Variant Coverage – February 15, 2017

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

You now have two types of things you need to buy this week: discount candy and comics. I can’t help you with the sugar rush, but listen close and I’ll tell you what’s good for your eye holes. (CC Note: Why you gotta make it weird?)

Batwoman Rebirth 1 (Bennett & Tynion IV/ Oliver): With this cover, I think Steve Epting expresses not only the essence of Batwoman’s style, but also emotional range she’s capable of with this one look. What’s her expression when she’s finally caught up with a villain that needs a good beating?

What about when her girlfriend lies to her about where she was last night?

Trying to find the bicycle in that Magic Eye puzzle?

Uncanny X-Men 18 (Bunn/ Salazar): This guy loved monologuing so much he even does it in the shower. “You thought you had power. You believed yourself unbeatable. Foolish hair clog, impeding the necessary draining of my bathtub, your defeat was inevitable. If it gives you comfort, know that your failure mirrors that of most, for none in this world can comprehend the power of Magneto(‘s dexterity with a plumber’s snake)!!!”

Forever War 1 (Haldeman/ Marvano): Edwin Starr on continuous loop? What the hey, there are worse premises. [7/10]

In an alternate history, the first human rockets never landed on Earth, but made it into outer space. Technology and the ambition for exploration started in the 1930s, and didn’t stop until human innovation developed FTL travel. Nations could not wait to hear from colonies, sports teams had new interstellar franchises ready to set up, that is until outposts and colony ships were destroyed. An alien race, which Earths called Taurans, found and wiped out any trace of human expeditions they came across. Military technology raced to come up with a counter, and trained the best and brightest to take the fight to the enemy. Almost a year of torturous training, the first platoon of space marines takes on their first deployment.

The reader will notice the density of the narration right away. No panel escapes the need for at least a complete sentence to establish content or intent. This slows the experience down, so you should find a comfy spot when you read this, because you’ll be there a while. What the reader won’t notice is Cadet William Mandella, who despite holding the main character’s spot says and does nothing special. Whatever great deeds or noble traits he’s meant to display eventually, in this issue his highest achievement is not dying. That’s actually pretty good, but from a narrative perspective it’s also boring. I haven’t read the novel that inspired this retelling, but I would hope for some sense of connection with the lead by this point.

The artwork uses a dry, dark 70s style to establish the atmosphere of the story. All the lines are hand-drawn, the coloring’s applied simply, and the page layout risks putting too many panels on one page to keep the panels from looking too complicated. Between the style of the art and the narration texts, the book comes across as a blend between Dark Knight Returns and 2000AD. These are not bad qualities to have by any means, however there’s nothing terribly new or interesting illustrated here.

Forever War reads like a master painter’s rendition of an airline’s safety procedures – a meticulous composition no one but a few need to see.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers 12 (Higgins & Orlando/ Prasetya & Howell): That’s the facial expression of a four-year-old finding out that the family’s adopting a puppy. Does an attitude-possessing teenager feel that way when they get a short sword that controls a giant robot monster? I don’t want to come off as whiny but I feel like my childhood missed a few moments if that’s the case.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters (Emil Harris): Hi, Emil. My favorite thing is exercising correct subject-verb agreement, you sadistic grammar monster! Yeah, I see the look on your face, you know what you are. What, are you about to pull out the old “I was cursed to ruin sentence structures on a full moon” excuse again? Well then good news, I’ve got a .38 caliber silver blessing!

Super Sons 1 (Tomasi/ Jimenez): I can’t help but feel like I’d be more excited about this concept if it wasn’t actually about their kids. Imagine the kind of story it could be if it focused on two neighborhood friends dressed up for a game or a party and instead found themselves swept up in the world of Batman and Superman. Compare that idea to what’s presented here: the story of two boys already spending their inheritance, and their misadventures as the most entitled children on Earth. Which would you rather read?

Wild Storm 1 (Ellis/ Davis-Hunt): That’s strange, the weatherman swore the plague of blood rain wouldn’t start until this evening. (CC Note: Dude.) Well it was either that or wonder if a pigeon recently ate a whole bag of red-hot Cheetos. (CC Note: DUDE!) [9/10]

It doesn’t matter what you do for a living – if it feels like a dream, it never feels like work, otherwise it’s just a job. Violent interrogator Lucy Blaze thinks of her work as a job, and takes pains to separate it from what personal life she has left. Recording artist Pris Kitaen’s living her dream, mostly by condemning everyone around her into feeling like they’re doing work. Strung-out research engineer Angela Spica used to think her job was the best, but now feels held back, and none of the people she’s talked to, even the CEO of the secret black ops organization she doesn’t know she works for, are interested in helping her. Angela vents steam by bursting an exoskeleton out of her skin and saving old technogarchs (well, just the one) from assassination attempts, but if no one wants to tell her about the black ops, she won’t tell anyone about her side project. No one realizes how close they are to crashing into each others’ worlds yet, but they will.

What strikes me as interesting about this issue is that it manages to effectively display the different tenses of “action” as they apply to a story. In the beginning we see clean-up around an investigation that got messy – action HAPPENED. In the middle, the reader witnesses an improvised rescue with experimental tech – action HAPPENING. The conclusion of the story revolves around what the power mongers plan to do in order to secure themselves – action WILL HAPPEN. It’s a lot to go through for a lesson in verb form, but it’s a clean lesson. The characters all demonstrate a lot of intensity for what they do, and if given the chance could prove to the reader that they’re worth knowing. This issue turned out to be Angela’s moment, and it was fun. Other characters will need their moments to make the series function, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more Angela moments either.

Davis-Hunt made a big splash with his work on Clean Room most recently, a series that allowed him to show off his detailed and meticulous approach to figure drawing, and his comfort with eviscerating said forms. There’s less gore here, just a little transhumanism here and some alien biotechnology there. Davis-Hunt finds a balance between too much detail and not enough to create images that look complicated but efficient, just busy enough for the reader to believe everything they see has a purpose. TL;DR version: It’s pretty.

Wild Storm reads like a video of a child’s pre-school tantrum gone viral – a sample of angst and emotion the existence of which borders on abuse, and you need to rewatch it just one more time.

Aquaman 17 (Abnett/ Eaton & Faucher): Everyone’s got talents they don’t have an excuse to use very often. During slow nights on the Watchtower, it became apparent that Aquaman possessed a keen knack for impressions of other heroes’ rogues galleries. Flash shot milk straight out of his nose at Arthur Curry’s Mirror Master. Superman slapped his knee so hard at seeing Aquaman’s Lex Luthor that glasses shattered. Joshua Middleton’s cover features Arthur’s Joker impression just before Batman broke his face on reflex.

Spirit Hunters 5 (Brusha/ Tedesco): Do horror monsters have their own genre of horror films? Do they jump out of their seats in fright watching office documentaries? Would Freddy Krueger get triggered any time someone watched Mythbusters? Perhaps Harvey Tolibao wondered something similar when he drew this image of who appears to be Sadoko from The Ring cringing at a crew from hotel maintenance. “Indoor plumbing?! NOOOOOO!!!!”

Cerebus in Hell (Sim & Atwal): Am I being trolled? Where to start. I could follow the thread of the main character’s hell looking like a theater of himself confronted with necrophilic male nudity, the only thing being it’s been a long time since I read the series but I think that was a plot point already. Another lead I could chase would be the side balloons teasing such prospects as “Sex & the City Fandom” and “Frank Sinatra”, which seem to speak more about the artist than the art on this anniversary issue. Or I could just scream for a while about how (spelling tweaks allowed) Cerebus has been in hell for over two millennia, not four decades. I mean, come on!

Doctor Strange 1.MU (Zdarksy/ Lopes): Wong would love nothing more than to just pay a local urchin $5 to have the walkway shoveled, but like all other household chores, there’s too much risk at the Sanctum Sanctorum. A parent may accept their kid coming back from the cold with sore arms and less money than they’d like, but they get noisy when their baby comes home with an odd number of limbs and sneezing in eldritch Sumerian. [8/10]

As alien monsters continue to rain down onto the Earth, Earth’s resident monsters find themselves fighting alongside their formal rivals. Doctor Stephen Strange had never encountered the outcast giant conqueror known as Goom before, but made quick enemies with the monster’s son Googam after committing the unforgivable sin of kill-stealing. Lacking internet skills to troll Strange as etiquette suggests, Googam instead tracks Strange to his home so he can settle the score face-to-face, only there’s a twist: Strange didn’t take out Googam’s target, he just moved it, and could really use an assist in finishing the thing off. Truce declared, the two make for the frozen tundra of the Canadian wilderness to settle once and for all who dies and by whose hand!

Maintaining a story continuity for a character that comes with its own backstory is a full-time job. Crossovers have their own library of problems, but add the two together and tack on the requirement that no significant changes can be made to anyone, and you have the recipe for a spin-off story. It’s usually a mess, few creators pretend otherwise, but in this case the formula works oddly well. The story focuses on the regular suffering of Doctor Strange attempting to reestablish magic as a viable power after it was nearly erased from the world. The story uses the events and characters in the crossover to explain all of this from a fresh perspective. Everyone involved maintains their character and mission, and nothing appears implausible (in context). This book simply does its job, but considering that job is practically impossible, the book accomplishes more than it would seem.

The art matches the quiet success of the narrative, mostly. The linework makes no special effort to render different characters with individual techniques, allowing figures of various types to fit together in an image. This doesn’t sound like much until you see a giant insect creature with fifty eyes, a twelve-foot alien clay chld, and a full-grown man with odd fashion sense and more than a little gray in his hair all trying to beat each other up. When the reader’s able to stop a moment and take in the full page, they’ll see how fundamentally surreal this kind of project is. Odder still? The method works.

Doctor Strange MU reads like the quiet person that works in your office and goes all-out on gifts or gags – it doesn’t matter whether you think they’re likeable or disturbing, they get the work done so they’re here to stay.

Enjoy your binge-induced comas, everyone! 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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