Sunday, February 24, 2008

Shatter special #1

Shatter special #1, June 1985, First Comics
writer: Peter B. Gillis
artist: Michael Saenz
editor: Mike Gold

Blogger's note: Entry for Saturday, February 23, 2008.

My review of Shatter #3 became inadvertently connected to my review of Utopiates #1, as both shared similar plot points about the swiping of human RNA and the subsequent sharing of personality traits. Fortunately, Utopiates writer Josh Finney cleared up my questions on the subject in an exchange I included in my review of Propeller Man #6, creating an interesting ring of links I never even intended but that maintain a particular sense of intrigue for me to this day. See, during that first year of A Comic A Day, I discovered certain seemingly spiritual connections between comic book series I never would've otherwise affiliated with one another, all while shopping for the fodder for my yearlong challenge in a wide variety of places and selecting what I read daily at random. I began to suspect that either comics as a whole had conspired to create a harmony just for my blog and me, or that the creators and contributors of comics over the years must share some Jungian connection to certain themes and storytelling nuances that, despite style and genre, will always pop up over a comprehensive look at the medium.

I'm willing to settle for the latter.

Nevertheless, despite its connection to Utopiates, Shatter was a comic book that strived to stand out from the rest. The sales pitch over on top of this first issue's cover says it all: "The First Computerized Comic!" Imagine, you're a kid in the summer of '85, fresh out of school for three months and looking for something to pass the time. How would you've reacted at the sight of the words "computer" and "comics" in the same sentence? Remember, it's 1985 -- a time when every kid did not have a telephone/camera/Internet interface the size of a pack of baseball cards in his pocket! (Indeed, just using the word "interface" and comparing an iPhone to a pack of Topps betrays my age, eh?) My exposure to computers in the '80s can be summed up in two words: Oregon Trail. That those big black floppy disks could reproduce my name on a tombstone as a result of my catching typhoid fever was an incredible technological achievement for me! Also, that my only use of computers actually attempted to recreate an ironically colonial experience escaped me. I wasn't old enough for irony yet. Typhoid fever seemed much more realistic.

Fast forward twenty-three years. This Shatter special is very proud to tell you that it was created on a Macintosh Apple III, and that such computers are unquestionably and unapologetically the drug of the future. I wonder if editor Mike Gold (in quoting Timothy Leary)knew how accurate he was; just a few hours ago, I was listening to Leo Laporte's radio show and heard him describe his son's "jonesing" to IM and text when his computer and cell phone privileges were taken away. This is America's youth -- practically cybernetic in their dependence on technology, not to mention its miniaturization and assimilation into every day life. If a child in 2008 saw "The First Computerized Comic" on top of a new release this Wednesday, he'd think, "Well, duh. What took so long?"

What I'm saying is, the Shatter revolution didn't last very long. Within a decade of its release, comics were regularly colored and lettered on the computer, though I'm grateful the entire creative process hasn't been completely hijacked. Drawing tablets come dangerously close, but at least a human hand still holds the stylus. Is it really only a matter of time before a computer superbrain computes the statistical success of certain genre/character archetype/art style combinations and thus self-produces comic book series on a truncated timetable to keep the industry sustained for a determinate number of years?

Until then, Shatter can be enjoyed in one of two ways: as a dark prophecy of the Terminator-like future of comics, in which a Skynet-type system replicates the kinds of issues I just described, or as an optimistic exercise in the raw potential of a new, life-altering technology, which looks entirely dated some twenty years later except for that drive to use computers for any application possible. Again, I'll take the latter, if only to save myself the brand of techno-paranoia that would put me more in tune with George Noory's audience than Leo Laporte's.

I liked this issue of Shatter much more than its third ongoing issue, most likely because of its efforts in slowly introducing readers to this RNA-swiping world of the future. "Shatter" is actually Jack Scratch's real name, a freelance police officer that bids for cases and lives off of bounties. In this issue, Shatter is on the trail of a murderous woman, who, when caught, reveals that the executives she slaughtered stole her lover's RNA. When a competing officer thwarts Shatter's case in an attempt to claim the bounty for himself, the suspect gets away, and Shatter apparently lets her, forgoing the $75,000 reward and the authentic case of Coca-Cola syrup he was going to buy with it. Yes, a future without Coke. I don't care how comics are made -- I'd want no part of that.

Despite this issue's visual dynamics, writer Peter B. Gillis just tells a fun, simple story, driven with a pulp detective-like dialogue. This, in my opinion, likens this installment of Shatter to my recent look at The Scrapyard Detectives. While Scrapyard obviously retains the intention of establishing a moral compass for its readers, fan and Collected Cases introduction scribe J.M. DeMatteis makes the effort to explain the series' "story-first" appeal. An all-ages socio-political undertone is noble, but without a strong vehicle (i.e. the Scrapyard Detectives' fun stories and characterization), it wouldn't go anywhere. Such is the case for Shatter. The "first computerized comic" would be nothing but a series of dot-matrix print-outs without a story to string the images together, and a dynamic protagonist to intrigue readers is an even more compelling hook to keep them coming back for more.

This is the connection all literature has maintained throughout humanity's millennia of storytelling. From the Bible to Homer to Shatter, readers need a character they can connect with and understand. Yes, I'm relating the forty-year plight of the Jews in the desert to the connectivity of mankind via today's twenty-first century technology. It's all about keeping in touch through any means necessary, the very and only means at out disposal. Can comics share a more spiritual connection than that?

1 comment:

Chris said...

Fantastic look into SHATTER. I've very recently come into a blind lot containing a good half dozen of these curious issues.

While the story (or the futuristic art) are anything to really write home about... they are incredibly fun to flip thru for the oddity that they are.

Keep up the great write-ups.