Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
Is it New Comic Book Day again? It’s New Comic Book Day again. Let’s look at new comic books!
•X-O Manowar 1 (Kindt/ Giorello): “Alright, we’re restarting this title with a new number 1. We need a cover that’s bold, different from any other X-O cover we’ve ever seen, different from any other cover on the shelf right now. What can you do for us?”
LaRosa: “I have an homage to every fantasy story cover ever, but if you’re looking for different I can-*”
“No, that’s perfect!”
•Black Panther 12 (Coates/ Stelfreeze): Alright, you two glare at each other all you want, but I’m going to pick up that legendary drop back there.
•Anno Dracula 1 of 5 (Newman/ McCaffrey): On the one hand, I want to nitpick about how implausible this would be because in Stoker’s novel, Dracula couldn’t handle bodies of water. It wasn’t explained why exactly, but something as simple as walking up a gangplank had to be timed just right, and being on a boat itself was at best a loophole he exploited. However, I cannot deny that “Dracula vs. Giant Squid” sounds sweeter than frosted chocolate, and if it’s not on the short list for upcoming kaiju movies then the world has failed me. [8/10]
Vlad Tepes – son of Vlad the Dragon, a.k.a. the Impaler, the Violent Voivode, Draaaaaa-Culaaaa! – won. Against the machinations of Dr. van Helsing and his party, the monster set foot on London soil, infiltrated the royal family, and installed himself as ruler. With his ascendency, all manner of vampires came out of hiding, and now after a solid decade of undead leadership, answering the call of the Night is new black. That’s not to say he’s popular, in fact vast armies continue to pound against his borders only to suffer humiliating defeat. Meanwhile, a cabal of vampires – those masters of deceit – are holding clandestine meetings in order to overthrow the master vampire himself. What could go wrong?
Anno Dracula does what spinoffs and alternate histories should do: it accommodates new and old readers. Anyone familiar with the lore will find plenty of nods to the source material, supplying them with everything they need to know about how this differentiates from the original novel’s ending. For new readers, brand new characters take the spotlight throughout the issue, which puts all readers on equal footing ultimately. These characters engage quickly and talk a lot, but when they act it’s efficiently brutal.
McCaffrey’s art style brings enough life to the narrative, even if the style doesn’t exactly fit with the times portrayed. The settings and vehicles evoke strong nostalgia for the Victorian era of design and fashion, all of which receive love even if they don’t have a role to play in the story. The clothing and personal accessories feature straight from a stage designer’s sketchbook, meaning there’s a lot of color and appealing detail, at the sacrifice of exact historical accuracy (which no one should expect because hello, alternate vampire history). If anything, it’s the character and facial designs that unsettle me. Little consistency finds its way onto the page for undead characters – the women maintain their human features only to bare the respectable fang when threatened, while men juggle between normal and desiccated. Telling alive from undead gets to be a pain in the neck. (CC Note: We will stuff your head with garlic and bury you upside down for that one!)
Anno Dracula reads like a wake for a clown – despite all the care put into it, there’s something a little funny about it.
And what mention of vampires would be complete without…
•Judge Dredd Cry of the Werewolf (Wagner & Grant/ Dillon): That’s all well and good, 2000 AD, but we’ve already got an officer of the law with lycanthropy. He’s called Wolf Cop, and he’s spirit animal to us all.
But seriously, a chance to appreciate Steve Dillon madcap shenanigans should never be passed up. And John McCrea’s Deviations picks up from this directly and is also wonderful.
•Powerless 1 (Booher/ Gooden & Spicer): “So the stylist heard your pleas but wouldn’t stop adding highlights to your hair?”
“That’s right, I was powerless against the scheming of the Bad Beautician!”
(CC Note: Stan Lee might be proud, but we’re not.)
•Michael Recycle 1 (Wharton/ Zahler): Finally, that penetrating expose on the rampant upswing of reboots the industry has been plagued with lately.
•Dragonfly & the Global Guardians 1 (Devarajan & Marz/ Vale): A superhero team made of children? Outrageous! (CC Note: You know it’s not.) But these are children making off as if to do battle, that’s not right! (CC Note: You know it happens all the time.) They’re putting themselves in danger! All any seasoned villain would have to do is lure them into a place without wi-fi and they’d be doomed. (CC Note: I bet that’s not true.) (Pay up.)
•Iron Fist 1 (Brisson/ Perkins): Anyone else think the reason he looks so angry is that he’s just had it with people throwing shade at him for fighting bare-handed? “Well look who brought nothing to a sword fight!” “Well look who brought fists to a gun fight!” “Well look who brought chi to a plasma cannon fight!” Everyone thinks they’re clever but Danny Rand must’ve heard them all. [8/10]
The current wielder of the Immortal Iron Fist’s getting desperate. The mystical city of K’un-Lun, as well as its patron dragon Shou-Lau, are gone, and with them the source of Iron Fist’s limitless chi. Without it, Danny Rand cannot punch or kick with the force of burning metal. He cannot be a superhero, and he’s already failed to protect the city that gave him everything when he had nothing, which leaves him at rock bottom. He pays to fight scores of brutes hoping to feel the rush of battle, and then gets drunk when that fails. This destructive pattern leads him to the darkest corner of the forgotten underbelly of the world where someone offers him a chance to actually do something with himself. What else does he have to do today?
Just like the classic starting point is the beginning, the best place to begin building something up is at the lowest point. There’s no definitive backstory that I can find to verify when Rand first felt separated from his mystical city, instead there are references to a recent story where it was destroyed and the dragon was threatened. So continuity-wise, there are problems, however the tone sings in harmony with what’s come before. A man stuck between lineages, struggling to determine where his true power comes from, undecided about whether he’s interested in the legacy he leaves behind. This book is already striking chords that the Netflix series missed.
The art style more closely resembles Bryan Hitch’s than anything. Meticulous anatomy and postures provide the driving force, set against grimy settings if backgrounds are remembered at all. While it’s not immediately noticeable, the coloring actually takes on more than its fair share of the visual load. The coloring balances light and shading, fills in the gaps left by the otherwise flat panel contents, and brings much-needed life to a story about a man whose spark is dying.
Iron Fist reads like the difference between a cooking show and a meal – the magic box may give you a sense of structure, but holding it in your hand is when you really begin to get it.
•Action Comics 976 (Jurgens/ Mahnke & Mendoza): No, stop that. No, we’re not doing this again, just stop. We tried blue and red Supermen and do you know what happened? The 90s. Is that what you want? Do you want the 90s again, because this is how you get 90s!
•Rebels These Free and Independent States 1 (Wood/ Mutti): “Now the almanac printed that today was gonna flood this here field, but I heard that you can’t trust what they print in there so I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
•Invisible Hands 1 (Tamasfi/ Malatini): They’re right there! Come on!
•Ghostbusters 101 1 (Burnham/ Schoening): The idea of Holtzmann and Spengler collaborating with Dr. Emmett Brown horrifies me. It should horrify physicists, engineers, model hobbyists, fire fighters, city planners, really all of humanity. And I would unironically watch a Peter Jackson-length trilogy of them cracking the laws of the universe like walnut shells. Can we get SNL on this?
•Helena Crash 1 (Rangel/ Johnson-Cadwell): Helena doesn’t live as comfortably as her sister Elizabeth Just-the-Occasional-Fender-Bender, but holds eternal rights to say “I told you so” over her brother Michael Crash-Into-a-Tanker-Truck-and-End-Up-on-the-News. [9/10]
In the not-too-distant future, the elite drug of choice isn’t a form of opium or selective memories, it’s coffee. Climate change’s shrunken viable growing environments of coffee beans to a small fraction of what they were, and against the need of such land for more necessary crops, coffee is illegal. There are just a few people with the know-how and means to keep growing them, a different few with the desire and funds to pay for them, and around here, only one woman willing to work between them: Helena Crash. An orphan that gave herself her last name, Helena’s never had to life under anyone else’s rules but her own, and she won’t live by anyone’s now. That doesn’t mean people don’t try.
I did not expect this. When all you know is that the story’s about a coffee smuggler that drives and shoots, expectations are allowed to be low. Instead I found a story about triumph from tragedy, cool self-determination winning over hot-blooded fury, and a very real possibility too few take seriously. As a society we may be able to write off extreme storms or polar melting as flukes, but as soon as our more vulnerable food stuffs become unavailable, the party of blissful ignorance will end, and few crops are more vulnerable than America’s drug of choice. Add on a centered, capable, and relatable main character to follow around, and an engaging story just sort of happens.
I’m going to need two soap boxes to talk about the art. Illustration can define what something is more accurately than anything in real life. Every cross section image you’ve ever seen, that taught you how engines work and what’s in the human arm and so many other things, is essentially a drawing or sculpture. Illustration can also show you what something is without any accuracy at all. This looks at first like a series of child sketches about a badass lady fighting werewolves and wrestlers, and if that’s all the reader wants it to be, that’s that. If you’ve contemplated the Treachery of Images, though, it can be so much more, and unlike a drawing style that hinges on accuracy, this one provides an option for ridiculousness. It allows for an otherwise harrowing tale to be fun, and wouldn’t that be a great choice to all of the situations we deal with?
Helena Crash reads like being pushed off a tall building into a pit filled with balloons – traumatic if you think about it, but otherwise an enjoyable thrill.
No, wait, I don’t use a microphone.
Close enough. See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues