Variant Coverage – April 5, 2017

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

Sometimes we just want to be anywhere, so long as it’s not where we are. If you’ve ever taken a path going in a different direction just because the one you wanted was congested, or made up a friend’s emergency just to get out of the house, or jumped on a bus to avoid someone, knows what I’m talking about. The motivations can range from fear of abuse to claustrophobia all the way to just wanting to feel some kind of motion.

The books under review today cover people that manage some crazy circumstances with truly odd characters for little more reason than the sake of being somewhere else. Mosey on down the list here and you’ll find them.

America 2 (Rivera/ Quinones): If there’s a message to this cover besides “Haberdashery is a dead art”, I can’t see it. (CC Note: That’s what she said.)

Black Cloud 1 (Latour & Brandon/ Hinkle): Now this I get. This is clearly a proposal to increase use of public transportation. No one thinks riding the subway or bus are special. You change the name of the service to The Lightning, and all of a sudden traffic will explode with riders eager to brag to everyone about what they’re riding. It’s not an elegant solution, but it could work. [6/10]

Our lead character doesn’t need a name, she just needs a sponsor. She has a very specific skill set, a backstory set in a world of living myths, and a family she’s desperate to never see again. So she lives on the streets, steals vulnerable phones, and sells peeks into her home town disguised as drugs. It’s a risk for her every time, but if she finds the find money bag it’ll be worth it, and she may have just scored the richest bag in two worlds.

This story lacks a strong plot to follow or visible threats to confront. It is not a character-driven story either, with the main character (let’s call her Maine) interested mostly in the next hot bath, and the side characters mostly interested in getting away from each other. That leaves the visual effects to drive the narrative forward. Maine’s life boils down to pulling people in or out of a dream world, and with dream worlds there are no limits to what one might see or interact with. The story takes great liberties with this, but fails to connect the props or character designs to anything else that could give the story real momentum.

The books absolutely relies on its visual power to see the reader through, and to its credit the art puts in a lot of effort. No matter what Maine’s place or situation, she always manages to look the part. When she’s strapped for cash she looks tired and ragged, when she’s preparing to abuse people to get what she wants she wears jewelry and showy clothing, and when she’s managing patrons at a classy gin joint her attire and hair style match. No other element fits so well in another’s space unless she decides to let it. The whole arrangement catches the eye plenty, but without the context of a stronger narrative it’s all just surface shine.

Black Cloud reads like an effects specialist’s portfolio – loaded with blockbuster images without any concern for a story.

Eleanor & the Egret 1 (Layman/ Kieth): Some couples pick up each other’s quirks or mannerisms, that’s fine, but the couples that dress to match each other just creep me out. They can’t be saving that much money on on wardrobe, certainly not space. What motivates them?

Mighty Man One-Shot (Larsen/ Koutsis): That’s perhaps one of the most unfortunate expressions a cover focus character could have. That is a face that can only mean one of two things, either “Tights and a cape, glowing fists, and flying through the air? This couldn’t BE anymore cliche. I’m so embarrassed right now” or “If I hold my face like this maybe people will think I’ve already been punched and so won’t punch me!”

Food Wars Shokugeki no Soma Volume 17 (Tsukuda & Morisaki/ Saeki): The dark hidden secret of this title? There was a litigation suit over usage rights for years. Jurors were bribed, judges blackmailed, death threats sent in the mail to everyone. Eventually they decided to change the name, allowing the other party in the case to use the title “The Hunger Games”.

Kim Reaper 1 (Sarah Graley): I was born too late. I should’ve been a Mongol in the era of Genghis Khan. Every village the army razed to the ground, they probably build a fresh playground complete with a skull hill to hang out on, a trampoline made out of the skin of our enemies, , and a jungle gym from the burnt-out husks of people’s home. Very mindful of public park installations, those Mongols were. [8/10]

Becka and Kim go to art school together. More like they go to the same art school where Kim studies art history and Becka studies Kim’s goth cuteness. It doesn’t take much prodding from her fellow art student and snarky friend for Becka to follow Kim after class to invite her to a pub gathering that night, only just as Becka rounds the corner she sees Kim pull an impossibly giant scythe out of her bag and slice open a portal through the very fabric of space, time, and reality. Becka, trying to get pics lest this moment not happen, falls through after Kim to discover Kim’s part-time job: an aspect of Death itself.

As you might’ve guessed by now, this really wants to be a love story. It yearns to get a couple of kids together, create moments when they sees things in each other they never suspected, and share an apartment where they paint flower pots to throw at burglars which they track down because they’re lady detectives by then somehow. Unfortunately for hopeless romantics, the narrative gets taken over by the question of death’s meaning as a tragedy versus a release from a full-yet-now-painful life. Kim’s lucky to have drawn one of the nicer aspects Death could possibly have, her clientele being strictly old pets ready to die of natural causes. The main struggle comes from convincing anyone to see it that way, and it turns out Kim’s a better reaper than a speaker.

The art wraps everything up in bubble wrap made out of taffy and serves it on a bright plate carried by balloon animals. It looks like your most innocent and happy memories topped with ice cream, especially that memory of the ice cream parlor where you got your first double ice cream. There’s ice cream on top of that now. What I’m trying to say is that it’s cartoony cute in the style of Adventure Time or Bee and Puppycat. Some readers may not appreciate this style of illustration, but for a story throwing together topics like schoolhouse crushes and animal euthanasia, the anglo-chibi style connects everything about as well as anyone could hope for.

Kim Reaper reads like a baby tiger – there’s potential for horrible, violent trauma, but at the moment it’s just too adorable to worry about that.

Riverdale 1 (Aguirre-Sacasa/ Martinez): Looks like any other Archie cover ever, just the main characters walking aro… oh my god look at that shadow it kinda looks like a bat does this mean they’re Batman but the bat shadow is headless they must be undead Batman oh man ArchieBatmaniZombie crossover did I just solve TV I just solved TV!!

Colossi 1 (Mo/ Muriel & Diaz): “Man, what’re the odds that we’d jump realities into a world where everything else is giant?”
-”One in three, assuming that any reality we could jump to would be populated by rough analogs of indigenous lifeforms from Earth, with the other two options being 1) we’d be the giants, and 2) we’d be roughly the same size. The more interesting question might be ‘What are the odds that we’d be able to walk on the fire the giant humanoid man breathed?’, there’re a lot of interesting factors-*”
-”You are picking literally the worst time to kiss the teacher’s ass!”
-”… I believe you’re using ‘literally’ in its classic and proper context.”
-”Bonus points for you two if you get eaten by that thing!”

Kill Shakespeare Past is Prologue 1 (McCreery/ Howell): If you see this face in the bushes peeping out at you, it doesn’t matter who they intend to kill, just calmly walk away until you’re clear, then call the police, the fire department, absolutely anyone that will listen. No creeper in the bushes ever had good intentions.

Rock Candy Mountain 1 (Kyle Starks): I heard that on Rock Candy Mountain it rains root beer and the billy goats’ wool is cotton candy. Tourism must be fierce to deal with, but looking at the size of this hobo’s stick, I’d say he’s prepared. Oohhhh, what if this guy’s actually applying for the job of Wise Man on the Rock Country Mountain? What pearls (or jawbreakers) of knowledge would such a worldly sage drop? “To have chocolate and not eat it is to have dental insurance and not use it. Sit with me and contemplate the eternal mystery lollipop flavor.” [7/10]

Jackson’s not your average rail-riding hobo. For one thing, he’s got suits and a demon chasing after him. For another, he’s on a first-name basis with the son of a railroad tycoon. Next, he can do things with a walking stick that defy the laws of science and man, and leave both on the ground whimpering. One last thing I’ll tell you is that he’s been looking for a mountain by the name of Rock Candy for years, only nowadays he’s got a book containing rather direct advice on how to get there.

This here be a mixed hobo-bag of themes. Most elements to the story point toward Jackson as a wandering monk seeking divinity. There’s a neophyte he takes on as a disciple, an old acquaintance tempting him toward greed, a collection of foes behind him looking to stop his progress, and of course a meandering road under no obligation to take him where he wants to go. The setting, trappings, and characters all fit this dynamic, which would be appropriate so long as Jackson’s quest was an ideology. Instead, he fundamentally is searching for a physical place as if finding and being there will silence all doubts, resolve all disagreements, and grant him ultimate peace. Once the nature of the mountain becomes clear, Jackson’s ambitions become a different form of greed, effectively reducing the stakes to a molehill.

Artwise, the philosophy of this book reads “Keep It Simple, Son (of Jack)”. The round shapes and disjointed proportions may remind some readers of 3rd-grade doodles, but don’t let that impression stop you from enjoying it. The great thing about appearing uncomplicated is that nothing on the page will confuse the eye. The metaphysics of the plot can be digested easier when served on something that’s not pretentious.

Rock Candy Mountain reads like that one song – when you’re in a particular mood and have the occasion to let yourself get into it, it can be great, but for the rest of the time it’s merely tolerable.

Thank you for trekking through the new shelves with me. 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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