Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
There are very few people in the world that can sincerely say that things are how they’d like them to be. (Or that’s what I assume, at least someone should be satisfied with reality.) More often there’s a part of the world we’d like to see change, either to make things better for ourselves, worse for someone else, or just because it’d be funny if trees had stripes. But changing the world is hard. Some days it can take all your energy to change something as small as the amount of water in your glass. Getting a new law enforced or swaying public opinion can eat up a whole lamp store’s worth of wishes.
Fiction skips the part about working for change. Comics skip the describing business and just show you that different world. This week’s reviews are about titles that wouldn’t recognize a “normal” world if it burst against their windshields.
•Hellboy and the BRPD 1955 Occult Intelligence 1 (Mignola & Roberson/ Martinbrough): The image of Hellboy on the set of Raiders of the Lost Ark makes my soul smile immediately. The sad part is that in my head, it’s overshadowed by the title and its suggestion of Hellboy meeting Marty McFly and getting him and his mom to prom through an army of vivified terra cotta warriors. (Things get heavy when they’re around.) (CC Note: Booooooo!)
•Suee and the Shadow TP (Ly/ Park): A goth girl conquering her fears of the forest by taking up shadow boxing? This mash-up of Coraline and Million Dollar Baby has me intrigued, tell me more.
•Retcon 1 (Nixon/ Cypress): There’s a lot going on here, more than I’m comfortable with if I’m being honest: armed guards, runes, geometry that may or may not be euclidian, a guy trying to pull off the flowing mohawk AND hipster glasses, fire, some patchwork zodiac, and the fashion statement of useless belts. Are these among the factors that require careful orchestration in order to spark a retcon in our own universe? Or is the retcon in progress, and this guy’s working on a way to guarantee his character stays relevant? If anyone’s ever been interested in waking up in a different reality, this title asks questions you’ve asked as well. [6/10]
Most people go to support groups so they can unburden themselves without fear of judgment or their confessions getting out. Usually these groups are formed around shared addiction or trauma, and the personal episodes around them. “The Animal” Chris Dodge just confessed his involvement in a special forces unit made of supernatural creatures to confront supernatural creatures. He brought photos. Brandon Ross – barista with just a bit of his own metahuman mojo – just got drafted to contain the situation. To him, that means dragging Dodge back to home base, convincing everyone else at the meeting they just got pranked, and leaving it at that. Ross’s partner, aka Skinwalker, interprets their orders as “bomb the meeting, blame terrorists”. The concussive events that follow are when happens when co-workers fail to compare notes.
I’m not sure I can call this a narrative. It has characters, but they don’t demonstrate growth from beginning to end. There are settings, but half of them are just around to get blown up. There’s a plot, but that’s built around a series of MacGuffins that need to be destroyed or protected or something – opinions flip. More than anything, the story floats between threads like a child in a candy store for the first time: so overwhelmed with possibilities that it takes a step toward one only to turn around and look at something else, incapable of committing to what it wants.
Wrapped around this indecisive tale is an art style that implies it’s alright because it’s supposed to be weird and not quite matched up with what we’d expect. It combines the wild bouncing of perspective and disregarded proportion of Jim Mahfood with the layered geometric style of Tula Lotay. It challenges you to believe that everything you see isn’t everything there is to see, that there’s so much more if only you can let yourself forget how to look at the world. In other words, it’s the kind of art style that makes you think you’d get it if only you were on something mind-altering.
Retcon wins my Gargleblaster Award – it wants to beat you on the head with something citrusy and call it a treat.
•Britannia Volume 2 TP (Milligan/ Ryp): A snake slinking through a skull burst out of a panther’s mouth, which itself is erupting from a statue’s eye socket. This isn’t a comic book cover, this is a 2D visual representation of Inception. BWAAAAAAAHHH!
•Dark Horse DC Comics The Mask TP (Arcudi, Grant, Gilroy, Mahnke, Backs/ Various): This is so pretty it hurts! Not the cover, but what it represents: a day when comic publishers could work together and make a fun product out of their fun products. A turducken of pop culture icons! I really want this to do well to inspire more companies to get their peanut butter in each other’s chocolate and vice versa.
•Sink 1 of 5 (Lees/ Cormack): Your shameless coattail riding of the opening of IT is shameless enough, you don’t need to throw in the implied dangers of a nondescript van on top!
•The Realm 1 (Peck/ Haun): Soooooooooooooooo. Highlander mixed with Dark Tower set in the poppy fields from Wizard of Oz against the backdrop the LA skyline only aliens have inhabited icebergs broken from the poles and there are dragons from Game of Thrones everywhere. Clearly there’s a stomach bug ravaging Hollywood because at least three producers just vomited on this cover. [7/10]
Once upon a time the world was “normal”, and then magic moved in. Mountains tore free from gravity’s grip and housed maniacal despots. Ogres, trolls, and assorted nasty things hunted people down. The Information Age ended, along with federal governments and global economies. Think Mordor invading the world of Mad Max. There are still places for humanity, if they’re clever enough, or cruel, or have some kind of magical edge, or some combo of the three. Nolan’s maybe got some of all three, and a talent for getting people from one place to another alive. It keeps him fed, busy, and in competent company. He’s got another job lined up, a group needing to go south, seems on the level, but then what is anymore?
The narrative immediately lets you know how self-aware it is. It wastes no time in pulling out the tropes like terror in the sky, princesses as currency, and crazy king. It’s got the entire list of elements from apocalyptic wastelands and mystical horror to pull from, and it does so with a giddy attitude. Rather than rely on them as they are, it pushes them into new directions and sets up interesting combos. This mostly makes up for otherwise lacking characters. Everyone – be they wannabe dictator or adventurer or sadist – everyone behaves with a detached air about them. It’s difficult to emotionally invest in any of them, but a few express amusing traits that might make for cool moments down the road.
Like most of the characters attempt but few accomplish, the art plays it safe. The humans pretty much look like humans, the monsters look like dirty humans with pointy ears. The landscape looks bleak, with sand blasting anything and no one making an effort to spruce the place up. The more fantastical aspects of the world would appear to suck in the light, casting them in shadow no matter how much sun reaches them. This may be meant to cast them as mysterious and looming, but instead betrays the notion that no one bothered with designing them. There’s very little to see in Realm that the reader hasn’t seen before someplace else, but it worked then and mostly works now.
The Realm wins my Mac-and-Cheese Award – it may not impress anyone, but it’s got the ingredients everyone comes back to.
•Wolfenstein 1 (Watters/ Kowalski & Friere): U-RAGH! You got Nazis? We got a guy that hates Nazis more than Boss Hogg hates them Dukes! This guy kills them three at a time without getting his boots dirty. His core’s so muscled that you can see his abs through a sweater and a bomber jacket. Why’s he wear a bomber jacket? Because he’s rated as live ordinance, that’s why! Nazis are steering zeppelins into your airspace? This guy’ll knock them into the moon with his military-precision haircut! This cover’s so extreme that Rob Liefeld wrote in to complain about how crazy it is!
•Lifeformed – Cleo Makes Contact TP (Lowery/ Anderson): When a person’s going through puberty, circumstances and hormones can make for overwhelming emotions. For some, the only way they can deal with them is to completely ignore them. That’s not the healthiest way to manage, but it’s a way, I get it. It kind of falls apart when a person’s reaction to full-on alien invasion is the same reaction to learning that dinner tonight is microwaved lasagna.
•Runaways 1 (Rowell/ Anka): Through years of training and a mountain of self-discipline, I will keep myself from exploding at getting back into the story of the wayward kids of an evil cabal that Brian K Vaughan started with Adrian Alphona years ago. It it because of that mental control that I can see the true message of this image: a reminder that this franchise featured velociraptor team-ups YEARS before Chris Pratt made it mainstream. [9/10]
Years ago, a bunch of kids that barely knew each other made the decision to run away together – their parents were all murderous criminals. Over time they grew up together, and then they went apart. A few, like Nico Minoru, went on to try and make the world a better place, follow in their role model’s footsteps, even walked with them for a time. Others, like Chase Stein, couldn’t forgive themselves for the mistakes they made. For years Chase punished himself for failing to protect his first love, his teammate and fellow Runaway Gertrude Yorkes. He played the moment over and over in his head, forcing himself to relive the pain from every angle he could imagine. And then he hopped in his time machine…
In a number of ways, first issues of an old series have advantages over completely fresh material: the characters are established, the setting needs more tweaking than anything, most of the details are just catching up. This can also work against the new team because if they get anything wrong, it can derail the whole thing like a rock on a train track. Rowell (already an accomplished novelist) not only provides the essentials to catch the reader up, she teases them with something that looks wrong only to show she’s got it right AND has plans for it later. There aren’t as many active players in this first chapter as I’d like, and they pretty much stick to one place, but the pay-off is more than worth it.
When Kris Anka first came to my attention, I thought his work was blocky and boring. Since that first impression, his style’s evolved to include more nuance, emotional range, and body language. It’s still something of a minimalist style, but has learned how to show more with the same amount of line work. It succeeds the original Adrian Alphona’s efforts comfortably.
Runaways wins my Chained to the Wall Award – they shouldn’t be allowed to leave for at least a year’s worth of issues.
I don’t want to change your world, but I like the idea of giving you ideas. See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues