Comics of the Day Review:
by Orion Tippens
Writer: Brian Haberlin and Brian Holguin
Pencils: Brian Haberlin, Geirrod VanDyke, Kunrons Yap, Chan Hyuk Lee
Letter: Francis Takenaga
Published by: Anomoly Productions
Date released: Jan 23, 2014
Pages: 875 panels of art, appendix text (book is 224 pages)
Notes: Also in print as a graphic novel with augmented reality options.
The UAR app for Shifter is a separate app and not a subject for this review. The app reviewed is currently the iOS version (Version 1.0) read on my iPad 2
The following review contains mild spoilers, and focuses on the story and app viewing technology.
Shifter is set on an ultra-modern-day planet Earth (after a mysterious prologue, that occurs six months later): we meet Noah Freeman, an everyman centered on his job of drone-controlled environmental data collection. All seems well with his secure job and upcoming engagement, until a casual hiking trip goes very wrong; Noah is thrown down a waterfall by a duo of sinister mystery men, and survives only to stumble upon a portal leading into some strange, other-dimensional plane of existence.
Here, Noah finds himself conversing with a sentient, spherical device. With that, he discovers a power within his surroundings to travel back to select times and places, but only through a choice of collected creatures and persons. Many specimens are extinct, and are of different sizes and personalities. One is human – a female Celtic warrior – with whom he develops a friendship. As a possessor of each specimen, he also shares its experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Such new explorations are exciting for Noah, but he seeks out a way to revisit to his old life. But he discovers himself wanted for murder – and a grand conspiracy behind it all. Now, he must use these new powers to set his original life right…
For the app, the entire story is shown through modern motion graphics – aided by optional music, voice acting, sound effects, words, and 65 interactive “Touch”-points that access appendix pages. The appendix provides additional background info on key plot/story elements as an added option for the viewer to further engage with the overall reading experience.
I love the concept and current quality of digital motion comics, as they have become an underrated treasure for mobile device users. However, to truly appreciate a motion comic, the story and art must be equally compelling. Otherwise, the presentation just becomes a bad gimmick. However, Anomaly Productions proved themselves by going above and beyond with their first interactive motion comic, the science-fiction space epic Anomaly.
Since Anomaly, I anxiously awaited Shifter. It seemed they upped their game by casting the voice of celebrity Wil Wheaton for the main role. This could add additional credibility by attracting more of the growing geek culture, as projects such as this grow through word of mouth. I found his performance competent, but not terribly important to the overall product. But if the geek fanbase is helpful to the overall growth of independent science fiction in the new media, than I’m all for this.
The story and art are identical to the 222-page print graphic novel, for those traditional old-school readers of print to enjoy. The visual quality can be just the same, but only the print version covers the traditional grouped panels per page (while the motion comic has each panel is in sequenced swiping order). Whether or not the digital enhancements would improve the experience is up to the reader. For me, I found the app version refreshing and fun, as this complete format was tailor-made for an enhanced experience.
There are various customization options in the app to personalize your enjoyment of Shifter. You can turn off the words or voice acting (in case it feels like a preschool read-a-long), or turn off the sound for a more classic reading experience (however, the motion effects still happen, but it’s not too obnoxious).
The art and color combinations are splendid, and build upon the world of Shifter as interesting and inviting. The costume designs, animal forms, and sci-fi layouts and settings makes this entire package engaging. The overall tone is an interesting mix of savage elements using neo-cyberpunk elements connecting to our familiar reality as a good old-fashioned murder mystery. The result is a perfect blend of science fiction and fantasy. Or, think of Shifter as Dark City meets The Lost World meets The Fugitive.
The central character of Noah is ordinary, lacking in special or memorable characteristics, but has a redeeming sense of wonder. In this setting this is a good thing, as the other extraordinary elements can be a bit too plentiful for readers. We need Noah as the main, everyman character to become involved in, and discover, these more notable story elements. Such discoveries include what the hell is an Archaeopteryx, the science of Emulsion Breathing, and just how deadly is that MK 23 pistol… This all results in good fun as Noah meets new and more interesting friends along the way.
The supporting cast is a mixed bag. The robotic interface, creatures, and Celtic warrior add excitement and fun to our protagonist’s life. His friends in his normal life are a bit bland – especially his fiancée, Helen Toulson, who seems mismatched with him in every way and a bit bizarre; she’s overly sophisticated, and an expertise body-language reader with looks and style twice our protagonist’s age. Also, her British accent seems really cartoonish and fake.
The tech and surroundings are gorgeous with vivid detail. The appendix adds a lot of background info on important story elements, and adds a ridiculous amount on less-important-to-the-story elements you could care about (like “illegal whaling” and the “evils of fast food”). Perhaps you want to learn about “video conferencing” and the “Handscanner,” and what they have to do with current privacy issues: Yes, let’s interrupt our story with these… But as a fan of world building sourcebooks in any science-fiction or fantasy medium, the appendix is a favorite part of this app for me. I wish there was such a thing for regular comic-book reads on digital devices.
The overall story is not as epic as I’d hoped. The ending felt a bit off and rushed, with an ill-fitting epilogue (I was hoping it would go deeper into the story behind the mysterious science, or a further direction for our protagonist). Still, it makes for a good, full experience, something one could grasp for an entire movie or full novel. It’s something that you can’t often say for a digital comic that costs a mere $2.99!
Shifter is a most worthwhile and enjoyable experience for its price, and perhaps much more, especially as an app.
The printed book version is a much kinder price at $19.99 than the Anomaly book at $75.00. I have yet to read or check out the printed version and its augmented-reality functions (which use a different app). But I loved the paper and quality of Anomaly (though the very wide format makes shelving awkward, unless it’s on full display). The AR effects were awesome and a fun novelty. So if such things are carried on with the same or better quality, then Shifter in the graphic-novel book format will be worthwhile.
The Shifter app is free via the App Store on recent mobile iOS devices and Google Play on recent Android mobile devices, but with in-app purchases. Both are not to be confused with the free Shifter UAR App, which is for the Shifter printed graphic novel. The first chapter is free, with the second and third also free if readers choose to promote the app on Facebook and/or Twitter. For each chapter (9 total) beyond the first, you can buy them separately, or buy the whole thing for a solid $2.99: the logical choice for digital readers.
By Orion Tippens: longtime comics and sci-fi enthusiast, occasional journalist. Currently blogging at travelingorion.wordpress.com.