Shepperton’s Waltz by Patrick Killik (w), Marc Laming (p & i, with additional inks by Dave Stokes), & Heather Breckel (c)
Full disclosure: some time ago, I was contacted by Patrick Killik, the writer of the title, asking if I would review Shepperton’s Waltz. I’ll be giving a plot synopsis and commentary to a large degree, but try to avoid any major spoilers.
This 67-page graphic novel is published by Oort Cloud Comics (whose founder is also Patrick Killik, according to the press release) and is available through Apple iBooks and Amazon Kindle for $2.99.
Mr. Killik described the title in his initial email to me as a “creature western from the future”. The story revolves around Angus Shepperton, a drunk and loser who also happens to be his mining town’s last hope against an alien invasion on another world (although, technically, the humans are the invaders here I suppose…). Yes, it’s a Western and sci-fi story. One page pretty well gives you the back story that you need to know (which I thought was a good use of the splash page) as Shepperton walks back into town to deal with the menace. It turns out that while mining, the transplanted Earthlings encounter a subterranean, bug-like race who only want to eradicate the invaders, and who very nearly do. Which begs the question: why does Shepperton fight as he does to kill the bugs? He doesn’t seem overly vengeful or even that upset at the death of his fellow immigrants (but then he is drunk all of the time). If he was so looked down upon (or despised, depending) by the town as indicated, why does he care so much? It’s not just for self-preservation, so revenge then? If the latter, then the first flashback scene left me scratching my head a little bit as well because we are told that Shepperton’s wife was “the only person to stand by [Shepperton] during the hopeless hours and the drinking,” yet on the two previous pages, Mrs. Shepperton is none too happy with her husband and says some mean things. I can write that off with Shepperton being in a drunken, inconsistent stupor, but the flashback does also show clearly that he cared for his wife, so perhaps that’s enough motivation. Perhaps he believes that if he kills all the bugs that will make the town safer for other folks who may arrive? But we are given no real indication that there aren’t more bugs. After all, it seems that the bugs infest the human host and transform the body into the preying mantis-like creatures, so one can presume that there are millions of grubs or whatever underground. Plus, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that anyone outside of the town has been told about this devastation.
From there, we find that the dead townsfolk aren’t so dead, thanks to the unique properties of the world in which they now reside, so they’re ghosts and yet not, which is nice turn of the trope, but really doesn’t lead anywhere until the end. Speaking of the dearly departed, if it weren’t for the “dead” sheriff, Shepperton’s one-man war would have ended much sooner because the sheriff tells him about a special sword in the jailhouse that glows and hums and works very well against the bugs. In fact, the sheriff mentions that the sword was sent to him by a professor who found out that the sheriff lived in the hills. This implies that this professor knew about the bugs. In fact, we find out that opening a box is what started the whole mess. Is there some Weyland-Yutani Corporation-like conspiracy going on here? Perhaps I’m reading too much into it.
While retrieving the sword, Shepperton finds that he isn’t the last “living” survivor, and the two have words. Later, an appreciative group of spirit ladies of the evening tell Shepperton they want to show their appreciation of his bug-killing work, to which he obliges them (don’t get too excited–this is a PG-13 book), though it’s only been two weeks since his wife died and this is ok with him? Afterwards, Shepperton leaves to face the last of the bugs. He fights and fights, and then faces the queen bug, just in time for his drunk to wear off. Funny thing about the bugs, and a large reason why Shepperton is still alive after all this time, is that alcohol is toxic to them. Again, this was a nice little twist on the drunken fool that we see in Westerns. Eventually, the fight stops, but I won’t spoil the ending for you because I did enjoy it.
When I first read the book, I enjoyed it for what it was: a simple tale of revenge and redemption set in an otherworldly, yet distinctly familiar setting. But as you can already see, I had a bit of trouble with some details. I found the whole other world aspect of the story to be an unnecessary distraction. Does it explain why the townsfolk’s spirits can’t move on? Sure, but that could have been explained in other ways. But while I’m at it, why travel to another world to recreate a specific time period, right down to the dress, occupations, and mannerisms of the 19th century American West? Doesn’t that seem like a lot of trouble for what boils down to a huge sense of nostalgia (Shepperton tells us as much in the story, asking “and for what?”. Indeed.)? That was my problem with Firefly when I first started watching it–the anachronism didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. But it’s a part of the story, for good or bad, and probably has more to do with my inability to suspend my disbelief.
As to the art, I liked it, and thought it fit well with the Western theme/genre. It’s sufficiently dark and dirty, and the artists do a good job evoking the place and dress of this setting. The movement from panel to panel is clear, so the storytelling technique is there, but I did have a few problems with the sequence of some action scenes. There are a few panels that seem to skip a beat, though maybe in one case the character is just that stupid as to turn his back on the enemy, so I’ll go with the latter. I didn’t recognize Mr. Laming’s name as a comic artist, but his credits include The Dreaming from DC Comics, so I will be looking through my issues of that title to see more of his work. The colors by Miss Breckel were deftly dealt with because there are a lot browns and tans (earthy tones) in use here and everything is still distinctive, though I would have preferred a wider range of colors just the same. I also liked the greenish tint to the daytime sky, this being an alien world and all, but the dusk and nighttime sky looked just like Earth’s, so that jarred my this-point-is-not-based-on-any-science brain.
Overall, there’s enough here to pique my interest to the point that I’d like to know more about this world that Mr. Killik has built, but considering how the story ends, I’m not sure where he could go with these specific characters. I’m giving this graphic novel a rating of 2.5 out of 5–pretty ok, but with some distracting plot elements. However, for $2.99 at 67 pages, I recommend you try it if a Western/sci-fi story is to your liking.