Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
I could dance around the topic, tease it out a little, but I can’t pretend I’m not excited either.
Who likes red shorts? WE like red shorts!
•Action Comics 1000 (Various on top of Various): There’s going to be a gravestone one day that reads “Helped bring Superman’s red underwear back to comics”, and damn it that shouldn’t be a lifetime achievement but I can’t say it isn’t. This is SUPERMAN we’re talking about. Everything about the guy is just ridiculously better than silly Earth stuff. His dog’s better, his kitschy souvenirs from work trips are better, his house key’s made out of superdense stellar matter, so of course it’s going to be a task worthy of the ages to claim they’ve handled the Man of Steel’s crotch curtain. How is this even a question? [9/10]
So there’s this guy, got left on a couple’s doorstep, turns out he’s ridiculously good at a lot of stuff. This week marks the 80th year that stories have been printed about him, he’s just that ridiculously interesting. There was a while back when he couldn’t wear underwear over his skin-tight trousers, which was a shame since that’s kind of what got him started as a big deal. Back then the most stupendous people were circus performers, and most of them wore bright straps of clothing over tights, it became a thing, but then he had to stop doing the thing. Today’s also the day when he can start wearing them again, and some of the biggest names in comics want to make a fuss about slapping the red back on his pants. Ridiculous!
You’ll notice a few common themes throughout the various stories. One is that while Superman plays a large role, they’re usually about someone else. They might be someone he saved, or defeated, or that saved the day while he was busy with something else, the point being that Superman stories often prove more interesting when he’s not the focal point. Second, he’s always thinking about he can save more people or do more good, a more constructive and in-character trait than, say, how many bystanders have to die before he’ll snap someone’s neck. Third, they’re all overwritten and hammy, as if everyone involved thought their story would appear in a major milestone issue or something. Such offenses are as inevitable as they are forgivable.
You won’t find neo-Impressionist or surreal takes on the Man of Steel in this issue. It’s been 80 years, they’ve figured out what kind of style works best for the guy, and while a lot of artists get a turn at bat they all swing more or less the same way.
Action Comics reads like a baby playing with soap bubbles – it’s simple, nothing you haven’t seen before, and you should absolutely allow yourself to enjoy it.
•Casper & Wendy 1 (Gregory/ Check): You know how so many children’s shows encourage picking up another language or exploring a different culture? Well here’s a franchise that’s been tearing around for decades, one with a strong female protagonist that’s a red mage, the other a sociologist trying to observe human life from beyond the veil. And you thought the original Odd Couple was a zany pair! (Mwa ha, you thought I was talking about THIS, weren’t you!)
•Atomic Frenchie GN (Sniegoski/ McWeeney): What are you doing to me?!? Swords, shields, some kind of prosthetic bear claw, and teleprompters around a witty bitty puppy, but not a single baguette, barrel of waste, wine bottle, glowing tumor, or white flag? Dammit, comics, do you even French nuclearly?
•Tap Dance Killer 1 (Sikora/ Harrison): I don’t know how this is supposed to count as an exciting cover. The entire dance/ stage experience wraps itself in violence. “Break a leg” as a wish for good luck? “Knock ‘em dead”? She’s definitely got the look of someone lost in character and prepared to express tragedy and comedy, but as with all exhibits of art, it’s all up to educated perception and the steps taken to reach a conclusion. (CC Note: …if that was an interpretive dance pun, you’re fired.)
•Live Work 1 (Pat Palermo): “Oh man, oh crap, what’d we just do?”
“Stay calm. Stay calm. STAY CALM!”
“It’s just an office job offer, a regular 9-5, no one’ll care that we killed it, right?”
“Are you kidding? Do you watch the news? We’re millennials, they’re just waiting to pounce on us! Oh god we’re going to be on the news and I can’t laugh at the idiots who did the idiotic thing because I’m one of them!”
“We can fix this. WE CAN FIX THIS! We just have to agree that we never, ever talk about it. No one aside from us can ever know that we were involved.”
•Her Infernal Descent 1 (Nadler & Thompson/ Charles): I cry bullshit. This is bullshit. I cannot count how many bones I’ve buried just in the past five years and not one of them has sprouted a bone tree. (CC Note: Uhhh, why were you burying bones?) Are you a cop? You have to tell me, I asked. [7/10]
It’s hard to say when exactly the Grandmother (never named) lost her family. It hurts like it was only yesterday, but it also feels like ages. Her children and grandchildren all lost their lives in a car crash, and she feels she’s lost hers as well. But hope comes in the form of the ghost of William Blake, who claims that her family sent him: they’re in Hell, they can get out, but they need her to come get them. Grandmother’s a cynical old broad that’s unimpressed with Blake’s verse, didn’t believe Hell existed before the Pope retconned it, and can wade through an ocean of wailing souls without batting an eyelash, but if there’s even one chance in a thousand million that she can give her family anything, she’ll don her best scarf and head through some ethereal gates.
The short short version: this is Dante’s Inferno starring your favorite Golden Girl. It’s at once everything awesome about that stubborn old woman in your life kicking away at demons like they were fussy kittens, and every reason so few people try telling that story. Mentally, she’s giant crag of a soul that won’t budge even during the worst storms – there’s no drama to her going up against nightmares. On the other hand, if she misses a single step that’s kind of the end of her. All the trappings around her fall into the category of “Why not? Whatever.” Blake could’ve been any other poet that’s written about Christianity ever, his insistence on rhyming comes from nowhere, and though he claims he wants to help he doesn’t actually say why or contribute anything beyond an occasional direction. If Charon, ferryman for the dead, had accepted major credit cards for a ride, it wouldn’t have had the “wow” factor it maybe should have.
The art attempts to evoke a sense of higher power and lyrical purpose by rendering some elements as solid and others as apparitions, sometimes even the same object being a little of each. The effect reminds me of Peter Gross’s Unwritten art style. Here, it reinforces the narrative’s strengths, but does almost nothing to shore up its weaknesses. It doesn’t clarify or offer any addition insight into what’s happening in either world, it just visualizes what’s described by the characters. That’s a challenge in itself, but it’s also like a presenter reading the bullets off of a PowerPoint show – if they’re going through the trouble anyway, they could at least add something to the experience.
Her Infernal Descent reads like a nihilist birthday card – your existence may be pointless, but at least it’s gone on longer than so many other people’s.
•Four Sisters HC (Baur/ Ferdjoukh): Okay, see, here’s someone that clearly knows trees don’t grow from bones. (CC Note: You don’t have to tell us anything, just say if we might be implicated!) Oh I’m not falling for that again.
•Survival Fetish 1 (Kindlon/ Fuso): Parkour… not? Not if you can’t clear that gap, anyway.
•X-Men Gold 26 (Guggenheim/ Bandini & Marquez): As someone old enough to remember Kitty Pryde portrayed as a young teenager, this makes me feel old. As someone who thinks of Colossus’s power as adding a good foot to his already large height, this looks like a Peter Jackson perspective trick. As someone who read Guardians of the Galaxy within the past two years, I gotta wonder how the ex-Starlord convinced her space lawyer to rush her space divorce through. My gut’s punched three times and I haven’t even opened the damn book!
•Antar The Black Knight 1 (Okorafor/ Battle): I should have essays prepared for the large black character using chains as a weapon, or the fight between child and lion with unusually long beans on his paws. I should, but I don’t, and I’m sorry, because the ONLY thing I’m thinking about is that psychic camel on the left. “I’m sending my thoughts directly into your mind via the astral plane! Yes, they’re mostly of me spitting on you, and you can just deal with it!”
•Wasted Space 1 (Moreci/ Sherman): I’m going to put my money on this being a series about closets of the future. There’s not one figure on that cover that doesn’t update their wardrobe at least twice a year. A long time ago, in a reality show far, far away… Star Storage Wars!
•This is a Taco HC (Cangelose/ Shipley): Oh you sweet, naive, succulent little rodent. Are you under the misconception that you can not be both? You REALLY think no one’s put squirrel meat into a corn shell and add assorted condiments? We made a grilled cheese with chocolate chip cookies! Humans’re crazy! You don’t even know what we won’t do!
•Skyward 1 (Henderson/ Garbett): There are plenty of people today that can experience this, right down to the hair flowing in a wave of directions and the pouncing direction of their bag. Now to do that without falling immediately after, THAT could make for interesting reading. [8/10]
Whether by particle physics experiment gone awry, underground deity flipping a switch, or a geomancer rolling a natural 20 at the wrong time, Earth’s gravity suddenly got turned down from 10 to 0.5. Maybe half of the population died from crashing into things, not being able to adapt, or just flying off into space. Willa was only a few months old when it happened, and twenty years later she can zip through what human civilization has become just like a superhero. And she LOVES it. Willa’s father carefully raised her to keep her muscles toned, be mindful of where momentum will take her, and how potentially dangerous it can be to travel outside the city and it’s refined low-g infrastructure. Back before G-Day, Willa’s dad predicted something like it would happen, and now he’s got an idea on how to turn the weight back on.
The idea of a planetary bouncy castle shouldn’t be hard to enjoy (once you get past the catastrophic deaths and damage caused). Naturally, any part of you that paid attention during high school physics should be either distracted or taking a nap as you read this, because if it clues into what’s suggested, the noodles won’t be the only thing that fly off the handle. Willa’s character comes from a point of privilege, but it’s a position she continuously earns and pays forward. Add that to a smile that never strays far, and it’s almost illegal to not like her. By the time you get to the end, it’s easy to feel a little jealous that these people get to live in such a fantasy land, and the suggestion of putting it back to “normal” sounds villainous. Without ever knowing who’s responsible for what, figuring out who or what to root for in this story’s troublesome.
As nonsensical and confusing as the narrative can get, the visuals soothe every way they can. The science groans while the linework dances into shapes that define themselves clearly but leave themselves just a bit open. The plotting whines as the colors and shading flow from place to place, building up energy along the way.
Skyward reads like a child at play – you can call it out for making a mess or being loud, it’ll just keep giggling and being adorable to witness.
See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues