Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
What do you want? Comics! When will you know which ones to pick up? After these reviews!
•Sea of Thieves 1 (Whitley/ Marcellius): “Well, we’ve conquered a merciless band of pirates, a heartless corporation, witchdoctors, and a series of delicate traps that survived for decades inexplicably, but we’ve finally found the treasure!”
“Open it open it open it! I hope it’s gold!”
“I hope it’s jewels!”
“I hope it’s schematics for a prosthetic hand that doesn’t splinter!”
“I hooOope it’s my Sceptic’s HandboOook.”
•Betrothed 1 (Lewis/ Uy): It started over appetizers with a little disagreement over the exact date of their anniversary. “It was the 16th, it was a Friday night pub quiz and we both gave the same wrong answer.” “That was the first time we talked. The first time we met was the 12th, Monday, we looked at each other after that guy jumped off a table onto another table.” They used cute voices and pet names at first, now it’s hand cannons and eldritch forces and I’m sure there was a process to this escalation but it escapes me right now. [6/10]
Kieron and Tamara’s first encounter might qualify as a meet-cute on the Klingon homeworld or certain ancient Mongol tribes, but this is typical American high school # Eleventy. Even after they were pulled to separate corners, they were deep in each other’s heads. The social fallout at school might’ve been epic, but they never got the chance to face it. See, both Kieron and Tamara are secret children of warring factions, each representing the best aspects of what their civilizations embody. Kieron’s a boy brought to life by loving sacrifice and enchantment, Tamara a girl engineered with the most advanced scientific resources. The idea was to let them grow up on a neutral backwater (re: modern-day Earth), and when they came of age they’d get the abridged history of their respective races so they could hammer out a peace treaty and seal it with a royal wedding. Or not, there’s wiggle room.
Let’s just take a moment to appreciate that Romeo & Juliet, Fight Club, and Star Wars answered a curious internet ad posted by Dr. Frankenstein, and that the resulting homunculus is a comic book. You know you love it.
But do not get too excited, because without the tropes, bells, and whistles, this story doesn’t have much holding it together. Each of the main characters supposedly have their own complex and endearing life stories from their time on Earth, which might’ve been interesting except they’re promptly thrown out the nearest window when they meet and their destinies/ programming kicks in. Things happen too fast for anyone in the narrative to process, which sounds like fast-paced drama and action until you realize that by the end of the issue, everything in the beginning’s been rendered insignificant. It’s one thing to feature a plot-driven story, but a plot-driven story where the plot doesn’t matter?
The art’s fine, but only just. The style’s slightly cartoony, only a bit anime-like, fairly realistic proportions, reasonably designed, coloring meets expectations, you get the picture. Any reader can look at the page and trust they won’t get confused, but they likely won’t be impressed either. Given the fact that the story behind it is so myriad and loopy that graphing it out would make one of those Magic Eye puzzles, simple was definitely the way for the visuals to go. There was an opportunity to fill in some of the narrative’s gaps, but instead it just covers them with some paper.
Betrothed reads like a Hardy Boys adventure – readers up to middle-school age may connect and engage, but more advanced readers won’t be interested.
•Manga Realization Samurai Captain America Figure (Tamashii Nations): You may’ve read the phrase “cultural appropriation” on the net (it’s popping up more and more) and not known what it means. This right here is such a fine example that Webster’s should put it next to the definition they eventually print. Mechanically, there’s no reason a person from any nation can’t put on samurai armor, but there’s no reason a person should wear it unless they’re from Japan and lived between 700-1870 AD, give or take a few years. To put my case more simply: whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?????
•Dry County 1 (Rich Tommaso): Because when I think of minty pastels and Miami-style architecture, of course you’re going to be thirsty.
•American Gods My Ainsel 1 (Gaiman & Russell/ Russell): “Hey, can you help me out guv? Supposed to be looking for this tall guy, shaggy fella with some tattoos and a cleaver. Did you see anyone like that lately, maybe where you got that axe?”
“THANK YOU! Not everyone appreciates the difference. Also, die.”
•Eternity Girl 1 (Visaggio/ Liew): The next step beyond 3-D: Checkerboard D! Instead of a series of tubes, get all your information through a series of cubes! Remember how much you loved 8-bit mosaics, because now there’s a book of them! [8/10]
A superhero’s life may endure forever like a star, or burn bright and end with a bang. Caroline Sharp got stuck in the middle. She heroed under the codename Chrysalis, possessed fairly advanced shapeshifting abilities, and waged a secret war for the United States against Madame Atom and the Night Terrors, which climaxed on top of a Sumerian pyramid. Madame Atom may’ve died, but Chrysalis seemingly can’t. Her powers aren’t stable anymore, so the US doesn’t want her, and she can’t hold a shape long enough to do anything else. Without a purpose or anyone to share experiences with, there’s nothing for her to do but what the universe tick by. In classic human fashion, it takes less than a year for her to get suicidally bored with eternity.
Yeah, so if you saw the DC imprint and thought something in the vein of Super Sons or one of the Hanna-Barbera titles, this is going to hurt you. Anyone familiar with Urania Blackwell from previous version of the DC universe will recognize Caroline’s story right away, only without the charismatic personification of the end of all things to provide the happy ending. Where the typical superhero book focuses on the conspiracies and rival armies locked in brutal conflict, this deals with the trying aftermath. How does a person that’s seen and done impossible things go back to an office environment or deciding what to binge watch any given night? The answer may not be healthy, but without death as a motivating factor what does she care? Forget living planets or giant robots, the greatest foe of any metahuman is ennui.
Breaking the art down is easy, and that’s probably intentional. Some pages are simple to follow, others could fit into a modern art exhibit and call on three art degrees to fully appreciate, but they’re all constructed with the same basic lines, shapes, and colors. The style itself speaks to Caroline’s current situation: she wanted a thrilling life of challenge, and without a purpose all she wants is to fall apart, but her nature puts her back together and won’t let her rest. This is the sort of simplicity that requires enormous skill to pull off, and that skill comes through in this book.
Eternity Girl reads like a hunk of baker’s chocolate – something most people don’t think about that is fundamental to so many of the things they love.
•Puerto Rico Strong SC (Ayala/ Colon & Franquiz): You can say a lot about a people that’re still trying to restore basic infrastructure half a year after Mother Nature literally tore it apart, but by now they’ve pretty much proven they’re not weak. Any argument against this notion can be sent to the faces featured. (CC is not responsible for any physical harm incurred as a result of insulting storm survivors.)
•Subspecies 1 (Bunn & Johnston/ Logan): Watch this be a dramatic and critical choice between the box and Doors Number One and Two. Also, if you remember Monty Hall, you’re old, deal with it.
•Come Into Me 1 (Thompson & Nadler/ Kowalski): Okay now before anyone gets grossed out or making HR Giger references, consider this: All those mazes on all those placemats and workbooks you did as a child were preparing you to follow the path of a digestive tract just in case it gets mixed in with someone else’s digestive tract. Show some initiative for your intestines!
•Infidel 1 (Pichetshote/ Campbell): So it’s wrong that I immediately thought of those prize-testing claw machines, isn’t it? Stuck in a crowded room, social anxiety setting in, and looking for a quick escape? Thanks to drone technology, you have an option! Just tap the app and be scooped to safety. Act now and receive that fuzzy hand for free, or pay extra and we’ll keep the hand. [8/10]
Aisha’s just another woman in the city, though she’s not without her unique attributes. Probably the most topical are that she’s a Muslim in a post 9/11 NYC, she’s with a non-Muslim man and helping to raise his daughter, and she’s a tenant of a building that recently suffered some damage after a mass murderer was stopped in it. Her epic Star Wars nerdom and her passion for cookbooks do feature into the story, just not the tension. The story of the murderer’s still making headlines, and some of the other residents still look at her like an invading plague victim, but those aren’t what Aisha’s nightmares are about. In her sleep, she sees a pale creature vaguely shaped like a person and hungry for her flesh. She doesn’t know if it’s the stress or her mother-in-law’s microaggressions, she just knows they’re getting worse, and that the waking world’s starting to look like them.
The first moments while the reader gets to know Aisha establish common fears, loves, and everyday situations. Without trying very hard, she becomes an easy person to relate to no matter what perspective the reader comes from. This is critical in any story, but this is a horror book featuring possible gaslighting, and so the connection between reader and character needs to be firmly established. Thankfully, that’s present. The only downside is a key component in any psychological thriller: you’re never quite sure how much to trust that the story’s giving you the right information. There needs to be enough truth and substance to lure the audience in, not so much that the story can’t pull and reel them at the proper time. By the end of the story, there’s definitely some elements that simply must be lies, but we can’t be sure which ones.
The art style’s a wonderful fit for this flavor of narrative. The anatomy and perspective lean heavily toward realism, as if each panel was drawn based on life models. The linework supports this with the style of coming out from a sketchbook. The color and shading don’t deal much with nuance – they’re both bold and blocky, and while there’s a difference between day and night, there’s not exactly a bright moment to be found. All of this works toward the book’s main premise: this is a shady world and monsters hide in it, so don’t trust too much.
Infidel reads like a barefoot person walking through a tidy playroom – everything looks sorted where it’s supposed to be, but the idea of one careless step on a missed Lego brick is all it takes to chill a spine.
Alright, folks, I will not be around to post updates for the next couple of weeks. Is everyone going to be good? Carl, look at me, are you going to be good? Good.
The rest of you keep an eye on Carl, and I’ll see you in a few weeks!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues