Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
I don’t get weeks very often where everything I read is so rich that I need help rolling myself out of my seat… and into my other seat where I write about it… which is the same seat just in a different spot. Look, don’t judge, we all have our idiosyncrasies when it comes to reading comics and they’re wonderful! So anyway, if I’m coming off as a little anxious, it may be because I recently finished recording for Comic Carnival’s podcast. Did you know Comic Carnival had a podcast? Because it totally does and it’s legitimately hilarious!
Comic Carnival also has a review blog. It’s… right here! WHAM!
•Firebug TP (Johnnie Christmas): When a hot woman leans forward and looks right into your eyes, it stirs up some exciting feelings. When that woman leans over a mountain range with an active volcano, and hordes of armed monsters pour out of it, it’s not because she’s into you. She’s curious as to what exactly will kill you first.
•Amazing Spider-Man 797 (Slott/ Immonen): Oh beeteedubs, the definitive Spider-Man writer of this generation’s bringing his most destructive nemesis out for a beat-down on all fronts. In case that interests anyone.
•Ballad of Sang 1 of 5 (Brisson/ Micelli & Chankhamma): You know how it is, being a toy next to other toys and none of you are built to the same scale, looked over for years by someone that’s not shaved or cleaned their blade in years. No matter what age range they might’ve been made for passed by so long ago that the memory’s dusty. And clearly, nothing here’s weathered the time well. Toy Story After Dark. [7/10]
Sang’s a ten-year-old kid that grumpy old folks just love, because he doesn’t talk much and helps out with chores. He doesn’t talk because he’s mute, and the chores are killing unruly associates of the yakuza for his aging enforcer guardian, so maybe Sang’s not exactly a poster child. The local yakuza boss shows up to register a complaint: Sang’s last target was only supposed to lose a finger, but bled out before repaying his debt. An example must be made so his other enforcers resist the impulse to cut loose while on the job. Sang shares at least one trait with the average ten-year-old: he doesn’t respond well to discipline. So now, unlike other kids his age, Sang’s got the biggest bounty of the year hanging just over his head.
It’s exhausting under normal circumstances to get a child to communicate properly, so when the adult doesn’t want to listen AND the kid is mute, there’s no chance to crack what’s actually happening. The story establishes what happens, and how those things build up to the end of this issue, yet it would appear every “why” question is left purposefully unanswered. This distinct lack of substance leaves a giant gap in the narrative that throws the whole story off-balance. How we’re supposed to be concerned about a boy we know so little about and who kills people for his allowance escapes me for the time being.
The art style pulls the book away from its own failings to a point. From the well-placed facial expressions to the energetic action scenes, the page drips with tongue-in-cheek fun. The linework appears to be done with a brush which heightens the Asian-inspired atmosphere. The colors stay simple and effective without putting much effort into shading or blending. Not the most complex book on the shelves, and that makes it easier to enjoy.
Ballad of Sang reads like a rough draft – it’s got a decent concept and distinct visuals, but forgets to connect with the reader.
•Dodge City 1 (Trujillo/ McGee): If you can dodge a ball, maybe you can dodge a wrench. If you can dodge an entire gala and the hall it’s held in, then you might just have yourself a new day job.
•Sonitus 1 of 3 (Sousa & Sheppard/ Valvo): Dude, we already know that building houses on poles will save them from rising sea levels and other effects of climate change! Bring something new to the table!
•Gideon Falls 1 (Lemire/ Sorrentino): You know there’s a big rivalry between people that live in the neck and those that live in the hippocampus. You just can’t trust those frontal lobe folks, always trying to outthink everyone else.
•The XII 1 of 5 (Trahey/ Suarez): “The Ex Eyes!” I like that the headgear doesn’t have a disembodied skull on it, because if it did then obviously it didn’t do its job for whoever wore it. Alone in a field, there’s at least the possibility that it serves a purpose. Whoever left it in the wake of their house burning down, you know what, I’ll give them a pass. Fire ignites a lot of different reactions in people, and not all of them make sense, so I’ll allow for some leeway to anyone that leave otherwise useful equipment out in the open.
•Highest House 1 (Carey/ Gross): My body is ready for a high-fantasy retelling of Up. [9/10]
In many tales of castles and fiefdoms, the lords are noble, families will do anything for each other, and children are held as precious miracles. This is not one of those stories. This story follows a young boy named Moth, whose mother sold him and tried to sell his sister because they’re both sick. Every family in the village took a chance to cash in on extra members when the Steward of Clan Aldercrest – the most prestigious family in the lands – comes calling. Buying and selling people, reducing them to ashes without lifting a finger, the Steward would seem to care more for history and legal matters that life itself. Moth’s first days in the Highest House (home to the Aldercrests) leave no doubt that he’ll never go back to his old life again. In his new life, some just want to use and abuse him, others see potential as a skilled laborer, and a lone voice in the dark keeps him company with promises of danger and death.
Like a late English wind, this issue sucks the warmth out of you and forces you to wrap yourself up. Moth himself doesn’t act in any particularly exceptional way, except to be one of the only characters in the book with any compassion. It’s his tenacity more than anything that’ll attract the reader’s attention – he watches adults betray and abandon him, and it hurts every single time, but he doesn’t break under the stress. Every new face comes with its own agenda, motives, and drive to succeed, and considering that this looks to take place in the biggest city around means an endless barrage for Moth to navigate through. On top of that, the city-state of the Highest House is built on a backstory in between Gondor and Masada. There’s a wide buffett of storylines and plot threads ready to pile on your plate, so don’t approach if you’re in the mood for something light.
The visuals think big, as in “screw you if you want to store this in a short or long box” big. The oversized format looks intimidating on the shelf or in the bag, but once you open it up any thoughts of inconvenience or exaggeration flee. Gross’s lines and anatomy have one foot in realistic proportions, and the other on a platform spun out of imagination yet no less sturdy. Panels never feel cramped with too much detail, or vacant of information. There’s a sense of balance and precision that doesn’t register until after the story’s finished and you remember that you’re holding an oversized book, which means that they put the extra room to full and appropriate use.
Highest House reads like getting the slice of cake with a frosting flower on it – others may express their jealousy over the spectacle of it, but it’s good enough to drown out any complaints.
•Spider King 1 (Vann/ D’Armini): Special visual filter aside, why should we consider this character either a king or related to spiders. I don’t see a crown, he’s got to do his own guarding, and his sword looks like it came out of a low-resolution 3D printer. Half the reason to aspire to royalty is easier access to legendary-level gear! This guy looks like he’d fetch a dozen pelts for a lukewarm shower.
•Prism Stalker 1 (Sloane Leong): Sometimes the goo poisons you. Other times, you poison the goo!
•Ghoul Scouts Teenage Werewolf 1 (Bryant/ Stegbauer & Millet): The werewolf? It doesn’t represent man’s inhumanity to man, it doesn’t represent instinct’s inherent supremacy over reason, it represents me over cookies. Scouts in the comic and in life wander around peddling their wares, and like a curse upon the world I will consume those wares. Oh yes.
•Oblivion Song 1 (Kirkman/ Leoni): Either the dude managed to tame a giant creature way beyond what common logic would suggest, or the giant creature’s been holding still for hours just to lure the dude into a false sense of security for some fresh thigh flesh. Some creatures can put on an act for that long. If you see a giant gila monster at a open-mike improv night, that’s your sign that the lizard people’s uprising has begun. [9/10]
Nathan Cole’s got a problem, and a long line behind it, but first thing’s first. Earth lost a city. Thirty square miles of Philadelphia and the over 20,000 people there sort of fell into another reality, one with grotesque monsters ranging in size from angry dog to deadly warehouse. The technology exists to pop into that reality and rescue survivors, but even when it works right there’s still a strong chance something there will kill you. Nathan’s big problem is that he needs government funding so he can find his estranged brother Ed, and he’s trying to get it by popping over there on his own and rescuing whoever he can find. There’ve been two survivors rescued in the last year, and it’s been ten since what’s become known as the Transference. Everyone’s trying to help Nathan accept that Ed’s probably dead, which would be news to Ed if he heard it.
Storytelling’s an artform, and Robert Kirkman’s been honing his continuously for the past couple of decades, so it’s only natural that he’s refined his form. Where many of his larger works started around the beginning of things, this one starts well into the thick of it. There’s an intense and primal energy right away that ebbs and flows but never quite fades away. Nate’s a driven and brilliant person who’s also obsessive, manipulative, and more than a little selfish – a complicated bag of mad energy that draws the reader in and keeps boredom away. While there’s plenty of unknowns regarding the other universe, its demonic residents, and how Earth nudged it in the first place, the reactions around this event root the world as one dealing the best it can with a gaping wound: not as healthy as it’d like, but mostly functional. This is a thick slab of a narrative and chipping away at it’s a fun and rewarding experience so far.
(And without spoiling anything, Comic Carnival’s gotten a look at the next few issues and they are glorious sequential follow-through. Plenty of set-up and payoff in the right amounts to satisfy the reader and keep them on the hook.)
De Felici, and this is just my impression, looks as if he designed the abominations first, worked out their design until he absolutely nailed their style, and then proceeded to figure out how he’d draw the characters and contemporary architecture to fit in with those. The creatures have the quality of a high-budget horror movie, but one where most of those resources went into talent versus effects. They’re hideous but not separate from the world around them, and they power and grace that comes from their movements and interactions with the environment solidifies their role as the nightmares everyone claims they are. The colors, inks, layouts, they all devote themselves to selling the possibilities of the place, and they definitely succeed.
Oblivion Song reads like a full-speed train – a fun ride that’s going to crazy places with enough energy to rip you to shreds if you can’t hold on tight.
Take care of yourselves, everyone! See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues