Variant Coverage – April 12, 2017

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

What is it about pets or children that bring out the best in us? They’re utterly dependent on us, can be a financial burden, and yet the act of enriching a smaller creature’s life somehow makes living worth more. Maybe, by seeing to the essentials of survival for something else, it gives one a sense of perspective they wouldn’t otherwise have. Or maybe they just like knowing they’re not the lowest on the totem pole, I’m not going to presume.

Whatever your personal philosophy, there’s something on the shelf this week that’ll speak to your sensibilities about who actually needs who in the world. I’d recommend picking up more than one and expanding some horizons.

Solar Flare 1 (Haick III/ Jovanovic): Calm down, just calm down. That’s not a solar flare in the background, it’s obviously an aurora phenomenon, people learn that in elementary school, if it were a solar flame it wouldn’t be green and also everyone and everything would be on fire, but none of that matters, none of that affects your ability to breathe, you can put all that aside, it’s not bugging you it’s not bugging it’s not bugging youit’snotbuggingyou…

Spencer & Locke 1 of 4 (Pepose/ Santiago, Jr.): I hope that’s not an ironic eyepatch or prosthetic the huge cat man is wearing, because I found the other people in Coraline unsettling enough and I don’t need to think about the Others’ furry population. [8/10]

Even flowers can bloom on the mean street, but one of them died last night. A school teacher named Sophie met up with a bad fate in a dark alley, and the investigator’s her childhood sweetheart, Detective Locke. Locke figures this neighborhood, a place he fought desperately to escape and has only gotten worse, holds enough dirty money and shady enterprises that it’s not a matter of finding who could’ve done it, but narrowing down who in particular had the motive and opportunity. It’s a good thing Locke’s got Spencer, the best partner a decent cop could ask for: a six-foot-seven hulk with one good eye, a nose for evidence, and is a complete fabrication of Locke’s mind.

I’m not going to dance around it: this is Calvin & Hobbes meets Columbo. The whole book’s rather shameless about it, but it’s also plain that this is more homage than abuse of narrow copyright laws. Anyone that’s read the likes of Weapon: Brown will get the concept straight away. The abuses inflicted by and inflicted on little boy Locke turned him into a man hunting for balance, someone in a position to make sense of the world when it gets the rug pulled from under it. The side characters all have roots from the daily comic strip, but in this version carry history’s and baggage that could never have seen syndication. Altogether it’s a garish blend, like Mr. Rogers reading the script of Pulp Fiction, but that may be a selling point depending on what you’re up for.

The art style jumps between a noirish suburban aesthetic for scenes in the present and the hyper-cartoonish style Watterson used for his strip for Locke’s childhood memories. The detective moments lack the depth of shadow or the raw harshness in the linework to truly pull off the edgy look it wants, and the flashbacks have none of the refinement of sharp details that gave Calvin & Hobbes its range of expression. These are two vastly different styles, bear in mind, and it’s the rare talent that can accomplish both. Santiago Jr. proves to be good at one artistic style and maybe passing at the other.

Spencer & Locke reads like a s’more smoothie – the messy but sweet result of delightfully pure ingredients sent through a blender.

Z Nation 1 (Engler, Van Lente/ Menna): They’re a niche political party, but they’re showing steady growth and have a simple, catchy message.

Bull Whip 1 (Bayer & Marra/ Milgrom & Marra): Honestly, I am so excited about the idea of a grown-up Vault Boy crossing over with a giant Dracula and Bruno from Dark Knight Returns on a Broadway stage that I almost didn’t notice that the main character is the love-child of Dazzler and Indiana Jones.

American Mythology Dark 2 (Dobson/ Frank): Stop reading from my second-grade fantasy notebook!!

Rose 1 (Finch/ Guara): I want to see a warrior and their giant magical beast argue over which one’s that actual hero. They’d debate about the importance of size, which one gets ridden across vast distances, number of weapons and where higher quantity should be counted as a boon or a hindrance, parentage, training. Of course the question could only be answered one way: the one that can be rendered to a cooing puddle by scratching them in the right place is the companion, the one doing the scratching is the hero. [7/10]

Once the world thrived in bounty and beauty thanks to the protections that guardians and their magically bonded companions gave to the land and its people. But along the way their numbers dwindled, their power weakened, and a fierce enemy took full advantage. Now magic is outlawed, whole villages are torched with their citizens inside for little more than a rumor that a potential guardian might be living there. A young woman named Rose’s manage to make it to… I don’t know, 16?… thanks to her mother’s strong discipline and talent at charm-making, but that was only ever going to get her so far, and the despot in charge must keep her cruelty sharp somehow.

Anyone in the mood for a simple, stripped-down fairy tale will find refuge in Rose. Idyllic-turned-blighted setting, decent folk just trying to live their lives, manic sadists who practice evil like a guitarist practices stringing, elaborate armor, ragtag rebels, magical jewelry – if it’s a trope from European fantasy stories, it’s in here. Rose never quite crosses the threshold from aimless teenager to burgeoning hero, preferring to find something wrong with every situation and agonize over it (sometimes with good reason), but if she doesn’t empower herself soon this series will never find the energy to move. Each page’s focus and dialog contain themselves to their own page, which may have been to give the narrative a sense of neatness but instead prevents a sense of flow from developing.

The artwork provides the lion’s share of the reason to open this up. The character builds, the setting and costume designs, the emotional range, and the illusion of motion all harmonize well to create images that cover the reader with an air of adoration for the kind of story being told. Color is used carefully with regards to the tone of the panel it’s used on. Scenes of better times and sunny days pop with vibrancy, while hopeless moments wallow in overcast hues. No effort goes to waste in lifting the story it illustrates higher than it should have any right to be.

Rose reads like a high school freshman with a fake ID – the way they hold themselves betrays immaturity, but the paperwork checks out.

Deadpool vs. Punisher 1 (Van Lente/ Perez): I can’t see this without thinking that they’re just next to each other at a shooting range pouring money into range time and ammo to settle who’s the better shot. The entire preface could be a series of improbable hijinks leading them to the same range at the same time. NO! They accidentally swap vans and spend the series trying to reconnect and swap back. I have set my expectations for this impossibly high and I regret that.

Little Guardians 1 (Cho/ Cherolis): Is it just me, or are some of those guardians not so little?

Black Panther and the Crew 1 (Coates/ Guice): Now I’m not a fancy, big-city comic editor, but if I’m commissioning a cover for a new series, I’d want the focus to be on the key character or characters. With this cover, I’d expect the title to read “Misty Knight and Her Bunch of Jealous Wannabes”, and I would immediately subscribe for a year. Missed chance, Marvel.

Godshaper 1 (Spurrier/ Goonface): Early childhood for this kid couldn’t have been easy for any gods in easy reach. Being a cosmic entity of infinite purpose redesigned into a triangle by a mortal that insists on the name “kitty” has to be humiliating. [8/10]

It’s not enough to say this world’s like our own but different. Let’s cover just some of those differences.
-A century ago the laws of physics packed their bags and left in the middle of the night, no note, no forwarding address. Any and all tricks humanity had developed to make the world easier to live in (combustion, elasticity, chemical equations) just stopped working.
-Fashion stopped around the same time. Suspenders, vests, and bonnets are almost everywhere.
-Almost everyone has their own personal god. Gods can manage all the things that physics used to, just not all at once, and not for free.
-Prayer is the universal currency. Sufficient faith allows a god to grow and expand their abilities. People may pray to another person’s god to get things that only that (available) god can supply.
-Like a rare mutation, certain people are born without a god. Such people are called “Shapers”, or “ungodlies” by the rude. They’re prayers are useless, they cannot produce anything, but they CAN change a god in any way they want. If someone wants their god to look different or wield different abilities, they can only do it with a Shaper’s help.
-The latest musical craze is Cantik, which is music produced without any divine intervention.

Industrial dump trucks were used to pack so much world-building into a single ISSUE. We’re just one book in and already there’s what I described above and plenty more. Anyone in need of a gentle, easy read should look somewhere else. Anyone hungry for a story with meat on its bones should pull up a chair and get ready to feast. Ennay – the story’s protagonist/ overworked Shaper – finds himself torn between a number of personas that don’t work together but, managed competently, allow him to eat. He’s juggling more stuff than the reader, but observing his struggle helps let the audience know that any turbulence they feel isn’t only justified, it’s also shared.

Complicated and demanding as the story is, the art doesn’t shy away from the challenges placed before it. That said, it doesn’t always meet said challenges. Mighty mob bosses dress about as well as poverty-damned heathens, or they might as well as far as the eye can tell. The problem with giving all worldly elements a retro feel and all divine elements an ethereal one is that, from what the audience understands, everyone pulls from the same closet and the only thing that matters is getting the right size. The artifacts are pretty to look at, but they undercut too much of the message the book pushes to send.

Godshaper reads like an action figure wrapped in a department store’s clothing box – there’s plenty to be excited about, but the packaging could promote it more.

I’m done with reviews, but not with comics. If you’re in downtown Indianapolis this weekend, stop by Indiana Comic Con and say hello to everyone at the Comic Carnival booth! We’ll be there all weekend with tons of back issues and specialty items! (CC Note: We actually didn’t bother weighing everything. We thought packing and getting everything to the con was a bigger priority. We’re nice like that.) If I don’t see you sometime this weekend, 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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