Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
A bunch of customers came into the store the other day and, while getting into a heated discussion about what a title used to be, another customer got pulled into the talk. Was it better before, was it following the same story, did the artist take cold medicine in between pages, nothing was off the table. There are few places in the world where complete strangers will stop whatever they’re doing and get into a debate about a specific topic within half a minute of meeting each other, but any comic shop is one of those places.
And like one of those people said, that’s what’s great about comics: you can love something or hate it but they make you so passionate that you just have to talk about it!
We got a lot of new titles in this week, and reading through them I was just stunned by how DIFFERENT they were from each other. Comparing them to each other would be like comparing apples to potato chips to crab rangoon to oranges. A bit surreal to see so much variety start out in one week. I had to focus on that. Have fun!
•Aquila 1 (Rennie/ Gallagher): Let’s start off with something light. You know, like the Roman oppression of slaves and indigenous peoples? Doesn’t that sound fun?!? Well, if you’re the type of viewer that thinks the movie 300 needed more blood, then this is definitely going to be right up your alley. It also makes a huge argument against any religion having a justified right to call itself the “one true” religion. There are a few other ways this book could reach for shock value, but I’m a bit anxious about mentioning them (I may accidentally spoil something). [6/10]
Spartacus’s slave revolt remains one of the most dramatic stories to come out of the Roman empire, if for no other reason than it sure ain’t melodramatic. No one was supposed to have survived, but Aquila pulled it off despite being crucified along with the others. He put his soul on the open market, and the lucky bidder turned out to be Ammit the Devourer, who bestowed four boons to allow him to survive and seek out corrupt lives for her to feed on. This works pretty well for a while, until his former bosses (who were his enemies before that) managed to find a replacement for him.
Remember the end of Spartacus? When the Romans offered to let the others go if they surrendered Spartacus, and everyone stood up proclaiming themselves Spartacus? This was actually the birth of cosplay, and is reenacted at every convention (except swap Spartacus for Deadpool). What does this have to do with the actual book? Well, it’s about the only reason I could come up with to get invested in it. The main character’s only motivation is to satisfy an obscure death god, and everyone else pretty much just wants to conquer each other. The art manages to capture all of this in violent detail, and when there’s no violence on the panel, it’s setting up for future violence.
Aquila is my Cookie-Cutter Blockbuster of the week. It’s not bad, but you shouldn’t expect much more than face value for it.
•Nutmeg 1 (Crofts/ Wright): The average American doesn’t know what scares them most. They may say violent crime or darkness, but for a lot of them it’s baking. The prospect of preparing our own food is, to some, an alien notion that could only end tragically. It’s a horrific element. So when two young girls, ostracized by the privileged, take up baking in order to exact their revenge, readers should feel justified when they quake in fear. [8/10]
Cassia Caraway is new to Vista Vale, and the only girl at school willing to talk to her is Poppy Pepper. Neither are in good social standing with Saffron, the queen bee of middle school. Cassia and Poppy bond over flat tires, French, and sweet teeth. Poppy grew up with Saffron and figures she can suffer silently until the end of the school year and be rid of her. Cassia worries about the long game – how will they deal with the Saffrons of tomorrow if they can’t deal with one now. They come up with a plan, a plan that will get them in serious trouble, but may also work.
Do you like food-name puns? You better, because they start early and they never, ever, ever stop. Ever. The premise to this book is so odd, so different from everything else on the shelf. It’s almost a noir story – I would totally believe it if Poppy wrote in her unicorn diary “Of all the classrooms in all the school districts, this dame had to walk into mine.” There’s jilted romance, betrayal, economic power plays… it’s as if George R.R. Martin wrote The Babysitter’s Club. The artwork is cartoony and simple and yet it carries everything with an intensity that absolutely matches what adolescence feels like. It’s a weird reading experience but I MUST KNOW what happens.
Nutmeg is my Pregnant Food Craving of the week. It sounds insane but if I don’t get some I will lose my shit.
•The Tithe 1 (Hawkins/ Ekedel): Before anyone goes on a rant about the price of comics, the title of this book does NOT refer to the price. If you want to give us a tenth of your income that’s fine, some do anyway, but cover price’s only $3.99. Moving on: people’s spiritual beliefs are a deeply personal and sacred element, one that should be protected. The betrayal of that is a horrible crime. So who does it worse: the thieves who steal from a church, or a church that spreads false belief? [8/10]
Megachurches are literally built on the donations of their parishioners. They gave willingly and excessively to Pastor Miles Tibbett. They love him because he tells them he’s using the money they give him to spread charity, goodwill, and the word of their belief. Tibbett loves his followers because they’re rich and support his love of island vacations. The FBI investigated this church for months building a case, but a group led by someone called Samaritan robbed them instead, of every penny they’d collected. And they’re far from done.
The key trick to this comic is its audacity to put such powerful and respected parties in such difficult situations. People want to believe in churches. They want to believe in the FBI. Both have their redeeming qualities in this book, but neither one gets a free pass. It’s muddled and complicated and comes across as genuine. A bunch of thieves targeting bad churches and giving money to worthy causes is what people want to see. Put those two together and you’ve got a winner. The characters are fun, but at the same time are so busy being fun that readers don’t get a chance to connect with them. The art follows suit: it’s strong and solid, but lacks distinctive character.
Tithe is my Good News of the week. Religion and government CAN exist in the same place and prove entertaining.
•The Fox – Fox Hunt 1 (Waid & Haspiel): There’s no need to be wery wery qwiet (CC Note: Whyyyyyyyyy?), this Fox isn’t hunting wabbits, or wuv, or whatever. (Couldn’t resist, mate.) Some people put on costumes to fight crime or protect their identity. This one more or less put his on to sell papers, and has been paying for his hubris ever since. It could be tragic, but winds up being curiously entertaining. [8/10]
Paul Patton Jr.’s a career photojournalist covering the city beat. For every photojournalist that means flower shows and store openings. Paul put on his father’s costume and became the Fox in order to find more interesting stories, unaware that it worked the other way around: the interesting finds him. In this episode, he’s taking his own son to take photos of Paul’s hometown before it becomes a reservoir for a nearby city. Fox’s arch-nemesis Mister Smile is building the reservoir, but the city genuinely needs water, so his feelings are mixed. Speaking of, something is trying to poison the well before it becomes a well, and it’s Paul’s first girlfriend.
There is simplicity in this story. Everyone knows what they want, they know what they’re willing to do to get it, and they communicate all of that effectively. Beyond that, nothing is simple. Paul wants to be a career-minded family man, but from the first time he put on the suit and became the Fox, he’s had to guard his family from those consequences as much as he could. The villain he faces has compassion, reasons things out, and has a semi-noble cause… and controls toxic mushrooms. The owner of the paper Paul works for, the same man that is trying to supply water to a struggling city, is also a horrible crime boss. Haspiel’s art style carries a lot of this same false-simplicity.
The Fox is my Grab Bag Surprise of the week. You won’t expect what you pull out, it may not be what you were hoping for, but it’ll satisfy you.
•RunLoveKill 1 (Tsuei/ Canette): The editor in me is screaming that someone lost their spacebar and is trying to make it art. I instead forced myself to calm down and give this an honest, open-minded readthrough. I’m glad I did, it’s a pretty unique story with a great creative team. I still want those spaces put back in, but I’m not minding them as much as I did. That’s praise right there. [8/10]
There’s a young woman named Rain who wants out of the futuristic megacity of Prygat. Prygat has all the amenities an upstanding citizen could want, all provided by the monopoly super-corporation/ security firm Origami. They’re even building a wall to prevent those evil jerks from other places that (trust them) are evil from getting into Prygat and ruining everything. If that sounds fishy to you, it sounds terrible to Rain. To get out, she’s willing to cheat and lie to everyone she knows. Some don’t hold it against her, but only some. The others… don’t take her attitude too well.
This is a book that, while showing off epic sci-fi metropolis scenes and setting up a gritty plot of double-crosses, manages to ask a deep question: should a person abandon their friends for the sake of liberation. Rain has two choices: leave everything behind and try to start over, or stay and feel trapped forever. The reality within the story makes it more complicated than that, but it boils down the same. She says she doesn’t feel any guilt about it, but if she didn’t feel anything, why mention it? Canete’s artwork lends a kinetic energy to every single panel, almost inducing vertigo but without the nausea. The overall effect draws the reader into a place that isn’t very comfortable, but worth exploring.
RunLoveKill (argh) is my Therapist Visit of the week. It may look intimidating, but will probably be good for you.
•Archie vs Predator 1 (de Campi/ Ruiz): Can I just point out that we’ve come to a place in society that a franchise like Archie can cross over with a franchise like Predator. I hate the larger implications of that, but I love that these two worlds have collided. And unlike so many crossovers that tripped over themselves trying to pander, this manages to stay true to both. It’s maddening to imagine, so you should probably buy it so you won’t have to try. [9/10]
The Riverdale crew goes on a lucky island getaway, encountering a local myth of a man-eating jaguar and the relic-and-schadenfreude-hunting Blossoms. Cheryl manages to get Betty and Veronica to fight each other, allowing a cloaked stranger to learn who’s the true queen. By the time the gang gets back to their home turf, they’ve no idea what they brought back with them.
This should not work as well as it does. It defies all logic and you must buy it. This looks like your typical Archie comic, the dialogue sounds like a typical Archie comic, the high school drama’s right out of an Archie comic, but there’s also an alien hunter stalking and killing the most worthy prey and the best thing is that Archie and the gang have zero clue what to do with this. They tune it out, it’s that outside of their world. The second best thing: the twist may be that the Predator doesn’t know how to deal with a high school crush. Despite the love I’m giving this, I cannot give it a perfect score… not until the Predator starts quoting the Riverdale kids. Hopefully that will come in future issues.
Archie vs. Predator is my Every Home Must Own This title of the week. You won’t believe it until you read it.
This last review really drives something home for me: it doesn’t matter how many of these I write, or how many comics I read for the rest of my life, I will NEVER have read them all. There’s a surprise out there waiting for the moment it’s least suspected, and no one, not even the most avid reader, is safe.
This is SUCH a great time to be a comic nerd. See you next week!!
Looking for older Variant Coverage Blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues