'Shrapnel' writing & art give it a sharp edge

Shrapnel is loosely defined as fragments or debris propelled by an explosion and refers specifically to an anti-personnel weapon composed of a hollow spherical projectile, filled with shot (musket balls) and an explosive charge, that is designed to detonate in midair, scattering the shot and shell fragments.

When first developed, shrapnel shells were simply hollow cast-iron spheres filled with a mixture of balls and powder that, when released above a well-chosen target, would hit it with a lethal velocity and an effective range four times greater than was previously possible with similar weapons.

Nick Sagan and Mark Long, co-creators of "Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising," have extraordinary writing experience. When combined with the artwork of Bagus Hutomo , the result is a comic book that has filmlike qualities.

Which is why Radical Comics' latest offering, "Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising" is aptly named. Both in the story and in the company's publishing plan, a lot is riding on a story centered on men and women fighting in armor.

In the story, the stakes are high. We see Marines going through a "Full Metal Jacket"-type training before we realize the twist of the story - namely, that they are the enemy, the oppressors, part of a brutal empire called the Solar Alliance that has colonized and dominated every planet in our solar system, except Venus.

As the story unfolds, we see that the Solar Alliance wants to change that and crush Venus, which they see as the final relic of democracy.

Likewise, Radical has taken what at heart is a basic story and used the book to serve notice that they will not only survive but thrive in a marketplace in which Marvel and DC dominate in a similar fashion to the Solar Alliance, in which small companies fight for shelf space and in which numerous companies with plentiful talent and funding have bitten the dust.

Like those who fire shrapnel shells, Radical has done this by choosing its targets carefully, especially when it comes to projects to publish and the talent to work on them.

Indeed, the talent associated with "Shrapnel" seems to be of a different pedigree than that at other companies, especially other than the Big Two.

"Shrapnel" was co-created by Nick Sagan, son of famed astronomer Carl Sagan, who has made his mark as a novelist and screenwriter on an array of projects for Hollywood since 1992. He has crafted screenplays, teleplays, animation and computer games for almost all the major studios, working with directors David Fincher and Martin Scorsese and co-writing the award-winning computer adventure "Zork Nemesis: The Forbidden Lands." His film credits include adaptations of novels by Orson Scott Card and his television credits include episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." To top it off, retired astronaut Sally Ride recruited him to work for SPACE.com as executive producer of entertainment and games.

Mark Long, the other co-creator of "Shrapnel," serves as co-founder and co-CEO of Zombie, which will produce a video game based on the comic. In his accomplished career, Long cultivated a computer technology research and development career at Sarnoff Research Center, the University of Texas Institute for Advanced Technology and the Combined Arms Systems Engineering Laboratory at General Dynamics. While at Sarnoff, Long jointly led a team developing a virtual reality game console for Hasbro, and also served on the Silicon Graphics Technical Advisory Board, advising on requirements for next-generation virtual reality systems.

He also collaborated with the National Science Foundation, the University of Washington's Human Interface Laboratory and the University of Illinois to produce a report for the U.S. Congressional Task Force on Virtual Reality.

And Radical president and publisher Barry Levine had two guys with these backgrounds produce . . . a comic book? Yes, which further demonstrates Levine's commitment to hire people that think outside the box and produce concepts for books that not only look and read differently from anything else on the stands today and are not only easily adaptable to other media like movies and video games, but also which will be cutting-edge in those media as well. (The video game is a done deal and a source says a film announcement is "very likely" by July.)

It was up to writer M. Zachary Sherman - who has worked for Marvel, Dark Horse and Image - to bring Sagan and Long's creation to life on the printed page. Sherman gives us both steak and sizzle.

We learn quickly that the issue's character to watch is Samantha "Sam" Vijaya, the one woman who may be able to turn the tide as Venus and its people suffer the from the Alliance exerting its will and flexing its muscles on them. A Solar Alliance war veteran and hero, Sam is easily the toughest character in the book, especially in comparison to the men we see. However, she chooses to live in self-imposed exile, hoping to escape the life she once knew. However, with the very freedom of humanity on the verge of extinction, Sam has no choice but to lead the fight to destroy the forces she once led.

Sherman's work as a digital-effects artist for major Hollywood releases like "The Chronicles of Narnia" helps him script to his artists' strengths. As a result, artist Bagus Hutomo, colorist Leos "Okita" Ng and letterer Sean Konot produce a book that may be the closest to having film digitally transplanted to comic pages that we have seen yet. The art is incredible.

As director Louis Letterier ("The Incredible Hulk") said in a press release, "The cinematic beauty of the art only reinforces the kinetic force of the action."

So if you want a book that's different, with a heroine to root for, that reads and looks like a film and that packs a whopping 48 pages in between its covers for only $1.99, "Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising" No. 1 is for you. *

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