Variant Coverage – April 17th, 2014

Nothing ends. Nothing begins. There is only flow.

We find a spot in the flow that leads to significant moments, and we call that a beginning, but it’s not a true beginning. If it were, we wouldn’t have prequel stories. We wouldn’t have origin stories that lead into different origin stories.

Likewise, we may point to a spot where the flow is disrupted and call it an ending, but again this is not true. We wouldn’t have sequels or spin-offs if there were actual endings. We wouldn’t have relaunches. We certainly wouldn’t have characters coming back from the dead.

I’m not calling anyone out for this, I’m actually kind of celebrating. See, so long as there are no beginnings or endings, we’ll always have access to the things we enjoy, or be reminded of what just hurts. And wouldn’t you know, we’ve got a few books this week that prove the point.

Sinestro 1 (Bunn/ Eaglesham): Like every other property rebooted by DC’s New 52, the Green Lantern franchise cherry-picked what worked from its previous backstory, threw out what didn’t, and added a few new elements in to provide some easy storylines to start out with. Whether it works or not, it puts every reader in a state of catch-up in order to follow along. Sometimes, though, you can tell right away that it’s just not worth it. (4/10)
In this reality, Sinestro built the Yellow Lantern Corp with the idea that the universe would benefit from order, the kind of order most effectively gained from fear. This idea blew up in his face, much like his home planet and everyone on it. His self-imposed exile, or perhaps a very slow form of suicide, gets interrupted by one of his lieutenants, Lyssa Drak, insisting he come back and fix the Corps he left behind, which has not thrived with his absence. What finally gets him motivated is the knowledge that not all of his species died along with his homeworld, but that it’ll take the power of all the Yellow Lanterns in order to retrieve them safely.

If you read this very carefully, you may actually see where the story is tearing itself in half going in different directions. Sinestro is either an intimidating, remorseless figure that commands deference wherever he goes, or he’s a beaten man looking for some form of atonement before he dies. The Yellow Lanterns are either a brutal army that enforce strict adherence to law, or a gang of conquerors preparing to strike. Lyssa is either a homicidal maniac barely aware of reality, or the heroic wielder of vast amounts of knowledge. The problem, and it happens again and again, is that there’s no plausible way for all of this to be true at the same time, and the result is relentlessly confusing.

The art, while technically precise, only contributes to this confusion. In the first few pages, Sinestro is attacked by feral space cats – he’s fighting with everything he’s got, but he’s losing. His teeth are set with determination, he agonizes when his chest is ripped apart. This is a body fighting for his life, and yet the narration suggests that Sinestro is actually looking forward to dying by their claws.

There’s very little reward for reading this book.

Sheena 1 (de Souza & de Souza/ Minor): I didn’t know this, but Sheena is actually the very first comic book heroine with her very own title, beating out Wonder Woman by about three years. It’s been imitated and rebooted many, many times over the years, but the basic premise behind it hasn’t changed. That may be why this reads like an abridged version. (6/10)
A team of Indiana-Jones-wannabes visits the no-man’s-land area of Val Verde (references are made to South America and Africa, with no effort made to clarify) to investigate a finding that could shake up the last millenium of what they thought was true. The tricky bit is that this area was once the home of a brutal drug lord, and is thought to be cursed, haunted, or worse. The archeologists do have one thing going for them: Rachel Caldwell, a wealthy patron recently installed in the estate and interested in improving the state of her region’s status. Rachel rocks the business party look in public, but when it’s time to go out and get really down and dirty, she finds leopard-skin bikinis more fashion forward. Her companion, a panther with no problem eating human flesh, may have eaten the wrong one, though.

I’m of two minds on this one. There’s a very full world developing, with international interests, political intrigue, as well as the classic themes of drugs, exploitation, and sneaking off for nookie. There are many parties involved that are trying to stake their own claim in the area and exert their form of control. These stories are set up so well, they overshadow those bits where the blonde woman stabs people in the jungle. Sheena becomes a bit player in her own book, which is the other mindset I get from this.

The art, while not as refined as most palettes would like, is consistent and enjoyable. The colors are bright and expressive, which really bring out the setting and help distinguish the characters’ personalities – the creepy tenured professor dresses in bland, muddy clothes while hitting on his female students, dressed in more vibrant tones. Things like action sequences and explosions don’t play off the page with the same energy, and it makes reading drag a bit, but not so much to throw the reader off completely.

