Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
Who’s got comics? We’ve got comics! What you need is to know about comics, and that’s why it’s important to read on.
•4 Kids Walk into a Bank 4 (Rosenburg/ Boss): What if this turns out to be the final art, though? (CC Note: It’s not.) It’d be the print edition of the guard that always lied. Would you like some existential philosophy with your comics today? Wonderful, there is no such thing as “final” artwork, in fact all forms of artistic expression are lies, and the first thing to be done is cancel all checks written, void all publishing contracts, and reduce anyone “making it” as an artist into a nutrient paste for our insectoid overlords. (CC Note: Miiiiiight’ve jumped the gun toward the end there.)
•Chain Mail Bikini Anthology (various): Looking at this, I’m actually a little angry there isn’t already a line of chain-printed clothing. If they wanted to bring the joke full-circle, just attach a couple of stamps to the chain and BAAM! And not to step on Hulk Hogan’s toes, but how awesome would it be to watch someone rip a shirt like that off their body and leave the broken links lying on the ground. Heck, Superman’s been advertising that image for decades, we gotta catch up fast!
•Grrl Scouts Magic Socks 1 (Jim Mahfood): Ohhhhhh man! What… what if Pac-Man was the ghost and the Ghost Gang were yellow fighters with the munchies????? *mind bloooooooooown* [7/10]
So while there’s no real “normal” in Freak City, things are getting “capital w” Weird in Freak City. A girl gets claimed from a psychiatric ward, meets up with her friends, and uses her army of Twitter followers to declare full-on war with her cousin Daphne. Daphne’s not in her mind right now, but will return your call after coming down off the supply cabinet of drugs she’s on. On the way down, her old friends Gwen and Rita bleed out of the woodwork and pull her butt out of a couple of fires. But the real story started before any of this takes place, and it started with a pair of socks.
For anyone that hasn’t read Jim Mahfood’s stuff before, here’s his storytelling style: throw crazy by the handful, follow whatever stuck with more, find a cliffhanger. Every writing guide ever published screams that this is NOT how stories happen, that combinations of people, dialog, and places alone don’t hold a story together, and that’s true. To anything that shouldn’t break, though, there must be the ability to bend, and that’s where Mahfood’s writing style lives. It’s not going to win awards and he won’t likely get poached to compose scripts commercially any time soon, but for his own purposes what he does works.
The illustration aspect of storytelling is where his fame truly comes from. Heavily stylized, loud and proud, loaded with complicated images (many of those cozy in the adults-only section), and overwhelmingly expressive. Cartooning allows for ideas and emotions to come across with greater bandwidth than more realistic styles could ever allow, and Mahfood’s style nearly abuses that truth. The experience is intense, yet rewarding and fun.
Grrl Scouts reads like pickled meat – tear-jerking and wild, but definitely an acquired taste.
•Generation X 1 (Strain/ Pinna): Terry Dodson would seem to suggest (CC Note: We’re stopping this right now.) What? (CC Note: Mutants have been put through the ringer already. The ringer they went through was itself put through a ringer, that’s how bad mutants have it. They don’t need you… you-ing things up as well.) But that’s just it, this book is all about how they’re going to stabilize their population! (CC Note: Where are you getting that?) Why else showcase a bunch of horny teenagers if it’s not going to (CC Note: STOP!)
•Aquaman 23 (Abnett/ Eaton & Faucher): Bu- (CC Note: STOP IT!)
•Freeway Fighter 1 (Ewington/ Coleby): LIFE HACK – to save a little money, don’t both with the pricey add-ons and weapon-mounting. With a good set of snow chains, ANY car can be a freeway fighter.
•Luke Cage 1 (Walker/ Blake): How do heroes resist the urge to shout “Oh Yeah!” any time they break through a wall. Kool-Aid can’t copyright the concept, they could shout their own catch phrase like “Build bridges not walls” or “Mortar just met pestle”, only better. If there’s anyone that can right this obvious wrong, Rahzzah’s cover clearly shows that it’s Luke Cage. [7/10]
Luke stresses a lot about his role as a father figure, perhaps because the ones he grew up with meant so much to him. When one dies, he takes it critically hard. The funeral’s held in New Orleans, but against stereotype it’s a small and somber affair, but he meets some of the man’s extended family, including the affluent father of a young man rehabilitated by the same treatment that gave Luke his powers. It’s in the wake of finding out that he could be the key to the next generation of medical therapies that Luke discovers just how populated his “family” has gotten over the years, not to mention how bad the sibling rivalry hurts.
Walker recently ended his year-plus run on Power Man & Iron Fist, meaning he’s no amateur when writing Luke’s character. With that series, he had the benefits of familiar characters, settings, and more playful plot threads to create an entertaining narrative. This book takes Luke out of New York, away from the family he’s built for himself, and confronts him with situations that cast deep shadows. It’s a different, much more personal perspective for the character, and it’s approached with an attitude of respect and determination to do right.
The art ultimately holds the narrative back in persistent ways. For one thing there’s an obvious case of Liefeld Face – Luke’s expression stays constant for 90% of the time. The other characters don’t deviate from their own version of the same expression either, and this gets intrusive fast. Considering how wide the emotional swing of the book should extend, the visuals end up communicating very little of it. The figures and settings enjoy more attention and variety, but still fall short of evoking any sense of tension or drama.
Luke Cage reads like an early text reading program on the early chapters of A Game of Thrones – there’s some great ideas but they come across with all the impact of a grocery list.
•Rise of the Dungeon Master – Gary Gygax & the Creation of D&D (Kushner/ Shadmi): The perfect gift for the GM that doesn’t already have a big enough head.
•Royal City 3 (Jeff Lemire) & Royals 3 (Ewing/ Meyers): Why ARE there no Royals living in Royal City? This is the easiest crossover idea in the past decade. Lemire’s doing plenty of work for Marvel already, they’ve improved their reputation a lot with creator-owned projects, and his properties already love dipping toes into the supernatural/ superpowered. Don’t be afraid, sometimes it’s okay to let the universe make it easy for you.
•Red Sonja 5 (Chu/ Gomez & Fiorito): Derivative Brokerages & Dragons? Highrises & Hydras? Lofts & Leviathans? Towers & Tall Redheads. Skyscrapers & She-Devils. Apartment Buildings & Arms. Castles & Combatants! Weally High Buildings and Wyverns! Hotels & Help Me I Can’t Stop!
•The Sovereigns 1 (Fawkes & Higgins/ Fornes & Desjardins): Please tell me the heroes hang back while the bridge fights the climactic battle. Think of all the times bridges get blown up in action stories, they are due for some payback. [8/10]
It was the busiest of times, it was the loneliest of times. It was a city of constant life, it was a city broken by centuries of neglect. It was 2025, an age ruled by god-kings. It was the 26th century, an age where immortals long forgot what civilization was like. The cyborg robot-killer Magnus administrates his society of ultimate technological synergy when he receives word his ally, King Turok of the Lost Valley, has fallen in battle. Visits to fellow adventurers-turned-commanders Spektor and Solar reveal little insight and more questions, including “Oh no what have I done????”
This story kicks off from a strange position. If the reader doesn’t know anything about the characters or their properties from before, they won’t find anything to help them understand things. If the reader DOES know about the characters and properties, that won’t help them because this particular event barely uses anything but the names. What is recognizable is the premise of a world where heroes run out of citizens to champion for, and face a threat that attacks from the parts of each other’s lives they never bothered to get to know. On it’s own the concept is strong, but aside from brand recognition there’s no reason the story could only be told through this set of figures. In fact, if the story was forced to start from scratch and build up context behind each kingdom and its ruler, it’d have been a marked improvement.
The art style handles each franchise’s distinct flavor admirably. Turok’s wilderness holds an infinite variety of life and threat, Magnus’s city exemplifies refinement, Solar’s cosmic citadel churns with impossible energy, and Spektor’s realm seems to ponder itself for the viewer’s benefit. Keeping all these tasks straight is no small feat, but the team pulls them all off. A special nod of appreciation should go to the lettering, which adds its own element of flavor to give everyone a sense of distinction.
Sovereigns reads like a drunk flamingo – others may be able to stand on their own fine, but in this case it just needs surer footing.
•Birthright 24 (Williamson/ Bressan): “Do you MIND?!?”
Why don’t we give them some space? See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues