Variant Coverage – July 2, 2015

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

You’re sitting down. You’re reading something on the internet. You’re in control…. only you’re not. There’s a car speeding up behind you, the driver’s completely psychotic, he jumps the curb

350-HP WRECKING BALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!

Yeah okay, so that’s probably not what’s happening right now. (CC Note: And if it is, we aren’t liable!) With July 4th right around the corner, though, it’s the season for explosions of all sizes, colors, and volumes. And for those of us with pets, it’d just be great if people could limit their fireworks to the 4th, not make it a week-long watch for surprise pee stains. (CC Note: Please?) Of course, if you want a colorful series of explosions that doesn’t make loud noises, there’s always comics. Enough talking, let’s light these babies up!

We Stand on Guard 1 (Vaughan/ Skroce): Pacific Rim proved that there’s a great market for giant robots kicking the crap out of things. War stories also enjoy a lot of popularity right now, and that’s probably not changing for a while. Mashing up these two genres effectively would take a strong-yet-subtle set of hands, one that can balance the tension and ferocity of war with the absurd fun of mechs the size of mountains. Brian K. Vaughan and Steve Skroce are out to prove their ink-soaked hands are up for battle. [9/10]
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Amber was a young girl when she and her brother watched American bombs kill their parents. 12 years later, while looking for said brother, the ragtag squad Two-Four (as in a case of beer) comes across Amber while they’re looking for massive American war machines. Such a group of tightly-wound, fighting for their lives band of siblings do not fight over territory like Afghanistan or Korea. No, America’s great threat is their neighbor to the north, the maple-leaf worshippers of Canada. (#HappyCanadaDay)

This teeters between telling a grounded story about a guerilla squad in a time of war and a threat so grandiose in scale it’s ridiculous. A single scene can either be funny or uncomfortable depending on how the reader is thinking. Amber represents an unusual sort of protagonist in that in almost any other story, she’d probably be a villain. There are some subtle hints that she had an eye for killing at an early age and war provided her a theatre to practice in. I don’t feel comfortable with Amber as the character to identify with, but I’m fully invested in where her story goes from here.

As much story as there is, there’s not a lot of dialogue and zero narration, and that’s possible only by Skroce’s art style. It’s very realistically proportioned and renders everything on the page: every leaf, every machine part, all of it. The bombs and drones the good ole’ US of A deploys are nightmarish versions of what appears on the news regularly today, just more advanced and automated. The size and shapes these weapons assume look like something out of a robot circus designed to make children laugh… until they start attacking. It’s brutally beautiful.

We Stand on Guard is my all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet of the week – decadent, intimidating, and I don’t want it to end.

Onyx 1 (Ryall/ Rodriguez): So many of the breakaway hit stories employ the same tropes to excite the audience. The hero’s supposed to be a lone operator, and that loneliness often comes from having survived something few others lived through. Their enemy has to be something much bigger than they are, possibly world-breaking. Others can appear to help, but they cannot bond in any significant way. If you want a fresh example, look no further than Onyx. [7/10]
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The Silver Sur- I mean Superm- I mean ONYX violently arrives on future Earth from the planet Pelimosa, recently deceased thanks to extraterrestrial spores that’ve also recently landed on future Earth. A multicultural platoon of military investigators is sent to track the recent crash landings and quickly threaten, then team up with her. They don’t trust her, but then again they don’t trust one of their own, a psychic that goes by “Loner”. While a truce is called to deal with a threat everyone recognizes, the platoon leaders are more afraid of something they left behind at their base, something they cannot allow an alien (even a nice one) to find.

There are a lot of cliches to sift through in this story. There’s the alien scientist that just happens to have technology/ powers that makes them an amazing combatant, the government conspiracy that’s as big a threat as the space spores known to eat planets, and the pained and isolated person that sees her superhuman abilities as a curse. Throw in an environmental message subtext (which they did) and someone out there just won a sci-fi Bingo game. As much as I gripe about this, I have to admit that nothing is used wrong. It works together well enough, but there’s just so much that comes so fast it’s a bit too much to absorb.

The visuals Rodriguez brings to the project have an edge that works well for the tone of the story, but like the story nothing stands out as especially unique. Everything and everyone falls into the standard poses and darker color scheme with the exception of Onyx, who against what the name would imply lights up the page like a spotlight. There’s a good amount of facial range to give the cast expressions and defining characteristics, but nothing to really fall in love over.

Onyx is my store bought mac-n-cheese of the week – it’s familiar, it’s nothing too special, but if it’s what you like then nothing else will do.

Barb Wire 1 (Warner/ Olliffe): This property didn’t take much time as a comic before it was made into a movie back in the 90’s, but if you haven’t already done so, forget about it. For one thing, it was crap. For another thing, this first issue of a brand new series does a fine job of giving the reader everything they need to know to jump in and get started. As titillating as the Adam Hughes covers may be, don’t open this expecting a sexploitation fest. [8/10]
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In Steel Harbor USA, gangs run by superpowered bad guys with rap sheets vie for domination. Those rap sheets come with bounties, and there are few more skilled or motivated than Barb Wire (real name not given) to bring them in and cash some checks. TV loves her, her extra muscle loves to watch her work, and she hates them all. She puts up with them to keep her nightclub, the neutral territory Hammerhead, up and afloat. Keeping it neutral is itself a full-time job, and a hazardous one when a suped-up drunk calling himself Wyvern Stormblud wants to pick a fight with two gangbosses.

The reader may notice there are two different Barbs: the hard-as-nails pro ass kicker, and the entrepreneur that just wants a decent place where people can relax. The bounty hunting is fun, but it’s a (mostly) easy hobby that provides extra income. She WANTS to be good at running her club. That’s where the challenge is and she pushes herself to meet that challenge. It’s a kind of duality that’s almost a superhero secret identity, but grounded enough that readers will identify with it. I’m curious to see where the story goes.

I won’t spend too much time on the overall art, just to say that it’s action-comic realistic. Human proportions are present on most of the figures, scenery, etc., with exception to when more significant and exaggerated players are involved.

Readers will hopefully be surprised by how attractively sensible Barb looks. When she’s on the beat laying beatdowns, she’s not in leather haltertops and four-inch pumps, she’s in a tac-vest with jeans and thick work boots. Her club attire, while it certainly suggests all the curves readers have come to expect in femme fatales, actually doesn’t show any skin. It’s sexy without being sexist. Thinking about it another way, if the women of comic books are so attractive they can look good in anything, why not dress them in things that don’t automatically show off the assets? I hope this starts a trend.

Barb Wire is my artisanal plate of fries of the week – you don’t expect much, but find they used a classy recipe that results in something surprisingly tasty.

The Spire 1 (Spurrier/ Stokley): Our last comic this week resembles an odd blend of the Tower of Babel and Farscape. Part steampunk, part fantasy, part murder mystery, this single title is trying to do it all. Perhaps the least believable part of it all is that it works really well. [9/10]
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Shå is captain of the City Watch in the Spire, a megacity that built up more than out. A tough-as-nails Medusan (a subset of the nonhuman species collectively called the Sculpted), Shå doesn’t have snakes for hair, but she does have black eyes and prehensile tendrils coming out of her back that’re handy in a crisis and when comforting her secret girlfriend. She’s got the murder of a royal governess to solve and a soon-to-be baroness to impress if she wants to keep her job and the Spire falling back into anti-Sculpted sentiment. And despite everything she says, she’s also got a past that very much wants to catch up with her.

The book opens up in the middle of the action, immediately getting the reader’s attention. Spurrier is very good at placing information and details in just the right place to allow the reader to keep up without slowing down. Even when a scene isn’t action-packed, something happens to reveal something about the city or the politics or Shå as a character. It’s incredibly efficient storytelling without feeling jammed up and I got into it right away. If anything, the story goes out of its way to give the reader too much to respect about Shå: she’s very smart, very sassy, very confident, and very tough. It’s hard to believe there will be something that can pose a challenge later.

The look of this book is the most playful of anything I’ve reviewed this week, but even then it doesn’t look cartoony. Stokley goes more for illustration-style as one might find in a classic Brothers Grimm tome, though without all the meticulous detail. The scenery is what the White City of Gondor would look like if it were designed with a noir mentality, with everything from lofty castles to skulky alleyways. The characters range from plain children dressed in rags to layered leather armor to impeccable filagree royal robes, and everything looks right in its place.

The Spire is my premium grab bag of the week – you’re not too sure what it is just from the packaging, but you open it up and find you got a bit of everything.

Whether it’s a great comic book, a series of fiery explosions, or the sizzling prep of food on a grill, we at Comic Carnival hope your 4th of July is a feast for your eyeballs. Don’t burn anything off, and see you next week!

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

Variant Coverage Review Blog by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival

Variant Coverage Review Blog by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival

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