Variant Coverage – August 16, 2017

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

I’ve got comics and reviews of them, but we’ve also got GenCon this week. We’ve gotta get the ball rollin’ so we can get our dice rollin’!

Future Quest Presents 1 (Parker/ Olivetti): I hope when humanity develops space travel to the point that they can wear spandex that protects from vacuums and energy weapons are miniaturized to fit in gloves, we’re not so serious and pretentious that we don’t occasionally make “pew-pew” noises. Space Ghost probably started wearing the mask so no one would see that he scrunches his eyebrows when he suppresses a laugh. (I’ll just add that to the list of unreasonable expectations from the new Star Trek series.)

Dark Knights Metal 1 (Snyder/ Capullo): I thought they were just gently teasing with the titles of the prologue books “Forge” and “Cast”, but with this DC has gone full meta on us. The Justice League throws out the horns. This is a thing that happens now. This is real life. It’s entirely possible that future covers will feature mosh pits (honestly not that big a departure from ensemble action covers), headbanging, GL willing a bass guitar into existence just so he can destroy it against a speaker made from Cyborg’s leg, Flash playing fifteen solos at once, Aquaman and Wonder Woman on vocals in their native languages, Supes on lighting effects with his laser vision, and of course Batman wrecking the drums with fifteen forms of kung fu. Please! This can be my Christmas AND birthday presents! [9/10]

Returning to Earth after putting down another war-driven regime, the Justice League finds a mountain has just risen up in the middle of Gotham, a mountain that politely shifted the existing buildings out of its way instead of crushing them. This mountain comes with its own bunker, and that bunker’s seen some horrible business recently. The League’s quickly followed by the Blackhawks – a band of philanthropic adventurers lead by the former Hawkgirl – who explain that this is simply an opening salvo in a war they very much want to avoid. Something very old is behind all of this, behind absolutely everything, and the key to its victory lies in Batman’s nightmares.

People joke that “normal” for the Justice League involves getting press-ganged into a death battle on an alien arena for the amusement of galactic despots, and while that happens every now and then, it’s not normal. Every time they suit up, they take on something not normal, but they usually can deal with it so effectively it just looks like they do it all the time. By now most of the League’s seen just a hint of what’s going on, and they’re all freaking out in their own, subdued ways. Certain characters react so strongly it’d seem out of character if the circumstances were different, and there’s one cameo so unexpected that it’s special just for existing. I’m with the readership that says they’re burnt out over company crossover events, but this is how you get readers excited about a crossover event!

Part of what made Capullo’s run on Batman such a success was his ability to plant fun elements into an otherwise grim scene without sacrificing the stakes. Not jokes or gags, just pieces of  the environment or the action that stood out to give the reader something they could marvel at. Capullo hasn’t missed a step, and he gives every member of the League a shining monent. My only gripe is that the book – already covering a lot – failed to follow through on one early set-up. Without spoiling anything, I can only say that this decision was criminal and the audience deserves compensation.

Dark Knights Metal reads like an unreleased album from your favorite band – it’s not polished all the way, but it’s fresh material from a team at their best.

Normandy Gold 3 (Gaylin, Abbot/ Scott): Alright, readers, who wore it better?

Wicked Righteous 1 (Mayo/ Romero, Hall): So loitering is all it takes to be both wicked AND righteous? The United States of China must slap labels on anything in this age. I’ve chewed gum while reading on a treadmill, does that make me a multitasking saint? Doc Strange probably wouldn’t have had to learn mystic arts to gain the title of Sorcerer Supreme, all he’d need is to post video of him conducting brain surgery while playing “Name That Tune”.

GFT Tarot 1 (Brusha/ Abrera): Oh hell. Oh hell no! The gladiators and lions are teaming up! Rome is falling! Rome! Is! Falling!

Astonishing X-Men 2 (Soule/ Deodato): Apparently one of the things our reality has in common with 616 is that previews before movies in theaters are running way too long. I don’t care if you hate and fear me, I’m going to say it: I paid for a seat to a movie, not half an hour of commercials for other flicks only half of which look mildly interesting. If I wanted to pay for the experience of being told what I wanted, I’d date more.

Genius Cartel 1 (Bernardin, Freeman/ Kampe): Clearly this young woman is proud of her brain, and good for her, but it can’t be THAT impressive. Strong conversational skills are their own kind of wisdom, and if she had any, she’d know how obnoxious it looks when  she answers the question “What is your greatest asset?” like this. Even worse is that she’s using two fingers – she’s pointing to it twice! Come on! [6/10]

Destiny Ajaye surrendered herself to federal custody at age 17 after uniting the gangs of LA and holding the city hostage until it promised stronger racial equality from its police force. Once in federal custody, Destiny was declared dead while her very much alive self got drafted into a secret military academy. The military industrial complex’s gotten very good at making toys, and is running low on people that can properly use them. Destiny doesn’t waste time in displaying the skills necessary to run a well-equipped army into an unstoppable force, if only she could play nice.

This book tells the reader a lot, and shows very little. Captions and debriefings paint Destiny as an grand chess master, able to politically manipulate factions into working together and disrupt entrenched infrastructure without destroying it. What the reader sees is a surly teen with incredible battlefield awareness (which itself is pretty cool), and someone that never gets the opportunity to create and execute her own plans. Even more disabling, Destiny is hyped as possessing an intimidating and unflappable intellect, yet from beginning to end she allows herself to be influenced on the way to being controlled. She could be a compelling character if only anyone could decide which character she’s supposed to be.

A little research told me this is a chapter in a series around Destiny’s career as a military prodigy, but nothing in the book indicates previous chapters exist. From both narrative and marketing perspectives, this is a huge mistake.

The artwork captures everything the script suggests competently enough. This issue changes settings a number of times, and those changes get drastic, but the backdrops consistently present an authenticity to the scene. The characters (aside from having zero body fat) also appear to match up with their backgrounds and roles in the scene. The facial expressions are… intriguing. Normally an artist will fix one expression on every character all the time, or change them every panel to suit the situation. In Genius, each character gets their own default expression, but those defaults change from character to character. Destiny always looks annoyed, for example, while others look smug or offended or mid-poker game. It’s odd to see this much facial range and reluctance to exploit it on the same project.

Genius Cartel reads like a roast beef and frosting sandwich – it’s a fine idea to take two things people like and serve them together, but clearly someone didn’t think things through.

Spy Seal 1 (Rich Tommaso): I – I may need to tag out on this one. (CC Note: Why?) There’s too much going on here! Where do I even start? (CC Note: Are you just trying to get out of your job?) Would you like me to go into detail about how this is actually a story about the leading expert of “I Spy” the game, or how MI6 lost their funding and transitioned from bespoke suits to turtlenecks, or that millennials conduct all their espionage in small art galleries because everyone SAYS they went there over the weekend but no one believes them so it’s the perfect cover, or how we’ve got another woman trying to wear yellow jackets, or-* (CC Note: You’ve proved it, you’re sick, go home.)

Sandman Special 1 (Jurgens, Orlando/ Bogdanove, Leonardi): An “interactive planetarium” sounds like fun, but between fact-checking and using monsters and guys in capes instead of the traditional seats with belts, they’ve got some work to do before a soft opening.

Hercules Wrath of the Heavens 1 (Morvan/ Looky): I’m not even mad, I’m just disappointed. This is what passes for the wrath of the heavens these days? A Punisher-Lite that pulled a hat from his closet without realizing he grabbed last year’s Halloween costume, and an overbuilt robot cat? Have you seen that those things are real now, or close enough to look like a cat and a robot shared a drug-induced night terror? If anyone’s looking for intimidating designs, all they need to do is check out whatever draft of automaton DARPA is working on.

Mage The Hero Denied 1 (Matt Wagner): Well clearly this guy’s a comic book hero. Normal people don’t get to choose which half of them gets electrocuted. [8/10]

Kevin Matchstick once thought he was an average joe, but life and a woman/ mage named Edsel came from behind and hit that idea with an enchanted baseball bat. Kevin would go on to take that bat (an updated form of the mystical sword Excalibur) as his own, lead an army of magical people and creatures against a more destructive army of magical people and creatures, and wear the mantle of the heir of Pendragon to be a champion of humanity. About a decade ago he walked away from the fight, laid low, settled down to raise a couple of kids. That wasn’t easy either, but Kevin’s just popped back on the enemy’s radar and some hard choices need to be made fast.

Having not followed Matt Wagner’s Mage in its two previous volumes, I came into this book quite blind, but didn’t stay that way for long. Getting caught up on the essential lore quickly turned into a walk in the park thanks to Kevin’s son Hugo, and his role as inspiration for Kevin to either show or explain whatever the reader needs. Plenty of gaps remain – it’s been over a decade after all – but there’s enough in this issue to tide us over while the series picks up speed. The shadowy antagonists haven’t been idle in that time either. They’ve been establishing connections and building a power base all for the moment when their prey finally pops his head out, and while they’re clearly patient, they’re not ready to sacrifice satisfaction for efficiency. This book promises to put on quite a show.

Wagner’s drawing style matches his storytelling: it’s nothing fancy, but it’s rock solid. The illustration favors strong lines and angles but knows when an image calls for a curve. People and objects appear blocky without looking like they’re made out of blocks. What makes the pages come to life is the color and shading, both of which impose dimension and vibrancy to the scenes as they play out. Light sources get taken for granted, but Wagner demonstrates an understanding for how much they can change the tempo of a sequence – when a guy generates a light source that outshines the sun, you know things are going down.

Mage The Hero Denied reads like finally getting to drive for the first time – not as great as the hype implied it would be, frustratingly slow to get here, but ultimately a fun adventure.

Assuming we all make our saving throws, 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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