Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
Remember when you were a wee bairn and your parents had to chase, catch, and carry you away from the park because you couldn’t stop your fun on the swings? I may have been that kid with this week’s comics. Read on and you can tell me if I need more self-control.
•Valerian GN 20 & 21 (Christen/ Mezieres): On Volume 20, our sci-fi cis hetero heroes duck under the onslaught of ancient language on tablets – maybe if they could read anything other than their native language they wouldn’t be so intimidated. For Volume 21, they’re calmly taking in the sights of celestial children playing on a terrible asteroid collision while some science bondage gear waits for a blue giant star to remember the safeword.
I’m not going to judge, but instead call for one moment to take in how hard they must have brainstormed to come up with the most boring titles possible. The Order of the Stones? Oh boy, a 128-page debate over the pros and cons between alphabetical, by weight, or composition, or an invoice for the castle some eccentric rich alien ambassador wants to build but they’re tired of waiting for customs. And I can’t wait to read the thrilling tale of the picnic Valerian has, during which the unfathomable happens: nobody brought The Time Opener! Be sure to pick up the once-lost Volume 22: Valerian and Form 5501-B, Part 9, Paragraph VI!
•Damage 1 (Venditti/ Daniel & Miki): “Yeah, take that, the ground! You thought you could trip me up when I was eight right in front of little Suzie MacIntyre with the pigtails. You thought you could get away with drinking all the soda that I’ve spilled on you over the years. Bet you never thought about how one day I’d come back, big and superstrong and looking for revenge! I won’t rest until your reign of terror is stopped, and you’ll never beat me! My only weakness is measured, appropriate responses to situations, and we both know there aren’t any of those around!” [6/10]
The most fearful and desperate wrap themselves in time bombs and walk into their target, convinced they’ll never walk out. Ethan Avery might’ve felt fear, maybe even felt desperate, probably wanted to walk somewhere, yet never suspected he’d become a reusable time bomb of the US government. Ethan’s a former soldier and current subject of a metahuman weapons program still in development. They can turn an ordinary man into a giant monster with near-limitless strength and toughness, zero concern for collateral casualties, and it even comes with a handy timer. Problem is, the program hasn’t worked out the whole “aiming” thing, and the monster – Damage – can’t be bothered to wait for the next software patch.
Before I get to into it, just stop right now. Marvel doesn’t own a copyright on people unwittingly changing into uncontrollable monsters, much less monsters everyone else wants to control. No one did when Mary Shelley wrote about one, either, so there will be no talk of “rip-offs”. Damage backs a dump truck full of familiar tropes and drops them right in front of you – grotesque experiments, bureaucratic nightmares, misunderstandings that lead into urban demolition – but at no point does anyone pollute the story with anything like lore or motivation or characterization. Everyone involved sticks around just long enough to conclude a scene, then encounters their own awful reason to leave. Think of the corniest, most cliche-ridden action movie you’ve ever seen, and you’ll get an idea.
Maybe what makes it worse is that the production values are top tier. Tony Daniel and Danny Miki are both established members of the illustration community. Some readers will follow them wherever they go, and subscribe for no other reason than their work on the book. If you’re not one of those readers, and you open this issue to form your first opinion, you’ll be the primary audience for their C-game. Despite plenty of action sequences, the challenge is to find two panels that cohesively describe a sequence of events. The entire issue bursts at the seams with dramatic poses, yet there’s no corresponding drama to give them any weight.
Damage reads like an overenthusiastic hide-and-seek player – they tried so hard that they got themselves lost, and their best chance is to stay perfectly still and hope someone finds them.
•America 11 (Rivera/ Quinones): Oh no, no no no. We remember how this goes, right? It starts off with a few spins around the Earth to go back in time and stops some nukes from killing your crush, but before you know it there’s a fabulously-decked solar clone picking fights on the moon, but that’s just the beginning. Soon a bunch of pushy directors’ll want to take her franchise to bold and edgy places that turn out to be a narrative sewer. Do you want an America Chavez asking about Martha? Because this is how you get a Martha-seeking America!
•Call of the Suicide Forest TP (Bressend/ Gil): There’s no signal in the Forest, so if necessary call the hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
•Go West 1 (Gunn/ Forney): So here’s something no one talks about: in the event of a plutonium-fueled apocalypse, between the crashing waves of EM energy, corrosive radiation, and nuclear winter tearing up the atmosphere like a puppy with the mail, there’s every possibility that compasses will just not work anymore. Maybe the band of cannibalistic mutants with tire-based fashion sense that killed all these people and stacked their skulls atop each other weren’t building a monument to their own cruelty, maybe they just needed a high point to see if they were close to the last surviving Dairy Queen. The blood of your enemies can do many things, but it can’t take away the craving for a Dilly Bar.
•Days of Hate 1 (Kot/ Zezelj): I’ve never been big on theme weddings, but these goths clearly mean business. [8/10]
It’s the year 2022, and the USA is in bleak straits. Civil War II broke out, and just about all sense of human compassion ran for the border faster than a viral internet meme. The 19th century conflict inflicted only so much damage thanks to limited technology, but American ingenuity allows for far more explosive results against far less responsible parties, like firebombing an LGBTQ underground club for hosting a birthday celebration. It doesn’t take a crack detective team to figure out who would do something like that, and it certainly doesn’t take a squad of special operatives to retaliate. It does take a suave government agent to get a radicalized freedom-fighter’s ex-wife to even admit she was married to someone radicalized into fighting for her own definition of freedom.
The issue’s written in a way that clearly doesn’t mind hitting too close to home, which actually helps you make a decision – if you read comics for escapism, there’s simply none to be found here. Taking place four-or-so years in the future, there’s no significant technology gap to navigate. All the difference between this world and ours is social, and then the changes are only minor. The characters revel in their roles, but also bring tiny quirks which instantly round them out and make them appear genuine. Amanda can make friends with anyone without lying, her ex-wife practices falconry, gestures like that are all it takes to turn a stat sheet into a three-dimensional figure.
Fans of artists like Jock or Frank Miller will find elements in Zezelj’s drawing style to enjoy. The linework is just a bit dirty, but not in a sloppy or unpracticed sort of way. It’s confident, measured, and effective at getting across everything it wants the reader to know. Basic proportions are used, but anatomy and design don’t follow realistic norms. They dip just far enough into the surreal to disconnect you from the content a bit, but never so far that you lose track of what’s happening on the page. What you see is what you get, and you’re not supposed to like everything you see.
Days of Hate reads like an unsettling dream – not crazy enough to write off, not striking enough to obsess over, but good luck thinking about anything else.
•Further Adventures of Nick Wilson 1 (Gorodetsky & Andreyko/ Sadowski): You’ll be on the edge of your seat for so much of the issue it’ll imprint a new crease on your glutes! Marvel at Nick as he unpauses the game he left running last night! Gaze with stupefied awe as he makes cereal with milk that’s good even after its expiration date! Shout in triumph when he holds a conversation with his monster of a landlord without giving away that he’s higher than Superman eating his mom’s brownies in the stratosphere!
•Teether 1 (Hutchison/ ?????): “Mindy’s going through a teething phase, and is a bit feverish, so it’s only natural that she’s acting grouchy.”
“Ma’am, she’s eaten half her day-care class. She only stopped during naptime! What may be the worst is that she doesn’t actually consume them, she just tears a hunk off and chews it before spitting it back out!”
“Yes, well, that’s the terrible twos for you.”
•Belle the Beast Hunter 1 (Franchini/ Vitorino): It’s not a matter of “if” someone kicks her off that gargoyle, it’s just a matter of who. Batman’s already ticked off because searchlight signals are his schtick, so he’s got plenty of motivation. Buffy’ll be wondering what legal gymnastics she’ll require to sue Belle’s skin-tight butt off that thing. Deathstroke’ll be wondering how she got his tailor to violate the exclusivity contract he had the guy sign. And maybe this is me just wanting the artist to show self-awareness, but is that a shrug emoji in the building behind her and to the right? In my head cannon it is, and the five black dots underneath represent a hand gesturing how banally average the whole setup is.
•Ice Cream Man 1 (Prince/ Morazzo): aka the Modern Pied Piper. “Come with me, and you be, in a WORLD of brutal subjugation!” [7/10]
There’s a little town out there with all the modern amenities and classic values a happy camper could ask for, including the latest computer hardware and a passionately friendly ice cream man. No frozen treat in the world is too much to ask for of this upstanding young gentleman while he’s on his appointed rounds. Outside of his daily route and schedule is a very different story. Several of them, in fact, including one with a freshly-made cat skeleton carried around in a purse. Don’t want to know about that one? Well, how about a brazilian spider so venomous it can make your genitals explode? Oh I see, now you want to go back to the cat tale.
There’s an important distinction that should be made right away: this is a horror story that involves children, not a horror story FOR children. Children’s horror stories like Goosebumps or the Brothers Grimm involve dangerous, even deadly scenarios but also include either a moral or lesson that justifies the experience. There’s no justification here. No valuable lesson, no purely evil mastermind, just a series of unfortunate events that lead to a pile of corpses and swear words. The premise would seem to be that these casualties are witnessed by the Confectioner (the most sinister sounding name I could come up with), someone much more than he appears to be but lacking malice – his concerns begin and end with getting ice cream into people’s hands. It’s a bit campy, a bit grotesque, and a few more things besides.
The art reminds me a lot of the late Steve Dillon. Direct and plain enough that you could call it blunt, yet too evocative to qualify as simple. The transition from sunny neighborhood sidewalk to home gravesite occurs so gradually that you’ll scan the pages for where things began looking ominous. For all the unafraid posturing the illustrations perform to confront the reader with agonizing death and horrific beasts, there’s a turgid missing element that the captions suggest early, but the art never grasps. I am, of course, talking about painful and permanent erections. (CC Note: No no no STOP!) The omniscient narrator teases at the possibility of necrotic hard-ons starting at Page 2 (CC Note: Pleeeeeease stop!), and yet you get all the way to the last panel and there’s not one tentpole to be found. We were promised lycanthropic lead pipes, but instead all we got were flacid furballs. (CC Note: We’re SO SORRY!) (I’m definitely not.)
Ice Cream Man reads like a bowl of yogurt you start eating after being away for a bit – it’s still fine, but there are crunchy bits you didn’t expect and, for the sake of your sanity, may need to ignore.
Well, readers, did I go too far? Tell me next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues