Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
I’ve been paying more attention to the role popular culture plays as a commentary for the country’s political climate. As any other form of art, it’s highly subjective, but I’m noticing stronger trends that touch on very similar messages. This week’s especially expressive, so I’m changing the format a bit to elaborate. I’m certain that fascinates you, but please read on. At the very least, this should be interesting.
Savage Things 1 (Jordan/ Moustafa): John Paul Leon illustrates my point. When the minority grabs the biggest stick and calls that justification to bring down the majority, any sense of compassion or compromise either jumped out the window or counted among the first casualties. If we don’t try to overcome our instincts, we’re going to end up everyone else’s enemy. The criminal country, planetary pariahs….
Cosmic Scoundrels (Suriano & Chapman): When surrounded on all sides by people with genuine, grade-A beef against us, it’s going to take more than colorful battle threads and full heads of hair to get us out of a jam. We should focus on lifting our global image into something less aggressive/ defensive.
America 1 (Rivera/ Quinones): Here’s a slightly more positive image of how the wider world could see America. She’s self-confident, doesn’t care about ranks or titles, and will punch you in the face while smiling if you look at her friends funny. We could easily do worse. [7/10]
America Chavez can punch star-shaped holes in reality, and her ass-kicking abilities improve from there. Though only recently a legal adult, she’s already served with a number of Avengers teams and currently leads the Ultimates, which include powerful veterans. People follow America because she gets stuff done, but she’s lately she’s felt burnt out. She wants to relax, educate herself, and spend alone time with her girlfriend Lisa… who’s just decided she can’t be part of America’s new life. Whatever, America’s got friends everywhere.
To anyone else, America’s got everything. Game-breaking superpowers, stunning looks, charisma, just everything. But beneath the surface, America’s got problems. She loves passionately, but at the first sign of betrayal she gets defensive and runs. As much as she wants to think otherwise, she’s uncomfortable unless she’s the center of attention. Take those superpowers out of the equation and America barely keeps from falling apart. She’s impulsive and lucky and keeps things moving too fast to realize she doesn’t have a real enemy to defeat except herself. There might be a great America story, but this isn’t it.
Quinones’s artwork manages to make everything look pretty but not ridiculous. Figures are striking but follow human proportions well. Faces express emotions AND look different from each other, adding levels of characters. Structural and environmental designs indicate that things have purpose, yet don’t reach for excessive flash or decoration. All these different elements come together to give America a down-to-Earth aesthetic, which ultimately looks good.
America’s message to the populus: I’m here, I’m not perfect, get used to it.
Crime Destroyer 1 (Trimpe/ Bayer): Yeah, even with the playfulness, this slice of Americana does not service our PR problem. “Someone causing you grief? Just put on a flag, find some like-minded neighbors, and kick their face off.” When the rest of the world stops exporting footwear to the US, that’s a sign that they can’t stand our foot-based violence anymore. But I’m getting way ahead of myself, surely there isn’t THAT much iconography of kick-happy Americans, right?
Amerikarate 1 (McKinney & Kalman/ Roth): DAMMIT! What’s worse, the presentation of our country as a homunculus made from 80’s action movie tropes, or the other collection of mixed images toward the bottom that looks like a ‘roided evil magician. Just once I’d like to see a story involving a learned sorcerer who also enjoys taking care of their body and oh by the way isn’t an evil overlord.
Sorry, I got off topic there. Any other American Pride images?
Smoketown 1 (Johnson/ Van Domelen): Aloof population that just leaves their cars anywhere with the door wide open? I want to say we’re too paranoid to do that, but every year I find at least three new incidents where someone leaves their car running to warm up, they turn their back for just half an hour and POOF! So clearly that happens. Can we at least class the name up a bit?
Royal City 1 (Jeff Lemire): Is that kid tipsy? Is that what those bubbles around his head represent? Now that I think about it, that might not be much better than the potential air pollution. But that’s hardly a problem unique to America. Plenty of other places are dealing with that, let’s see something closer to home.
Animal Noir 1 (Lucanek/ Juren): The cinematography I’ll give you, but I’m pretty sure none of the species here are native to the USA. That could be story-crucial, though. But maybe they or their ancestors immigrated and found themselves on very different paths once upon America’s shores. It’s hard to tell just from a single image. We can work with that, though, because people come to the US with dreams of becoming something else all the time. There are so many futures available, that’s perhaps the most magical thing about this country. We’ve got to see more of that! What’s one of those future’s look like?
Brave Chef Brianna 1 (Sykes/ Espiritu): NOOOOooooooooooooo! Bridget Underwood, why would you create such a horrifying prediction?!? This cannot be the most people looking for a better tomorrow can hope for, can it? The idea’s sickening!
Cinema Purgatorio 8 (Various): You thought-vomited it, Ghost of Cartoons Past! We need to call it like it is! There’s a lot to be said for finding the silver lining in a situation, but it’s not healthy to pretend a situation isn’t horrible when it clearly, objectively contains horror. It’s a rare voice that can name those horrors AND give us the strength to fight them off, and it’s our responsibility to raise those voices high. Let’s give them all a great big hand!
Extremity 1 (Daniel Warren Johnson): OOOOOOooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I may just have to take some of the responsibility for that one. Practically sent an engraved invitation for that kind of response. [8/10]
Once admired for her art and culture, Thea was driven to fight when an invading army cut her drawing hand off. She replaced it with a claw that could unfold into a sword and dedicated herself to fighting. It was about the only way she could satisfy her father, who dedicated his life to revenge. Thea, her father (the leader or Abba of the Roto nation), and Thea’s brother Rollo lead their people on an assault of the Paznina, a people that style themselves with a knight’s armor and a Roman emperor’s hubris. Oh, and everything takes place on floating islands.
The narrative reads one-sided from the very beginning, and the snippets we do find of how the other half lives assure the reader that that’s okay. The Roto seem like a gentle culture minding their own business until they’re brought low and left with nothing but dreams of revenge. This creates a number of problems going in. One’s that the entire assault hinges on Thea’s successful infiltration when she’s perhaps the most handicapped. Part of her wants to despair, another wants to build back what she lost, but the dominant part wants to see the bastards pay. Another issue is Rollo’s basic and natural compassion, which drives him to learn and act as best he can for the benefit of his people, but prevents him from attacking with his full ability. The emotional tension doesn’t come from whether or not they overcome those problems, but if they really want to.
The designs should catch the eye before it even knows what it’s looking at. Interiors, simple clothing, all the basics strike the reader as grounded and essential, but little else. This helps when something new comes into play, such as ramming airships or hoverbikes or splash-page fight scenes. When those come around, they pop out. What holds everything together visually is the inking and linework, which tends to overwhelm the details as much as define them.
The message Extremity delivers: Compassion can’t thrive when Rage gets all the food.
I’m ready to abandon this thread. Show me something happy?
Rat Queens 1 (Wiebe/ Gieni): The original writer re-launching a breakout title with a new artist AND a cover by Colleen Doran?!? YES! This is the stuff! A bunch of friends kicking butt and taking names! We have any other titles featuring old school camaraderie?
Once and Future Queen 1 (Knave & Kirkbride/ Brokenshire): Okay, very nice. Modern characters, classic weapons. Neat little touch putting them on a chessboard, classy. Wait, in the background on the left, is that Space Merlin? That is awesome! And next to him is…
is that an undead Statue of Liberty? Over the black-jacket woman’s left shoulder? Huh. Well, at least we’re back to the American theme.
Yep. We have come full circle.
Maybe I should just take a break. See you in two weeks!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues