Variant Coverage – April 26, 2017

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

So many comics! But I can take it. I can handle it. I can quit any time I want, I just don’t want to right now!

Action Comics 978: (Jurgens/ Churchill): Artist/ comics historian Andy Kubert shows us that the New World of Superman looks just like the old, only more at once. That’s efficient, it allows the audience to discuss how overpowered Superman can be faster.

Aliens Dead Orbit 1 (James Stokoe): The quieter, more haunting sequel to the “Living Orbit” storyline, which basically went “AHHHH!! I’m falling at a constant rate and not reducing distance to the ground! It’s triggering my acrophobia without the promise of the sweet release of fiery death! It’s getting crowded up here with satellites and none of them want to talk to me! I’d WELCOME xenomorphic ovipositors at this point!” [7/10]

The only thing worse than the quiet life on a boring space station is said life getting interrupted. Orbital platform Sphacteria just plucked a hunk of spit and bailing wire that’s technically a ship out of the endless black. Among the jerry rigging, tossed cargo, acid burns, and more jerry rigging are three occupied cryopods. Their awakening isn’t exactly as magical as being kissed by Prince Charming.

Short version: this is Alien meets Lost. That’s right, Alien. There’re many critical differences between that and AlienS like it says in the title, but one stands out. Aliens is one of the greatest action movies of all time. Alien is one of the greatest horror movies of all time, and it is the latter this book truly wants to spin off from. When a lone survivor grimly cheats Death and fears anything tube-shaped, it’s an Alien story, not Aliens.

Aside from inferior title usage, the story collects stereotypes and contrivances to establish a plot-based story. Characters don’t get any more remarkable than “The Insecure Jerk”, “The Quiet Type”, “The Angry Drunk”, etc.

Fundamentally, very little happens in this chapter – perhaps 20 minutes of movie time – but a wealth of visual information is available for readers to mine. Stokoe demonstrates the ability to pull the precise expression a situation demands without changing much from panel to panel. I almost never say this, but the art’s good enough that this could’ve been a wordless book and still done the job.

Aliens Dead Orbit reads like mid-level fan fiction – a technically capable homage that could have benefitted from wider creative input.

Ben Reilly – Scarlet Spider 1 (David/ Bagley): “I’m the only real man with the power of a spider! Behold, I spin webs, I jump high, I crawl walls, AND I can have eight appendages any time I want. Granted, not all of them are mine, but just ask if anyone else is using them. You show me a guy complaining that I’m using his limbs without his permission, and I’ll show you a guy I didn’t beat up enough.”

Namwolf 1 (Rangel/ Faerber): Rejected titles include Charlie Chewbacca, Agent Ohwhosagoodboy, Daisy Cutterex, and Spot the Spat-on Soldier.

24 Legacy Rules of Engagement 1 (Farnsworth/ Fuso): Georges Jeanty’s cover teaches me something about myself: if I see a guy comfortable with looking over his shoulder to a fleet of armed helicopters, training a gun on someone or something, and lines up with a team of gangsters, there’s really not a context where I’m going to be comfortable with him. If none of those situations inspire a rise out of this guy, his normal day must be the stuff of explosive heart attacks.

Batman/ The Shadow 1 (Snyder & Orlando/ Rossmo): Batman: “Whoa, buddy, I was in the middle of an awesome silent brood session up here, and then you brought your red scarves and gun shots and ruined it. I’ll never claim the sneaking advantage at this rate.”
-Shadow: “I cloud men’s minds on a regular basis. Even gunshots become background noise to all I choose. ‘Sneaking advantage’ is no more complicated for me to control than the trigger on my guns.”
-Batman: “Yeeeaaaaahh, the gun thing. Let me tell you a story…” [8/10]

Lamont Cranston is dead. Not in the 1930s cult vigilante also known as The Shadow, the night-shift chef for Arkham Asylum. Batman looks into the recent murder and finds The Shadow, not dead despite records insisting he died in the 60s, holding the murder weapon. Further investigation reveals that Cranston the Elder traveled the world for knowledge that would put him above ordinary people, passionately hated crime, and gradually turned friends and allies into begrudged tools for his personal war. Batman came into this case thinking he never heard of the man before, but being proven wrong can be the greatest step of progress for any detective.

On the one hand, I never considered how many points of similarity Batman and the Shadow shared, and it’s clear the writers of this series did consider them, so that’s a good thing. On the other hand, Batman’s already got one semi-immortal with a multi-national network of shadowy power players tagging him as a possible heir, so if this becomes another story on that track I will be sorely disappointed. Same if Shadow becomes the next person in Batman’s life with a manic laugh he can never quite catch.

One trick Snyder regularly proves when working on Batman is that for all of the character’s stoic determination, he geeks out through fun toys. Batman used to carry a portable suite of forensic tools to analyze a crime scene, now he has Bat-Alexa. Every time he used it, I wondered if this would be the time he requested access to Interpol’s database and ordered the soundtrack to Hamilton in the same breath.

Rossmo’s art style seems rough on the surface, but the reader quickly gets comfortable with it. Each page holds a trove of artifacts that touch extremes from both the science fiction side and the occult fantasy side, with an unhealthy weapons obsession in between. A more realistic form of illustration would trap the story as creepy and unpleasant, but with this style it’s allowed to be seen as whimsical yet grounded.

Batman/ The Shadow reads like a video of siblings fighting – whatever started it stops mattering quickly, but there’s so much momentum that it won’t stop any time soon.

Mighty Thor 18 (Aaron/ Dauterman): Of course the God of Thunder’s depressed that Quentin Quire showed up. EVERYONE’S depressed when Quentin Quire shows up. Even Quentin Quire gets depressed when Quentin Quire shows up, it’s why he hasn’t looked into a mirror in fifteen years. Depression is classified as an urgent medical emergency in the 616, and it’s called a Code: Quentin Quire.

X-O Manowar 2 (Kindt/ Giorello): “I killed yeh, yeh rotten… Ugh, every time. Look, I know yeh only have a few seconds of life left, but I need yeh to imagine that I’m flipping yeh off.”

Night Owl Society 1 (Venhaus/ Bak): No one has eye so red they shift the air around them, there’s not one IV filled with espresso, and no one’s managing nervous ticks as an outlet for repetitive intrusive thoughts. That’s to say, I’m not seeing any real night owls here. [8/10]

David’s the tiny kid at high school no one knows. It doesn’t matter if you’ve sat next to him every day for two years, you don’t know him. David knows the local mafia boss. David wants to take him down, but knows he can’t do it alone, so he approaches classmates with certain skills to help him, classmates that share a common sense of loss. They think this is just a way to enforce justice when the usual ways won’t work. They think that’s why David’s brought them all together, but they don’t know David.

There’s plenty to like about the characters that drive this story forward. David’s painfully self-aware of his limits but is finding ways around them. A.J. is a giant teddy bear. Everyone uses their talents and shows eagerness to contribute to a worthy cause. It’s that eagerness that ends up working against the narrative. Sometimes teens just need an excuse to do something crazy like steal a car or carve circles into a field, but they’re not recklessly endangering property here. They’re premeditating an assault on a man with a criminal network and no compunctions about committing brutal, lethal attacks on those that cross him. It takes away from the intelligence these kids try to sell when they’re willing to place so much faith into a kid they truly don’t understand.

The art makes some odd choices. Most easily noticed is that the coloring has gaps, as if time was a factor and Bak just zig-zagged the coloring tool over the linework to save time. There’s a deliberate reason to print the pages this way, but I cannot tell what that reason might be. The panel layouts are simple and easy to follow, the linework flows consistently and clearly, the designs don’t take unneccesary chances, and most of the other basic elements fly the normal route. It’s that coloring that makes the artwork seem less developed than it should be.

Night Owl Society reads like your favorite C-List movie – a fine collaborative work so long as you’re willing to overlook some persistent flaws.

Real Science Adventures 1 (Clevinger/ Baker): I really hope that Scott Wegener’s illustrating for thrill and nothing else. I really hope that the default opinion of people holds that pilots of flying engines supplied with super-flammable fuel and hundreds of pounds of steel should have depth perception if nothing else. Training, experience, a decent night’s sleep, those’d all be great, but the ability to tell which object in front of another, come on!

Zomben 1 (Heneghan/ Cicero): This has got to be an awkward for day for the guy. I mean every class period, he’s got to explain whether he’s a classmate or a sample.

There’s Nothing Here 1 (Kindlon/ Llovet): “I don’t know what else I can tell you, detective.”
-”So you’re insisting that you’ve never heard of a looking glass connecting our world with that of eldritch god kings, possessing dozens of giant eyeballs that could be looking into the souls of the ruined and living damned, and that even if you had it certainly wouldn’t be in this room?”
-”It’s like I said, there’s nothing here.” [6/10]

A lesser known article from Miss Manners makes one point of party management very clear: never double-book a space, even if the pagan ritual would compliment the open-air orgy. Of course, that was written in the 1970s, a very different time for social gatherings. In the age of cellphones and white-washed history classes, Reno doesn’t bat an eyelash at anything until the sky starts to break open. The next day she can’t remember anything, and she’s seeing people where no one else does. Anyone else might get away by writing it off as a bad night’s sleep, but Reno’s a celebrity heiress. There’s nothing about her life that doesn’t find its way into the 24-hour news cycle.

So someone else sees dead people. Not the newest premise, but not without possibility, either. The right character under the right circumstances could breathe fresh life into it. Reno is not the right character – she cannot take four steps without something tripping over her privilege, even when those steps are into the supernatural. The hook of the story never quite penetrates her.

Included in this issue is a moment featuring a different person who wasn’t at the orgy, with more widely relatable living standards, who’s encountering the same spectral oddities, so I wonder why the story should follow someone like Reno. She isn’t a bad person – she makes herself aware of her surroundings and expresses concern for the people around her – but it’s difficult for empathize with someone who makes poor life decisions (recreational drug use, going off alone in a strange space with a person she’s never met, running out of a moving vehicle, etc.) and has the security of a best friend, a mansion, and a live-in maid to fall back on in times of stress.

The art manages to make the ethereal elements fit in by removing the reality from everything else. People, even the “average ones”, look fresh from a modelling agency. The dirt in flower pots isn’t dirty. The ruins are all maintained to museum quality. There are things that look like houses or restaurants but are designed more like idealized Hollywood sets than functional places. When none of the elements are grounded, everything can share a charge of ethereal energy

There’s nothing there reads like a business mogul’s biography – full of things most readers won’t understand but might try to in order to steal secrets to success. (CC Note: That’s awfully cynical, isn’t it?) No, cynical would be if I said it had a ghost writer. (CC Note: …I should blame myself, but I’m blaming you anyway.)

NOW I want to quit. 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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