It’s tempting to say that the fact Kaptara features a gay South Asian protagonist is reason enough to buy it. But what the new sci-fi/fantasy comic from writer Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals, Howard the Duck) and artist Kagan McLeod (Infinite Kung Fu) offers is much more than a welcome injection of diversity.
Kaptara is the story of Keith Kanga, a scientist on an expedition to Mars when a space anomaly destroys his ship, separates him from the rest of his crew, and strands him on an alien planet, the titular Kaptara. On the surface, not the most original of premises, but the execution is far more than that.
First of all, Keith is not your traditional sci-fi adventure protagonist, in ways even more significant than his ethnicity and sexuality. He’s hardly an action hero, having little in the way of combat skills and being dismissed as out of shape by his muscled-up fellow officer Casey on the second page. Instead, his main weapon is his tongue.
In another comic, he’d be relegated to the role of comic relief. But it’s evident from a flashback that Keith’s sarcasm is a crucial defense mechanism; he hasn’t gotten over the pain of being rejected by his family for his sexuality, and admits that he’s traveling to Mars because there’s nothing left for him at home.
And what awaits him on the alien planet? A bloody encounter with giant, lion-like purple monster called the Fuschiabeast, gorgeously rendered by McLeod; a quasi-medieval kingdom with strangely advanced technology, populated by muscular barbarian types with names like Skullthor and Dartor, Prince of Endom; and a magical floating orb that dispenses motivational slogans.
On the downside, Keith's characterization may not sit well with all readers; he spends the first issue in a largely reactive mode, doing little to drive the plot forward himself. But for me, that’s going to be half the fun of the series: seeing Keith (hopefully) evolve from the aforementioned supporting character role into the center of his own story.
And while Keith’s homosexuality isn’t overly foregrounded in this issue (several references to it and a few flirtatious remarks, but there are no outright sexual or romantic scenes involving him and another remarks), it clearly informs the core of his character, and Zdarsky and McLeod have promised that Keith will see plenty of action, in multiple senses of the term.
As this issue ends, Keith rejects an offer of transport back to his mundane, dreary life on earth, saying: “Why on Earth would I want to go back?” It’s a fair bet that readers won’t want to leave Kaptara either.