Out of the Vault – Shatter

Apple’s Macintosh computer, introduced in 1984, was a fascinating machine. Underpowered, but easy to learn and use, it only lacked one thing to enable it to take off: some practical use.

That came the next year, when Apple introduced the Laser Writer and the world was introduced to the concept of desktop publishing. And one of the first demonstrations of the potential of desktop publishing was First Comics’ Shatter, which debuted in mid-1985.

A collaboration between writer Peter Gillis and artist Mike Saenz, Shatter was a cyberpunk noir story about Sadr Al-Din Morales, a contract cop in future Chicago who stumbles across an elaborate plot that would take him all around the world in subsequent stories. In the first storyline, published in the U.S. as Shatter Special #1, Shatter is drawn into an ambush involving some very unusual bombs.

These panels show the distinctive visual style Saenz developed for Shatter, taking advantage of the Mac’s cut-and-paste and lettering capabilities, while using his own artistic abilities to make sure the art has a flow and an emotional component.

Almost as soon as Shatter gets home, he finds out something very important to him is being sold for $75,000, and as Providence would have it, he almost immediately is recruited to apprehend a dangerous criminal. The reward? $75,000. Serendipity, or something more sinister?

The criminal is a woman who killed 15 people in a board meeting of Simon Schuster Jovanovich. Shatter tracks the dame to a club, where they have a flirty conversation.

Later, he learns her name is Cyan Dalriada and tracks her down at home to find her playing the piano, where we learn the big McGuffin for this story: Simon Schuster Jovanovich has developed a technology for transferring skills, encoded in RNA, from one person to another. Problem is, the process kills the person they’re transferring skills from. Cyan’s lover was an expert pianist, and SSJ took his brain to steal his skills. She has stolen them back so she can play his music for a year. The explanation is interrupted by another bounty hunter. Cyan escapes as Shatter is killing his competition.

All in all, the Shatter special was a cool package. The art was crude, but had a grungy cyberpunk feel that accentuated the story nicely. The plot and scripting had a nicely Gibsonish mix of pulpy action and satire, and Shatter was smart, yet world-weary.

First brought Shatter back as a back-up feature in Jon Sable, Freelance for a while, and then gave him his own book. I missed the Sable back-ups, but when the regular series started, I bought it eagerly, only to find that the McGuffin from the special was actually the heart of the series.

Turned out that there was an entire underground made up of people stealing skills via RNA, and Shatter had joined them (as Cyan’s lover? It wasn’t clear). Shatter was special, though, in that he didn’t lose the transferred skills over time the way everyone else did, making Shatter’s brain a coveted commodity.

By issue three, Gillis and Saenz were gone. Steven Grant took over the scripting, while Steve Erwin and Bob Dienethal took over the art (actually drawing the art normally on paper, which was then scanned into the Mac to make it look jagged and pixelated). Grant’s script was wacky, killing off practically every supporting character while turning up the satire-o-meter to 11. Issue 4 ended with the entire RNA transfer process revealed as a hoax.

Gillis returned with issue 5 and immediately unhoaxed the RNA McGuffin, sending Shatter to the Third World to fight alongside a woman named Worker Ravanant, who’s using RNA transfer to train an army of monkeys to fight for her.

The book just got sillier from there, with Shatter leading a revolution against the corporate behemoths vying for the RNA transfer secrets in his head. Shatter’s mom shows up at one point as a corporate bigwig, and Shatter ends up pregnant, carrying the fetus of his own clone so they can gain the secrets of his permanent RNA transfer without killing him. Cyan shows up again as a recurring villain, or at least, her head does, kept alive in a jar with new mental powers.

New computer artist Charlie Athanas brought back the unique Mac feel starting with issue 8, but his work was a shadow of Saenz’s and couldn’t overcome the increasingly unbelievable plots. The series ran for 14 issues, but I gave up after 12. I don’t regret missing the ending.

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