Review – Battle Shell: The Time Capsule and Vengeance

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The reviews are coming, readers. Slowly, but they are coming! Today’s subject is a webcomic titled Barrel Shell, written by the aptly named SuperPencilMan. Available free on www.webtoons.com, the description reads thus:

On a world much like our own, a great empire ruled over the lands below them in massive flying cities. Then, a cataclysm of their own making ended their reign, breaking the surface of the world apart. Enter freightflyers, sky sailors who transport goods and people all over the fractured globe. One such crew; a simple young man, his antsy robot squirrel co-pilot, a reserved young woman, and their ground transport and freight defense robot; regularly embark on wild, perilous adventures.

With five issues published so far, Barrel Shell combines the best of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon with Christian theology and legend. At the same time, it pays homage to the mecha genre and Hayao Miyazaki’s creativity by showcasing fantastic vistas and excellent fight scenes. In short, it reminds me very much of Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet* series, but with more space opera and old-fashioned heroics. We even see the hero’s girlfriend plant a kiss on him after he rescues her from certain capture – and possibly worse!

As the description above says, the world of Barrel Shell is like Earth. However, it is most emphatically not our world. Humans live here alongside strange beings and mechs known as shells. Each shell has a specific name, usually reflecting its physical characteristics and/or the preferences of its pilot. Thus, the titular mech is called Barrel Shell because it has wooden armor and looks like it has been made of barrels.

Barrel Shell’s main pilot is Rick, a human man with an attitude reminiscent of the genial, chivalrous athlete of decades past. A throwback to the archetype carried forward imperfectly through Fred Jones of Scooby-Doo* fame, Rick does not pilot Barrel solo. Each shell comes with a “brain bot” designed to resemble an animal and act as the controller’s conscience. Brain bots sit in and command the head of the shell while the human takes up residence in the torso and operates the mech from there.

Rick’s brain bot is the irritable Johnny, who resembles a squirrel. When we first meet the two cutting trees to fill an order for a customer, Johnny is complaining nonstop because he doesn’t want to go fishing. When Rick suggests his girlfriend, the buxom Myrt (presumably short for Myrtle), might like to go fishing in his stead the conscience accuses him of preferring the young woman to him, his life-long friend.

Along with Myrt and Johnny, Rick runs a freelance freightflyer and transportation business. While he and his friends do a little of everything, they focus on recovering the “unusual” artifacts distributed across the surface of their broken world. That does not sound dangerous until later, when it is revealed that freightflyers often end up battling pirates and strange creatures, some of which are hidden in the very artifacts they find and bring back to civilization.

So Rick and Johnny both have more skill in combat – and more experience fighting – than would be assumed for mere freight haulers. Though Barrel Shell’s armor is wooden, the mech is also stronger and more resistant to damage than it would appear. In other words, the heroes are extremely unassuming. This means their skill and heroism shine all the brighter when the reader sees them engage in combat for the first time.

When Rick and Johnny return home from chopping and collecting trees, Myrt has news. They have been hired to find an artifact that was being transported to another location except that the airship conveying said item – a “time capsule” from the period before the cataclysm which struck this world occurred – went down in a freak thunderstorm. Prepping Barrel Shell and their airship, the three take off…

Only to become involved with pirates bent on conquest and also tangle with an ancient evil thought long, long gone.

Rick is a pleasant hero to follow in this adventure. Modest and good-natured, he nevertheless has the steel to go toe-to-toe with deadly pirates and not bat an eye over the risks. When challenged by evil he doesn’t shrink from confronting it, only retreating to analyze his enemy’s strengths and weaknesses to fight more effectively.

Johnny takes more time to grow on a reader because he complains so much for no apparent reason. Yet when his life is seemingly threatened, you really don’t want the little guy to bite the dust. His acerbic grumbling adds a nice contrast to Rick’s amiable good will, providing balance and keeping his partner from looking too much like just another “nice guy.”

Myrt is fantastic. Unafraid to follow her man into battle, she doesn’t think so highly of herself that she hates to be rescued. When Rick and Johnny come running to pull her out of the fire, Myrt is all too happy to hop in the cockpit with Rick and give him a big kiss. Talk about a refreshing relationship! No drama in sight, just mutual respect.

What a relief, readers.

Barrel Shell seems a little tame at the beginning, but the first five issues pack a lot of punch. Vengeance, the teaser issue for the next arc, is short and hints at what is to come. I am looking forward to following this adventure.

If you want to read Barrel Shell yourself, click the link here. The comics are worth your time and will appeal to tweens and older readers. So keep your eyes on SuperPencilMan and his work going forward!

*These are Amazon affiliate links. When you purchase something through them, this author receives a commission from Amazon at no extra charge to you, the buyer.

If you liked this article, friend Caroline Furlong on Facebook or follow her here at www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com. Her stories have been published in Cirsova’s Summer Special and Unbound III: Goodbye, Earth, while her poetry appeared in Organic Ink, Vol. 2. She has also had stories published in Planetary Anthologies Luna, Uranus, and Sol. Another story was released in Cirsova Magazine’s Summer Issue in 2020, and she had a story published in Storyhack Magazine’s 7th Issue and Cirsova Magazine’s 2021 Summer Issue. Order them today!

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