dartor flashback.
And yet, this book is like a great scifi-inspired D&D adventure; the epic quest, the weird and wonderful world, the ragtag team of dysfunctional but heroic adventurers all serve to engage the ready and get them invested. The delightfully unusual art and colouring, confident plotting and neat meta touches like the fun issue subtitles, previously’s, and back page quotes all help to raise the enjoyment of an potentially light concept. Zdarsky and McCleod have raided the toy box and put on the page an adventure every bit as fun and funny as we had as kids, some of the humour may miss the mark, but the inventiveness and creativity more than makes up for any problems.