Review - Shaper #1

"--you want to capture all the Shapers you find and take them alive."

It seems inevitable that eventually we'll discover other life amongst the stars. What's not inevitable is that they'll seek to enslave or destroy us. If they do, here's hoping we have a powerful orphan with unknown powers who can help us, such as Spry in Shaper #1 from Dark Horse Comics. The issue is written by Eric Heisserer, illustrated by Felipe Massafera, colored by Wes Dzioba and lettered by Michael Heisler.

A galactic empire hunts a race of shape shifters prophesied to overthrow its rule. When orphaned teenager Spry discovers that he is one of the hunted—a Shaper—he must learn to use his newfound abilities to escape the empire’s prime enforcer, Tor Ajax and save his entire race.

Shaper was originally intended as a screenplay for a movie and that shows in Shaper #1. It's nothing that's necessarily a detriment to the book, but Heisserer does use to an effect of somewhat particularly presenting the set-up of the series. Spry is a character with a mysterious past and a fascination with Shapers, who are essentially beings capable of transforming themselves into a powerful creature. Heisserer presents Spry's fascination with Shapers through a collectible card game, which serves as a proxy for the legend of the Shapers themselves. What Spry doesn't realize is that Shapers are real and there's a whole history in his family that features Shaper DNA. Aside from Spry's characterization as an orphan more powerful than he realizes, the rest of Shaper #1 really flies through setting the table and presenting the stakes.

Shaper #1 introduces the reader to a new world that's rendered with a focus on characters. Spry has a youthful appearance to him that's befitting a trouble orphan teen and the transformed Shapers look pretty terrifying and more than capable of holding their own in battle. Massafera's style is very rigid in some respects, eschewing an emphasis on characters who feel fluid. This is especially apparent in the pages depicting action sequences, as the panels really feel more like storyboards than anything else; a sense exacerbated by some gutters being empty. Dzioba's color palette is very dark, save for a few pops of colors such as purple and orange here and there to keep things from feeling too dark.

Shaper #1 feels like a screenplay adapted for comics more than anything else. That's not a bad thing per se, but there are some instances where the story feels a little rushed and plays out like you would expect a Hollywood blockbuster to play out. Heisserer clearly knows what's going on in Shaper #1 and appears to be ready to bring the reader in on the action as well, but the first issue moves at a breakneck pace to get that story set-up. The art style depicts somewhat static characters, as Massafera tends to rely on similar facial expressions for just about all the emotions. Shaper #1 aims to be a space opera in a time when there are fewer of those available to enjoy.

Shaper #1 is in stores March 18 with interiors below.