Variant Coverage – January 4, 2017

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

It’s 2017. You awake? New comics came out, so you might want to be. Let me get you caught up…

The Tick Complete Edlund HC (Ben Edlund): Some books just demand to be placed on a shelf facing forward. This book doesn’t want to come across as threatening or anything, but it will cry if you shelve it spine-forward. It will sob into the next book over, staining its words with the soggy woes of injustice, and late at night you will even hear it weep “SPOOOO-uhnuhn-uhn-OOON!” (CC Note: This is a reprint, a new edition, not new material. I know, we were a bit disappointed too.)

Fall and Rise of Captain Atom 1 of 6 (Bates & Weisman/ Conrad): Could Captain Atom become a zombie? If Jason Badower’s cover can be cited as a canonical source, I don’t think so. There’s the candy quantum shell that makes up his Greco-Roman sculpture form, then some bones, and presumably the rest is all hippy starchild energy trained to fight for the military industrial complex. There’s no meat for a zombie to bite, and thus none to get infected. My AU zombie apocalypse plan just got a lot more OP. [6/10]
Cpt. Nathaniel Adam of the US Air Force never embraced the concept of stability. He followed most orders exceptionally well, but whenever he saw people in danger and unable to help themselves, he’d drop everything to assist them. Sounds great for the papers, lousy on a service record. Such a person with the power of a fission reactor sounds like an amazing superhero, but he can’t go ten minutes without dealing with another instability in his powers, such as the uncontrollable flare than nearly nuked a city because he ran a fever. Even in a safe space (a well-appointed control rod, pretty much), Atom comes down on himself for his inability to capably control his own power, and in a moment of depression lets it all go, blowing up the containment unit and himself. So while the military plans out how to spin his obituary, who’s that naked guy in the middle of a Kansas crater?

This is the first issue of a miniseries, and so there are very clear goals it must accomplish. It’s got to establish the character and their history, it has to set the scene and its place in the larger continuity, and it has to present a particular disruption to the status quo to push the story forward. The first two check out clearly, and in fact smother any chance for the third to happen. The story presents itself around Captain Atom’s inherent instability, something that’s constantly threatened his effectiveness as a soldier and a superhero. In the past, he’s dealt with this either by isolating himself or weaponizing bad moments against a target. That same story plays out here, including an apparent death with coincidental forgetting that he’s detonated several times before. There’s no status quo breakage because Captain Atom’s status quo is designed to break. No one clutches their heart in shock when they see a cap ripped off a stick of lip balm, instead they look desperately for something novel.

The art style exemplifies DC’s house format. Will Conrad can always be counted on to churn out pages of advanced labs, crisp uniforms, and power fantasies wrapped in rippling muscles. It’s reliable, proven effective, and boring. The consistency of the art plays against the theme of the narrative, and what’s worse is that it probably doesn’t mean to cause harm. Captain Atom – and ultimately everyone in this issue – wants to do the most right by the most people, and they appear to do that. This kind of well-meaning steadiness simply doesn’t play with the story’s theme of destructive randomness within overwhelming order.

Fall and Rise of Captain Atom reads like artisanal broccoli gruel – quality ingredients cannot save a recipe that’s doomed from inception.

Deadpool the Duck 1 (Moore/ Camagni): And then this happened: the Walk of Shame of comic book covers. This cover was pulled together from things left on the floor, had no chance to straighten itself up, and is just praying to get through its stint of circulation before anyone that knows it might call it out.

Nightwing 12 (Seeley/ To): No, NO! I don’t care how he’s dressed or what they say about his butt, a wereshark cannot just mount a superhero like this. Costumed vigilantism is not consent! How many times do we need to go through this?!?

JLA the Atom Rebirth 1 (Orlando/ MacDonald): I can’t.. I just, I mean look at him! He’s all wide-eyed and just happy to be here. He’s like a baby given its first doll, expressing pure joy at the tiny miracle directly in front of it. All I want to do is kneel down next to this guy – presented by Ivan Reis & Joe Prado – let him know how excited everyone is that he’s excited, and start explaining to him how screwed his life will be. I want to be the one to spoil how he’s taken on a legacy of isolation and disastrous romantic choices. I want to be there for the moment when his beatific gaze melts like a Nazi’s upon realizing that for every miracle there will – nay, must – be fifteen monstrous nightmares rushing to gorge on his dreams. But readers can’t interact with comics like that, so now what am I left with?? (CC Note: A padded cell??) [8/10]
Choi Lun Lun took the name “Ryan” as soon as he started his time at Ivy University to study science. The second thing he did was breath a gigantic sigh of relief having escaped his parents’ eternal hovering. Once he started doing his third thing, he never stopped, and that was impress Professor Ray Palmer. Ryan Choi demonstrated instant mastery of several fields of the sciences, but Palmer wanted to see something else. When he pushed Choi and he revealed what Palmer wanted to see, Palmer revealed to Choi the unimaginable: an apprenticeship with The Atom. Choi quickly became indispensable as a trouble-shooter, able to catch details and strategies from his perspective under Atom’s wing. But when Palmer goes missing for a week, Choi finds a message (along with a shrinking belt) telling him that it’s time to do some field work.

