"Shifter" Graphic Novel Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Anomaly Productions
Written by Brian Haberlin and Brian Holguin
Illustrated by Brian Haberlin, Geirrod VanDyke, Kunrone Yap, and Chan Hyuk Lee
2013, 200 Pages
Graphic Novel released on October 8th, 2013
After the success of Anomaly, Brian Haberlin and Brian Holguin return with an entirely different sci-fi graphic novel entitled Shifter. The book picks up with perfectly average Noah Freeman trying to point out some strange stuff at his surveillance job. He means well and just wants to do the right thing, but he's not a super hero or anything. Apparently he's stumbled upon a huge cover up, and a few hired thugs are sent out to kill him. This would have been the end of the story in most cases, but this is a comic book, so instead of plummeting to his death, Noah finds a strange device that heals his body and allows him to possess a number of creatures, both new and old, including a sabretooth tiger and what looks like a Bigfoot.
This sounds like the beginnings of a brilliant adventure story, with Noah learning how to use this machine that he dubs “Jeeves.” It falters along the way, getting bogged down in the morality of the unwilling use of the animals (and one human) and the generic evil corporation out to...well...be evil. Where Anomaly has a lot of space to tell its story and really flesh out the background, Shifter feels cramped even with 200 pages, like it's trying to fit in a number of different plot elements into a short span of time instead of focusing on some of the big ones first.
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A huge focus is on the gorgeous artwork provided by Haberlin and company. If you read Anomaly, you'll know what you're getting into here. This is big, cinematic CGI level quality, and it looks amazing. The animals seen range from small squirrel-like rodents to massive dinosaurs and everything in between. If we learned anything from the 1990's though, it's that art isn't everything. You need a good story to back it up.
The device itself reminds me of a few different stories, specifically the young adult series Animorphs and the two part episode “The Main Man” from Superman: The Animated Series. The former follows a group of kids that are given the ability to transform into various animals to fight an alien race while the latter has Superman and Lobo thrown into a zoo by the Preserver as they were the last of their respective races. The difference with Shifter is that Noah doesn't transform into a likeness of these creatures. He literally possesses them. He's in their mind with them. If they die while out and about, he just transports back to the machine, but that creature is dead and gone. They are all kept in strange collector cases in suspended animation until it's time to take them out.
The human woman in the collection comes from a much earlier time. Everyone she would have possibly known is long dead. She represents the hardest challenge to Noah as he can't outright control her. She's constantly fighting him to take back her own mind and body. This is where the morality really comes into play because he's basically keeping this woman captive against her will. He's fine doing this to the animals for the most part (except for maybe when they get killed), but doing it to another person is where he draws the line.
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As with Anomaly, Shifter is a multimedia experience. Fans are encouraged to download an app that provides some bonus features in augmented reality when reading the book. This is a great touch and something that adds a unique spin to the comic.
Shifter is a downright beautiful comic, but falls short on the story end of things. If it had focused on one or two of the many different threads, it would have been a better read. Instead, we've got the strange device with an unknown origin, the faceless mega corporation out to do evil, the ethics of keeping a bunch of animals (and one woman) captive, and a half-hearted romantic angle between Noah and his fiancée.
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