Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
I despise feeling lost. Something, somewhere, at some point went wrong to bring me someplace I didn’t want to be with no clear way out and without the confidence I had earlier. Phrase it like that, and no one likes feeling lost. That’s why some people just don’t allow themselves to get lost. It’s not that they have a magical compass or next-gen GPS, they just exercise spin control. They’re not lost, they’re just taking a surprise diversion. They’re walking the path less traveled. They’re exploring. Everyone’s lost but them. The list goes on.
My featured titles this week all include at least one character that’s way out of their comfort zone, each with their own preferred method of turning it into something other than a disaster. Grab your buddy and follow close, there aren’t many landmarks where we’re headed.
•Shirtless Bear Fighter 2 (LeHeup & Girner/ Vendrell & Spicer): Is there a scene where SBF punches something six times, walks half a mile through the woods, and the target explodes like a barrel of TNT? Because the industry has been naturally building up to that for ages now and it is time for some return on our collective investment. Give us our Casual Stroll Detonation Punch!
•Alien Bounty Hunter 1 (Wassel & Booher/ Robles): Check out the smarmy look on the motorcycle rider’s face. That is not the face of a hero. That’s certainly the kind of guy that’d leave a grizzled sheriff, a geriatric patient, and a computer user to face down a mansion-sized tentacle monster. That’s the kind of guy that’d take a photo of a crashed bus full of kids and post it online with the caption “Driving School Dropout, LOL!”. May he experience lost time and deep probing. [7/10]
Ben Madsen’s actually not a bad guy. He’s well connected and in good standing with his neighbors in LA, he loves his aunt Rita, and he chases down low-lives for money with a little help from his drone-happy bud Brooks. It’s not so easy when the low-lives make him chase them down and cause property damage in the process, but that’s just the nature of the biz. Nature’s taking a back seat on this latest target: a bioterrorist escaped custody in Alaska, and the race is on to get him back before he can skip town. High stakes aside, Madsen’s confident he’ll have a check to cash right up until he meets the target in “person”. This bioterrorist is a giant alien.
There’s plenty to enjoy in this issue. Madsen’s methods would fit right in at any action movie premiere, right down to the boss behind the desk more worried about lawsuits and PR than results. Our monster of the series would appear to be the abominable love child between a squid and a bear. The stakes rise by orders of magnitude with each revelation. All the basic ingredients are here, the drawback comes from the fact that they’re not given the right amount of pizzazz. Earth’s role in trans-planetary crime comes to light with no more ceremony or reaction than finding out that aunt Rita would rather hot-box with medicinal herbs than mainline chemo for two hours a week. If the big plot twists don’t get packaged appropriately, they fail to be big.
I personally prefer the teasing school of thought when it comes to horror: don’t let the audience get a good look at the monster until the very end, and even then make them work for it. Visually, Alien Bounty Hunter follows that advice to the point where it feels like punishment. No real details are seen by the audience, but at the same time there’s a analytical bio-scan, several instances where it’s left behind pools of trace evidence, and even a full-body silhouette. The style of the art would have the reader believe the composition uses a similar style to John Wick – high action with grounded motion and physics – but instead the arrangement comes across as stiff and forced. There’re almost too many set pieces in each page, forcing the eye to guess which element needs focus.
Alien Bounty Hunter is my textbook example of the week – it’s so worried about following all the steps that forgets to actually lead you anywhere.
•All-New Classic Your Pal Archie 1 (Templeton & Parent): I don’t know what happened to dishevel Archie so much while Betty and Veronica are as composed as ever. I can’t tell what the source of their goofy smiles is, and I couldn’t speculate without posting a number of language disclaimers. I’m just pleased that the old Archie universe isn’t completely forgotten, and I got to use “dishevel” in a sentence!
•X-Men Blue 8 (Bunn/ Smith): “Ricochet, you take your aim
Fire away, fire away
You shoot me down but I won’t fall,
I’m a psychic mutant diamond with PTSD!”
•Heavenly Blues 1 (Kahn/ Hidalgo): We’ve secretly replaced this comic’s blues with fire and brimstone. Let’s see what happens. [9/10]
Welcome to Hell. It’s way more boring than the advertising would have you believe. Romantics and goths painted such a vivid picture of caves decorated with skulls, huts built from bone and flesh, writhing bodies strung up on pikes, populated by foul demons, all of that lit by fires that burn forever. Instead, Hell is dirt with the occasional shallow pit for the newbies, drafty houses and shops, owned and operated by souls old and wise enough to have climbed out of their own pits, and faintly overcast. Folks make their own amusement, usually by debating optimal torture techniques and complaining about how nice things are two afterlives over. Nothing much happens in Hell, until a member of the Angelic Choir offers Isaiah and Erin (two of history’s poorly-indexed footnotes) a chance to shake more than a bucket of pitch over someone’s head.
My summary of the story may sound mocking, but the level of quiet understatement actually makes the narrative endearing more than anything. The main characters are true sinners that’ve not only accepted their sins, but also their punishments and some role in dispensing divine justice. Both Isaiah and Erin came to terms with themselves and each other’s baggage long ago. Just about the only way to cast such people as relatable is to normalize their behavior, as in this case. Some might see it as taking the majesty out of the afterlife, but I read it more as an affirmation that the universe works as a continuous flow. (CC Note: What gibberish are you spouting now?) “As you sow, so shall you reap.” (CC Note: You could just say that then.) What turns out to be the central theme of this book – a person can change so long as they truly want to – finds plenty of instances to show up and prove itself, which should be enough to see this series all the way through.
The artwork follows almost a sketch-book line of style. Each panel features enough lines and detail to get enough information across, but not much more. It doesn’t want to be fancy, it wants to get the job done, but it’s not trying to get out of doing the work. Each character’s expression carries layers of emotion one might expect out of someone that’s seen centuries of pain and figured out some coping mechanisms. Every character brings their own design style with them from when they shuffled their mortal coil, adding impressive variety for the few moments when extras find their way into a scene. It’s a style that might not catch your eye right away, but after a few pages it’ll hook you.
Heavenly Blues is my exotic entree of the week – it’s different enough to make one suspicious, but nourishing and tasty enough to become a new personal favorite.
•John Carpenter’s Tales of Science-Fiction Vault 1 (Ninness/ Esparza): “I realize one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but who’d use their twelve-step security safe to stash old corpses?”
-”Well, Lou, one time my granpappy told me this story about my uncle Jim who… you know what, I better keep that to myself. I think he’s up for parole next year.”
•BRPD Devil You Know 1 (Mignola & Allie/ Campbell): Bring back the guys in the rubber suits, these new kaiju designs are freaking terrifying!
•Faith & the Future Force 1 (Houser/ Segovia & Kitson): Waaaaaait just one second. The Valiant-verse’s bread and butter just about since its relaunch has been all about conflict, the team-fighting, the conglomerate conspiracies and petty bickering. Now there’s this book promoting stuff like unity and fighting for a common cause and not punching the guy next to you because their face doesn’t belong there or whatever? Is this my world? Is the sky still blue? What have you done, Faith???
•Zojaqan 1 (Kelly & Lanzing/ Astone): “Welcome to the Red Carpet, who are you wearing? Also, what are you wearing? Is it hungry? Has it been tested for diseases? Is it perhaps a new disease? Where did you get it, and why did you bring it to our world?” [8/10]
When someone loses something precious, it can feel like the universe threw them at a wall. Shannon experienced a loss tragic enough that the universe threw her at Time like a skipping stone. Shannon’s human, born in the USA and raised in big cities, but now she’s in a volcanic wilderness that challenges her at every step to survive, only she isn’t too devoted to the idea of living. The native plants are awful, the water’s practically toxic, but the beasts are at least edible and (with some clever adaptation) fashion-forward. Just when she gets the hang of things, she falls out of time again, and by the time she lands again the scenery has…grown.
This story is part grieving process, part time-travel adventure, part epic poem. Shannon’s journey doesn’t follow a linear structure, which leaves both her and the reader fighting to figure out what is happening to her. As a healthy human being, she possesses a fully functional survival instinct and the traits that allow one to survive as prey and thrive as predator. As someone in deep mourning, she’s elated at the idea of being put out of her misery without having to contemplate suicide. Between the strong philosophical themes, the defiant dialogue, and the metered narrative voice, this coalesces into a fairly heavy read. Not everyone will have the patience to work through it, but the experience is rewarding for anyone willing.
The visual constructions keep pace with the lyrical narrative, placing an ambition to create something beautiful ahead of anything else. Shannon remains consistently rendered in every world she comes across, in some cases she fits in all too well, in others she’s a hideous alien, but in all cases she finds a way to establish a place for herself. Anatomy and design all start with a base in realism, but rarely stay satisfied with that. Every panel features a body bending or balancing itself to achieve something, so characters look less like arranged poses and more like dancing positions or martial arts stances. The results may not appear natural half the time, but they’re always a treat to study.
Zojaqan is my chocolate truffle of the week – perhaps too rich to appeal to some palettes, yet absolutely delightful for anyone with the right craving.
Hope I didn’t lose you back there. And if I did, you can’t read my apology, so whatever. Let’s find out if you can find your way back by next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues