Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
Have you been watching the news lately? That’s not an invitation, if you haven’t then you probably shouldn’t. It will “satisfy” you enough to know that there are a number of prologues to post-apocalyptic societies playing out and getting caught on video. That’s not to say we’re definitely on the way to a world-ending calamity, just that we’re coming to a place where the path branches out in multiple directions, and a lot of them don’t look too good.
Maybe the more troubling thing about this take on things is that I’m not the only one having it. A slew of new titles came out this week, and the ones I pulled out all approach the human race the same way Mark Twain did: “Damned”. In times like this, I actually take a lot of comfort from a line of Samuel L. Jackson’s: “Until such time as the world ends, we will act as though it intends to spin on.” And if that doesn’t do it for you, we’ve got plenty more material to go through. Read on…
•Valerian Volume 19 (Christen/ Mezieres): They look so excited to be at the edge of space, probably because they have such grand ideas of what it’ll be like to spit off it. They’re not thinking about how the spit’ll just float once it’s out on its own and either germinate into its own galaxy in a few million years or encounter a wad of anti-spit and annihilate the cosmos. Stupid kids.
•Jenny Finn 1 (Mignola & Nixey/ Nixey): Jenny Finn (seen here) had ambitions of being the champion culturalist of independant cephalopod tentacles at the local fair for decades to come. Instead, after achieving a stunning victory at her first competition, they stopped having the contest altogether. The judging council says they’ll let everyone know the next time they’ll host a competition, but actually they just want to know how independent cephalopod cultivation got on the fair registry in the first place, and make sure whoever’s responsible didn’t slip anything else in there. [7/10]
On the docks of London, in the times of Jack the Ripper, there was a girl named Jenny Finn that was not a girl. She was many other things to many other people, but she wasn’t young or innocent and wanted nothing to do with either. She gives kindly to the neediest, dodges attacks from those who shout scripture the loudest, and lets everyone else stay out of her way so long as they know what’s good for them. Joe – an old country brute looking for honest labor – doesn’t know much of anything. Could be that he’s a mite deaf, considering he can hear most things fine but not good advice. He figures his head can be hollow as it wants, all he needs is a strong back and thick arms, but as he’ll tell you himself, he doesn’t know any better.
So while this isn’t technically a Hellboy comic, Mike Mignola does write a bunch of it, so strap in for the madcap occult. For getting the title of the comic, Jenny gets talked about throughout the entire book, but actually shows up for maybe five pages. That’s five pages for her to show her stuff, and otherwise let her reputation precede her. The rest of the time, Joe encounters local residents all of whom have their own harrowing tale that’s Jenny’s the center of, like a creepy little Bill Brasky. Way more anecdotal narrative makes its way to the reader’s head this way, but none of it can be trusted. Granted, there’s a Lovecraftian STD making the rounds and the Prime Minister may be a steampunk Terminator, so the threshold of disbelief’s already kinda out there, but Mignola’s stories take it to a whole new level.
Nixey’s art obviously draws heavy influence from Mignola’s own style – no concern for popular appeal as far as design or aesthetics go, any moment is fair game for a visual gag, and clean angles are for the weak. This visual idea of old London is rough, dirty, at times it’s all the way ugly, so anyone with an ache for a romanticized depiction should look elsewhere. This method forces the reader to throw out their typical visual triggers to tell the “good” from the “bad”, another theme that Mignola loves to explore. It’s this level of understanding and expression that moves Nixey past imitation, and elevates him to his own artist following a tradition.
Jenny Finn reads like the first third of 1,001 Nights – there’s plenty going on, but not enough to feel fully invested.
•Dark Fang 1 (Gunter/ Shannon): FUN FACT: She actually hates the way that black goo tastes on her planets, but it’s the only way to stop Galactus from constantly asking “Are you going to finish that?”
•Bolivar Original HC (Sean Rubin): “Mooooom! The monster next door still won’t let me pet it!”
“We discussed this, sweetie: it’ll let you pet it if it wants to, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“You could get me my own dinosaur!”
“We’re only allowed one pet in this neighborhood, and you barely pay attention to the alien we got you two months ago.”
“The alien is BOOOOORING! It just beats prime numbers and begs for freedom.”
•Evolution 1 (Asmus, Keatinge, Sebela, Williamson/ Infurnari): I want to hand this to someone in the anti-evolution camp just to see how they try to defend mashing three heads into one as intelligent design. Would they argue about how efficient it is to have one ear for three heads? Would they vindicate it as an honest portrayal of what their image of evolution would look like? I don’t know and must find out! [8/10]
Strange discolorations on the skin still probably don’t mean cancer, but they could be a sign of aggressive mutation. This may be cosmetic, it could develop a function to make living easier, and every so often they grow explosively through and even out of the body. According to the public, there are no mutations. Anyone that says otherwise must be a dangerous lunatic and shunned by everyone forever, as Doctor “Abe Lee” figured out a few years back. Now he plays things close to the vest, and even went so far as to develop a secret underground lair in his ratty apartment to continue his research. Others around the globe would believe him if they ever met, either through experience or their own suffering.
The summary covers most of the issue, but the very first page comes straight from an dark magic story complete with robes, skulls, and a naked lady. It’s not enough material to to completely throw off the reader, but it creates a sense of anticipation for another shoe to drop. It might eventually, but it doesn’t happen this issue. None of the characters exist much beyond their job, though the ones that enjoy focus would rather work outside their paycheck. The tone pounds on the theme of life changing everywhere, but since none of the characters actually have a life it’s hard for such an idea to carry any weight. On top of that, the story seems perfectly fine with a puzzle for the puzzle’s sake, as no one seems interested in stopping the mutations from taking place.
Visually, the book comes out swinging and never lets up. Infunari’s linework borrows a bit from Bill Sienkiewicz, using bold lines in precise ways to establish a haunting atmosphere no matter the place or time. So far there’ve been no scenes in a themed restaurant or day care, so the treatment works. The mutations mostly appear like some variety of space infection and take up huge chunks of skin space, but the “infected” don’t seem to feel pain or lose functionality. The color counters the harshness of the lines with a wash style that tends to fade everything through each character’s kind of color filter, as if someone archived pictures from the same era in different containers as an experiment.
Evolution reads like passionate academic journal – the people making it care deeply, but don’t provide much reason for the average reader to pay attention.
•Hawkeye 12 (Thompson/ Walsh): If this image is anything to go by, and these two heroes truly are the best at what they do, I’m betting that’s leaving strange online reviews about dive bars. “Decent grub, quiet location, punching bags underwhelming. 3 ½ out of 5: would beat up for information again.”
•Fence 1 (Pacat/ the Mad): This is actually a comic about neighborhood zoning. This kid’s an anthropomorphized fence post with a tiny flag pole attached, hating himself for being forced into a position where he violates the local code for maximum height of an elevated border structure.
•Brilliant Trash 1 (Seeley/ Petraites): Would the fear of medical needles go up or down if they were administered by people in masks and capes? I’m assuming they’d still need to use their real names, but with the outfit they could sound more believable when they told little kids the secret ingredients in the medicine was justice. I do think I’d have an easier time with certain other tests if they wore things that prevented me from ever looking them in the eyes, is all I’m saying. [8/10]
There may or may not be superhumans, the same way that website headline catching your eye may or may not be clickbait. But something blew a hole out of Jerusalem and there are too many guesses for most anyone to figure the truth out. Capricorn Halle wants to figure that truth out, and she’s got the skills and drive to dig for clues, she just doesn’t have credentials or a budget. About the only thing that makes her different from any other online content writer are her own rare standards. Those rare standards may solve not only the mystery of what happened in Jerusalem, but what other potential threats might be out there and who or what put all this in motion. For the sake of humanity, such standards better not be a big deal.
This is not a story that focuses on salvation. Even if the subjects wanted to get rid of their conditions – and some of them urgently want to – that’s not shown as a priority. It could be a puzzle kind of story where the goal is to tell the world what’s really happening, but from the very beginning it’s clear that each person on the planet dove head-first into their bubble of choice, so it’s unlikely a full disclosure would accomplish much. I would actually call this a kind of love story: it’s about getting that one special soul to turn their head a certain way notice what’s right in front of them as special and precious. That the window dressing to this romance is a dystopian society with government conspiracies and active transhumanism just makes the whole thing more interesting.
The artwork doesn’t stray from the mainstream standard, with close-to-realistic proportions and basic designs for clothing and backgrounds. The world looks just a few generations away from the scale and technology from Blade Runner or Ghost in the Shell. None of the people express joy or happiness in their world, instead settling for finding a way to live in it. True to form, the majority of the scenery blankets itself in a murky sheen, but every now and then a bright color blazes out from a poncho or hair color to assure the eye that light isn’t gone from this world, it’s just rare.
Brilliant Trash reads like a touching campaign for a sick friend – parts of it hurt, but without that pain the rest of it would never be known.
On the subject on pain, have you decided whether on Justice League or Punisher, both of which drop this week? You can see both, that’s absolutely possible, but you know you’re more excited for one than the other. Let us know, and see you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues