Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
I thought about the titles I reviewed this week, checking for anything I could use as a theme, and appropriately enough I got a little scared at the prospect. So I’ll save myself the trouble and anxiety if it’s all the same to you: no theme this week, just funny books. Or ARE THEY?!?
•Astonishing X-Men 4 (Soule/ Pacheco): Mystique could be reading the gentlest nursery rhyme, or a treatise on the capacity of compassion to bring enlightenment and higher quality of life to the masses. She could be calling for her audience to donate to charity. It doesn’t matter because no one can say anything comforting while they’re sitting on a throne made of skulls.
•Slots 1 (Dan Panosian): He rode into town with a trunk full of broken dreams and some hard lessons learned. Everyone wants to walk into a casino and clean house, but those wants get sidetracks while the skies bleed red. While they wonder if it’s an omen of cosmic significance or some wild new fireworks, he’ll ignore the sky and drive past the houses. He’s got plans for a garage, and when he’s done no one’ll even remember it was ever there. [8/10]
You can find just about anything in Las Vegas, but it takes more than luck to find a second chance. Stanley Dance figures his luck’s run out when he gets called back to the Strip. He’s got old friends, flames, and enemies to tend to, and the deeper in he gets, the faster he goes. Before he can scam a cheap steak dinner, Stanley’s got a place to crash, a boxing manager, and more family trees to keep track of than an English soap opera. As recently as a decade or so ago, Stan could box with the absolute best, but he couldn’t outfox Les, a tycoon that had plenty back then and even today still wants more. It’s been a long time, but Stanley’s game for a rematch.
This here’s a tale about a tired warrior looking for one more blaze of glory before burning out. Our main character may not be a bad guy, but he does bad things and honestly, he’s kinda bad at it. There’s a sequence where he uses his last set of car keys for something that, by the end of the book, seems ridiculously petty. Something we see Stan do well is wearing a happy poker face, which we only know exists because we get to see him take it off when no one’s looking. He can talk a big game, but on the few occasions he needs to back it up, Stan chokes. What makes these failures oddly alright is that, while you watch them play out, there’s an awareness that he absolutely deserves them. The duality of wanting to see him win for other people’s sake and see him lose for his own sake makes an odd atmosphere. It’s not bad, it’s just different.
Dan Panosian’s worked just about everywhere in the US-based comics industry. Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse; writer, penciler, inker; you name it, he’s got a war story about it. If you’ve bought any comic in the past year, he’s probably drawn a cover for that title. All that experience bleeds into the pages of this title. He nails every single face he draws, supplying a worthy backstory to each one. If they happen to show up in more than one panel, they demonstrate emotional range without sacrificing their individual facial structure. Figures throw punches with enough poise and force that the reader feels it, and they flirt and boast just as effectively. To really sell the old-school atmosphere of the story, all the coloring looks like it was done in the four-color dot method that dominated the Silver Age, which is a nice touch.
Slots reads like a cheesy movie – it’s got loads of problems, but most of them just add to its charm.
•Warframe 1 (Hawkins & Cady/ Hive): This anti-fashion week, five designers from across the cosmos will compete and once and for all determine which of them… makes the ugliest armor!
•Weed Magic 1 (Phillipson & Cormack): That’s an odd way to dispose of dandelions and crab grass, but so long as the county’s bonfire ordinances aren’t violated they can light up all the tree-sized bags they want.
•Archies 1 (Segura & Rosenburg/ Eisma): I know Betty has a rap for being stronger than she looks, but the only way she could have gotten that high is if she started higher, which means either her knees or whatever’s under them will be blasted apart in the next frame. Now I’m curious.
•Batman White Knight 1 (Sean Murphy): Is this the series where Joker realizes sharp suits cut throw more than knives? Will the Caped Crusader vow not to rest until he deduces the name of his tailor? Change of topic: was there a story where the Joker robbed a bank armed with an off-the-rack Armani and got caught because he spent half an hour trying to stab a clerk with a double-breasted suit? [9/10]
The Joker’s latest tear through Gotham City brought him, the Batman, Nightwing and Batgirl, and the GCPD to a pharmaceutical disposal site where Batman beat Joker to a bloody pulp and make him choke on expired and unknown medicines. It turns out that’s how you cure the Joker – Jack (Napier) is back, and he’s thinking much differently these days. He’s done hurting people, he wants to redeem himself for some of the damage he’s done as the Joker, and now that his head is clear for the first time in years, he has a lot of tools to lay to rest Gotham’s last great threat: the Batman.
There’re a few things that set this story apart from the standard Batman world right away that can trip you up if you’re not prepared. Perhaps most crucial is that this Joker is pre-Jason Todd in levels of antics. Some high-stakes heists, vandalism, destruction of property, all that’s still in his wheelhouse, but this Joker’s no murderer. Among other things, this means the security and legal charges against him are far reduced from what readers may be used to. Without knowing that, a lot of Joker’s treatment after his latest incident won’t make sense.
Once the audience gets past that, what follows makes for a tense legal thriller. The menace formerly known as Joker has never been stronger mentally, he has fresh purpose, and if he doesn’t goof up he might even gain the will of the people. On the other hand, Batman’s losing his focus and self-control, and every failure’s going viral. The role reversal is insane and at the same time all too plausible. Anyone oversaturated by the ham-and-cheese storylines in the Metal event should definitely give this a look.
Sean Murphy continues to evolve his style of making sharp angles and lines pull off curves like a bullet from Wanted. Murphy carves out tableaus of tender moments and within two pages displays a full-page spread of the Joker’s greatest hits. Murphy’s taken on the illustration duties for projects including the second coming of Jesus as a punk rocker and a post-Singularity dystopian love story, and he’s bringing that level of experience and effort into this. It’s pretty.
Batman White Knight reads like a Magic Eye puzzle – everything appears like a strange blur until you find that one perfect angle, then a brand new scene opens up.
•Screwed Up GN (Konstantin Steshenko): “Oh no, an innocent case of jelly doughnuts fell onto the tracks!” “Why, why, WHY?!?!?” “The HORROOOOOOOORRRRR!” But do you know what the true tragedy of this is? (CC Note: I’m afraid you’re going to tell us.) This is surely going to jam up all train services. (CC Note: How do you walk free as if you’re not guilty?)
•Punisher – The Platoon 1 (Ennis/ Parlov): Castle and Rambo, shooting in a tree! S-N-I-P-I-N-G! First comes scope, then comes splatter, then comes Charlie to a war disas-ter!
•Spirits of Vengeance 1 (Gischler/ Baldeon): This is either an epic new metal band or the most natural team up of pro-wrestlers ever. You’ve got the hot one in Johnny Blaze, he’d play drums on this platform that can move across the stage. Blade would be the mean one but his stable of fans are the most passionate, and I’m going going to stereotype and have him play bass. Satana would most likely get cast as the one that tells everyone she’s clever and most of the time is right, but then spends two full minutes figuring out how to work a folding chair, she’d play keyboard. Lastly, we’ve got Hellstorm, the edgy one that doesn’t actually lead, he just makes it a point to be front row center at all the photo shoots, on the guitar. They’d share vocals, Blade and Hellstorm handle most of it but there’re a couple that Satana sings solo and is just soul-wrenching.
•Eugenic 1 (Tynion IV/ Donovan): That is one chill distorted fetus. Its mutations look like they could be very painful, but it’s just leaning back like it’s all in a day’s absorbing nutrients via umbilical cord. You know, as one does. [9/10]
Most of the time when you cough and don’t cover your mouth, nothing happens. It’s because it only takes one bad time to set off a global epidemic that we’re all supposed to cover our mouths when coughing. By 2035, nearly a billion people have fallen victim to the virus as a big pharma company starts mass producing its brand new vaccine. It makes enough for everyone, it doesn’t make any profit, it saves the world. The supergenius and fresh rock star doctor responsible, Cyrus Crane, isn’t behaving like a man about to achieve living-legend status, though. To most it looks like humility, he assures them it isn’t. Meanwhile, maternity wards are the new party place as the first healthy births in years are set to take place. Healthy, maybe, but people are cancelling “World’s Cutest Baby” contests, maybe forever.
This story challenges the definition of tragedy. It sets up one disaster only for another to come along and demand the first one hold its drink. The funny thing is it does this at the same time that it challenges the definition of hope. The world pushes on because it hopes that one day the plague will end, expecting life to return to normal afterwards. The company’s CEO hoped his company would be the ones to develop the breakthrough for fame and fortune. Dr. Crane hoped his work would lead to a solution because he wanted to save humanity. Between the time of the virus’s discovery and the completion of the vaccine, they all witnessed so much that their ideas changed. By the end of this first issue, the story expresses one of the most horrifying promises of a better world ever imagined.
Donovan’s art holds nothing back. The reader will see camps of the desperate climbing over each other for a single dose, they’ll see hooded gun-wielders cheer as suspected sick people die, and they’ll see what the next generation of humanity looks like. The style may not be realistic enough to fully trigger most – figure and facial compositions are drawn just a bit more cartoonishly than average – but it may be enough to appear in a nightmare or two.
Eugenic reads like a shock-scare internet meme – it can draw you in quietly, and you’ll jump even if you know what’s coming.
And I’m out of here before it comes – see you next w-*
(CC Note: Boo!)
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues