Variant Coverage – January 31, 2018

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

I was going to make this week’s theme about hunting, but threw that out since any form of character wanting something could qualify as a hunt, and that’s every story ever. I might as well make this week’s theme about cellular mitosis or replacing calm dialogue with over-the-top violence. The system’s working fine, I won’t come up with an excuse to fix it. I will come up with a reason for you to buy books, though!

Amory Wars – Good Apollo 10 of 12 (Sanchez & Echert/ Morales): Can anyone else hear the Pac-Man eating sound when they look at this? Is this some new, dark reimagining of a classic 80s franchise? Are we going to learn that the player was always a demon and the ghosts were, in truth, souls of the damned desperately trying to save themselves from your endless hunger? Because that’s metal as hell!

Also, it would seem this week is Space Head Cover Week. Why wasn’t I hashtagged?!?

Eternity 4 (Kindt/ Hairsine): Space head with a wardrobe.

Star Trek Boldly Go 16 (Johnson/ Hernandez): Dessicated space head reading fanfic.

Space Riders – Galaxy of Brutality 4 (Rangel Jr./ Ziritt): Techno space head that also wants noms and may have swallowed a space nuke.

Hungry Ghosts 1 (Bourdain & Rose/ Ponticelli & Del Ray): So dissatisfied echoes of our lost loved ones are just really hungry for a decent bowl of noodles? Because honestly, if I have to haunt people after I die, this is probably how I’d do it. Walls would bleed marinara, blocks of cheese moving when no one’s looking, and I’d absolutely suck the warmth out of a room. (CC Note: You do that anyway.) Not to creep out the people inside the room, just when someone tries to serve pico at room temperature instead of chilled. I may be dead but I’d still appreciate fine dining. [6/10]

What starts as a night of indulgence for the rich and powerful becomes a class war of spooky stories. Following an ancient Japanese tradition, the esteemed guests along with their chefs and servers tell food-themed tales of terror. Anything from angry spirits to sadistic sea hags is fair game, but they’re not playing against each other so much as themselves – each storyteller must speak from a room lit by a decreasing number of candles and look into a mirror. The first one to creep themselves out loses.

I honestly wasn’t expecting a Twilight Zone style anthology series, but here we are. There’s an enigmatic master of ceremonies that’ve brought these people together, multiple differences in their life experiences and backgrounds, and the unspoken threat of what each could be capable of if provoked, which makes the story of the people telling the stories more interesting and engrossing than the stories themselves. The first two salvos are both from the staff, and both focus on how abusers can find themselves abused with nothing more than a change of wind, while the book as a whole would probably win a few rounds of Cultural Appropriation Bingo. I wonder how much Anthony Bourdain had to do with the construction of this narrative, and if it was anything more than letting his name appear on the cover.

Different artists take charge as the narrator changes from tale to tale. It says so on the inside front cover. That said, I’ve seen more substantive shifts from a single artist changing styles than these three artists using what’s effectively the same toolbox. Rough inks over simple anatomy and a stone set of facial expressions persist through all the main sections of the book, and while it broadcasts the main features of the stories fine, it doesn’t provide any flair or – dare I say – flavor that might excite the reader.

Hungry Ghosts reads like a frozen pizza – it technically fulfills its stated purpose, but is hardly satisfying.

Samurai Jack Quantum Jack 4 (Rangel Jr./ Cadwell): I don’t care if Jack’s browsing on company time or if this is a public cafe, it’s the same as if he were reading a book: reading over someone else’s shoulder without invitation is just rude. That guy doesn’t need the flaming eyeballs or the cloak made from darkest shadows to be evil, they just cement the look.

Food Wars Volume 22 (Tsukuda/ Saeki): “The only acceptable thickening agent is flour mixed with water, you s&$%-sucking moron!”
“Even a child could tell you that corn starch makes for a smoother consistency without flour’s natural insulation against flavor! Your close-minded heresy must be wiped off the Earth!”

JLA Doom Patrol Special 1 (Orlando, Way, Visaggio/ Aco & Liew): “Behold, citizens, I’ve come to save you!”
“You’re here to vanquish Lord Darkdraque, our oppressive overlord?”
“You’ve devoted your life and power to repairing our failing infrastructure?”
“Are you the man that’ll get my kitty cat out of the tree?”
“No, but I can provide you with this: a lactose-free liquid that tastes and cooks just like milk!”
“…that’s cool, I guess.” [8/10]

Sick of company-wide lore with more knots in it than a net? Confused about why more superheroes aren’t satisfied with helping people closer to home? Uncomfortable with their challenging fashion choices? No matter what problems you have with the DC main universe, Retconn can help. Retconn is a multiversal marketing firm out to satisfy their latest client, a cosmic despot called Manga Khan who’s looking for a nice clean world to rule over and a bride to rule it with. Retconn believes Earth-1 would be the ideal spot for him with just a bit of whitewashing – you know, dial back the wardrobe to the 1950’s, hammer in some of the bits that stick out, lose the swears – and it can accomplish all that and more simply by shoving some of their focus-tested milk down everyone’s throats. It sounds unlikely, but the first “customers” were the Justice League of America, and anything that can make Lobo use proper grammar should be considered a weapon of galactic scale. Conventional heroes simply can’t fathom such a threat. The unconventional Doom Patrol would normally take this on without stopping for a chat, but Retconn’s made this deeply, painfully personal.

Regular readers of Doom Patrol can pick this up without missing much at all, but readers of Justice League of America can count themselves lucky if they even recognize a third of what’s on the page. That’s a rather brutal disparity for a book trying to bridge two audiences together. Even if you’re among the few that can claim some familiarity with what’s going on, the narrative seems to take a sadistic delight in pummeling you with twist after twist. By the time I got to the end, I felt the camel’s back broke a few straws ago, and they’d kept loading them on just for the sake of adding to the pile. Whether the two teams are fighting or flirting, they make it a point to share the spotlight and showboat while in its beam. Whoever you like, they get a golden moment.

Justice League of America is one of those titles that relies on a mainstream visual style in order to get taken seriously. Doom Patrol’s entire mission statement falls apart unless its visual style could snag a spot in a modern art exhibit. Aco and Liew manage to lay out and assemble elements that accommodate both camps and they deserve some kind of award for it, even if someone has to invent the thing. Statuesque poses of hero teams? Check. Zany sound effects to go with border-breaking punches? Super check. Splash page capturing the entirety of the specific moment that a heart breaks? Depress check. Whatever your personal tastes in regards to illustration are, this will be a treat.

JLA Doom Patrol reads like a circus exhibit – you can’t be sure what you’re looking at, but so long as you don’t think about it too much it’ll be a good time.

Silencer 1 (Abnett/ Hope & Romita): Jackie Brown by John Woo? Tell me more…

Stretch Armstrong & the Flex Fighters 1 (Burke & Wyatt/ Koutsis): *after blacking out from laughter* Oh man, did they miss the boat on this one. As important as sidekicks are to a superhero’s career, he shouldn’t have gone with other supers. Armstrong should’ve gone with a pair of kids to do what every other pair of kids did when they had a Stretch Armstrong toy: pull, yank, twist, and contort the thing with sadistic glee. Whoever the big bad is, they’ll do what just about every other grown-up did: they’ll go quiet and step away, silently praying that this isn’t an indicator of future behaviors.

Motherlands 1 of 6 (Spurrier/ Stott): I have a lot of questions about this cover, and that’s normally fine in that a good cover poses questions. Problem is, I have the wrong questions. Is foreground lady a large woman in reasonable armor or a smaller woman driving a person-shaped tank? Is that some kind of steampunk gun in her hand, an over-designed lunch box, a conceptual installation piece, or is she just happy to see me? Speaking of happy, what’s with the overdressed Junkrat in the background? Learn the lesson: assembling a good cover image isn’t actually easy. [7/10]

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Tabitha whose mommy was a warrior queen and bounty hunter feared and respected throughout the spaceways. She hunted down bad guys while surrounded by cameras so everyone could see what a perfect warrior queen she was, and Tabitha hated it. But then, Tabitha’s clever and friendly father swooped down and saved Tabitha…’s brother, leaving her alone with the warrior queen. A rough 30 years later, Tabitha’s a hunter in her own right and determined to leave the spectacle and glamour to her mother, who’s in the nursing home with a grand view of a graveyard. Tabitha tells herself that her mother’s legacy can rot and die in the place right up until an old bounty gets some fresh intel on the board – one of the top ten most wanted poked his head up recently, and the payoff’s enough to set any pair of mercs up for the rest of their lives. That’s all Tabitha needs to get on board, but Mommy Dearest’ll need more incentive.

The setting sounds high-concept – a world whose economy is based on trading technologies with parallel universes – but quickly grounds itself in low-brow expression and expectation. It suggests that no scientific advancement is too game-changing that someone won’t find a way to make a cheap profit off it, a vision so imaginable that all the sci-fi artifacts lose their inspiring qualities. Tabitha’s backstory and their results are cruel enough to generate sympathy for her, yet her resigned stoicism keeps the reader from feeling much else. I found myself casually hoping she’d catch a break someday, but no more than any other random person I might meet that didn’t immediately offend me. Her struggles are relatable and the stakes around the big bad impress as sufficient, yet the story goes out of its way to show that whether she involves herself or not, the target’s going down. Ultimately, there’s no genuine source of tension.

A crisp and clean art style carries the visual pace, and for all the work there’s a playful attitude throughout the book. All kinds of body types and expressions wait to be found, and even the most monstrous and alien creatures bear a kind of beauty to them. The designs of the scenery, tools, and costumes are thorough and detailed, with the total effect something between Jamie McKelvie and Geof Darrow. The coloring is what truly sells the world, knowing exactly when a panel should provide bright lights and vivid hues or dour shades. The narrative may not paint a pretty picture, but the art makes it a place you would live in.

Motherlands reads like a bowl of carefully prepared oatmeal – not the most thrilling choice, but also not pretending to be anything other than what it is, and being good at it.

See you next week!

Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival?  They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues

Variant Coverage Review Blog by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival

Variant Coverage Review Blog by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival


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