It’s been a while, so it’s no problem if anyone’s forgotten the naming system DC’s using these days. If the tile reads Rebirth [Hero], it means it’s a regular series set in the 52-Rebirth universe; if it reads [Hero] Rebirth, it means it’s a primer for an upcoming series (regular or mini). So there’s nothing in this book that needs to be new, it only needs to be produced in a way that sets up a storyline. This brand of misadventures of Ryan Choi and Ray Palmer first poked out of the covers with DC Rebirth One-Shot over six-months ago, followed by nothing. It’s good to get some follow-up finally, and even better that this issue doesn’t just set up an upcoming series but features its own narrative arc. That may prove a disability for what’s to come, because watching Choi evolve from a meek student into a challenge-seeking hero is like watching a preview with all the best material in it. 

Andy MacDonald’s art style fits with the theme of the story well. The story’s about a boy learning to be a man, and the illustrations take on a basic, elementary tone. Other characters flex powerful muscles or rock sporty facial hair, but Choi’s design reflects a figure that doesn’t care to stand out for fear of being discovered incapable of fitting in. It’s after he’s found solid ground to stand on that he starts standing tall, engaging with others, trying new things, all the essential characteristics a hero type needs to pull the look off. The panels don’t overwhelm with detail, yet supply more than enough for the reader to understand what’s happening and why.

JLA the Atom Rebirth reads like a third-act montage – it begins in a place of sadness and ends with all the possibilities of success.

King Cat 76 (John Porcellino): That, ehhh, that’s one meek kingdom you got there, cat. Is the sand box behind the school? Do I need a key to get in?

USAvengers 1 (Ewing/ Medina): I’m fine. (CC Note: No you’re not.) I’m fine, really. (CC Note: That vein on your forehead isn’t.) No, it’s just…. I don’t understand why anyone in Editorial or the comic universe would think it’s a good idea to bring back the Iron Patriot design when it was judged tasteless in the MCU and worn exclusively by unstable megalomaniacs in the books. (CC Note: Well, that’s a reasonable-) I also don’t understand why a Hulk would dual wield sub-machine guns or a Canadian would join up or why they’re not all riding cheeseburger rockets while eating steaks made out of bald eagles. And while we’re throwing around stereotypical USA set pieces, why isn’t that tank – which looks like a horribly mutated bull – jumping over a river while shooting mortars to the tune of “Dixie”? Huh?!? Cause why not!?!?! (CC Note: We didn’t think you were okay.)

Unstoppable Wasp 1 (Whitley/ Charretier): I know the only users that “need” sound cards in their computers are A/V specialists, sound producers, and the like, but I can’t practice that myself. A computer can’t process and generate visual data without some dedicated graphics card, and the ones integrated into the motherboard only run the most basic stuff. I can’t understand how the same can’t be true for audio data. I’m no “spend a year’s salary on speakers” crazy audiophile, but I’m working on it, and if it gets cute people in form-fitting outfits’ attention, that’s only more incentive. [10/10]

Nadia [middle and last names either redacted or never given] let herself loose upon the world from indentured servitude in Russia’s Red Room, the corrosive training system that develops human weapons like the Black Widow or, if the subject shows a proficiency, a mad scientist. Nadia’s found her father Hank Pym’s home, she’s found his friends, and she believes that’ll lead her to her own affirming place in the world. If she truly means to integrate into society at large, that means she’ll need full citizenship from another country (like, for instance, the USA), at least one mentor for guidance, and a friend or two to help process all these radical life changes. What sets her apart from so many of her super-science peers is that she’s fully aware of what she needs to fully realize her best self and then she finds it, whether it’s in a bakery, an immigration office, or the cockpit of a stolen giant robot piloted by a more classically-behaving mad scientist.

Perhaps the first thing readers will find about Hank Pym’s daughter is that while she may have inherited his capacity for analysis and invention, she has none of his isolationist or abusive tendencies. If anything, she set her madness dial to “manic” and threw the knob away so could never change it again. Everyone she meets is a potential friend, every experience a potential joy, every object a potential miracle. It’s unsettling watching so much positive energy in a world that’s mired in doubt and divisiveness, but it also immediately reveals the characters she interacts with: the decent allow themselves to be swept up by the flood of positivity, the mean try to fight or escape. Nadia’s self-appointed mission sounds too big to be possible, and her boisterous confidence may seem out of place in modern comics, but the honest truth is I want to see what this girl does next.

I originally wanted to give this a 9/10 because while it hits most things right, it didn’t include a troubling factor for the hero to cope with. Wasp run the risk of becoming a character too capable to write well. What overcame that quibble for me is the main cover, which does two things readers almost never get anymore. First, the cover artist is the same artist that draws the interiors. Comics are getting better about that, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. Second, and this is the thing that blows me away, is that what happens on the cover actually happens in the story. It’s integral to the plot. It’s important, and it’s interesting, and it’s on the freaking cover! It may be years before such a congruence happens again! Run, build a religion upon this event, go now! (Wait, my review’s not done, don’t go!)

I’ve gone over Elsa Charretier’s art style before on this blog, and neither the style or my opinion on it has changed much. It’s a marriage between Darwyn Cooke’s design and proportion with Mike Oeming’s emotion and energy, and it works very well. It’s usage with the story of a young woman discovering the world proves a wonderful match – Nadia’s face expresses fresh intensity all the time with a genuine quality that sells her tragic backstory. If Marvel wants this title to last, one of the best steps they can take would be to keep Charretier on it.

Unstoppable Wasp reads like a defining moment – difficult to explain and at the same time impossible to deny.

Calling it there, but don’t worry. There’s so much year to go yet. See you next week!

Looking for earlier 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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