While not the best book on the shelves this week, this was a surprisingly accessible experience.

Hulk 1 (Waid/ Bagley): Banner and Hulk have never quite been on the same page. Even when it appeared Banner was in control of the Hulk’s body, this was actually programming done by his “friend”. The normal dichotomy, especially over the last two runs, has been to let Hulk smash while Banner picks up the pieces and builds something groundbreaking. Only half the the party is invited to this opening number. (8/10)
When last we saw Hulk, someone had put two small-caliber bullets in his skull. The goal wasn’t to kill him, the shooter aimed for parts of the brain that control his emotional responses, meaning no Hulking out. Specialists are brought in to keep him sedated and alive while blood and tissue samples are harvested. It’s one of these specialists that narrate everything going on, occasionally flashing back to his own personal experiences with Bruce Banner. When it’s revealed that the facility isn’t interested in saving Banner or letting the specialists live, it makes them a bit desperate.

This is another issue where the story is told around the main character, who spends most of his time in a hospital harness with a good chunk of his skull missing. Despite being minimally involved, everyone there is focused on him, trying to pull bullets out of a brain the right way, weighing the lives Hulk might threaten against those he might save, whether he’s a monster or a hero. It plays a lot of catch-up for new readers, but regular audiences are seeing new material as well, and getting two new perspectives on a classic character.

Mark Bagley’s the kind of artist that can put anything he wants on the page and make it work, and this is no exception. The setting looks like a mash-up of ER and Agents of SHIELD (can you believe how good it’s gotten?). Facial expressions, be they smug superiority, shocked surprise, or quivering fear, all look genuine. It’s also familiar style of familiar characters, with very little innovation.

This is a critical new chapter in the life of the Hulk, and a wonderful jumping on point for new readers. Grab it and enjoy the ride!

Solar, Man Of The Atom 1 (Barbiere/ Bennett): Solar is, if you’ll pardon the term, something of a publishing slut. He started at Gold Key in the 60’s, went to Valiant in the 90’s, showed up at Dark Horse for a brief fling, and is showing up at Dynamite’s door wearing a Gold Key imprint sporting a retro look. The title’s been just about everywhere, and has influenced more than a few characters along the way (Dr. Manhattan, anyone?). While the book’s print history is a great source for gossip, this issue itself shows up looking respectable. (9/10)
Bank robbers can come up with elegant or brutal exit strategies, but neither really accounts for someone that can mess with fundamental nuclear forces. So when a passerby tweaks Solar’s fundamental connection to those nuclear forces, he’s too busy keeping his body from exploding to appreciate the irony. Dr. Preston, the lab partner of Solar’s alter ego Dr. Phil Seleski, can only cover for him so many times before he needs help. Seleski’s son Colin, their company CEO, doesn’t see anything other than stock prices, but Seleski’s estranged daughter Erica might just be interested enough in saving his life to help out.

This version of Solar is on a weaponized acid trip – he’s disconnected from people, wholly focused on the atomic connections of environment, even able to control them. The edge to that is if something confuses him, that confusion gets expressed around him. That’s some heavy stuff to deal with and it looks thrilling on the page. The teamwork between Barbiere and Bennett creates a compelling setting and cast of characters.

There’s a statement about the way people use power that I ended up admiring. It’s not hammered into the text, it’s much more subtle, and I’m going to respect it by not spelling it out for the reader here. This one’s mostly in the art, specifically the way the two kids live and what their lifestyles say, and it adds a level of depth to this book that I honestly wasn’t expected. I love getting things I don’t expect!

Solar is far from the average superhero comic – there aren’t any straight-up beatdowns, for one thing – but it’s very much worth a look.

Before I leave this week, I just wanted to give a shout-out to Comic Carnival’s own Stuart Sayger, illustrator of the X-Files Annual that also came out this week! I had to recuse myself from reviewing it since I’ve known him for years and he’s worked at the Carnival before, but I think I speak for everyone at CC when I say we’re proud to see one of our own make good. Congrats, Stew!

See you all next week! Getting excited for Free Comic Book Day yet?????

Looking for older Variant Coverage Blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival?  They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues

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