Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
Life is short! Read comics! Maybe these…
•Jetsons 1 (Palmiotti/ Brito): So I’m pretty sure that this cover predicts humans will be enslaved to endless calculations while their robot overlords prepare clear corporal – albeit non-lethal – punishment. Amanda Conner’s clearly trying to get in some early brownie points in with the Singularity hoping for a cushy position, perhaps working her way up to a full digital upload. She’s a monster for this, but I can’t say I blame her.
•Aquaman the Atlantis Chronicles HC (David/ Maroto): So, in the history of Atlantis according to DC, a water god stroked the shell of the city like a James Bond cat, the king wasn’t afraid to set his wardrobe to fabulous, and they had to fight off the multi-dimensional meteor thing from Fifth Element? I like what Arthur Curry’s up to these days, but the dude obviously needs to up his game.
•Black Lightning Cold Dead Hands 1 of 6 (Isabella/ Henry): Ohhhhhhhh, no! I’m not going to check for myself, but I do not believe those hands to be either cold or dead. They look like they could get a tanker-full of oil up to frying temperature or bring a morgue back to life. So either he just really wants to quote Charleton Heston, or there’s something weird going on in Editorial. [8/10]
Jefferson Pierce tried the superhero gig once upon a time as the heroic Black Lightning. He knew his stuff, saved a lot of people, some might say he left on a high note, but leave he did. He had his reasons, and now he’s back in the suit and fighting crime again. He’s got his reasons for that, too, but a big one is that his father just died and he needs to do something he knows the man would be proud of. In the same city, a metahuman weapons dealer fascinated by “Moby Dick” sponsors a start-up organization by letting the field test the latest in elemental munitions (the law calls it armed robbery and terrorism, but everyone’s got their own labels). When Black Lightning meets the new gang in town, it’s supposed to be a no-brainer who’s the good guy and who isn’t, but Cleveland’s finest learned their ways from a different playbook, and to them Black Lightning’s just another non-officer involved in multiple crime scenes.
If being a fan of Black Lightning is a pre-existing condition for you, you’re well covered. From the very beginning, the hero’s laying criminals low and protecting those who need protecting. He talks to his dad, he hangs out with friends that support him, he’s everything a hero should be. For newer readers, there are gaps. There’s no space or time given to the circumstances behind his sabbatical from superheroing, or what his immediate family life is like, or what brought him back into the fold. These are questions more people will be asking with the television series about to hit the media stream, and since we’re supposedly in the New 52 universe these are the kinds of questions every old character needs to answer again.
I don’t consider myself qualified enough to discuss the messages of racial tension and the state of law enforcement that play out prominently in this book. I can say that the character creator (and friend of the blog) Tony Isabella leans into the scary stuff shows respect all across the board. Black Lightning is his baby, and he’s determined to raise it right.
Clayton Henry’s an illustration vet with so much seasoning he could classify as a spice rack. With his wide range of expressions, capacity to change up facial structure in both male and female characters, energetic figure poses, and attention to backgrounds and detailing, there are few people that could present an action comic so eloquently. That he’s an immigrant from Jamaica living in the US since age 3 shows that DC’s trying to pair creators and subjects appropriately.
Black Lightning reads like a movie adaptation – it’s got visual excitement and a striking lead cast, but there’s deeper stuff strategically missing.
•Agent 47 Birth of the Hitman 1 (Sebela/ Medel): Jonathan Lau’s cover shows all he knows about unfair battles. I mean, just look at the guy’s barely-concealed embarrassment. For all his careful breeding and rigorous training, this was the Hitman dumb enough to bring a gun to a car-crash & violent anti-gravity fight.
•Power Pack 63 (Grayson/ Cresta & Marika): So according to Mike McKone’s cover, this may be a Wonder Years type of story where an older version of a character narrates the misadventures of their own family. I am genuinely curious as to what such a story might be like set in the Marvel Universe, so bring on the life lessons as droned by a hardly-interested voice!
•Man from the Great North HC (Hugo Pratt): A Canadian Mountie in snow shoes walking like a badass? Unless Marvel released a mini-series focusing on Logan’s attempt to marry a civilian life with his military background, I’d never have believed it. But this here, it comes close. Props.
•Deadman 1 (Neal Adams): “Batman, thank Nanda Parbat you’re here! You’ve got to help!”
“What’s happening, Deadman?”
“This man’s activated a device and, ohhh, it’s too terrible to contemplate!”
“Talk to me, Brand!”
“He’s going to rewrite the universe to give all of DC’s editorial control to Neal Adams!”
•Gravediggers Union 1 (Craig/ Cypress): In this obvious campaign poster repurposed into Wes Craig’s cover, we see the danger’s and efforts of the 59th chapter of the Siblings in Corpse-Soil Management in maintaining the hard line between the dead and the living. Seems well and good to let them negotiate collectively, but then they want things like “full pensions that continue to pay out after standard life signs have ceased” and “accreditation of necromancers and witch doctors as licensed medical practitioners”. It seems like they’re asking for a lot, but then you don’t mess with the people that know where the bodies are buried. [7/10]
There’s supposed to be a hard line between life and death. Anytime someone tries crossing it, gravediggers have been there to keep things sorted. For centuries they’ve kept on top of zombies, vampires, and other undead threats from interfering with the world of the living. Only once in a rare while has a beast from the void gotten far enough to cause trouble, and then only for so long, but these days entire hordes break through on an weekly basis. Frankly, the gravediggers can’t keep up, and their bosses insist this is just an unusual surge that won’t keep up for long. Cole, Ortiz, and Haley think it’s only going to get worse. They feel like the dead are playing a different game now, and that if the living don’t change their positions soon, they’ll lose.
From the beginning – a world of Lovecraftian horrors enslaving our cromag ancestors to mine for toxic jelly babies – this story pushes to marry the daily grind with monstrous imagery. Outbreaks of man-eating shapeshifters isn’t so much a reality-shattering event as it is a tragedy that just happens every now and then: you feel sorry for the victims, be grateful you’re not one of them, you move on. In trying to sell the audience that the frequency isn’t normal, it normalizes that it happens at all. It may undercut its own purpose by going this way, but it’s hard to tell because so much focus is on the gravediggers and their business. Their normal isn’t supposed to be the world’s normal, thus it’s hard to know for sure what normal’s supposed to be. The characters’ banter entertains fine and the action scenes hold the reader’s attention, but without some idea of a status quo, the reader just doesn’t have a fixed point to get their bearings by.
The art style appears almost as if a homage to Scott Morse or Jim Mahfood (both of whom are still working, and so don’t need homages, but the gesture’s nice). There’s no interest in appearing realistic, little interest in proportion, instead everything’s about outlandish design and communicating concepts. This can be intimidating or seem immature to less experienced readers, but there’s just no better way to show just how bloated and out-of-touch a boss is than to draw a shirt in actual pain from trying to hold in mounds of fat. The visuals get to the point fast and messy, and they have a fun time doing it.
Gravediggers Union reads like a second-grader’s self-made costume – they’re so excited and proud and eager to show it to everyone, but maybe they don’t know just what they are yet.
•Die Hard Christmas Illustrated HC (Horner/ Harrison): John McClain could clear a skyscraper of terrorist super-robbers in less than two hours. You want to see a man like that actually challenged, you better assign him the mission of wrapping the kids’ gifts so they think Santa brought them. He can spot high-profile fake IDs and improv bunker-buster bombs, but can he cut wrapping paper to effectively cover the present? What about placing the tape so it doesn’t stand out? Will his explosives training help him curl a ribbon the way his daughter likes? Yippie kay-yaa, matte sheet folder!
•High Moon 1 (Gallaher/ Ellis): You’ve heard of shadow boxing? How about shadow-precision-shooting-against-a-shadow-made-of-hate-fur-and-blades-everywhere? No? I hadn’t heard of it, but I thought someone had.
•TMNT Ghostbusters II 1 (Burnham & Waltz/ Schoening): Why’re they looking at the trap?!? Ray tells everyone not to look in the trap. Egon brought a heavy tome just so he’d have something other than the trap to look at when the time came. Peter and Winston know better than to challenge the egg heads. Even worse, this is a sequel! The Turtles should know at least enough that the Paranormal Investigators and Eliminators know what they’re talking about, so again I ask you: why are they looking at the trap? Only answer that makes sense: Egon, in a moment of cold and mad science, told them to just to see what would happen. Egon can be a jerk!
•Superman 34 (Tomasi & Gleason/ Benes & Herbert): One day while Batman v Superman was in theaters, Patrick Gleason sat questioning his life choices when he made it to the scene where Lois Lane dove into a flooded hole to retrieve a spear. While the rest of us awaited a James Momoa cameo, Gleason had a vision of a reporter that dove into a pool of radiated water who emerged a warrior. Her preferred weapon now chosen, the best journalist in Metropolis would go on to accumulate tools, weapons, armor, and victories until her very name inspired more fearful truth-telling than Diana’s golden lasso ever pulled out. “Lois Lane, Daily Planet, Crusher of Despots.”
•No. 1 with a Bullet 1 (Semahn/ Corona): “Guess who!”
“Either Slimer or the Invisible Man eating lime jello by the handful, I don’t care who you are but you better have a gallon of Visine ready or when I turn around I’m gonna smack you so hard even Death will die!” [7/10]
Nash Huang interns for that late night host you like. It pays nothing, but she gets on camera and develops her own brand that way, so hooray(?). This is the big city, so stuff’s expensive, but there’s no price on good exposure, and that carries her pretty far. She’s got a car to run her boss’s errands in, fellow interns to grip with, and a girlfriend she just moved in with. Maybe the worst thing she’s got to deal with is internet trolls, but she tells herself that’s just part of the game, that a tough skin and regular password changes make all the difference, and anyone caught in the deluge owns a share of the responsibility. Nash may be the cleverest girl in the room, but she doesn’t know what the worst is like. Not yet.
It’s hard to know where this book is going at any given time. It starts like a murder mystery that shifts into sci-fi, but maybe it’s slice of life, no wait it’s shadowy conspiracy. Actually those’re all wrong because it’s a meditation on online bullying and harassment, but the audience takes what they want from the art so there’s no wrong way to look at it. Or IS there (baa buh BAAAAAA)? Through Nash – part victor, victim, and villain – a number of hard questions are asked about the state of some big aspects of daily life, and the reader may see themselves in any number of places. It demands more thinking and introspection of the reader than most other comics on the shelf, and while I love the gesture, it occurs to me that the ones that need to do those things are also the least likely to read this.
So if you know someone that perpetrates online bullying, it might be a good idea to make them read this.
Jorge Corona’s art may remind you of Skottie Young or Aaron Alexovich – it’s distorted and wacky so that it can put whatever it wants on the page without worrying how it’ll fit with more mundane elements. That’d be great if the world incorporated some outlandish element or the characters all had some additional features. Instead the look prepares the reader for some giant twist that kinda happens? I believe the intention was to wrap a bitter pill in something easier for a larger audience to swallow, and in that it definitely succeeds. There’s plenty more it could do, but isn’t doing for one reason or another.
No. 1 with a Bullet reads like the misdelivered Dumbo costume at the office holiday party – it can be funny, healthy, even cathartic but only if you can address the elephant in the room.
See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues