Variant Coverage – September 20, 2017

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

It annoys me that we’re never quite where we want to be. Ambition tells us where to go, confidence assures us we can get there, stamina dictates how close we can get, but that’s not enough. Ambition may demand we go one step more, confidence can blind us to obstacles, and stamina can fail if we’re not paying attention. Maybe even more annoying is wisdom, that thing contradicting the other three by nagging us to appreciate where we are. No wonder the slightest problems with GPS navigation can send people into road rage.

The characters in the reviews this week get it. They’re just absolutely done with where they are, they are ready to destroy the cosmic travel agent that got’em there. None of them are getting out any time soon, but let’s see who among them is worth following.

(CC Note: Took the metaphor a little far there, didn’t you?) (I like it, shut up!)

Bloodshot Salvation 1 (Lemire/ LaRosa & Suayan): “Don’t tell your Primary Handler, but I’m actually excited about ‘Take Your Genetically Manufactured Successor to Work Day’. A career in wholesale killing and destruction isn’t something one can just pick up off the ground like a loaded clip. Anyone can train in firearms or run laps, but what you need to learn most is how to read your field. Look over there, at the platoon of militiamen. They’re behind light cover, limited mobility, armed with assault rifles and maybe two full mags each. You’ve got one grenade. Which do you blow up first?”
“…Can I blow up the fuel truck on the left?”
“Yes you can, sweetie.” *wipes tear* “Yes, you can!”

Angelic 1 (Spurrier/ Wijngaard): Happy monkeys, armored dolphins, and robot caves, huh? Is this John Carpenter’s vision for a zoo exhibit, or is this a possible future where all the water’s replaced with Mountain Dew? [7/10]

Qora is a pink flying monkey being trained in the lore of her people so that she can walk/ fly/ hover in the path of its doctrine. She must learn what history of her kind survives, perform extra duties, and if she does well enough she will be allowed to participate in a ceremony that involves getting her wings cut off. Qora thinks this is kind of a raw deal, but any time she asks for more details, the answer is extra duties. She’s sometimes tempted to run away and explore the world around her, but that’s a horrible idea. There’re poisonous clouds outside their territory, lightbending cats tease and stalk in the shadows for prey, and cybernetic dolphins rule the sea and the air. The world’s gone bananas thanks to the Makers, they “left” about four centuries ago, and there are no words for the mess they left behind.

Qora’s journey makes for an immediate point of relation for the reader. She can’t simply accept the way things are, and she’s hungry for context. Her frustration grows with ours, and so by the time she learns what her prescribed fate is, the reader’s conditioned to feel her despair. Her position in life’s also something with exaggerated parallels to the world each of face – she’s seeking a place where she and the world can help each other (instead of sacrificing one for the other’s sake), surrounded by the strange and the dangerous, yet she’s never considered that those strangers are also just obeying their natures and see her kind as the dangerous ones. It’s sci-fi with a heavy message, but once you get past the flashy tropes it’s easy to figure out.

With so many elements so far outside the norm, a simple and open format to the artwork is almost essential. Readers have to be able to tell something about what they’re looking at since they won’t get much of an explanation in the text. Wijngaard may’ve taken this knowledge a bit too far in designing this series in the style of a high production values 80s cartoon. Bright colors everywhere, deceptively simple character models, chirpy animals getting into wacky hijinks together. If it weren’t for the occasional bit of gory violence, this could be a pitch for a new Nickelodeon show.

Angelic reads like a cold-medicine influenced dream – lots of topical ideas wrapped around images straight from the coloring books of mental patients.

Dark Ark 1 (Bunn/ Joe): This wasn’t meant to be a cover. This was the first reaction all the characters had when they heard what the final title was going to be. Everyone from the grandest wizard to the lowest kobold to the most ossified walking skeleton showed up just to glare in disgust. I kind of want this blown up to poster size so I can frame it, maybe hang it in the bathroom, what do you think?

Half Past Danger II 1 (Stephen Mooney): If any part of their mission involves looking casual, they are so screwed.

Gasolina 1 (Mackiewicz/ Walter): On first glance, I wonder if this is a world where people figured out how to make floating islands, but it doesn’t look worth it to me. Then I noticed the truck behind the couple. The lights maybe on, but what if it’s out of gas? Are these two so convinced that they’ll live forever that they’re willing to just wait the three million years or whatever it would take for every dead body buried now to decay into oil? This sounds arrogant and tedious as hell and yet I’m tickled by the idea, bring it on! [7/10]

Mal and Randy work a farm together. It’s not what they exactly dreamed of doing, but it’s honest work. It’s way better than patching up GSWs or advising on murder and kidnapping cases, which is what they do on the side. These side jobs were full-time gigs once upon a time, and their “happily ever after” involves never doing those jobs again. Just to make things even worse, it’s cicada season… or weevil season… or whatever these stupid bugs are that’re infesting all the crops. These suckers can get big, that much is easy to tell.

There are a number of red flags in this book. It wants to be an international noir story and a horror story at the same time. It takes Ma and Pa Kent south of the border and adds a generous amount of grim to their backstory. It borrows heavily from currently active franchises. These are strong reasons for the story to not work, and yet it manages to not not work. Some might even say it works. Everyone from the main characters to the bit characters are just trying to get from this day to the next, it doesn’t matter how so long as they trust the method to work. All anyone knows about the monsters is that they leave a terrible mess behind, which leads everyone to believe they’re just dealing with monstrous people and not actual monsters, which is a dichotomy in fiction that’s new to me. The dialog and exposition show plenty and tell just enough to keep you reading. It’s nefarious.

The art holds up under the pressure most of the time. The scenic backdrops aren’t museum-quality, but they definitely place the characters on firm ground. There’s little action to illustrate, but that doesn’t stop moments from appearing violent or moving. Occasionally a face will pop unbalanced features, like one eye will suddenly be nearly twice the size of the other, yet they demonstrate more emotional range than some mainstream comics. When panels work, they work fine, but when they don’t work they’ll send you flying out of the story.

Gasolina reads like a neighbor’s new pet – a bit nervous and dealing with a lot, but possessing qualities that could make things fun.

The Librarians 1 (Pfeifer/ Buchemi): Horrible forces move unseen in the world. A secret society possessing all the ancient knowledge and forgotten relics they could find in an abandoned warehouse of Cracker Jack boxes makes ready to execute their grand purpose, and only the cast of an Old Navy commercial can stop them!

Killer Instinct 1 (Edginton/ Adams): If you find yourself in an argument about whether there’s skill in constructing a comic book cover, you have a wide range to choose from when it comes time to present the best covers ever made. You should present this cover during counterarguments, to establish you also know what a bad cover looks like. The city underneath looks like there’s a square-shaped sinkhole, no one’s hair is interacting with either gravity or air, and whatever causing those energy arcs isn’t related to how limbs move. If the title to this was “Broken Gesture Instinct”, it might work.

Wonder Woman Conan 1 (Simone/ Lopresti & Ryan): By the end of this epic battle, on the bodies of their beaten enemies, weapons dripping with blood, armor dented yet unbroken, brains pulsing with the thrill of combat, these two testaments to the title of “warrior” will decide once and for all who has the better dental hygienist! [9/10]

Beyond crushing enemies, seeing them driven, and hearing the lamentations of their significant others, Conan likes two things famously: travelling and getting paid. One usually leads to another, which is how he comes to know a weaselly gambler named Kian. Kian’s how Conan finds a slave fighter without match, a warrior needing a dozen large men to subdue, a true wonder of a woman. Conan looks at her as sees his earliest love and a kindred spirit worthy of aid. The nameless wonder looks at Conan and sees the same thing she sees everywhere: nothing she can remember. Two black ravens look on all this and more playing out and see plans are coming together nicely.

Ironically, given how much these characters excel at direct confrontation, the story chiefly focuses on deflection and misdirection. Conan’s quest never gets far because any time he takes three steps, he finds something he wants more and shifts direction. Wonder Woman’s lost memory robs her of her capacity to see the big picture, and so she’s continuously baited into fights she can’t truly win. This duo sets up a story that’s more than two characters meeting up and hijinks ensuing – they find each other at less than their best, but might offer each other the means to become better. At the same time, the story doesn’t forget that these are action heroes, and so there’s plenty of brawling, slashing, and raw betrayal to feed the reader’s desire for instant gratification.

The artwork honors the traditions of both franchises, and in the process takes some interesting liberties with them. Nothing about Conan’s design will surprise the reader – tunics, furs, and hides sprinkled with trinkets. Wonder Woman’s garb is less refined that what readers’re used to, but with some strategy the overall look is closer to her modern attire that they might expect. Proportions and anatomy aim for and hit the mark of power-fantasy physiques, with slabs on top of slabs of muscle while others put obvious effort into putting on fat. There’s a great amount of emotional expression that makes figures pop out, especially when surprise triggers a sudden change. Adding that to decent fight choreography, this book makes pretty look playful.

Wonder Woman Conan reads like an active puppy – a terrible danger to all squeaky toys, and a great show for anyone watching.

That was it, folks! Last stop, everyone out, you don’t have to go to your home page but you can’t stay here. 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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