Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
We’re looking down the barrel of June. School’s out and summer is upon us. Insect bites loom over horizons. And there’s a Wonder Woman movie coming out! Honestly, we’re all really hyped about Diana carrying her own movie, especially since early reviews would imply it’s not horrible!
But this is a comics blog. I can’t let myself get distracted. Comics, comics, comics, let’s look at some comics!
•Animal Jam 1 (Ruiz & Esquivel/ Ruiz): This was my pet name for Sloppy Joes. But think about this: in a world where all the creatures walked on four legs, would the bipedal motion be considered a superpower? May whatever available deity watch over the if they ever clue into opposable thumbs.
•Cable 1 (Robinson/ Pacheco): Dale Keown’s cover aches to plant seeds for a crossover, and just wait, you’ll see it too. Check out the grim determination on Cable’s face, the expression of a man that’s seen so much, seen things that would break most people, yet will not stop seeing. Examine how his chest is wrapped in ammo and grenades, and that he’s dual-wielding advanced weaponry while fresh guns wait in their holsters for attention. It’s obvious Marvel’s making a play to produce Cable vs. John Wick, and who wouldn’t watch that five times? [7/10]
The time-tossed son of Scott Summers and Madelyne Pryor learned from an early age how to cope with instability. Some of those coping mechanisms probably helped him develop a drive to bring order where none exists. It might also explain his compulsion to pack guns so big they could be anchors for cruise ships. Someone’s creating instability by jaunting through the timeline and giving out advanced tech to ne’er-do-wells in humanity’s more chaotic ages, and for many reasons Cable is just the type to hunt them down before they can cause too much damage. Against yokels brandishing strange holster-iron, Nathan CCS doesn’t even break a sweat, but can he prevail against a desperate army?
My biases against time-travel stories aside for the moment, there are some quirks to this opening that might not work for some readers. For one, there’s really no introduction to anyone or anything. Cable is presented as a grizzled body-builder with a glowing eye, weaponry that screams overcompensation, that jumps through time like its nothing to stop other people that jump through time like it’s nothing. Without the X on the cover or Marvel’s indicia, there’s little context connecting it to the Mutant community, making this a problematic jumping-on point for new readers. Cable fans, on the other hand, won’t have to wait through anything before getting to see bar fights and techno-mashups.
Back to the time-travel side of things, I’m honestly pleased with how this story approaches it. If Cable is a time soldier, then the audience should see him soldier through time. Don’t focus on time paradoxes or preserving each grain of sand, focus on the gun-runners and crossfire casualties and vows for grim retribution. This iteration presents Cable as an action hero, which is not a bad thing.
The art style leans toward safe mainstream expression. Anatomy looks healthy with exaggeration, which isn’t historically or biologically accurate all the time, but sells the concept that this is a “lean back and enjoy the fantasy” kind of storytelling. Faces have half-a-dozen expressions that the entirety of the human condition must fit into – most of the time it’s fine, sometimes it doesn’t work. The settings (places like the Old West and Medieval Japan) deserve a lot of attention to bring out their epic best, and they get it. I wished Cable could have spent more time appreciating them, but he didn’t so I’m going to. The action sequences, unfortunately, do not bring as much excitement as they should. Some are abbreviated to the point of being skipped over, others are hard to follow and fail to make sense.
Cable reads like a poorly-rehearsed war reenactment – everyone shows up with quality gear, but very few bothered to learn the cues.
•Paklis 1 (Dustin Weaver): How horrible would life be if you were abandoned on a desert planet, knew everyone you ever cared for was hunting you down like a dog, were two weeks off medication to treat your paranoia, AND suffered from tinnitus? Answer: pretty horrible.
•Joe Golem Occult Detective – Outer Dark 1 (Mignola & Golden/ Reynolds): “It was around this moment – when I was crossing a urine-soaked alleyway from a hundred feet up on a bridge made out of palette board – that it occurred to me the leggy dame with the fancy hat may’ve been lying to me about being Pope. The pieces all fell into place then, but I only had a few seconds before I’d fall with them.”
•Little Nightmares 1 (Shackleford/ Alexovich): If wolves are wild dogs, and dogs are color blind, then how would they know Little Red Riding Hood from any other urchin in climate-protective gear? Does the color even matter? Who informed the wolves that it was the girl in the RED hood carrying food, and the ones in other colors were actually lumberjacks in disguise? Why didn’t Grimm want us asking these questions?! HOW FAR DOES THIS GO?!?!? [6/10]
Six wears a bright yellow raincoat. She doesn’t talk much. She’s a tiny little thing in a world of giant, bloated, ravenous creatures that’re after her and anyone like her. She meets some people like her that try to get her talking, just to pass the time. They don’t fare so well.
This story… isn’t about anything. There aren’t people so much as allegories, not places so much as sets. Things don’t happen, they seem to continue. The tone of all these elements is great in the same way that Tom Riddle did great things after he graduated from Hogwarts. Instead of a goal to achieve or a demon to fight, there’s the reassurance that everyone is doomed but they don’t have to be right this moment. Perhaps a more accurate way to put it is that this isn’t a narrative, but rather a showcase of how varied and colorful the horrible darkness can be.
Aaron Alexovich, most recently of Invader Zim fame, brings his usual style of hyper-designed chibi figures to this project, and it brings as much readability to the narrative as it could hope to attain. For a character without dialogue, history, or most of a face, Six still earns connection and empathy from the readers, especially considering her trials probably won’t be shared by them. The art easily works the hardest to make this project function, in fact one could argue that the whole thing is a portfolio piece for Alexovich. So if that’s your thing, this should be in your pull list.
Little Nightmares reads like that one inside joke about the monkey cages, the pinata, and the mislabeled cheese – it might make more sense if you were already in on it.
•New Humanz 1 (Chadha/ Rojas): Gabe Sapienza, it’s great that you’re drawing the cover you want as well as the cover you’ve been commissioned to, but it’s time to get serious. When the Sharknado franchise wants a poster, they’ll call you. Especially when they get to Number 10, the sharks are weaponized toy versions of sharks, and the whole thing takes place in a hospital that also happens to be a space yacht. Not sure how you came to the conclusion that that’s where the series is going, but follow that shark-infested brick road.
•Blood Bowl – More Guts More Glory 1 (Kyme/ Jadson & Pereira): Behold Rjan Svendse’s cover, for it reveals the true reason the XFL never took off. You see, no Fair Catch and faster play sounds good and all, but they tried selling it to a generation that’d already played the likes of Blood Bowl and NFL Blitz. That’s like selling carob sticks at a chocolate convention.
•Heroines 1 (Ted Naifeh): Second-best graduation photo ever! (First place will forever go to Orville Redenbacker, who took advantage of wearing a dark robe in 100-plus degree heat to graduate, get his picture taken, present his post-grad thesis, and flash the audience all at the same time.) [9/10]
Marcy Madison leads a charmed life. She comes from money, she’s a blue-eyed blonde freshly graduated from college, she’s physically fit, and she can shoot blinding light in all directions. Society would have her believe she doesn’t need to do anything, but she wants to make the world a better place. She spends a whole six minutes with the established super-hero community before concluding that they’re a bunch of narcissistic jerks, and thus decides to start her own. It takes some suffering through joke replies and false positives before she gets a hit: Raven, hacker/ street fighter, former romantic partner to another hero, and possessor of zero patience for people that won’t recognize truth when it points a gun at them. Marcy and Raven get along, they find another and another that get along, but does that make them a functional team?
This is a great story with a massive self-destructive failing. The positives: it takes a close looks at the imbalance of power, the nature of privilege, and how prejudice can seep into the most reinforced places. It presents a clear idea of how people can come together and decide to just do something, a way that applying from starting a superhero team to planning a rally to creating a business. It doesn’t hide the ugly or unpleasant, in fact it shines the spotlight on them as it demonstrates that things can get better with the right resources and attitude.
The fundamental flaw is that – with the degree of empowerment and conquest over systemic adversity the story portrays and the varied backgrounds of the women it tells the story through – the creator is a dude. I like this story, I’m glad it’s being told, but it would carry a lot more weight if a woman (particularly one of color) were co-writing it to help develop the statements Naifeh makes.
Naifeh’s artwork continues to evolve. His previous volume – Night’s Dominion – demonstrated how much effort he’s put into his backgrounds and architecture contributing to the atmosphere of the tale. That carries over to Heroines, and from there Naifeh would seem intent on developing action sequences. He keeps the panel-to-panel transitions tight, and the positions of his figures imply that he put planning into the choreography. Naifeh’s never had a problem with making stories pretty, but the fact that he’s still challenging himself pays off for the audience.
Heroines reads like a perfectly prepared spicy dish made with hot dogs instead of steak – the assembly and most of the ingredients work marvelously, but there’s something fundamentally off.
Speaking of fundamentally off, that’s where I’m going! See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues