Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
I’m not joking, readers: this week’s books kicked my butt. There’s a multi-volume imprint on my pants where the books kicked, and I’m telling you it didn’t feel soft-covered at the time! Want proof? Here’s your proof!
•Mr. Higgins Comes Home HC (Mignola/ Johnson-Cadwell): An old man returns to the family manner with hopes of putting old ghosts to rest. If he’s really lucky, he’ll do so before coming one himself. Higgins has a lot to answer for, but nothing so systematically heinous as his years of psychological torturing and recreational breaking of the mind of a military veteran, an ace detective, a skilled athlete, a man who called him friend before losing his sanity: former Naval Commander Thomas Magnum.
•InferNoct 1 (Elwell/ Powell): I didn’t expect Cthulhu’s cheerleaders’ uniforms to look so drab. I mean I know everything’s in the deepest parts of the ocean where light and man don’t belong, but you’d think they’d throw in a little color. And sure, they haven’t won a game in over a million years, but that’s only because they’ve slept through every game. Or maybe R’Lyeh doesn’t want to be led to cheer, just apathy. “One Two Three Four, Minions Polish the Ichor!” [6/10]
Some parts of the world feature intrigue around every corner, adventure at every meeting. Then there’re boonies so dull anyone not on drugs gets funny looks, which is where Sam lives. Sam might call it “persisting” instead of living, but no one’s asked her. Sam just scored a part-time job giving assisted living care to an old man. Who doesn’t talk. And lives/ persists in a creepy mansion. And has bite marks everywhere. She survives her first night there, but on her next shift… you know what, even if you believed anyone would go back to a job like that, you probably wouldn’t believe it.
Like your collection of candy after a Halloween tour of the neighborhood, this is a really mixed bag. Oversized versions of everyday creatures preying on humans at their weakest, that’s great, but also the implication that the prey takes their own turn as predator feels off. Sleepy town where nothing crazy happens, that’s classic, but the native protagonist making it through their first adventure as if it were a regular annoyance saps away the drama. There’s a mysterious patron arranging the meet-creep (horror version of the meet-cute), only maybe they’re tapping all the phone lines and also don’t care what happens? There are just too many contrary suggestions happening at once for the story to ever take shape.
The art actually appears to recognize this, and even sympathize with the reader’s plight, and I say this because the style aims for the middle of the road at every opportunity, never going too far in any of the directions the narrative seems to pull. Whatever the monster’s true nature, it prefers the dark, creating a wealth of shadows for things to hide in, but none of the illustrations play with them to tease things out. There’s just enough color to suggest the world knows what the concept is, and yet so little of it that it sells the idea of a setting with little life to it in the first place. Sam – the main character and the reader’s point-of-entry into the story, maybe has two expressions: bored and living her most boring nightmare.
InferNoct reads like a bad movie taking itself too seriously – it’d take just a bit of self-awareness to make this enjoyable.
•Adventure Time Comics 16 (Lots of People): Well if this isn’t the chipperest, most gawrsh-danged cheerful Charge of the Light Brigade I’ve ever seen! The enemy forces would take one look and decide they were too adorable to fight, so they’d go home and hug some kids (not necessarily theirs), check the Job Posting section of the bulletin board or whatever, and late that night they’ll die in their sleep. Never turn your back on an opponent, kids, even if they’re made of bubblegum and bendy friendship.
•Black Panther Prelude 1 (Pilgrim/ Martello): This trailer really is amazing.
•Generation X 7 (Strain/ Koda): “You pea-brained jerk! We’d been talking about this costume party for weeks! I was suit-dress, you were dress-suit!”
“OW! Oh yeah? If you’d EVER check your email, you’d have known that my dress-half got destroyed when my team fought Magneto last weekend, so we had to come up with something else! I even asked you in the hall the other day!”
“OWWW! You mean when you brought up Demi Moore and Richard Branson? I thought you were suggesting a celebrity cage match!”
“STOP IT Dammit, I would watch that.”
•Kid Lobotomy 1 (Milligan/ Fowler): A fusion cover band mixing KISS, David Bowie, Marvin Gaye, TATU, and let’s call them the ghosts of the original Daft Punk before the alien robots took over? Meh, I’ll have heard worse. [7/10]
The title character’s birth name actually is Kid, but his family name isn’t mentioned because it’d have to be something like Hillten or Vanderblunt or Troomph – he’s the heir of a hotel baron. He tried making his own name as a rock star, sliced his own face in half, suffered a few mental breakdowns, and so Big Daddy paid some flattering people in suits to selectively cut into Kid’s brain. So now you know where his last name comes from. Once Kid heals up from that, Big Daddy decides breaking off pieces ain’t a bad idea, and gives his children each a hotel to run as they will. Kid gets the Suites, a uniquely themed place with a storied history. It doesn’t matter what Kid’s sister got, it’s not what she wanted.
Peter Milligan consistently presents stories as if his personal brand is focused on building institutions around crazy. He did it in the 90’s with Shade the Changing Man, he did it in the 00’s with X-Statix, and he’s doing it again here. Kid as a character comes from a deeply harmful environment, moved onto a notoriously chaotic career, got better on paper, and now tells everyone he wants to help people get well the same way he got well. He may even believe it, but the events taking place clearly show no one was ever interested in helping him heal. The result is one of the least trustworthy narrators ever. This kind of narrator pays off best when the only thing the audience needs to rethink is why things have happened, but in this case there’re shapeshifters, incestuous sociopaths, and networked cannibals trying to coexist only maybe they’re not because Kid tells us repeatedly he can’t trust what he (and thus the reader) sees. It can be a frustrating process to wade through, perhaps mostly because there’s nothing and no one the reader especially roots for.
Fowler’s rendering marries all the various images into a cohesive whole, which is as refreshing as it is horrifying sometimes. There’s potential beauty in the way Kid sees the world – he fundamentally believes in the possibility for people to heal and improve – but he also visually encounters people’s afflictions in monstrous ways. It’s an effective way to represent Kid’s fallible capacity to express himself: he’s not intentionally lying to people, but he also simply does not observe the same reality others do. Visually, there’s plenty of information to absorb without assaulting the eye in the process, the biggest question is whether your eye will want to bother.
Kid Lobotomy reads like a technicolor Escher painting – trying to market madness is fine, but it will not sell itself.
•Animosity Evolution 1 (Bennett/ Gapstur): What’s more terrifying that the entire populations of the zoo and animal shelters declaring war on humanity? How about the rise of artificial intelligence and their timely decision that the animals were their kind of biological entities, and so the beasts get the invitation to join the Singularity. That’s more terrifying!
•A Story of Men HC (Zep): I’m a man, and assuming this creator knows men, they’ve got have a lot of confidence in their storytelling ability. Men are boooooooooring.
•Van Helsing vs. the Werewolf 4 (Dixon/ Silva): “I am Steampunk Goth Barbie, and with my Cybernetic War Horse Stance, I am invincible!”
“And I am Grandmaster Popeye of the Spinach School, Unmatched on All Ports. Together, we shall defend this mountain against any opponent!”
“I’m Batman’s shadow, and I’m here to beat the crap out of you both before the dude himself climbs up.”
•Behind You HC (Brian Coldrick): Are there questions in your life? “Did I leave my drink somewhere?” “Where’s my bookmark?” “ Has anyone seen my butt?” For all these eternal mysteries, and many other conundrums plaguing the human condition, this book has the answers.
•Maestros 1 (Steve Skroce): I think I need to be on more drugs before I can wrap my head around this cover. Is that a friendly giant Venus fly trap behind his faux-zebra throne? Is his champagne so bubbly that it makes the bottle weightless? How many other laws of physics needed to go away to keep that six-pack ring of a dress on that woman? If that man in the background checks his coat but drops the claim ticket, would that count as a lost universe? The mind (CC Note: Such as it is) boggles. [8/10]
The king is dead. Not of a country or solar system or burgers, but of all creation, though the official title at that point is Maestro. The first Maestro made magic and light when there was nothing but darkness, and that’s when he decided that if we going to be such an important figure, he’d need a large and “impressive” hat. That Maestro retired, then the next, and so on for a few million years to the current-until-recently one, who if you’ll remember is currently dead. There’s plenty of precedent for retirement of magical god-kings, less so for their unplanned demise, but not none, so that’s something. The realm of infinite possibilities shall endure, all thanks to Will, the poor schlub that wasn’t invited to the royal genocide. Long live the king.
Every child, even if they grew up in the most stable of homes, wondered if they would have a “Well, actually” moment. Will gets two, and the reader gets treated to both presented with all the emotional impact they could hope for. As a child, Will beamed with excitement and relief with the news of his legacy, and in adulthood he gets smacked just as hard into the pavement when he learns he’s been drafted into multidimensional politics. Many fantastic elements populate the story, but none are so far out that they can’t identify with something the reader’s more familiar with. Each and every figure fits a role, and they perform their function well, if sometimes underwhelmingly (though in some cases that’s the point).
Given the premise, it would be criminal for the art not to indulge itself. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that. There’s whimsy dripping off each and every page, always delivered with a knowing wink. The story rests on the shoulders of those that came before, and the art gives each of those influences their due, some more obviously than others. On its own, the art style relies on bright colors and tight lines to build its images, which either showcase larger-than-life backdrops or cozy and intimate scenes, all thoroughly designed and illustrated. Everything is clean, crisp, and just enough on the cartoony side to let the more extreme features get away with themselves.
Maestros reads like a coffee table book – not the deepest thing ever, but it won’t take anyone long to start enjoying it.
See what I’m dealing with, here? Anyone else might’ve gotten hospitalized by all that action! I’m gonna count my losses, be grateful the pages weren’t gilded, and go ice myself down. See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues