Variant Coverage – June 14, 2017

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

I remember a time when, as the days got longer and the thermometer rose higher, people would spend as much time as possible outside. Laughing any time a breeze brought a rush of cooler air, running to catch up with the ice-cream man, trading intel on who was setting up a sprinkler for kids to run in.

These were dark times indeed. Can you imagine trying to read while the wind kept losing your place, how sticky the pages got with just a couple of drops from a rocket pop, and the horror of a book falling apart from getting wet? It was a nightmare, and below are plenty of options for you to wake up with.

Bitch Planet Triple Featurette (Various): I suppose scrap-booking would be one of the few crafts that Stepford Wives, quiet revolutionaries, and armed militias might all have in common. Heated negotiations to end hostilities begin with comparing materials, debating acid-free paper & adhesive versus lamination, admiring cover customizations, and showing each other their favorite articles. I could also see it all go wrong when one shows off their prize collage of pictures taken of another side’s dead. Things would get bloody and glittery faster than a Stephanie Meyer novel.

Winnebago Graveyard 1 (Niles/ Sampson): Though well-populated, there would definitely be certain graves more visited than others. Vets stop by and pay their respects to the tricked-out motor home from Stripes. Goths, pagans, and other occultists leave trinkets at the marker for the Gecko brothers’ RV. Perhaps the hardest to handle are the trunkfuls of gold glitter that collect every year by the Eagle 5’s eternal parking space. What model was that again? *looks up, finds volumes of material about the Winnebago tribe of Native Americans* Huh. Could I have appropriated that any harder if I’d tried?

Dark Days – The Forge 1 (Snyder & Tynion IV/ Kubert & Romita, Jr.): Aquaman: You can’t rush the process, Bruce. Just trust me, on my word as King of Atlantis, that this will be worth your time. Properly prepared, sushi made from the molten catfish is to die for!
Batman: It better be! You might not have noticed but I’m wearing dark kevlar and supposed to be breathing oxygen. Between the volcanic heat and sulfur, I’m dying NOW!
Aquaman: …Don’t you hate it when you know something but don’t think of it?

Defenders 1 (Bendis/ Marquez): Someone pushed Daredevil off the roof, the only question is which one of the three did it. Iron Fist looks like he had the idea, but Cage and Jones are both fast enough to shove him and put their offending hand away before they could get caught. Daredevil just looks mad, like this is a regular hassle he puts up with. I can kinda get why he’d be such a popular target for practical jokes: he never sees them coming. (CC Note: Isn’t there a bus you should be punched into or something?) [7/10]

With the timing and precision of an expensive watch, Luke Cage, Danny Rand, Matt Murdock, and Jessica Jones are all attacked in broad daylight with RPGs and bullets. Jessica, being the only one without training or powers to defend against such attacks, gets hospitalized for a few hours before they all compare notes and beat the pavement for signs of their common enemy (as of now, anyway): Willis Stryker, aka Diamondback. He wants control over all eastern US crime, he’s got a system ready to go, and he’s putting it in place by demonstrating how ineffectual superpowers are against him. Well, that’s the plan anyway, and it might even work so long as said powers don’t team up.

The holes in the plot wind up taking more space than the solid matter. The concept of getting revenge, setting up a business, and making a statement in one shot sounds good. The ones being made examples of not liking it and teaming up to beat the guy up? Delightful. The execution, however, feels recklessly flawed. For one thing, the stakes zig-zag from country-wide to personal annoyance, and they shrink more than they grow. Jessica – you know, the only one to actually get shot – keeps the calmest head of everyone, even going so far as to use polite questions instead of violent interrogation. Most lose their enthusiasm for that, even, to the point where taking a break and grabbing a drink to think things through becomes the popular and most effective action. Thrilling. Diamondback would make a wonderful antagonist if he could commit to the type he wants to be, but sadly the mental instability that makes him so dangerous also keeps him from comprehending the obvious.

David Marquez’s art saves the book from itself a number of times. He turns establishing shots into character histories, side-character errors into jokes, and while things like these were probably written in, few could have pulled them off so well. While most of the issue is devoted to people yelling or composing themselves, there are a few smiles that demonstrate a spectrum of expression. Maybe most refreshing is the presence of consistent backgrounds – those mythical things behind the figures that determine where they are, what characters can work with, and otherwise provide depth.

Defenders is my giant chocolate egg of the week – sparkly and satisfying shell, but almost no substance past that.

Accell 1 (Casey/ Campanella): Damian Scott runs into the exact same trap so many others have done when drawing speedsters. In a single second of running, arguing he’s pulling a generous Mach 5, Accell covers a mile of terrain. From the look of his trail, he’s been running for way more than one second. In spots, he’s running up buildings and grabbing real altitude. How many bugs must hit his face any time he dashes off? How. Many. Bugs???

Martian Manhunter/ Marvin the Martian Special 1 (Various): J’onn: YOU?!? You’re a Martian?
Marvin: Yes, the ultimate conqueror from the most evolved species in all the universe. I’ll be subduing you now.
J’onn: I thought I was the last. How did you come here? How did you survive the genocide of our race?!?
Marvin: “Genocide”? I don’t recall anything like that. But now that you mention it, I do remember losing containment on an experiment a few centuries ago. I got so very angry at the equipment failure that I abandoned the project altogether, just ejected it onto the surface. Thinking about it, that could explain why broadcast media got so quiet. Oh well, I enjoyed the silence. Say, since you bring it up, how did YOU survive my bioweapon?

Normandy Gold 1 (Gaylin & Abbot/ Scott): Oh, that wacky Normie! Such a cut-up. (CC Note: We’re not paying you by the pun.)

Jimmy’s Bastards 1 (Ennis/ Braun): Dave Johnson’s cover makes me wonder if there are parts of the collector’s market I don’t know about. If ever there was an eccentric rich jerk that obtained children out of wedlock like others obtained wine – arranging them by age, region, and vintage – he’d probably look like this. The convention circuit must be creepier than a blanket made of centipedes. [7/10]

Jimmy Regent may not have the easiest job in the world, but to watch him at work it sure seems like it. As an elite secret agent for MI6, Jimmy regularly puts himself in situations where the fate of hundreds to millions hinges on what he’ll do, which lucky for the world happens to be the clever thing. He can take apart a terrorist attack, track its organizer, and piece together the conspiracy behind it all in about the time it takes to polish off a flute of champagne. He can do all this while whipping out one-liners, shrugging off various forms of attack, and seducing the prettiest women within 100 meters. It would seem Regent’s doing everything right, but is it possible that some of his actions have consequences he doesn’t know about yet?

Rejoice, for spy porn isn’t dead! There’s still room in the world for womanizing anglo princes with limitless toys and hacked skill sets. As a matter of fact, without the exploitative heyday of Fleming and Spillane, it’s safe to say Jimmy’s Bastards wouldn’t exist. Regent pulls off that tightrope-balance of legitimately portraying the archetypal spy’s top traits and parodying them at the same time, so it doesn’t matter if you love that kind of character or just love to hate him, either way he satisfies. The plot kicks off in the usual fashion (albeit with a gross amount of flair), but slows down with the force of a sudden parachute opening once he’s back in the office. The follow-up takes it in another direction, but fails to match the beginning’s frenzy.

Russ Braun illustrates a grand homage to the classic Bond flicks, providing Regent with a masonry chin, building the women like brick houses, and designing the villains with as much modesty as Michelangelo’s David. All the elements are put together with attention and energy to the point where the reader may sometimes forget how hammy the title can be sometimes. Perhaps most importantly, the artist gets that the project is supposed to be fun, and with every panel it’s easy to see that Braun went all in on that vibe.

Jimmy’s Bastards is my Naked Gun of the week – a too wacky not to laugh at tale with a few notable components placing it just out-of-date.

Briggs Land Lone Wolves 1 (Wood/ Chatter): For “the most dangerous game of all”, those two don’t appear to be impressive specimens. They’re healthy and capable, but they’re clearly deficient by the signs that they can’t tell they’re being hunted, and they maybe never heard of camouflage. The man on the waterfall isn’t obsessively defending territory or contemplating murder, he’s just thinning the herd.

Mother Russia 1 (Jeff McComsey): I love how babies smile at the weirdest things, like this little guy cracking up at the sight of the hundreds of people below using each other as teething rings.

Kill the Minotaur 1 (Pasetto & Cantamessa): “…Uuuuuuummmmmmmmm, yes, but not THAT minotaur. Our orders were to kill one specific minotaur, and surely the emperor would have mentioned if the targeted minotaur was the size of a mountain (and maybe sent us with a mining crew). Nope, OUR minotaur must be in another sea. Let’s keep moving. Very fast. Over in that direction.” [8/10]

The labyrinth started as a drawing, first on slate and then on the dirt. At the drawing’s center rest the fetid remains of a sacrificed bull, and loads of implications. King Minos of Greece, the commissioner of this project, vows to make the whole enterprise worth everything it has cost him, as well as everything it will cost the kingdoms under his thrall. Less than a decade later, the surrounding nation-cities are beyond fed up with Minos’ constant summons for sacrificial sons and daughters, but the one most eager to do something about it is Prince Theseus of Athens. The hotheaded youth could never come up with a plan beyond stabbing something, but someone hears his complaints and might be willing to help them design a way to stop the labyrinth’s completion, if they hurry.

If I only had one word to describe this story (CC Note: Don’t we wish?), I’d go with “visceral”. Any excuse to bleed gets abused, and where a few drops might look reasonable, buckets flow. Life isn’t the only thing chipped away from the Greeks for eventual slaughter, but also hope. Minos as a villain is meticulous, thorough, almost all-knowing, and absolute in his belief that what he’s doing isn’t just the right thing for him, but also for humanity as a whole. With all this and total political power, he’s pretty much the worst mortal enemy any character might imagine, which works out poorly for Theseus. The Athenian prince might be destined to defeat the labyrinth and its monster in myth, but in this book he’s just a kid with big dreams and no discipline. If you like your ancient fairy tales gory and the dangers everywhere, this should hold your attention.

The artwork maintains the style of the period accurately, if not the details. Likewise the figures and anatomy aim toward an exaggerated human form when possible. If a character is supposed to be ugly, they look hideous. If they’re supposed to appear weathered, they feel ancient. If they’re supposed to exude a sense of health, they seem sculpted from marble. Lukas Ketner’s drawing power is perhaps most obvious in the faces, which not only display a full spectrum of emotions, but manages it reliably with challenging subjects. The inking maximizes its capacity to imply depth and weight to communicate how figures look, move, and shift, and also to add gravity to certain moments.

Kill the Minotaur is my disaster movie of the week – the stakes are mountain-sized, the heroes are unprepared, and it’s worth it just to watch some spectacular failures.

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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