Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
Lore is not just Data’s evil brother. Lore can teach those that study it the lessons that history can’t (for whatever reason). Lore gives otherwise fanciful stories weight, and establishes a firm spot from which anything can take off running. It is also a royal bitch.
There are plenty of books coming out this week, but I chose the ones that have a rather unique relationship with their own imaginary histories to focus on. Alternate history – when done right – provides the insight to examine what was once taken for granted. When it’s done poorly, it puts a giant anvil in its own path, trips over it painfully, and poorly attempts to cover the blunder up as an intentional prat fall. I feel like we’ve got the full range available, but let me know if you disagree.
•Dragon Age Knight Errant 1 (Defilippis & Weir/ Furukawa): Don’t you hate it when you’re on your first play-through of a game only you don’t know you’re supposed to pick up the characters in an order or else the mobs’ll crush you and the screen red-shifts and by the time you come back to your senses someone’s flipped the chair and your snacks are all over the floor? I’m surprised more players don’t complain of falling to pieces. [7/10]
Knights have as many origin stories as stars in the sky. Ser Aaron Hawthorne will tell you his a hundred times if you let him, and if he’s sloppy he’ll tell you the same one twice. His squire Vaea only has two for the time being: one where she was an otherwise ordinary elf given a chance to see the world, and another where she’s a thief who happened upon the cover story of a lifetime. The pair arrive in the port city of Kirkwall to attend a celebration, and while that’s going on Vaea conducts a little side business no one’s supposed to know about. In Kirkwall, “no one” means “lots of people”.
The characterization of Vaea’s interesting in that it’s established through a kind of negative space. She barely speaks, but the people around her say so much that the reader’s not hurting for details. She’s built her abilities and persona into the type that goes unnoticed, and has refined that to the point where the only ones capable of detecting her can tell far more about her than she’d like. This kind of mechanism works great to construct Vaea’s character, but it also falls apart without extensive knowledge of the world around her, which doesn’t get much coverage at all. If you’ve already played the games this book spins off from, there’s no problem, but if you’re like me and haven’t, you may catch yourself flipping backward every so often to find a bit of exposition you might’ve missed.
A slightly cartoonish art style lets the figures and architecture get away with more than physics should allow. This being a fantasy world, that doesn’t come as much surprise, and the art could have leaned on that and done nothing else. Thankfully, it doesn’t. Postures carry energy, motions appear fluid, and faces bring vibrancy into a world where life is a fiercely mis-valued thing. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and in places can be fun to look at, which makes up a little for the unbalanced backstories.
Knight Errant reads like a designer cake – a bit more went into the appearance than the substance, but still enjoyable.
•Renato Jones Freelancer 1 (Kaare Andrews): This guy looks like he’s about to commit an armed deposit. Anyone can rob a bank, but to stride in with a gun in each hand, full face mask on, walk right up to the clerk and demand they open the safe so he can leave a sack of money and some Faberge eggs in it? That takes courage… and some insanity.
•Mindbender 1 (Pruett/ De Luca): “Excuse me, I think you’ve got the settings mixed up. Everything BUT my mind is bending, and twisting, and tasting like sadberries, and why does the balloon ask for my first steps have you started the thing yet?”
•Rocket 1 (Ewing/ Gorham): Ugh, just when you think you know a trash panda. Rocket Raccoon wants you to think he’s all edgy, that he doesn’t listen to anyone but himself, that he’s anti-authority. Well don’t believe it for a second. I mean just look at this, he’s in charge for two seconds and what’s the first thing he does? Institute a dress code. Bet you anything he knows the manufacturer too, and they’re best buddies. Disgusting.
•Secret Warriors 1 (Rosenburg/ Garron): Tradd Moore’s cover appears to channel the initial outrage toward the Secret Empire event through Quake’s character. Shake your fist as hard as you want, Daisy (and you’ve got a number of advantages the rest of us don’t), but this is happening whether you like it or not.
•Misfit City 1 (Smith & Lustgarten/ Ganucheau & Franquiz): This looks like it could be an all-female reboot of City Slickers, and I don’t think I’d mind that. Let’s get our cowgirl on! [8/10]
Generation-defining movies can inject life into small towns decades after the last screening, but anyone that grew up in one’ll tell you that’s not always a good thing. Take the town of Cannon Cove, site of an alternate-universe Goonies and pilgrimage to entitled tourists from around the world. Wilder, Macy, Karma, and Dot brace each other through the waves of visitors by means of band gigs, texts, and poker nights. When an old-school treasure chest is bequeathed to the museum Macy works at, they don’t think much of it. When Macy’s knocked out and the chest disappears, they think a bit harder.
This book makes clear right away that it’s more homage than anything. As much as Goonies or Raiders of the Lost Ark (both cited as inspirations), this is a story about legacy and who ultimately controls it. Everyone wants to hear that the last generation only wanted to leave good things for those that followed, even when the facts clearly show that same generation would steal, murder, and scandalize, and that the current generation has no true obligation to respect or learn from any version of their own history. The themes deliver themselves with all the nuance and subtlety of a cinder block to the foot, so by the end there’s reason to feel frustrated that it hasn’t gone farther.
The art’s sketch-manga style reminds me a lot of Chynna Clugston’s (for one example). The facial ticks and design styles end up being more descriptive of the characters than a more photo-realistic style could hope to be. The coloring palette allows for light and shadow, but never lets anything stand out as too bright, which gives the setting the freedom of having night and day cycles but keeps it trapped in a kind of existential shadow. The effect adds a layer of authenticity to the page, and does more to sell the concept of the story.
Misfit City reads like a fresh casserole – a well-executed serving of leftovers with enough added in to call it something else.
•Star Wars – Screaming Citadel 1 (Gillen/ Checchetto): It could only take something that threatens the very nature of the galaxy to bring Obi-Wan’s last student and Vader’s personal black-op specialist together. But if they were both booked at the same hotel and couldn’t sleep, that might work too. I doubt it’s intentional, but they both hold themselves as if they’re operating on an hour’s rest in the past week. “I am one with the Force, the Force is with Zzzzzzzzzzzz…”
•MediSIN 1 (Dyer & McKeon/ Brame): Alright, what’s the pre-existing condition here? Does having a quantum singularity where your heart should be increase or decrease your deductible? Would you have to report your bank robbery income before calculating any subsidies? And can you keep your own doctor if you ARE your own doctor (and your post-doc was in astro-archeology)?
•Regression 1 (Bunn/ Enger): Why, Danny Luckert? Why would you create something so horrible and make a cover – a first impression – out of it? I’ve seen too many nature shows, I know what’s on the end of those things. Just, I mean I don’t care how many superpowers I’d get I’m just NOT letting a maggot bite me.
•Zombies Assemble 1 (Komiyama & Zub/ Komiyama): The twist to this story’s obvious without even cracking open the book. Notice how all the designs are from the MCU Avengers? That means this is the universe where Cap said “You get killed, walk it off.” Well look who’s following the captain’s orders! They wouldn’t let him forget he swore for weeks, how long do you think they’ll hold this over his head?
•Red Rising – Sons of Ares 1 (Brown & Hoskin/ Powell): Toby Cypruss’s cover takes his alternate mythology serious, what with making Apollo the son of the god of war AND including a full beard. It looks like in this one Apollo has a bunch of brothers tearing up the sky. Maybe they’re too busy chasing each other to produce light, and that’s why the background’s so dark? That’d be absolutely in character with the pantheon, now that I think about it, it’s honestly a miracle anything got done on Olympus. [6/10]
In the fairly distant future – seven or so centuries – humanity decided it was going to colonize the entire solar system. They did this by terraforming every solid surface they could find, and they did that by enacting extreme gene therapies and breeding programs that locked the human race into a rigid caste system. That worked so well that the ruling democracy on Earth was overthrown so the ruling caste – the Golds – could claim ultimate political power. And just as with every political party in all of human history, there’s a dissident movement with a few things they want to see changed.
If you don’t like stories about class warfare, then this is about race warfare. Unless you don’t like race wars, then it’s totally about class warfare. Don’t like either? Hmmm. There’s not much else going on here. Even the characters waging a revolution because they hate their labels do everything they can to fit their labels. Even the highest “ranking” revolutionary is in his position because of the luck behind his birth and upbringing. Most of the narrative space is taken up with the details of said rebel’s younger days. Future issues promise deeper context and history, which so far have bogged the story down more than anything.
The linework cuts through the page severely, as if a swordsman were carving a totem pole. The lines are confident, but universally straight. Close observation will show that even the curves are actually successions of shorter lines. The lines’ strength sometimes goes too far, crossing with others that don’t need to and cluttering the page. Any details get lost in the blacks, forcing the art to limit itself to relaying mood instead of history. For a story that’s taking so much time to build a world, it missed the opportunity to use the visuals to carry the load.
Sons of Ares reads like an artificial plant – it looks neat from a distance, but up close there’s a lack of substance.
And with that, I’m going back to the present moment. At the risk of spoiling it for you, see you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues