A gay Indian bioengineer embarks on a five-member mission to Mars, seeking to leave Earth as quickly as possible and, hopefully, never return. Keith Kanga’s desire to explore Mars has nothing to do with his abilities or career as a scientist, but rather to escape whatever unknown issues he’s facing at home, presumably related to his sexual identity. As a result, he’s more invested in his handheld video games than the progress of the mission, choosing to squabble with one of his crew mates rather than work on anything productive.
Before long the pilot discovers a problem: a cylindrical corridor of asteroids is blocking their path. Instead of trying to avoid the anomaly altogether, the crew decides to shoot straight through the corridor to save time on their journey. Of course, nothing ever goes as smoothly as planned. Not only do the asteroids almost immediately destroy the ship, forcing the crew members into escape pods, but the asteroid corridor is actually a space phenomenon known as a quantum pinch. A quantum pinch effectively acts as a teleportation device, transporting their escape pods across time and space where they crash land on a planet known as Kaptara. Keith is rescued by a citizen of Endom, the fourth kingdom of Kaptara, but the rest of his crew isn’t so lucky. After meeting with the queen of Endom, Keith is informed that a villain known as Skullthor is the one who created the quantum pinch in order to invade Earth. Manton, a member of the royal guard and Keith’s rescuer, promises to aid him in returning to Earth and defeat Skullthor in the process, much to Keith’s despair.
If anything in that plot description sounded remotely serious or moving, back up. Don’t become distracted by McLeod’s fluid and expressive art. Remember that the writing half of the team behind Kaptara is also one-half of the team behind Sex Criminals, a bestselling comic of 2015. Keep reading and you’ll find that the entire first chapter was merely a windup in order to launch you into the campy space adventure that is Kaptara. What seems like an earnest setup to a tale similar to Vaughan’s Saga ends up being a Mel Brooks directed prime time cartoon. Kaptara seems to have been exclusively written for teens who regret not being able to grow up in the ’80s and adults who wish the ’80s had never ended.
As with most unfamiliar alien worlds, it’s easy to be drawn in, and Kaptara is no exception. Every page reveals a new sort of bizarre alien or science fact to quickly explain anything the reader might be wondering about this new world (for example, the language barrier between Keith and the citizens of Endom are overridden by exposure to “linguaflora” pollen). The color palette McLeod uses is primarily composed of reds, blues, and purples, and is occasionally punctuated by a written sound effect in yellow; the intensity of the yellow demonstrates the intensity of the sound effect—sharpening a stick is a muted mustard, a monster’s roar is a vibrant jonquil. For the most part, the human characters are drawn rather realistically and true to their actions, though every so often a panel will feature a character posed in what can only be described as a pinup portrait.
As fun as the concept of this alien world is, the writing is not compelling enough to demand reading loyalty, relying more on raunchy humor and ’80s cultural references than character development or plot progression. The art appropriately captures the aesthetic that the writing seems to aim for, but the writing itself falls flat. It’s fun, but not funny. Worth a smile, but not quite a laugh. Through the execution of the writing, it’s clear that like much science fiction, this is more of an exploration of space and place rather than an exploration of characters. It’s evident that Keith has troubles on Earth he’s running from, but there’s no hint that these troubles will be revealed any time soon. Rather than developing depth for the characters we’ve already met, each chapter focuses on breadth, introducing a new member to Keith and Manton’s ragtag legion with every turn they make. This rapid expansion of cast is emphasized by one of the post-story extras, a two-page layout detailing the identities of the villains revealed in the last spread of the story.
Though the humor is juvenile, teens will probably miss the references to ’80s popular culture, and the book does contains somewhat bloody violence, occasional swearing, and some sexuality. However, despite my critical review, I do have to credit the creators—Kaptara is a fun read, albeit one that is very fluffy and trope-filled.
Kaptara, vol. 1: Fear Not, Tiny Alien
by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Kagan McLeod
Image Comics, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus