Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
As it happens, it looks like I’m starting 2018 off by obsessing over Marvel. All three reviews are out of that stable. I’ll have to do a week of DC at some point to balance things out but today I’m just going with it!
•X-Men Grand Design 2 (Ed Piskor): This looks like Iceman is coming to terms with another major life choice, and he’s stuck between two possibilities. On the right, we’ve got a Robert Drake that surrounds himself with friends and fashion and dense ice armor, but on the right his closest friends back him up on his business venture to pour syrup on his snow-covered body and sell his frost flesh. That last one sounded so less creepy in his head. [8/10]
In this retelling of the X-Mythos, our tale opens with Magneto’s takeover of the island of Santo Marco back in his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants days. Not only was he fighting the major political powers and Xavier’s team, he also clashed with Mutant Master (not his real name), only he didn’t know it. Cosmic beings like Mutant Master, the Stranger, and the Living Pharoh poked their heads out of their respective rocks to claim whichever stray mutants they could, all for the same mad purpose. While the X-Men push themselves to their limits and stage some of the most outrageous stunts ever, they’re attracting the attention of the media, mutant haters, celestial forces, and the boundless entity some know and the insane desire: the Phoenix.
I missed out on the first issue of this series, so I’m glad the next issue came out so fast. You might know the name of Ed Piskor from his last visual history Hip Hop Family Tree. Both look back on the lore that changed a medium and tell a comprehensive story, careful to include key interactions and catch important people’s live before they jump in. This gives the cast a way to expand without slowing the narrative down. Speaking of, every panel comes with its own paragraph of context, which fills in story holes fine but commits the sin of telling instead of showing. On the one hand, it can feel disjointed or even random at times, but on the other it’s evenly-paced and never fails to tie every loose end off.
Illustration-wise, the book almost tries to imagine what it would be like it Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby had an art baby. The designs and details draw heavy influence from Kirby (particularly Fourth World), while the figures’ postures and expressions emulate Ditko. If the linework wasn’t enough to convince you this book goes all-in on devoting itself to the classic material, the printing material will – the pages are pre-yellowed for that vintage appeal, but rather than the cheaper-than-newsprint paper of the Silver Age, this is printed on a sturdy stock. Everything about this looks classic from a distance, but betrays modern sensibilities on closer inspection.
X-Men Grand Design reads like color commentary after a big game – you might’ve missed the dramatic live version, but this way you get all the progress and highlights without the waiting.
•Gao 1 (Alfred Perez): Godzilla -”SKREE-OOOONK!” (Cower, meat insects, before the power of your atomic arrogance made manifest!)
Gao -”GAHH!” (Hey, hey, hey, Godzilla! Can I rampage with you?)
Godzilla -”RHAHHH!” (What are you doing here? There’s no teaming up without an invitation, you’re committing a major Kaiju-code fail right now.)
Gao -”MRYYAAAH!” (I’m sorry, Mister Godzilla, it’s just that none of the other monsters wanted to spend time with me an-an-and there are so many skyscrapers here today and I thought, if I could just knock a few over it might be fun.)
Godzilla -”NNEEEEEERRGHGH!” (You go over to that little corner and do whatever you’ve got to do, just don’t interrupt me again. (I bet this never happens to Ghidorah.))
Gao -”KHHHEEEEEEEEHH!” (Oh boy, thanks, Mister Godzilla! I’m gonna eat an office building and crush a whole bunch of humans and all the children will want to be my friend and it’ll be the bestest day ever!)
•Underdog 1975 (Skeates/ Albano): YOU shut up! I’m not old! Just because I remember this from my childhood and wore a towel with my red long underwear… you know what? I don’t need this abuse from you. I’m too mature. I’m not too old, YOU’RE TOO YOUNG! Yeah, what you think of that?! Now that that’s settled, I’m just going to sit down and catch my breath.
•Sink 1 (Lees/ Cormack): I’m a bit frustrated by this. A dangerous, possibly sadistic mob, oh no. They get their kicks from hurting you with kicks, how original. They wield weapons made out of things anyone could find from their home, safety is a lie, oh woe is me who hid under the blanket of social delusions for so long. Whatever. You want to impress me? Let’s see a crazy mob that fully commits on the crazy. Where’s my glassy-eyed sadist that preys on people’s empathy by showing them what he’s done with his credit card history? Where’s the lunatic in the bridesmaid’s dress that reduces her victims to muttering shells by forcing them to confront their emotions? Or – and here’s something appropo to this title – a stringbean of a person that insists on breaking people’s bones with a literal kitchen sink?
•Rise of the Black Panther 1 (Narcisse with Coates/ Renaud): So the blowing petals and bold statue in the background give off a pleasant, calm vibe, but then there’s the Panther. The flashback tableau of his silhouette reminds me of the sheen you’d see in a patch of oily water on asphalt. It’s a prism effect of color that should be beautiful, but the unmoving nature of it gives off the sense the the colors are trapped. I suppose what I’m saying is that I don’t want a gritty reboot where the Black Panther came from a tragic oil spill accident and he needs to clean himself with a toothbrush and Dawn every day. [7/10]
Before T’Challa was even an apple in his father’s eye, King Azzuri of Wakanda held Captain America by the throat. Back in the early days of WWII, Cap hoped to gain the then-mythical country’s aid in taking down the Nazis. Azzuri needed to maintain Wakandan secrecy, but he ended up owing the guy after Hydra attacked them both, so they split the difference with a sample of vibranium. With the backstory of Cap’s shield done the story moves to the next generation, the early days of Azzuri’s son T’Chaka, and the debate over Wakandan nationalism. The world’s getting smaller, their country won’t be able to hide forever, and T’Chaka sees he might be the last king that can choose how and when Wakanda can introduce itself as a global partner. Of course plenty are lining up to make that choice for him.
Written as excerpts of a letter to T’Challa from his stepmother, there’s a noticeable lack of tension to this story. Everything’s already played out, we know the highlights, this is just a long look at the drama behind it. There are trials of combat and character, playful romances against political rigors, greed spilling over everything – a message that immense trouble has come before, will come again, and can always be overcome. It’s hopeful but at the same time almost celebrates the tragedies, keeping the reader from getting too hyped up. As a history will do, this tends to jump around with the intent of finishing a part of the story and, in the process, skips over things that get noticed.
Renaud’s style of visual storytelling pairs with Sprouse’s on the regular series so well you’ll wonder if they’re actually the same person. Everyone stands with power and confidence, but the good guys and gals manage to fit in some tenderness as well when they look at certain people. Nature scenes teem with life and color of all kinds, and the city scapes demonstrate an aesthetic that belongs in a sci-fi utopia story. It’s flaw is that it follows the script too closely and makes it impossible to ignore when something’s missing.
Rise of the Black Panther reads a random act of voyeurism – the best part about it might be that you’re not the intended audience.
•Transformers vs. the Visionaries 1 (Visaggio/ Ossio): We need more data before we can make a choice about whether to be excited for this or not. If this is comic franchise vs. comic franchise in forced epic conflict, I could maybe spare some excitement. If it’s the Transformers vs. Hollywood visionaries such as Michael Bay, Uwe Boll, and Joel Schumacher, and the directors combine to form a giant homunculus that causes an explosion every 20 seconds and cries crocodile-style into a flag between narrative acts, then I’m afraid we’ve already lost.
•Batman 38 (King/ Moore): I love Tim Sale’s art normally. He’s got this symmetry going on with a whole monstrous figure on the left and on the right is a half-monster, half victim figure above a little boy that together could make a whole, and that’s clever composition. I just wonder how that gets paired with a Batman wearing that… cape. It’s not even that it’s so large it could act as a tarp for the whole of Wayne Manor, it’s that it’s lopsided, and there’s just no way Alfred’s letting him out of the cave like that.
•Cosmo 1 (Flynn/ Yardley): All “respect” to Duck Dodgers, but this guy looks like he’s be a great hero to cast against Marvin the Martian’s villainy. Marvin has a whole planet and wants more, this guy just has a rock and it’s enough for him and all his neighbors. Marvin spends countless space hours sorting out his death ray, but if the explosion behind Cosmo is to believed he’s already got some working doomsday devices.
•Rogue & Gambit 1 (Thompson/ Perez): For all the weirdness and controversy around so many of mainstream comics’ romances, this may be one of the most epically disastrous ones that didn’t involve a fridge. So it kinda warms my heart to see Gambit throwing an entire deck of explosive cards at Rogue, whose reaction is to smugly behave like he’s not do anything. Remy’s all “Notice me, cher!” and Marie might cock her head slightly to explain that she can’t hear him, she had a check-up and with all her high-altitude flying lately she doesn’t notice lower-bitch frequencies. [8/10]
There’s an island that’s rumored to be a paradise. Endless beaches, friendly neighbors, passionate staff, all devoted to the mental and physical treatment of… mutants? It sounds too good to be true, and Kitty Pryde (leader of the X-Men) wants to know what their real deal is. Formal inquiries couldn’t be trusted, a stealth mission might cause the problems she’s worried about, and so she decides an undercover op’s the way to proceed. It can’t just be any X-Men, either: a couple’ll draw less suspicion than a solo visitor, ones that’ve been in an intimate relationship, preferably with a lot of baggage so that if any psychics are looking, they’ll see the truth and move on. As it happens, there are two active members that meet all those criteria, and they have amazing Southern accents.
Aside from a chase intro and a Danger Room sequence, this issue spends most of its time talking. Rogue and Gambit about their issues, Rogue and Kitty about the mission, Gambit and their neighbors about what to do during downtime, talk talk talk. Clever comics find ways to get away with this, and largely this is a clever book. Most of the talking comes in the form of banter, most of the talkers are nice to look at, and the talking places are all scenic and well-designed. All the effort aside, this remains a book that needs a lot of words in order to set up its plot, which makes for slow reading. For readers that like interpersonal relationships exploited for all the shameful joy minable, this is definitely a must-read, but the average Marvel reader won’t find much to hold their attention.
The art style begins with standard action method – idealized anatomies, sceneries that’re a little too clean, easy design choices – and from their focuses attention and energy on the faces of its characters. When eyes meet, the reader instantly notices extra intent between characters, and the flesh around the eyes communicates volumes about what the character’s feeling based on where the tension in the skin sets. Often, artists have around five types of mouths they can render well and leave it at that, but here there seems to be an infinite number of ways for the lower half of the face ot orient itself, and each panel gets the one that fits the scene just right. This wasn’t just a paycheck to Perez, it was a pleasure.
Rogue & Gambit reads like a buddy cop movie – a thrilling tale of crime and two warriors trying to do the right thing without making out.
Welcome to the new year! See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues