by Nick Sagan & Mark Long (creators), M. Zachary Sherman (writer), Bagus Hutomo (art), Leos “Okita” Ng (colors), and Sean Konot (letters)
The Story: Shrapnel’s epic conclusion sees Captain Sam Vijaya leading her Venusian militia into the final battle with the Marines led by her old nemesis, Major Bellgrave.
The Good: It’s a Radical comic, so you’d expect excellent art, but this issue is unreal. The double page splashes are awe-inspiring and the whole book is just stunning. It’s one of a kind, realistic, and outright gorgeous. This book needs to be seen to be believed. This is the best looking issue of the series. The characters have more definition and things are still gritty, but also a bit brighter to alleviate the confusion that plagued past issues, and did I mention those splashes? This is a great looking book that’s consistently good from cover to cover. The sheer size and scale of some of the things Hutomo draws in this issue is mind-boggling, yet he pulls it off just as well as he does the claustrophobic scenes in ship corridors.
Meanwhile, Sherman decided to go simple on the writing end, and the comic is all the better for it. I’ve had issues with Shrapnel before in Sherman’s cramming way too many words onto single pages, even single panels. That’s gone in this issue; it’s a stripped down depiction of the brutality, emotion, and protocol of war. Most of the words we get here are the cries of panicked soldiers and the orders of their commanders. It works really well. Sherman is trying to do one thing: give an accurate portrayal of a hard SF battlefield, and he does so with flying colors as a minimalist that avoids any overwriting.
And that makes any of the dialogue that does occur all the more outstanding, all the more poignant. It makes Vijaya’s interactions with her old mentor, Colonel Rossi, all the more impactful. The scene where he chooses sides or the one where he and Vijaya struggle for command of the ship are brief, but Sherman’s minimalism makes what’s said feel powerful.
The battle scenes are very well done and Vijaya’s final gambit is nothing less than totally awesome. This issue is epic, beautiful, and engaging. You really feel the harsh realism, urgency, and chaos of the battle and again, despite the relatively little dialogue, the final double splash page surprised me with how much emotion it raised in me. That splash perfectly sums up this issue: it had no words, just effective imagery. Make no mistake; this is a war story without digression, tangent, or side-story. It’s about a battle and the effects it has on one soldier’s life and spirit, and it’s great.
The Not-so-Good: Some reader’s may be a bit put-off by the minimalism and wish for more dialogue to make this a longer read or perhaps to give a greater sense of depth, complexity, and engagement. I feel that that would dilute what the comic does, but it’s a fair point.
Also, some of the battle scenes are still a bit hard to discern. It can get a little blurry and hence a little tough to figure out who’s who or what’s going on. That said, even the worst frames are comprehensible with a little thought and context. This problem has haunted the series from day one, but it’s vastly improved here and the confusion occurs far less often than it did back in the first issue. It’s a weak-point, but it’s better than it was.
The Bottom-line: The best issue of one of the best limited series of 2009 thus far. Epic, beautiful, and harsh, this is one to pick up. Better still, it’s 2.99 for a 50-page issue with heavy paper and a glossy cover. Can’t argue with that.