Variant Coverage – August 30, 2017

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

No elaborately constructed themes this week, readers. Just some good, old-fashioned comic caterwauling. Let’s get to it!

Things You Shouldn’t Remember GN (Roldan/ Eliceche): OhhhhHHHhhhhHHH, look at the fancy man getting surgery with sharpened scissors!!! Whatever, back in my day we got our lobotomies with a used pair of kindergarten clippers, and we liked it! Or so we were told. (CC Note: This explains so much.)

Generations Hawkeyes 1 (Thompson/ Raffaelle): Finally, a battle of the sexes about what really matters – who can wear Wolverine’s mask without getting called on it?

Darkseid Special 1 (Evanier & Levitz/ Kolins): “‘Leave a puzzle in the bathroom’ Kalibak said. “It will help you relax’ Kalibak said. I am a god, I cannot allow any physical puzzle to confound me, no matter how much cosmic energy channels through it. I haven’t gotten off this seat in three days, nor shall I leave until I can move this microverse into the other tesseract zone without touching the eighth dimension.” [7/10]

The planet Apokolips could well be described as a living embodiment of evil: its blood is fear, it eats the lives and souls of mortals, and it breeds pain. The planet and everything on it heeds but one voice, that of its ruler/ father/ teacher/ champion/ god: the eternal Darkseid. And right now, Darkseid hunts a disease trying to infect his planet. A small band of humans escaped captivity, a feat only once accomplished before, and that by a god of New Genesis. These humans don’t just want their freedom, they want to conquer Darkseid, and while they can’t survive Omega blasts or shatter buildings with a single punch, they do have a supply of spray paint.

I understand that Darkseid’s solidly in the villain category with no drive to change any time soon, and that humans make better point-of-reference characters (so long as humans are the ones reading the stories), but I don’t understand why so much focus is devoted to the humans’ campaign of annoyance when this is supposed to be about Darkseid. If you’re going to give someone a special issue, let them be special in it. There are stories involving Darkseid that don’t involve beating him down, this could have been one of them. The leader of the resistance manages to show strength and vulnerability at the same time, which impresses plenty, and this allows her to score a victory over her target, if only a quiet one.

Three back-up stories are included in this issue, vintage ones that turn the cover price from high to reasonable, all either inspired or created by Jack Kirby. The first centers itself on the classic version of the One Man Army Corps and confronts the concept of a good soldier that decides he’s done following bad orders. The next lands on a couple residents of New Genesis to reveal there’s no such things as a minor resistance on that planet. Lastly, the issue looks into the All-Seeing Eye, a relic that proves too much for most to handle.

The art shifts depending on the story being told, but they all paint their scenes admirably. Scott Kolins takes the reins for the main narrative set on Apokolips, a tricky setting to pull off and yet he balances intense firelight with endless soot and filth. Everything looks beaten and depressed without appearing weak. Phil Hester pencils the OMAC story, which is basically one extended fight sequence against an entire army and its fortress, and he makes it appear appropriately epic. The last two are reprints from Kirby’s early days, and there’s nothing I could say about the King that hasn’t already been said better.

Darkseid Special reads like a Legendary Productions monster movie – enjoyable on its own merit, but not nearly enough of the title character.

Savage Dragon 226 (Erik Larsen): Who says the art of subtle political cartooning is dead??

Gwar Orgasmageddon 3 (Various): OMG spoiler warning! C’mon, Gwar, why’d you jump ahead of Marvel’s long game like that?

X-Files Origins II Dog Days of Summer 3 (Houser & Smith/ Fenoglio & Howell): “Harvette, come look at this! There’s this alien thing with green eyes and it’s looking up here! And they’re not like your glowing green eyes, which are really brought out by your dress, I’ve been meaning to tell you today, but this one’s are all weird and sinister. I suppose the way it’s probing that cow could be throwing me off, but I swear there’s an evil glint in its eye.”

Star Wars Mace Windu 1 (Owens/ Cowen): “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for, or at least they better not be since I’ll be opening the Space Bible on their asses. So I suggest you move along.” [4/10]

There was a time in the Old Republic when the Jedi were primarily scholars and negotiators. They trained with a lightsaber to develop mental and physical discipline, and they’d only walk into a warzone to help opposing armies come to peace. This is not one of those times, and Mace Windu worries they may never see such a time again. Mace must lead a small team of his fellow Force users to a small planet where the Separatists’ droid army has established a foothold. Their mission: cut off the foot. Given the overwhelming numbers stacked against them, the Jedi’s plan relies on not being noticed until they’re ready to strike. That should work.

Normally I try to find an angle to the story that some audience will enjoy, but I think this one is just objectively bad. The dialog wavers between exposition-heavy, cliche-heavy, and merely clunky. Characters take turns at reading space fortune cookies or fansite comments (except for Yoda whose lines lack the endearing quirkiness of the movies or shows, instead reading like homework sentences students are supposed to fix). The mission’s stakes aren’t especially high, and the alpha antagonist wastes no time in establishing that it has minimal personal investment in what’s going on.

I will argue that not only is the art inferior to the standards expected from Marvel/ Disney, it actually hurts to look at. Faces lack consistency – Mace may have a normal head in one panel, an elongated log for a head the next. Rare is the occasion where a person’s eyes face the same direction. Yoda may have been pasted from pictures taken of a cheap cereal box toy, with no addition of expression or scene-appropriate shading. Action scenes lack any illusion of kinetic energy, featuring figures that seem fixed in a pose for a still photograph and made to wait a couple of minutes while the photographers stepped away to get some water.

Star Wars Mace Windu reads like a flat soda – it’s bad, but it’s not bad in any way worth getting excited about.

Dungeons & Dragons Frost Giant’s Fury 5 (Zub/ Diaz): “A ‘dire-hamster’? I’m a level 24 fighter and you send a dire-hamster after me?! I’m ignoring it, gonna attack the boss again.”
“You sure you want to do that? It’s got sharp teeth and is jumping at you.”
“My boots may not be legendary, but they can handle a little light nomming.”
“Did I mention it’s the size of a bear?”
“At the boss I’m going to yell wait did you say the size of a bear?”
“Odd choice of battle cry but I’ll allow it.”

Jimmy’s Bastards 3 (Ennis/ Braun): A “flame” thrower. A lighter, a set of smoldering eyes, with burnt corpses at his feet. This is the kind of image that isn’t just badass, it challenges how the word “flaming” ever made it as an insult.

Children of the Fall GN (Wayne Young): There’s a bullet list of key dystopian tropes going on in this cover, but I cannot take my eyes off the koala bear on the guy’s back. How did it survive? What does it want? Why has it enlisted the humans to ferry it across the wasteland? (CC Note: Couldn’t it be that’s just a stuffed animal?) That’s just as curious! Why would a grown man make so much space and ignore basic life necessities for a cuddly toy? (CC Note: Don’t make this about me!)

Halo Rise of Atriox 1 (Bunn/ Nguyen): These Planet of the Apes crossovers are getting out of hand. [6/10]

On a nameless planet in the 26th century, the human military is being ground into paste. Wave after wave of hulking Brutes – agents of the alien Covenant – beat themselves on the dwindling defenses of the last remaining outpost without concern or reason. The planet’s abandoned, and if the attacks halted for even an hour this last squad would eagerly cede the planet to their attackers. Instead, the Brutes rush the base as soon as their dead are replaced. For every human that falls, five of their own die, but they don’t care. The commanding officer’s mind worries at this puzzle until there’s nothing left to do – why don’t they care?

I’m well behind on my Halo game time, even further behind on the surrounding lore, but the reader doesn’t need much of that to recognize a killing floor. No character stands out as worth getting attached to, not that there’s an opportunity to invest in anyone. Any scenery or design stays consistent with what anyone even slightly familiar with the Halo universe is used to, just with a lot of corpses. There’s ultimately only one point the issue can establish, and it makes this point exhaustively: the Brutes are looking for an excuse to die. If the reader wants to know why, there will be several issues of material coming up that’ll hopefully satisfy their curiosity, but unless they’re already deep fans of the source material, there’s no reason presented in this book to care.

From the first page, the art devotes itself to following in the footsteps of Halo’s contemporary designs and styles. The difference comes in the details, when Nguyen doesn’t attempt to make each panel look like a screen capture from the game, instead opting to illustrate the desperation and determination on both sides of the battlefield. Of course, the same battle goes on for over twenty pages, and the eye can only witness a fight for so long before it starts to wonder if there’s anything else to the story. So far, there isn’t.

Halo Rise of Atriox reads like a horror movie set in a bakery district – the line between man and monster is thin and there’s blood and screaming everywhere but please somebody throw a pie!!

Just in case someone takes me up on that, I’m gonna duck-and-cover. 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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