Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
New comics. Neeeeew Cooooomiiiiiics! Yes. Yeeeeeeessssssssss!
•Aliens Retro Collection Mantis & Snake Set (Eaglemoss): So. The Alien franchise is pretty huge in pop culture. Eaglemoss enjoys highs status in figure sculpting. To be carried by Diamond Distribution is supposed to be a big deal. That’s three separate companies each with demanding standards about how their works are presented to customers. Perhaps they’re even extra aware, since nerd culture isn’t known for being tolerant toward missing the tiny details. And yet they went to print with this box cover:
Just to be clear, THIS is labelled a “mantis” alien…
…and THIS is a “snake” alien.
And just for kicks, I’ll throw these on here. This is a mantis…
…and this is a snake.
There are THREE people that had ONE job. The SAME job. And ZERO caught this. But I’m not mad, no, it doesn’t bug me, not at all. I certainly don’t want to do something like burst forth from someone’s chest and butcher the design team one by one as the “survivors” crack under the insurmountable evidence that they won’t survive. That’d just be silly. Ah hah, hah hah hah, ha.
•Monstro Mechanica 1 (Allor/ Evenhuis): Is this a steampunk, Mao Zedong-inspired American Gothic? That sounds almost awesome, and I’m poisoned with curiosity. I need to know. It’s a three-genre pile-up and I cannot look away. [7/10]
In the Renaissance Era, one name would stand above all others in talent, range, and audacity: Leonardo da Vinci. He dissected corpses to learn what anatomy looked like and how bodies worked. He understood the laws of physics well enough to game the system and do impossible things even though no one had =worked out what those laws actually said. He doodled pages that would make people weep, and he did all this in our little mundane world. Put him in a steampunk setting, a game piece for the likes of Machiavelli and Pope Sixtus to war with, and the world instantly becomes a more dangerous place. While most want to see him develop the next great killing machine, one would take him away from military applications to focus on more constructive pursuits: his assistant and fashion revolutionary Isabel. Their collaboration may change the world, and behind da Vinci’s back Isabel’s devotes her efforts to ensuring there’s a world left to change.
The plot doesn’t go much deeper than “put a not-too-old da Vinci in the middle of some zany old-timey tech, chuckle at results”. Plenty of stories have taken similar liberties with the original Renaissance Man, and Monstro Mechanica is gracious enough to put their own unique spin on things. First is to include a point of interest character whose nature helps sell da Vinci’s casual disdain of popular thinking: a young lady that wears trousers and wants to be an engineer. Since the story is mostly about her, it takes the pressure off of da Vinci – arguably the more interesting and definitely the more familiar one – to behave in ways the reader doesn’t expect. In this instance, Leonardo shamelessly conducts himself as the smartest and most pragmatical person in the room, as in completely amoral. This casts him as the biggest wildcard in the story and the primary conflict for Isabel. It’s a dizzying take, but a necessary one to tell a modern culture about another culture with shockingly different codes of conduct.
The artwork is clean, crisp, vibrant, and overall provides all the information you need to understand what’s going on. The problem is that this is one of the few types of stories where that’s not the best thing. Steampunk stories don’t have to be dark, but they should have plenty of fog and grease to sell how fundamental machines are to daily life. Vatican-Italy politics may have conducted assassinations and sabotage as regular business, but they shouldn’t be discussed in the same rooms and agendas as standard city works. Wooden automatons don’t need to be insanely complex, but they shouldn’t run on a gear the size of a dinner plate. If the scenery and characters insist on such incredulous stuff, a more playful style would’ve helped sell it.
Monstro Mechanica reads like a misdelivered joke – it may have been inspiring or hilarious, but it’s so deadpan you think it could be serious.
•Unbeatable Squirrel-Girl 27 (North/ Henderson): Squirrels in space. SQUIRREEEELS IIIIIN SPAAAAAAAAACE! Given the roster she’s hanging out with, my bet she’s hunting Thanos down to finish what she started. I want more mainstream comic-based movies that’re women spotlights, but I absolutely get why Squirrel-Girl didn’t get one before Infinity War: the entire conflict would fit in a credit scene.
•Manosaurs 1 (Petrucha/ Yellowhale Studios): I want this to be a story about a group of students with different backgrounds forced to save the school against a cloned specimen from a dangerous time: a human. I realize the skeleton they’re looking at isn’t human, but it’s also clearly a museum piece and not undead, so this is about as likely as any to lend the cover some impact. I’d just want to hear lines like “It can grasp and manipulate ANYTHING with those disgusting opposable thumbs!”, “It’s warm-blooded, so we can’t just lead it to a cold place and hope it slows down before we do!”, and “Its tiny bones are a choking hazard!”
•Wicked & The Divine Christmas Annual (Gillen/ Everyone That Could Get a Page In): You want to know what the Tumblr Generation is all about? I’m pretty sure this is it: pictures half naked demigods/ celebrities/ fictional characters making out. No intellectual property or time frame or evolutionary history boundaries will be respected, so if you’ve got hangups about things like gender roles this is SO not your print or digital corner.
•Judas 1 (Loveness/ Rebelka): Ohhhhhh, this looks like a fun little melodrama! I wonder what the twist ending will be. I just hope it doesn’t end in a way that leave people hanging. (CC Note: I’d betray you for three pieces of silver, not 30.) [8/10]
Anyone ever hear of a guy named Jesus? Could grow a beard, told a bunch of people how to live that wasn’t horrible, could get drunk off water, famous dad, loved charity cases? Jesus performed deeds so good some called them miracles, and so he had to be punished for them, and his pal Judas took it on himself to get that ball rolling. The story goes Judas had a change of heart ten minutes after it might’ve mattered, killed himself before anyone could do it for him (a line was forming), and that was that. Only Judas’s woes didn’t end there. They’re tracking him even after death, Judas doesn’t know if he deserves salvation or not, but he’d give his immortal soul for some friendly advice on how to deal right now. (There’s a much shorter line for that role.)
There’s plenty going on in this story, and a lot of it will strike the reader as familiar. Judas sees himself as the hero of his story, at the end he felt betrayed by his faith but also ashamed for what he’d done, he wishes he’d get more sympathy, that’s all been done. I looked for something that hadn’t been in Judas’s story before, and it wasn’t until the very end (which I won’t spoil) that I found it. There’s a reward for reading the whole thing, but it makes you go through a lot of heavy, repetitive imagery to get there. Maybe the narrative needs to go through all of that so the last moment stands out that much more, maybe there’s not enough material at the end to redeem the issue after so many pages, about the best I can tell you is that you’ll feel one of those things if you read this.
As complicated as the story can get, the artwork is simply gorgeous. While the designs and sets look believably that they came from 2,000 years ago, there’s a respect and dignity as well. Everyone dresses and carries themselves as civilized, even if their actions don’t mesh with their fashion. Jesus isn’t white, which adds to the tone of rebellious authenticity I believe the series is going for. When the scene calls for elements that just shouldn’t be able to exist, not only does Rebelka find a way to render it, but also cites where the idea came from. Visually, this book is a treat.
Judas reads like a holiday-themed snack – it’s pretty much the same as what’s available the rest of the year, but people like it.
•Under 1 (Bec/ Raffaele): Clearly the SCALE of this fight is epic, but it’s also clearly terrestrial beasts fighting. A spider and an alligator (crocs have narrower snouts) wouldn’t normally fight, but if territory and/ or food’s on the line anything will fight anything. Before I commit to mourning the poor saps in the raft, I can’t help but wonder if Steve Irwin would’ve been one of them. I can almost here the “Crikey”.
•Rumble 1 (Arcudi/ Rubin): In a war of cronenbergs versus wildfires, the winner stands clear: humanoid smugness!
•Gravetrancers 1 (Miller/ Whynot): Did you ever stalk through a cemetery, hunting for the meaning of life in a garden of corpses and aged stone markers that provide the illusion of immortality? Did you ever stalk through a cemetery, hunting for the meaning of life in a garden of corpses aged stone markers that provide the illusion of immortality… ON WEAPONIZED HALLUCINOGENS????
•Giants 1 (C. Valderrama/ M. Valderrama): If I were the enormous, monstrous species overthrowing the human race as the dominant species on the planet, I’d be a little put off if I heard my kind’s name only emphasized my size. I mean come on, I don’t have eyes, my skin stops U-238 bullets, I can snap steel beams just by flexing my muscles, and I eat people by the dozen and pick my fangs with their most precious monuments, but all humans want to do is focus on how I’m not a Size M? These kibble deserve to be driven to extinction! [6/10]
Fire rained down from the sky in one strike, but that was all the apocalypse needed. The impact cast the globe into an eternal winter, and lifeforms on the meteorite mutate into giant monsters that gave humanity only one viable option to survive: dig as deep underground as possible. These ingenious people managed to keep light and electricity and heat going through another gift from the event, and that’s called ambernoir. Whatever it is, it’s the fuel that keeps homo sapiens off the extinct species list. A couple of kids that want to join a ruling gang just found a motherlode of it and can’t decide what to do first: bargain their position in the gang, set themselves up as kings, or escape from the space monster hungry for their flesh.
We get it, we’ve seen Mad Max and/ or The Purge and The Warriors and Judge Dredd and The Hunger Games. When crazy things happen, we expect people to follow mob rule. That works for a few years, maybe, but according to the lore it’s been decades. An entire generation of humans have been born in the dark, molded by it, not seeing the light until they were grown. At that point, the ruling mob isn’t a mob, it’s a government. It’s sweating to make good on the promises they made. New kids want to show they should be let in, willing to work for it, they deserve recognition. Whether by the governments standards or their own, these kids are going to die. I don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything when I say not everyone survives an extinction-level event. The upside is that the living don’t have things much better than the dead.
And a quick sidenote about ambernoir: the new unobtainium. The MacGuffin only works when it’s seen doing something nothing else can do. Geothermal generators don’t need magical rocks to turn the lights on. If you can’t avoid a dystopian society, let it be a rave instead of a mosh pit.
The artwork lines up with the narrative to a T. The motion and poses tense up with energy when the action amps up, and the scenery and details pop out when there’s time to appreciate them. This supports all the story’s strengths but does nothing to help its weaknesses. The kids could be hungry, but they look healthy. The town isn’t spotless, but it is functional. Whatever the worst of humanity’s troubles are at this moment, they don’t indicate that they’re worth throwing kids’ lives away, yet human life doesn’t seem to be worth much here.
Giants reads like someone else’s problem – clearly it’s a bummer for them, but there’s not telling why it concerns us.
Let’s just move on. See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues