Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
Every week I take a big-picture look at the comics I pick up and ask if there’s a trend or theme to them. Common traits in products made fundamentally separate from each other can actually say a lot about what the mood and motivation behind society is like, if you can spot it. Today I’m look at the covers and the first thing that popped into my head was “I hope there ISN’T a theme this week!” Take a look for yourself and maybe you’ll see what I mean. Or decide I’ve gone fully deranged and need to be fitted for a straightjacket, whatever.
•Now 2 (Various): This cover is by Christian Rex Van Minnen and is my new reaction image for just about anything.
Most fruit juice has very little juice that comes from fruit in it.
I’ve built a two-story outhouse.
I found a dollar on the sidewalk today.
•Abbott 1 (Ahmed/ Kivela): That she’s somewhat calm and collected while resting on the corpses of demons is impressive, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like this is the kind of woman that could look this beleaguered and detached after pounding any group into the dirt. Cosmic entities, conniving family members, rude salespeople, rampaging molemen, whatever. It’s almost making demons less special. [9/10]
Elena Abbott’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time. She lives in Detroit, the year is 1972, and she’s black – there are war zones less stressful than that. She’s also one of the hardest-working journalists in the state, and having just printed an exclusive on police brutality, most cops drop slurs at her feet like they were roses at a debutante’s ball. On top of racial and economic outrage, a bizarre series of murders is taking place. At first they involve animals, the heads and torsos torn off the bodies, which makes for flashy filler stories but nothing page 1. Right away Abbott’s reporter senses seize on the image: she’s felt this kind of thing before.
Most of the story’s narrative hinges on the character of Abbott, and wisely enough there’s a bevy of traits that make her stand out not only from the characters around her, but any character in the medium today. For one thing, she’s a chain smoker, which isn’t seen in comics much these days. Second, the kind of casual abuses heaped on her for being a black woman in a white man’s profession – the kind that triggers social media outbursts and ends careers today but dropped like rain back then – doesn’t faze her in the least. She’s not without her triggers, but they’re very unique triggers, and for them she has her own coping skills.
On this alone, this could stand as a full and pertinent story about how mental injuries and illnesses have always existed, it’s only recently that they’ve gotten names and treatments. However, there’s also something much less concrete and purely malevolent working just out of everyone’s sight except Abbott’s and this is where I’m less impressed. Somewhere between voodoo and ritual sacrifice lies an energy and someone conducting it for purposes unknown and it might have something to do with the mystery or it could be the spiritual equivalent of the kid demanding two dollars, all I know is that it fits in about as well as a petite sailor’s top on Howard Taft.
(CC Note: Damn you.)
The linework is fairly standard house format, with facial and figure anatomy close to realistic but uninterested in details that could be seen as defects. The inking is straightforward and bold. The coloring may be the most stylized facet to the art for its watercolor-like appearance. It gives the images a faded quality without removing the brightness or contrast from anything. The visuals guide the reader through the story effortlessly and provide all the information you’ll need to know and plenty of treats to make the journey entertaining.
Abbott reads like a homemade cocktail – a bit rougher and more pulpy that what you’re used to, but it’s got more than enough to get the job done.
•Star Wars Adventures Forces of Destiny – Ahsoka & Padme (Revis/ Pinto): Padme: “Women can do anything!”
Ahsoka: “Really? Can you do anything? We’ve got half a garrison of droids to fight through and so far I’m doing everything!”
•Meteor Swarm 1 (Shand/ Bonk): Space wasps. Why did it have to be space wasps? Though if anything were to bring together a League of Extraordinary Arachnids – Shelob, Aragog, Charlotte, Anansi, and of course The Spider – it would be a cosmic buffet line like this.
•Vinegar Teeth 1 (Gentry/ Nixey): “Ma’am, this is the police! We’ve traced the call and it’s coming from inside this house!”
“But officer, I don’t have a phone!”
“And you don’t need one when it’s the call of Cthulhu!” [7/10]
Arthur Buckle saw a police officer once, powerful and respected and necessary, and told himself he could be lazy and drunk all day if he had that kind of job, and danged if he didn’t make his dream come true. Detective Artie was two minutes away from closing a case when an extradimensional entity appeared and ate his suspect. With a grotesque appearance, tenuous grasp of language, and no memory of its life before appearing at a crime scene, the town of Brick City game it a name and badge. The creature now called Officer Vinegar Teeth rides with Detective Buckle now sworn not to eat any more people and, time permitting, uphold the law.
Who’s ready for a buddy comedy where the grizzled veteran overcomes his cynical racism once he gets to know his rookie partner?? Yeah, this is basically Lethal Weapon written by H.P. Lovecraft, right down to the clear uncertainty of what to do with anyone that isn’t a white man or non-euclidian lifeform. There’s a criminal empire, maybe an alien invasion or just some food poisoning, it’s hard to tell what the focus is besides the antics of the two cops trying to get along.
If you ever wondered what Robert Crumb artwork might look like if he calmed down just a bit, pick yourself up a copy of this book. It’s sweaty and greasy and doesn’t give a lick about proportion, it just portrays gross stuff. It does that very well and in a way that never confuses the reader about what they’re looking at, just why someone would imagine it.
Vinegar Teeth reads like that velvet smoking jacket hiding in the back of a closet for forty years – maybe just a few people like the look, and of them only a couple can pull it off, but when it all comes together they go crazy for it.
•Marvel Two-In-One 2 (Zdarsky/ Cheung): Old school Doom might cackle or boast at the misfortunes of Ben and Johnny right here, yet this demonstrates just how much he’s grown as a character. It’s a new Victor for a new year, complete with new priorities. Maybe if the monster destroys something Doom cares about, like a Gray’s Papaya, then he’ll get involved. Until then, it’s Wednesday, and that’s Doom’s alone time.
•Doomsday Clock 3 (Johns/ Frank): This is the kind of metatextual look into the creative process I associate more with Grant Morrison or Garth Ennis rather than Alan Moore, but maybe all UK writers look alike to Gary Frank? But Gary’s British too, does that make this more or less racist? And did he take a reference photo for this, or did he throw a fresh bottle every time he needed a visual reference? Hey, I don’t know, every professional artist has their own system.
•Legion 1 (Milligan/ Torres): “Hello, sir! I hope you’re enjoying your dinner. Did you know I can lift mountains and burn buildings with my mind, maintain great hair lift without product, force people to relive their greatest torments, and right now all I want to do is show you a little trick? Is….. THIS the number you’re thinking of?”
“No, actually, the number I’m thinking of is 9-1-1.”
•Dissonance 1 (Nugroho & Cady/ Basri): Nunchucks and swords are both cool. No one’s saying you HAVE to prefer one over the other, it’s just that… you’re just not supposed to use swords like nunchucks. It’s like the cat said, “Use the sword as a sword!” You’d think basic survival instinct would be enough to avoid this kind of amateur amputation, but then we live in an era where kids eat Tide pods, so obviously I don’t understand today’s young people. [8/10]
It turns out shrugging off concerns of the flesh and living as pure energy is overrated. An alien race made contact with Earth in the late 1700s hoping some would volunteer to merge with them in order to restore their connection to the physical world. Some did, and before you knew it both worlds enjoyed a golden age. The obvious catch is that any human that merges with an alien stops being human and shares headspace with a cosmic narcissist for the rest of their lives. The less obvious catch: the oppressive shadow rulers that made up the majority of the alien political structure moved to Earth to continue sowing discord while the pacifists fix their home planet up. One family of humans is on this council, a brother and sister of cruel methods and absolutely broken emotions. The last thing anyone here needs is another crisis to deal with, such as an escaped prisoner from the alien side with a passion for screwing things up.
I gave myself a headache trying to break this story down as much as I did, and there’s important stuff I simply skipped. There’re political scisms, “accidents”, sentences with ominous endings, enough psychosexual relationships to qualify as a season of Game of Thrones, and I need to stop before I go too deep down the rabbit hole. This thing is dense, and wildly enough it doesn’t feel that way until you think back on it. Exposition waits in almost every panel to throw trivia and lore at you, but never so much that it dominates. There’s a lot of weight laid on the setting and plot, and that’s probably for the best as the characters don’t prove to hold up under pressure. Everyone’s either aggressive, aloof, or some dangerous combination of both.
The visuals work themselves brutally to keep pace with the concepts and dialogue, but they do keep pace. The nature of the alien-human fusions demand they each have radically different designs from each other loaded with detail, and presented consistently each and every page. That’s the artistic equivalent of a biathlon, where being able to finish at all is a trophy-earning achievement. The pacing’s a bit odd in that the story will shift between montage and real-time repeatedly, but transitions stay fairly smooth. If this level of quality keeps up on a monthly basis, Sami Basri could become a household name.
Dissonance reads like a rainy day – it can look and sound soothing from a distance, but walk into unprepared at your peril.
It’s cold and I’m tired of waiting, so I put a jacket on anyway. Call me crazy if you want, I’ll see you next week either way!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues