I tend to think of science fiction as a smorgasbord affair; within the cafeteria-style restaurant of sci-fi, you’ve got an insane amount of sub-genre elements in the serving line that one can combine to create something to suit just about any taste. Kaptara is a perfect example of a book that pulls from a number of influences to generate its literary meal.
When debuting a new book and new characters, it’s important that creators give readers a reason to care about the personalities in the story so that they’ll come back to read (and buy) more issues. This book starts off down that path by having readers establish a preliminary emotional attachment to the characters, even if it’s just one of distaste, as with resident strongman Casey, and then just…fizzles out.
That’s probably because halfway through the book most of the characters that were the crew of the starship Kanga are either (A) dead (B) adrift in the vacuum of space or (C) lost on an alien world. It’s part shock tactic and part narrative twist, but rather than entertaining us, it forces an immediate and sudden disengagement. On a few occasions I found myself asking “Was that necessary?” or “How does that progress the story?”; not the sorts of questions I like to ask when reading first issues. I think it’s just incredibly early in the arc to kill off more than one character at a time, especially since there has been no effort made to make the audience care about these people in the first place.
The main protagonist, Keith Kanga, a bio-engineer who wasn’t so much selected for his current mission as granted admittance by a sympathetic relative, manages to be atypical enough to be part of the reason that this book isn’t a total wash. He’s kinda whiney, but most of the time it’s humorous, though never really laugh out loud funny; it’ll elicit a muffled chuckle every now and again. He always has some swift-tongued response to whatever anyone has to say and given the frequency of his quips, I get the feeling that Zdarsky wants Kanga to be the Vince Vaughn of this comic. The only problem with that is that Kanga, like Vaughn, is better suited to a support role rather than as the star of the show.
The rest of this first issue feels equally blasé. Nothing about it is outright bad, but it rarely elevates to anything beyond just readable. To me, that’s a cardinal sin for a premier. Zdarsky has remarked that the inspiration for the book came from both his childhood memories of playing with action figures as well as a sketchbook of characters the he and a few other creators used to pass around the studio, adding to it as time permitted.
That’s exactly what Kaptara reads like; a book that’s been cobbled together from ideas that haven’t been fully developed or explored. I enjoy experimentation, sometimes for the sake of the risk, but generally because the results of the experiment turn out well and make me wonder how I got along before. I understand the method, just not the madness here, and I hope Kaptara’s second issue is better than the first.