Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
•Wormwood Goes to Washington 1 (Ben Templesmith): I can understand a zombie that sprints. Zombies as guards dogs can make sense if they’re used right. I’m not on board with the “learning zombie”, but I could buy one that remembered more than most. I’m not the kind of guy that says zombies MUST fit very specific criteria, but this cover’s asking me to accept something that’s way past the line for me. All zombies must want brains, so there’s simply no reason for one to go to Washington for that.
•God Complex 1 (Jenkins & Lie/ Prasetya): A guy in a business suit wearing shiny accessories looking down at the rabble from on high might think himself better than others?? Why, what a bold and original concept, where DO these people come up with such fanciful ideas lacking any noticeable roots to reality? Aha hah hah hah. [8/10]
There’s plenty of room for religion in the Information Age, but there’s not a whole lot of choice in the matter. Between social media, closed circuit security, corporate servers, military networks, MMOs, and everything else that uses binary, an impossibly rare number of individuals arise that can not only make sense of this infinite Stream of data, but also direct and manipulate it. The near-omniscience this access bestows comes with biological compatibility with technology, a robust self-image, and a loose definition of mortality, so when some call these people gods, no one’s in a rush to stop them. Things find ways to slip through the cracks, and when that happens they need “normal” people to figure them out. Detective Seneca, a man with a complicated religious history, just got charged with investigating a triple homicide right outside a church. No pressure or anything.
Anyone that’s a fan of murder mysteries will identify the key tropes right away: the investigator that lives just outside the rest of his department, the source that knows more than they should, implications that widen the scope beyond the crime scene, even the domestic partner struggling to keep their lover anchored to normalcy. Seneca has the background and attitude that lets him step with confidence no matter whose turf he’s on, especially handy when the “gods” are used to audiences stuttering with anxiety at them. Seneca and Hermes (his liaison to the elite sector) may be the most interesting pairing in this book, but that’s not enough to make them appealing. By the end of any introductory chapter, the reader needs something they can point to and say “This. This is what I want to know more about”, and I never found that thing.
The first thing that’ll grab the eye is the designs of the characters. The gear worn by the data stream’s masters looks something beyond what the world should be able to provide, but not fully impossible. It also questions whether the gear is an actual part of their bodies or just accessories. The environments – particularly the outdoor backgrounds and lower offices – emulate the atmosphere found in movies like Blade Runner or Ghost in the Shell: full, electrified, and far from clean. By contrast, the god’s offices appear bright, open, exhaustively kept, almost like they refused to allow a single mote of dust into their world. The art style reminds me of Marcus To from Joyride, both using action-esque proportions and linework in creating a look with more precision and poise than you’d expect.
God Complex wins the Teach to the Test Award – each detail might be important twice, but after that probably won’t ever come up again.
•Volcanosaurus 1 (Check/ Watson): “B-b-b-but Tee, you can’t be alive! You’re not supposed to survive falling into the firerock pool!?”
“I’m not supposed to swallow your entire traitorous body in one gulp, either, but Imma try it anyway!!!”
•Ragman 1 (Fawkes/ Miranda): Is it wrong of me to say it looks like his clothes are hanging off him? I thought the character was supposed to wear the costume, not the other way around. Maybe that’s why he’s screaming, not because of the grenade about to go off in his face, but right there is an alien corpse not only wearing the same outfit but wearing it better.
•Dan Dare 1 (Milligan/ Fouche): Dan dares you to wear red when it’s clearly Blue Tuesday. Dan dares you to take on an armed air force with a pistol. Dan dares you to throw used oil rags into sealed containers after use. Dan dares you to wear skirts three sizes too small into a war zone. Kids, don’t let Dan dare you to do things. But Air Force, if you’re going to design some kind of colony ship or battlecruiser for exploring new worlds, could you make the forward lights look like giant eyeballs? I want humans to be on the fun side of that trope for once!
•Family Trade 1 (Jordan & Ryan/ Beem): Is the family trade painting? Did the woman here just win the contract to paint the town red? (CC Note: That was beneath you.) No, but what SHOULD be beneath me is some tarp, unless you want to see the streets run red for weeks. You sicko. [8/10]
Jessa Wynn doesn’t come from a famous family. By day, she’s your typical schoolteacher specializing in languages. Jessa does come from a family with a long and meaningful history: they’re the flotilla nation of Thessala’s premiere spy network. They have no loyalty save for Thessala, whose chief resource is its neutrality – it sits between Asia and the Americas, and since its creation has earned a reputation as a reliable hub for trade and legal negotiations. To maintain that neutrality, the various clans that run it must stay in balance, so any one of them that starts acting ambitious finds itself… neutralized… by the network none of them know exists. Jessa’s the newest member to take on field work, and her first mission actually failed before she even got in the penthouse window. Everyone in her circle tells her to let it go. It’s really good advice, and Jessa’s certain someone else will take it eventually.
The world presented here marries naval tradition, ancient societies, fantasy chemistry, and ninjitsu mythology with the goal of putting a fun yet deep setting together, and it works. The history of the place uses enough human nature and bureaucracy to sound plausible, and its current status will immediately ring bells to readers with half an eye on the news. (That may work as much against it as for it, depending on the reader.) Jessa may wear a self-destructive chip on her shoulder, but she also genuinely loves her work and desires to do it well, which is refreshing. Parts of her story thrive in the telling, but huge pieces feel missing. There’s also a thread of the story about how people can learn to talk to cats, if you’re into that sort of thing.
The art style has no interest in fitting in with the other books on the shelf, and it absolutely doesn’t need to. Both the design and the consistent execution of the backgrounds and outfits shamelessly borrow elements from a wide variety of sources, and yet they all come together without clashing. Jessa’s features (more precisely, her hair) seem like they’d identify her no matter what setting she’s in, and yet just by changing clothes her entire presence in the panel shifts. It’s difficult to describe without seeing it for yourself, but the effect succeeds more than it probably should. Between that, the watercolor-esque palette, the expressiveness of every face on the page, there’s plenty for the eyes to gorge themselves on.
Family Trade wins the Can’t (Always) Cheat at Baking Award – missing ingredients can doom a recipe, but this shows it’s possible for a talented hand to cook up a workaround.
•Doctor Who Lost Dimension Special (Rennie & Beeby/ Diaz & Rodriguez): “Please look through this box of non-euclidian causalities and let someone know if you see your lost dimension. If you can’t, fill out this form with a detailed description of your lost dimension and a quantum-entanglement particle we can reach you at. The Department of Lost Dimensions is not responsible for any psychological breakdowns you may have while searching the box.”
•Michael Cray 1 (Hill/ Harris & Vines): Real fathers let their kids read at the table so long as they keep their elbows off it.
•Gotham City Garage 1 (Lanzing & Kelly/ Ching): Most around town recommend this place for any kind of motor vehicle repair, from whacking the curb too hard to overheating your engine to towing it out of the side of a building after a villain chucked it at Batman. They’re as good as any other place you can find and the bill’s gonna pop your monocle out (not your eyeball, so that’s a plus), but they sweat the details can clean up nice.
•Atomahawk 1 (Cates/ Bederman): I almost want to call this thing unfinished because of the raw ore sticking out of the head of that thing, but then I recognized the thing might as well be spinning thousands of times a second while hurling through space at a good chunk of the speed of light. So I say it’s as finished as it wants to be.
•Falcon 1 (Barnes/ Cassara): This looks amazing! Not only is Sam Wilson going back to his Falcon persona full time, but he picked up epic strength along the way and can break Cap’s shield?!? He’s gonna kick some serious-*
“Actually, this isn’t Cap’s shield. It’s a replica made from food coloring and spun sugar.”
*takes bite* “Those guys on Great British Bake Off can do anything!” [8/10]
Sam “Falcon” Wilson is so done with Captain America after Secret Empire that he’s abandoned the concept of rank and moved to a small town where he’ll focus on making a difference to one life at a time. That small town is Chicago, and the first life he wants to change is that of a gang leader so he and his men will try to negotiate with another gang leader and his crew to stop gang violence altogether. Okay, so that’s still kind of a big ambition, but Sam believes he can do it. He’s got a brand new suit that lets him ignore bullets and gravity, and boosts his strength enough to let him kick a SMG into pieces, so maybe he knows what he’s doing. Patriot, the teenage techhead with Avenger-level aspirations, thinks so and convinces Falcon to let him in on the action. Does the saying go, “Wish for whatever you want, there are never bad consequences”? I’ve heard a few versions.
Some readers prefer their heroes to act with pure motives and goals, to watch them pull success out from the jaws of failure. In Falcon, we see a Sam Wilson instead owning his failure. He feels responsible for allowing Hydra Rogers to take over the USA, but he’s facing that failure in about the best way anyone can. Sam admits his mistake, considers how it happened, and commits himself to changing so that he not only atones, but won’t make the same mistake again. It’s almost a diagram on how we’d like heroes behave. Along with his mentoring of Shaun the Patriot, Sam’s about as heroic as a person could hope to be. The story follows this path of costumed mindfulness for 21 pages, but on the 22nd plants its foot on the randomest LEGO ever. While the whiplash might root the comic as a zany Marvel action title, in my opinion it undercuts everything the issue had been doing right up to that point.
The world Sam occupies lacks crisp lines or vivid contrasts. The inking appears as if from a thick brush, not afraid to bleed into other fields or objects. This brings everything together and also keeps them from showing off. The color palette follows the trend and keeps itself from shining too bright – this prevents the reader from idolizing anything, though it’d have been nice to get a good look at Falcon’s new costume. As far as facial expressions and body postures go, everyone assigns themselves to certain poses, and so there’s little illusion of motion. Essentially, the visual mood of the book syncs with the narrative mood a little bit too well, and thus misses its chance to enhance the experience.
Falcon wins the Shooting Itself in the Foot Award – it ran a good race and made a spectacle of itself ten feet away from the finish line.
Muhhhh… sea u necked weee-eeek…
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues