Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
It’s important to recognize that there can be too much of a good thing. It’s the thing that makes everything else worse by comparison. It’s the thing that once we have it, we cannot stop having it. It’s the thing that hurts while professing how much it wants to help. It’s critical to recognize that’s a real thing. It doesn’t stop me from turning an Olympic diving pool into a ball pit, and I’ll probably want that forever, but I recognize that’s something that’ll prove unhealthy.
There are a few books this week that from a general description should be everything we’d want from a comic. It can work in proper doses, otherwise they’re best experienced as watching some hapless idjit suffer through them. That’s why you’ve got me! Let’s get started!!
•Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye 7 (Rivera/ Oeming): You can tell that Cave’s hearing music in his head while being carried in strong Kryptonian arms. The only real question is what kind: angelic choir or Disney-esque love song. My money’s on love song – you just know movie night at the Carson household was wall-to-wall modern musicals.
•Beauty 14 (Haun & Hurley/ Nachlik): I look like this every time I hit the last episode of a Netflix binge too. Aaron Lee Kafton knows the struggle is real.
•The Greatest Adventure 1 (Willingham/ Razek): I realize group shots are awkward enough, but it’s got to be worse when one person’s wearing more clothing than the rest combined. There’s just no set of circumstances where that might be casually accepted. Do the “naturally attired” not have good enough representation to access the wardrobe? Does Overalls on the left have something he’s desperate to hide? [6/10]
The well-trained can fly a plane, the brilliant can pilot an alien craft, but only the pluckiest of heroes can fall out of an orbiting space ship while in a craft he can’t pilot, miss his projected landing site by half a planet, and meet the people he hoped to find anyway. And that’s how Jason Gridley rendezvoused with Tarzan and Jane to warn the world of impending alien invasion. Turns out a warrior race met up with a group of invaders, beat them up and stole their technology, conquered two different planets for their technology, and mean to conquer Earth for still more technology even though at this point in history glass tubes were considered state-of-the-art. Tarzan starts making phone calls (somehow) and assembles the Burroughs Squad to take those no-good, dang-burn aliens down! Only not the Martians, because they’re the good ones.
It’s possible that I lost respect for this premise as I read the book. A take on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen pulling just from any one author’s portfolio sounds thin, but Edgar Rice Burroughs is one of the few with a large enough bibliography that it might’ve worked. Instead all the effort went to two narrative chores: detailing the series of tropes, terrestrial navigation, and strategic pratfalls it takes to bring these different personae together, and reminding everyone in the room that Jane Foster’s there. I counted no less than four instances where characters talk around Jane, whose only lines are to establish that she should be included in the discussion. For the rest of the characters… only a dedicated Burroughs reader will recognize more than half of the players, and they they’ll probably despise how little any of them are utilized.
The art hitches up its working pants and gets to pulling the book along, designing bizarre technologies, Martian relics, ancient tombs and modern cities with equal effort and payoff. The figures all benefit from enough fantasy to appear larger and leaner than life should allow, clothing that’s appropriate for their varied roles, and ranges of motion that make their actions seem intense. Everything so far is of distinct quality, a quality that doesn’t penetrate anyone’s facial expressions. There are three: bland, yelling, and creepy smile. I looked for a smile that wasn’t creepy, I wanted there to be one. There wasn’t.
The Greatest Adventure reads like a five-year-old’s original dessert – while the individual components may be good, their amalgam renders innocent victims joyless.
•Guardians of the Galaxy Dream On 1 (Sumerak/ Di Vito): What kind of nuts is Groot handling? Is he the throne, too? How innuendo-filled can a mainstream comic get?!?
•Gravity Falls 1 (Disney): “I’m going to hug you and keep you and call you nothing because I own you now and property doesn’t need the dignity that comes with individual identity! Now fetch me a juice box.”
•Monsters Unleashed 1 (Bunn/ Baldeon): Oh like the monsters were ever leashed to begin with! They must’ve been raised in a yard with an electric fence.
•Failsafe 1 (DeSanto & Farmer/ Dallocchio): You’d think a woman walking on air AND pulling off two distinct fashion statements at once would gain more attention. According to Jon Adams, only one out of fifteen would bother turning their heads, and then not for reasons that’re on the up and up.
•Nick Fury 1 (Robinson/ Aco): Only real men wear pink. (Note to self: try wearing pink) [7/10]
There’s plenty of secret agents in SHIELD, but only one with training from living legends, experience in the deepest shadows, powerful legacy, and such a refined wardrobe: Nick Fury, Jr. While Sr.’s off on the moon being punished by the universe, Jr. gets to play in the most elite of playgrounds with only the finest toys, such as a multi-spectrum eyepatch that feeds intel directly into his brain through the eye that doesn’t work anymore, and costs as much as a helicarrier. He uses these tools to single-handedly pull an Ocean’s 11. For reasons.
The classic sights from the shiniest spy stories are all here. High profile resort acting as a front for multinational terrorist organization? Check. Super spy sporting a bespoke suit made to hold a martini and weather a fully choreographed action sequence? Check. Accessories that can perform any number of multifaceted computer system takeovers with the hit of an app? Check. Sexual tension across philosophical barriers that drips like dew off a leaf? Ehhhhhh, they tried. Fury possesses all of the qualities of a fun spy romp, but lacks any sense of context or meaning to make this a good spy romp. It’s all well and good for the leading man to pull off his caper with a wink and a smile, but without clearly established stakes he might as well have bought sixteen items going through the twelve item lane.
For all that I complain about the narrative missteps, it is the art that keeps me from being truly angry at this project. Bright and colorful lights, impeccable designs, slightly adventurous panel and page layouts, and tongue-in-cheek characters designs all come together to elevate this book from true embarrassment. As little ambition as the story might have, the creators know what it is and communicate that much visually. It may not show it consistently, like when the bodies of nameless mooks choke the tides beneath a sky-crossed battlefield, but this book wants to glorify the gamesmanship of fantasy spycraft. There’s little solid ground for the reader to anchor themselves to on the page, but the view is nice regardless.
Nick Fury reads like a toddler at play – little thought below the surface, mostly destructive, but also adorable and without malice.
•Plastic 1 (Wagner/ Martin): Ugh, now this is just horribly disgusting. The inferior quality of the sheeting obviously can’t handle any stress before breaking and causing leaks. The seals probably didn’t close well on the template, meaning all the products close even worse. And I’m sure it was marketed as a gallon-sized bag but can’t handle anything that volume except air. Not to mention that the writing’ll probably smudge off just from wind friction. Just upsetting.
•I Hate Fairyland 12 (Skottie Young): She walks the path of vengeance, paved with yellow bricks and regret. Her devotion is to whoever gives her the most candy. Watch as she devastated all that stand in her way with the invincible Cuddly Wuddly Sword Style!
•Redneck 1 (Cates/ Estherren): I thought this would be some visceral thriller told around the Sons of the Soil, or the trials and tribulations of day labor, but it looks like it’ll be about proper eating hygiene and barbecue sauce.
•Shaolin Cowboy Who’ll Stop the Reign 1 (Geof Darrow): On that day, the day the cowboy learned how to shrink his opponents so he could strike seven at once, the sun shined just a little brighter, the breeze blew a mite cooler, and water tasted just a little less like horse.
•World Reader 1 (Loveness/ Doe): “This is Mission Control, what do you see? Over.”
-”Ever since I figured out how to turn my face into light, tons. How’d those lab rats manage that by the way? Over.”
-”We’re not sure, as soon as we mentioned it they all ran in different directions. Someone thinks they heard one saying ‘Our time has come’. Just to be safe we’re delaying your re-entry plans. Over.” [8/10]
Mankind has fulfilled its dream of reaching out to the stars. Interstellar travel is a reality, and humanity’s forward mission so far keeps finding mass graves. Captain Fields trained his whole life to be an adventurer, not a mortician. Harris preserves the written records of these dead civilizations in the hopes of one day translating them. Kamoi takes soil samples, and Sarah listens to the dead. This isn’t a talent most of the crew expected to be on the team, in fact a few don’t think it’s anything more than an act, but she convinced the right people she was legit, and so space seances exist. With dreams of first contact crushed after multiple readings of alien last rites, crew morale and mission excitement are at critical lows. It’s just where something wants them to be.
In spite of what should be a sizable force embarking on mankind’s first steps between the stars, World Reader oddly only introduces three persistent characters, and then none stand very long in the spotlight. Even Sarah mostly exists on the side as she attempts to connect with the fallen communities they find. What little time they each get puts itself to effective use, as by the end of the issue there’s a strong idea of why they’re there and what they’d like to do. The premise itself may be the most distinct and original aspect of this book – at first a nihilistic take on space exploration, but eventually pushing the idea of where human civilization might truly be afraid to look. Governments and corporations may spend trillions funding an exploration mission into deep space, but at the idea of stepping into the kind of energy and territory that connect all living things they might pay one mid-level salary so long as it’s in another solar system. For the sake of narrative paths that haven’t been taken much, I hope World Reader follows this thread in particular.
Juan Doe’s art proves highly compatible with the kind of story Loveless wants to tell. He has two “worlds” to design and draw: physical reality and the local astral world. Physically, there aren’t many demands to meet, which Doe takes as an invitation to push proportions and perspectives just enough to illustrate something to catch the reader’s eye. Slightly futuristic space suits and wastelands don’t offer many challenges other than to make them interesting, and he rises to that as well as anyone could. There’s more room to create and play in rendering the astral world, but again it’s restrained by trying to sell dead space. Sarah’s visions capture a haunted feeling, providing enough detail to get a sense of what a place was and the kinds of creatures that dwelled there, and at the same time charging the area with a form of energy just from its own nature.
World Reader reads like hot dogs and merlot – the pairing’s unusual, but it works.
•US Avengers 5 (Ewing/ Diaz): Captain America’s “saving” that global CEO of color from something, right? He’s pushing him into a safety net that just happens to look like the American flag, right?? Marvel’s not totally leaning into the character assassination of Captain America, RIGHT?!?
Whatever your next trainwreck, I hope you have someone around to shove you into a patriotic backdrop.
We had an amazing time at Indy Comic Con! Check out our twitter account (@ComicCarnival) to see just a sample of the cosplayers that hit the floor with everything they had. See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues