Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
Oh look at this! Somebody delivered a whole bunch of comics to our doorstep. What could they be???
Don’t worry, I’ll tell you.
•Curse Words Holiday Special (Soule/ Norton): “When the ether outside is spiteful,
“And the demon’s so insightful,
“And our paladin gave up his soul,
“Undead troll, Undead troll, UNDEAD TROLL!”
•Empowered & Sistah Spooky’s High School Hell 1 (Warren/ McNeil): Hell is a Barbie hair field? Hell is a Barbie hair field. An endless field of blonde hair, high as an elephant’s eye, occasionally interrupted by high-pitched teen wailing. It must be true. Dante’ll rise from the grave to confirm it any minute now, you just wait! [9/10]
In a world of corporate-managed superhero teams, office rivalries reach epic proportions, and forgiveness shows up about as rarely as a five-celestial-body eclipse. The now retired Sistah Spooky actively devoted her energies to make Emp’s life hell when she joined the Superhomeys, but that was a few trips through hell ago, and now they’re making the effort to work through their baggage and understand each other. Unable to resist ruining the moment, Sistah Spooky’s patron – a minor demon overseeing a pool of dispensable arcane power – pulls her, Emp, and the rest of his clientele into a brand new pocket of misery with a simple goal. Spooky drew more than she or anyone intended from the pool, and if she dies here, everyone’s ledgers get balanced.
So we have another mini-series spun from Empowered, the little indie from Adam Warren that can keep going as long as it like for all it’s worth. This title’s consistently followed the style of storytelling also found in Invincible or Savage Dragon: have fun with the toys, but when a world-changing event blows through, show that it changed the world. The initial chapter of this story not only recaps history, it accepts and builds on it, which you’d think would be the overwhelming standard but clearly isn’t and how did we get here I don’t know! Anyway. Both Spooky and Emp demonstrate how much they’ve developed as characters since the beginning, even beyond the point where they’re concerned about personal redemption. This isn’t a pity party, this is a fight-out-of-a-trap story, and it’s about when I realized what they were being tied up with that I figured this would be a brutal one.
Warren usually draws his own material, and when he doesn’t he usually picks someone with a similar Western anime style to take over. Carla Speed McNeil does NOT draw in a Western anime style. This may be the first instance of Empowered presented without an anime influence, and it’s stellar. McNeil knows how to vary faces and their features so they look different from each other, but not so different that they could be from a different species. This comes in handy when the scene calls for a swarm of catty high school girls all stamped from the same beauty template. Backgrounds and environments designs dig deep into the page, creating intense depth. The coloring manages to pop from the page even in the deep dark pits. Visually, not one punch is pulled and not one opportunity is missed.
High School Hell reads like a slasher marathon – a gorey and brain-twisting experience that’s way more fun that it logically should be.
•Catalyst Prime Summit 1 (Chu/ Duursema): Is this turning a pithy seasonal expression into a concept for a superhero world? “April cosmic lightning showers bring May bontano-kinetic powers”?
•Quantum & Woody 1 (Kibblesmith/ Kano): I like the concept of a super-powered duo that’re dependent on and yet can’t stand each other. It sounds clever. It also sounds like the kind of exploration that wears itself out before too long. I suppose it’s refreshing that these two look about as frustrated with the endless cycle as we are. They’ve been in each other’s faces over so many issues that they’re probably making stuff up just to stay on-brand.
“You, uhh, stop eating my cereal! I need it to fight crime I guess.”
“Well then you have to stop using my bowls. The ones I, oh wait those aren’t mine I was thinking of the coffee mugs.”
“Where’d you get those they’re really nice? I mean ANGST!”
•Backways 1 (Jordan/ Carlini): Did Home Depot move their cult-based apocalypse tropes into their door-and-fixture aisle? I often shop for entryway hardware with a number of world-ending scenarios in mind, this is true, but I don’t usually install solid oak thresholds while I’m entertaining drawf-sized doomsayers (who prefer ramps over stairs) and putting up perches for their unkindnesses of ravens. But if I did, I could get dried giblet meat for them (it’s supposed to be for the ravens, but I catch the doomsayers sneaking the odd morsel) on sale there for $6.99/ pound. Home Depot: because survivalism’s for naive optimists. [6/10]
Some people like to write off “phases” as periods of life kids go through that won’t mean anything, but they don’t work like that. Actions have consequences regardless of the music you listen to, the clothes you wear, or the set of mystic rituals you believe in and perform. Sylvia’s mom thought she was going through a phase when she started wearing pentagram earrings, looked into mirrors from odd angles, and started seeing Anna. When Sylvia disappeared, guess which one of those Mommy blamed. Anna refuses to play the patsy, and she won’t dismiss Sylvia’s disappearance as a runaway whim, either. A little observation leads Anna (for lack of a better term) behind reality itself, to where the lost and the wondrous hide themselves and what they claim away. Anna doesn’t know a thing about any of this, she just knows if she doesn’t learn fast, Sylvia may be lost forever.
The trope of Portal Fantasy is one thing. It can create an environment for revelations and major life changes, but they need something to work with. The character going into this brave new world can’t go in without some established traits so the reader can tell what changes as the story plays out. Anna has no definable personal qualities. Is she book smart? Clever? How was she raised? Any sports? Does she pay attention to what she eats? I couldn’t tell you any of this, or why she wears glasses, or why anyone should care about her. She’s about as important to daily life as the missing world she encounters or the gross national product of Uruguay, and I don’t have the patience to puzzle out two mysteries in one tale.
As frustrated as I am with the narrative, at least this issue looks nice. The overall style could be called Western Standard – real-life human proportions and anatomy, no obvious exaggerations – except Carlini demonstrates that there are different body types to women, which is not standard. Most of the story takes place in the “real” world with generic figures, and nothing stands out when that applies. When then other side peeks out, it does so with misshapen heads and ultra-adorned garments and fantastical biologies. It puts together two very different worlds and shows the difference everywhere it can and I love it for that.
Backways reads like cheap bubble gum – once the wave of flavor’s gone, there’s no reason to keep it in your head.
•30 Days of Night 1 (Niles/ Kowalski): Damn, Mr. Freeze’s going through an edgelord phase. “You can’t win, Batman. I went to the Riddler to see if he could understand me, that’s why you haven’t heard from him in eight months. Joker asked me what I was thinking about and by the time I left an hour later he was still crying. Gotham’s not my target, it’s barely an afterthought. My demands this time are for Livejournal to restore their entire archive: my early poetry was epic and must be shared with the world.”
•Doctor Strange 383 (Cates/ Walta): “I’m the Giving Tree, Stephen. Do you need my wood to build a house, or my leaves to make tea? I would give you anything.”
“See, that’s the problem. The last five hundred people to come by, you just gave them horrible rashes. I’ve come to put a stop to you.”
“…I can also give you a second opinion.”
•DC Superheroes World’s Greatest Jokes (Dahl & Lemke): Can we take a timeout to reflect on how screwed up it is to go to Batman for joke material? Nevermind he’s the most tightly-wound straight man in the history of language, but his greatest adversary weaponizes jokes. Imagine walking up to the Night and uttering, “Hey, do any of the exploits of that insane mass murderer standout as especially ‘kooky’? I’m enrolled in a standup class and I need something to up my game next session.”
•Assassinistas 1 (Howard/ Hernandez): This is either a ridiculously sensible or classically ludicrous update to Charlie’s Angels. You never saw the angels in battle gear that could fit right into a luchador ring, but at the same time they all focuses on short-range combat, which always bugged me. With this team you’ve got a sniper for long-range, Lone Wolf & Cub’s got mid-range, and the Ginger Menace looks like she’ll dominate in close. Now I want to see these agents in a crossover with Charlie’s for the femmesploitation event of the decade. [8/10]
Once upon a time there were three friends that worked together as some of the best assassins in the world. They could drive each other crazy but they couldn’t be stopped for anything. As time does to all things, they moved on after a while. “Scarlet” Charlotte, one of the best snipers in the world, is aiming to have her second kid in a couple of moths. Octavia “Red October” needs a new client as an insurance broker if she’s going to keep her son in college. Rosalyn “Blood Diamond” stayed married to her job, and lost touch with her old partners. When Scarlet invites Red October to her home to catch up and sign onto a family protection plan, it might be a funny coincidence. When a blood diamond dagger shows up where Scarlet’s first-born should be, it stops being funny.
It’s possible that this story is supposed to be about how quickly and completely people can change. Most of the characters pull major shifts from where we first find them, or where they first found each other. Loads of drama comes from that, more from some shifts than others, usually to an entertaining effect. But there’s also an example or two of a character that doesn’t change at all, that might be acting against everyone else for having the audacity to change in the first place. So maybe it’s about how people are just weird and good luck being one of them. Or it could be about how financial instability can wreck your life, or an argument against the necessity of father figures. It’s got chicks with guns and cool code names, deal with it!
The Hernandez name brings a certain gravitas to a book’s premise, and everything in the drawing of this book supports that brand. The poses and anatomy seem blocky and simple, and at the same time are completely accurate for the moment they describe. When someone’s looking at a gun, or gazing into the eyes of the soul they’ll have a child with, it appears that that’s happening. It’s a disarming kind of authenticity that you almost have to see to believe.
Assassinistas reads like an art museum piece – if you look too closely at it, you may read more into it than anyone meant.
I mean it when I say Happy Holidays! See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues