Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
•VS 1 (Brandon/ Ribic): I think this is what my face looks like when I’m listening to truly inept color commentary. There’s no sport moment so glorious that it can’t be evaluated to death by a retired athlete trying to build his portfolio or pad time until commercial break. “Oh really the better player is the one that thinks about scoring more points? How remarkable. What delusion led me to believe I’d be entertained by this. Bleepy the Shoulder Robot, do you know?”
“Any time you and your AI buddies want to conquer us is good for me, buddy.”
•Incognegro Renaissance 1 (Johnson/ Pleece): This poor guy, trying so ineffectually to hide AFTER the spotlight’s trained on him. That suit’s dapper, my friend, but that hat needs a few more gallons. But it does illustrate that social anxiety was thriving as far back as the Roaring 1920’s, even if no one called it that. Talk about your representational heroes! [7/10]
The easiest way to make it in any industry is to have already made it in another. Perhaps one of the hardest ways to make it is to be black, particularly in 1930’s New York. Zane Pinchback is the rare sort of man that can walk across the racial divide whenever he chooses, which usually happens whenever a news story snags onto his journalistic instincts, or when he wants to crash a high-profile party like the one a famous novelist hosts for his first new book in over a decade. It’s supposed to be a fun event where people of all colors can pound a few drinks, laugh, and otherwise pretend there’s no such thing as racial tension, but then a black author with a fresh manuscript and high blood-alcohol level ruins the whole thing by dying in a bathtub. The police and hosts are comfortable with calling it a suicide, which is when Zane’s press pass starts twitching.
To get the obvious out of the way, race plays a large role in this story. You might agree with the statements and suggestions made, you might not, just remember that this is set almost a century ago, and it’s the reader that decides ultimately what that may say about the present. I hope that’s enough to escort the elephant out of the room.
Zane’s position as a character puts all the responsibility for moving the story forward onto him. It’s made directly clear to everyone that he’s the only one that can break the case open, because everyone else with any say has already decided to let it wither and die. It’d be thrilling if he answered the call with determination or playful excitement, but instead he needs pushing every step of the way until he’s out the door. He complains that he wants to excel only on his merits as if no one else around him ever thought of that, and when they don’t call him out on this his friends become more generous than him. I don’t mind the main character not being the best, but they should be in the top half at least. The mystery itself only receives a bit of attention, and thus provides little space for the book to stand on – it feels incidental.
Pleece’s art focuses heavily on people’s facial structures, which is critical considering how the whole premise to the book is that skin tone isn’t a reliable way to define a person. The curious eye will notice how cheekbones, eye shape, and other factors contribute in subtle ways to the overall look of a face. The designs of the houses, attire, cars, everything else is era-consistent. As you might notice from the cover, perspective isn’t a strength here, and most of the panels look flat. One more thing to be aware of: this book’s printed in black-and-white.
Incognegro Renaissance reads like a good mid-season episode of a period drama – not bad, just not great.
•Swamp Thing Winter Special (King & Wein/ Jones): This is one hero you won’t find in a grand hall or elite academy. No, you’ll find him in the frozen food section.
•Infinity Countdown Adam Warlock 1 (Duggan/ Allred): “Behold, brothers and sisters of the universe, I bring you-*”
“A means of conflict resolution without violence or childish namecalling?”
“No, this big stick. It can be a shower rod or a way to reach things on high shelves, you name it!”
“…You sure you don’t have any divine wisdom up there?”
“Well yeah, but that’s mine. You get the stick.”
•Mother Panic Batman Special 1 (Houser & Visaggio/ Templeton & Liew): “Behold, citizens of Gotha-*”
“Nuh uh! You just keep on floating! Someone else’s already been through here.”
•Armstrong and the Vault of Spirits 1 (Van Lente/ CAFU): What a large and varied audience backing up a man dressed and stocked as if he constantly needs reminding why he can’t hang out near elementary schools. Best case scenario: he’s a guest craftsman in to show students how to make their own ships in bottles.
•X-Men Red 1 (Taylor/ Asrar): I’m just about ready to call “appropriation” on this one. Summoning lightning, collecting it and wearing it like a battle scarf (CC Note: A WHAT???), that’s all Storm’s thing. Eyes glazing over to full white as she taps into the full depth of her power, that’s Storm’s thing too. They’ve been friends for a long time but I didn’t know it was “grab stuff from each other’s lockers on a whim” close. Maybe this is just until Jean’s things gets brought out of storage after she died last time, but that’s a lot to get into first issue. [7/10]
Jean Grey thought she died during turbulent times, but now that’s she’s alive again she realizes the times were just revving up, and now they’re red-lining the engine on a line of railroad tracks. Jean’s looking at a world full of violence and anger in the name of petty reasons and sees a place that doesn’t need a Phoenix force to set it on fire. Changing it looks impossible, but Jean can admit it when a problem is bigger than she can handle alone. After meeting minds with some of the greatest thinkers on the planet, Jean commits to a plan that should set humanity on a course towards a stable peace. Only a committed sadist would be against such a change, and how many of them are on Earth just as I typed it I saw the problem.
The book gets a lot of stuff so very right. It provides a fresh look at the refurbished Jean Grey without overloading on backstory or exposition – it’s almost all from present example. The dialogue is genuine and kind, even funny in places where it can get away with such a thing. When situations get dire, they fight back surgically. What the book gets wrong, it gets spectacularly wrong, and here I’m thinking of the big bad reveal. Jean puts herself on a path for a sort of holistic quest – she wants to change the way the world reacts to what it doesn’t understand. It’s supposed to be the kind of mission that involves making enemies, and yet is too big to consider any one party responsible, until someone walks right up and claims responsibility for all the world’s impatient hate. When it all comes down to one person, it suggests that eliminating that person will make the hate go away, which directly contradicts the book’s message.
Asrar continues to demonstrate how remarkable complexity can be achieved with the simplest tools. Though it looks like he only uses one female face and just changes the hair up to differentiate between characters, he manages to get a lot of mileage out of said face in terms of emotive expression. There are panels close to the beginning and end that both capture a moment of primal terror, yet they’re approached from different directions, and it would have been easy to render them the same but they’re not and it makes the scenes work so much better for the effort.
X-Men Red reads like a test you were the first to turn in – in the excitement of studying hard and showing all the work, that feeling of crushing disappointment when you realize there was an essay question on the back.
•Killing & Dying GN (Adrian Tomine): Mega-stores for cheap furniture, chain restaurants, token foilage, and pavement as far as the eye can see, all with far fewer people than they were designed for. I can’t think of much else to demonstrate the existence of mortality AND hype up its selling points.
•Twisted Romance 1 of 4 (de Campi & Horrocks/ Cubed): “Oh it’s been so horrible! I’ve had so many tragedies in my life, just one after another, I’ve run out of dry pillows to cry into. I’m down to pulling blocks of cash out of my trust fund to weep into – hello? Hello?”
•Walt Disney Showcase 1 (Salvagnini & Gray/ Molinari): In Donald’s defense, seafood-buffet inspired diarrhea comes with a lot of side effects, and he could certainly be forgiven for misremembering what a poop deck actually was when certain things went down. He won’t be forgiven, but he could be.
•Young Monsters in Love 1 (Various): Sometimes I really miss Jerry Springer.
•Portal Bound 0 (Roslan & Carrasco/ Arizmendi): They say you shouldn’t go into white vans or strange buildings without a trusted adult because it’s dangerous. What about strange apertures that violate the continuity of time and space? Call me a coward if you have to, but giant cats with glowing spikes on their backs, oily plant and water fixtures, and the only other person around double-wielding daggers and totally ghosting a visitor sounds slightly freaking dangerous. That stargate thingie might as well have “Free Candy” spray-painted on the side.
•Songs for the Dead 1 (Fort & Heron/ Beck): “I tell you, boy, on a night like this, when the moon is full, the lantern’s working, and will o’wisps guide our way, it looks like the world’s full of nothing but hope.”
“I’ll have to believe you, miss, yet with this arrow in my eye I can’t say for meself.”
“You know, boy, you could at least let me have one happy moment out of all this. I’m carrying all our stuff and taking you out on a school night when it’s passed both our bedtimes. How about instead of complaining about everything you’re missing, you show gratitude for what you actually have?”
“You mean like me one and a half arms?”
Bethany loved to hear stories of daring heroes and wild adventures growing up, and when an opportunity arrived she answered the call to action! Several times, in fact, and almost got arrested for tearing all the notices off the board. Living in your average fantasy setting comes with all the usual fantasy tropes, including the band of wicked bandits making trouble in the forest. It’s nothing a close fellowship of experienced heroes couldn’t sort out, so it’s a bit odd that lvl. 1 Bethany opts to take it on solo, or so it would seem. See, Bethany may play at being a bard, but she’s actually a necromancer – a practice deemed illegal by most ruling states – and if there’s one thing a necromancer’s good at, it’s making friends.
The easy way to read this is to consider it an off-kilter fairy tale with a quirky protagonist and some bad folks so ridiculously evil that no one will mind if you cheer when they die. It’s perfectly functional this way, and even comes with a glowing hand at the conclusion as if to say “The End?” The way I read (and maybe this is putting too much pressure on it) is to take it as an extreme case of overcompensation. Bethany’s surrounded by laws and attitudes screaming that she’s a bad person because of what she is, and as a teenager her natural response is to rebel by doing everything she can to show she’s the sweetest, awesomest hero there ever was and it’s all thanks to the power of smelly, incomplete resurrections. It’s a concept that sounds doomed to failure, but it doesn’t fall apart when she’s threatened, so it’s possible she’s onto something. The rest of the story’s rather hopelessly plot-based, to the point that it digs little plot holes for the sake of hitting particular beats.
The art style seeks to invoke P. Craig Russell, but unlike Bethany it doesn’t want to go out of its way to get there. From the linework to the inking to the coloring, the visuals do enough to get the job done and are satisfied to leave it at that. And that’s fine, there’s never any question of how something happened or who’s doing what to whom. The costumes stand out the most as far as design features and effort, with key characters sporting more elaborate clothes and accessories.
Songs for the Dead reads like a cookie pulled out of the oven too soon – it’s servable from a technical standpoint, but to anyone that can tell it’s not quite finished.
See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues