Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
“Normal” is a state of being much like “wise” or “funny” – everyone’s wanted to be it, no one can quite define it, and the more someone says they’re it the less likely they’re right. Each and every soul you’ve ever encountered was at least once perfectly normal, and also absolutely abnormal. “We’re all mad here.” Not to sound paranoid or anything, but there’s somebody in the world that thinks you’re a hopeless nutjob, a wreck that would be locked away if only the system worked. On the bright side, there’s also somebody that see you as the very picture of sanity, no more different or interesting than a simple rock.
This week’s books take a look at characters that, to put it politely, have a great deal of trouble finding their tribe. It’s what we all go through life searching for: that rare collection of individuals that don’t just tolerate us, but accept us for all our *ahem* idiosyncrasies. Despite all my rhetoric above, some by their nature have it harder than others, and one way or another need to make their own tribe, often out of whatever’s handy. Let’s meet them!
•Archies One-Shot (Segura & Rosenburg/ Eisma): Did Audrey Mok make this cover to be the child of Josie & the Pussycats and Now You See Me? Because that’s what it looks like, and there’s a strong argument saying that’s not a look to go for.
•Destroyer 1 (LaValle/ Smith): Look upon this cover, people. Study its detail and learn its lesson: puberty is a BITCH. [9/10]
Imagine if you will: Mary Shelley did not write The Modern Prometheus because it actually happened. Frankenstein’s Monster successfully hunted down his maker and proceeded to chill out for a couple of centuries, until global warming and Greenpeace introduced it to the Information Age. Unfamiliar with the concept of stereotypes, the monster reacted to YouTube comments like you’d expect an old man to. On the other side of the planet lives Josephine Baker, a research scientist with the twin burdens of genius and absolute confidence, who’s dedicated herself toward following in certain footsteps.
The story starts out all tropes and kaiju-movie themes, with a colossal monster encountering industry unchecked and deciding he doesn’t like it. It even introduces the reader and the monster to a young activist gushing with idealism to guide her audience into the narrative world. Do not be lulled. Frankenstein was THE horror story of its day and Destroyer hungers to pay all due respect by turning the reader’s stomach upside-down. Moments exist where the story – trying to push off the original story into new areas – tends to lean too much on its own source material. The suspense is terrible, and I hope it’ll last.
There’s an animation-level quality to the art that – I can’t help it – adds life to the visuals. Details like background characters’ expressions and wobbles as they get out of seats create the illusion of interaction. Cause leads to effect, which leads to consequence, and all of this plays out continuously from panel to panel. Readers’ll want to take their time with each panel searching for hints into plot threads, of which I expect several to come out of the blue with tiny seeds planted here.
Destroyer reads like memories of your imaginary friend – in spite of aging and radically different standards, it keeps pace with childhood expectations.
•I Am Groot 1 (Hastings/ Flaviano): What. The actual. WHAT?! I don’t know what’s more sadistic, Marco D’Alfonso’s cover for featuring the main character walking past the corpse of one of his people (unless someone wants to try and convince me that crossroads sing is made from PVC pipe), or “sweet and innocent” baby Groot for doing so with a look of casual contentment in his eyes. No wonder he started as one of Marvel Comics’ greatest monsters!
•Mass Effect Discovery 1 (Barlow & Dombrow/ Niemczyk): I’ll admit I was turned off by some of the mixed reviews of Andromeda, but none of them ever dared to say that the thing tried to actively kill you. I guess that’s just one more argument that comics can be as immersive as video games.
•Normals 1 (Glass/ Calero): THE ARISTOCRATS! (CC Note: Boooooooooooooooooooo!) [8/10]
There’s a picture of the happy American family living in a sleepy town called the Normals, and if you think that sounds fake, just wait. The father gets along with the neighbors, the mother runs the house like a charismatic noble, the daughter spends most of her life on her phone, and the son enjoys his treehouse time. It all goes to hell when sonny-boy falls out of said treehouse and acts a little too fine afterwards. Odd decisions turn from reasonable steps into psychological horror scenes intense enough to engage teenagers. That’s about when the hook grabs.
At the risk of spoiling, the central theme that I found was the experimental nature of life. A couple of teenagers like each other, so they try hanging out and see if it works. An unexpected result appears, but rather than halt the trial, they push forward to see what happens next. The outcome, judged to be positive, leads to a repeat of the process to determine if the findings are consistent. The whole of human existence summed up in the format of a Mythbusters episode (sounds better than a biology lab at least). Plenty is shown in this establishing chapter, but about as much is told. Dialog and narration start dragging on when they build enough momentum, and most of the action comes off as mundane. There’s a good amount of cerebral tension to engage readers, but lacks for physical drama.
The art reminds me of a quieter version of Michael Gaydos: lots of facial close-ups with rigorous structure, but less aggressive linework and a gentler level of color washing. The effect creates a world and people that represents well enough, but no one is going to scream about how “real” everything appears. The early drive to sell the visuals as average remains consistent throughout the book, when some ambition to go outside expectations would’ve been more stimulating.
Normals reads like a spontaneous trip to a chain restaurant – even as a surprise, it’s about what you’d expect.
•Rapture 1 (Kindt/ Suayan): Tech ninjas decapi-kicking skeletons? Let’s just break this down real fast. A number of questionable life choices had to occur just for him to wind up in the profession of cybernetic shadow killing. Covert assassination’s not the kind of career one picks up until their acting career gets off the ground. But then to land in a situation where skeletons walk like fleshies and he needs to body them into pieces… who scans through contract sheets, spies an entry that reads “Back (and other bone) breaking labor”, and sends a portfolio? I want to know what kind of breakup was so bad that it takes a gig like this to get away from that pain.
•Jean Grey 2 (Hopeless/ Ibanez): Knowing him, Quentin Quire’s probably holding a piece to a very different puzzle, most likely one of those MC Escher deals that’s been a project of another group of students for a solid month now. Petty as it is, it can’t be an easy feat to hide such a prank from three power telepaths like that. Shine on, fauxhawk diamond.
•Divinica 1 (Roth/ Basaldua): I understand the premise behind the complaint that pop media features more risque poses and clothing styles than media of the past. I don’t think there’s much denying that. I’m just saying that Dawn McTeigue’s cover presents a counterpoint when compared to the work her cover is an homage to, seeing as there’s infinitely more clothing on the new version.
•Saucer State 1 (Cornell/ Kelly): Remember when Captain Adama went before the United Nations and advocated for the only recognized race to be classified as “human”? Well, if you ever wondered who would protest a declaration like that, here’s your answer. [8/10]
You think you know strange presidential campaigns??? Okay, you might, but not “the winning candidate’s an alien abductee” weird. Acadia Alvarado is the United States’ commander-in-chief, and maybe a year before that she had an encounter involving lost time, physical and psychological trauma, and gray skin. Her estranged husband was with her, she’s confided in a very select few, and she’s been understandably cagey about discussing the subject. Nonetheless, she’s in the perfect position to obtain any and all knowable details about what precisely happened. Yet despite all her determination and secrecy, some days it seems like everyone knows more than her.
Saucer Country – this title’s predecessor – followed a campaign of honest structure built around a gigantic lie of omission. Saucer State takes the next escalating step forward by showcasing an administration that must present to the general public as if business is usual, but quietly seeks to undermine a conspiracy bigger than global.
Of course, it’s possible presidential drama and power struggles are the last thing you want more of. Maybe you’re not ready to quit political stories cold turkey, but are looking for something that’ll lead away in time. Maybe you want to know that there’s still a line that is in fact too crazy to be credible. If that sounds like you, then you should find Saucer State palatable. It’s self-aware enough to include moments of utter ridiculousness, but doesn’t go so deep as to feel like parody.
Kelly’s art style promotes an atmosphere sort of like Jim Lee, only looser and less intense. The influence can be found in the basic designs and some of the figure poses, but the details don’t value thin and crispy lines, and the level of action energy isn’t nearly enough to require 90’s-era extreme responses to everyday stimuli. The short version: the visual style harkens to The West Wing but with younger and trendier people. And cameos from The X-Files.
Saucer State reads like a night after a heavy meal out – a fever dream so jumbled and yet so detailed you either want to forget it or repeat it.
I think I’ll wrap it up there. Now get lost, you lovely weirdos! See you next week.
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues