Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
It’s magic in comics this week! Why’s that? Because this month has five new comic book days, so of course it can only be a magical miracle! (CC Note: What about elementary counting and our centuries-old calendar system?) Magic! Abraca-comics!
•Santa Claus Private Eye GN (Bernstein/ Dorman & Schwager): “There I was, a jolly old elf, drowning his sorrows in milk and cookies. Then she walked in with a list almost as long as her legs. Of all the toy cabins in all the North Pole, this dame had to walk into mine.”
•Sword of Ages 1 (Gabriel Rodriguez): What is over the edge of that cliff that doesn’t care about a 400-ft-fall but will be intimidated by a sword with some copper patina on it? I know comics are filled with characters with weird weaknesses, and I guess there’s one more now. [7/10]
Avalon’s a young woman who, as a baby, was given to talking tigers to raise as one of their own. She learned their ways of hunting, fighting, and family. When she was old enough, she’d go with the old man the tigers traded with to learn human ways such as writing and planning beyond the next meal. She thought when the time came for her to claim her destiny, she’d take that journey alone, but instead she finds no less than three souls with skills not unlike her own. Avalon’s reflex is to announce that her background’s wilder than any of theirs and she’s impossible to impress. The giant water dragon of the lake they’re trying to cross asks if she’ll hold its beer.
Break out the round tables and practice saying “thou”, because we’ve got an Arthurian legend retelling on deck! This should be an easy sell, because the story of the son of Pendragon has just about everything: lost heraldry, romance, betrayal, an epic quest, magic. The thing is, there’s very little of any of that. Instead of facing real-world challenges and having to earn the respect of everyone she meets, Avalon just has to show up and everyone pays attention. Rather than start on the lowest social rung and climb her way up, she’s raised knowing she’ll be expected to fulfill a grand destiny that sets her apart from everyone. Not to mention her backstory fits into the world about as well as a semi-truck tire fits on a Hot Wheels car. Rodriguez dumps the toy chest on the floor and assembled something with the right props, but it’s hard to keep up as he explains what he’s thinking.
Fortunately he’s a veteran artist and can present anything he wants effectively pleasing. The designs of the characters, their costumes and equipment, and the various factions of the land all look alien enough to make you wonder, but familiar enough that you don’t need to think too hard about the role they play. The colors pop right out from the page and the entire palette gets to show off, and the panel layouts change up from page to page, but never in such a way that the eye gets lost. The visuals give each element of the story their own unique background and flavor, and end up doing most of the narrative labor.
Sword of Ages reads like a house of cards – an incredible sight that will fall apart if you even think of touching it.
•Darkhawk 51 (Bowers & Sims/ Walker): “Well goooooolly, lookit this here thang! This must be one’a dem cosmic art-ee-facts what makes people all powered and fancy like them city folk. Why if I called dibs on this thang, I betcha I’d follow a great and terrible destiny a’some kind that’d challenge everything I thought I knew, an I’d team up with the likes of my granpappy’s favorite hero and that hammer alien my church keeps tellin’ me is a false god. Wonder what I could get fer this on the internet.”
•Catalyst Prime Kino 1 (Casey/ Palo): Oh now that’s just unfortunate! Look at this, the guy when under the needle for superpowers, modeled for his own costume, and he comes out with only 80% of his face. That’s not a mask over his eyes, that’s a hurried implant to distract from the trapezoid that was once a human mouth.
•John Wick 1 (Pak/ Valletta): He’s gonna ask this question once. If he likes the answer, he’ll ask another question. If he doesn’t like the answer, he’ll shoot a finger off. Here’s the first question: What brand of hair product will keep John Wick’s hair down? Those waves at the sides make him look like a Little Rascal with a gun, and that’s a remake nobody wants!
•Reactor 1 (Cates/ Burnett): Just five pouches away from peak 90s! C’mon, you adorable suit of edgy power armor! You can do it! [7/10]
At a pivotal moment, Earth broke into an all out war between humans and vampires. In desperation, and confidence they couldn’t be followed, humanity launched themselves into the stars and doomed the planet to a nuclear winter meant to choke all forms of life and undeath. Vampires adapted, but before they could build rockets of their own, one human named Poli – sealed in a suit of armor – came landed with the sole purpose of wrecking all the vampires’ stuff. Halfway through that, she discovered something space-station shaking: humanity had left survivors behind. Poli believes humanity will send a rescue party. Humanity’s leader would rather claim success on the plan to kill their home planet.
For those that read the series Interceptor, this is a direct sequel. For those that didn’t read it, you don’t need to because Poli apparently loves recapping. There’s no allegory or symbolism to interpret, this is straight up about a sci-fi dystopia where people use science to kill monsters wholesale. The monsters kinda lose their monstery intimidation when they prove just as mortal against giant robots stepping on them or continuous mortar fire, lowering the threat and therefore the stakes. Still, if you’re into first person shooter games but need something more madcap for your tastes, this will likely be your blood-flavored jam.
The artwork carries the torch at the same pace with the writing: basic and exaggerated steps to an explosive goal. The mechs, vampire army, and Poli all come from simple designs that get the point across and establish dominance on the page. The ragtag rebel human survivors enjoy a bit more flair in their costumes, but they all shop from the same catalog like you’d expect from a band of humans desperately fighting to stop the undead. The only brightness to be found is in space, where a human space station rests comfortably in the sun’s endless light; for everything else, it’s constant burning darkness.
Reactor reads like a heavy metal karaoke number – mostly screaming and jumping around on stage, but infectiously easy to get into.
•Giantkillers 0 (Sears & Marz/ Raney): “I killed three giants at once with this sword forged by my father.”
“That’s nothing, I killed four giants at once, with the shovel they gave me to dig my own grave!”
“That’s nothing, I killed six giants at once, and all I had was the conviction of my beliefs!”
•Batman Creature of the Night 1 (Busiek/ Leon): That’s the rough thing about trying to be Batman. Not the constant training or the slippery line between genius and madness or the high turnover rate of colorful sidekicks, but watching your parents die. That’s the part where most fans say No, Thanks.
•Chasing Hitler 1 (Nitz & Nitz/ Morales): Watch this turn out to be Brokeback Mountain only instead of cowboys, it’s soldiers on deployment in WWII era Germany with orders to assassinate the Fuhrer. I’m actually stopping right here because the taglines running through my head are legitimately horrifying and no one should be made to suffer with me. Just listen to Yakkity Saks while reading this, and everything will be fine.
•Mystik U 1 (Kwitney/ Norton): Welcome to the Class of 2021! Meet the dean, department head, Stagecraft coach, linguistics teacher, and equestrian captain Zatanna! There’s more staff around here somewhere, the thing is they’re mostly illusionists so they could be anything around you. Your first test will be to find one teacher and turn them into HR. [8/10]
The Malevolence snuffed out every magical light in the DC universe on its way to consuming all life. Magicians/ fate editors Zatanna and Rose Psychic change the tense to read “will snuff out” by sending Rose back in time to prepare the magical community for their impending doom. That means establishing a boarding school for the mystically-gifted, pooling magical knowledge and giving the enchanted muckety-mucks the means to keep an eye on each other. See, while a younger Zatanna and Enchantress, the son of Felix Faust, promising healer Pia and confused proto-wizard Davit are all studying to figure out their powers before accidentally casting themselves or each other to a hell dimension, the professors need to decide two things: which of this latest generation of mystics will become the Malevolence, and how best to eliminate the threat.
Since its Golden Age beginnings, the DC universe gave shelter and voice to magic’s power and the characters that used it. With stories like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter grabbing audiences by the scruff of their necks and wallets, it was only a matter of time before DC put their own Clandestine College together. Seeing murderous conspiracies among the faculty just fits right into the genre, along with the faceless threat to everything they know and love. While the presentation of the tropes entertains well, there’s nothing special or original in any facet of this book.
Mike Norton’s no greenhorn when it comes to wrangling the strange and impossible into an environment that’s supposed to be mundane. He brought new life to the undead throughout Revival, and he’s gathered all sorted of mythos memorabilia for Mystik U. His characters dress in a wide variety of fashion styles, and each has their own element (at least one) of special flair, which is usually a great way to trip yourself up, but Norton gets it right every time. Whatever the setting – an up-to-date science lab, an ancient study, a morbidly romantic graveyard – it’s rendered with detail and affection.
Mystik U reads like mac & cheese – familiar, filling, but far away from an adventure.
By the Wormy Waist Jacket of Wile E., see you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues