Variant Coverage – April 25, 2018

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

Any ideas I had for a preamble died as soon as I saw this.

Savage Dragon 233 (Erik Larsen):

Rigorously lather/ That shaving cream/ and you shall realize/ your scaly dream. Savage Dragon.

Black AF – Widows and Orphans 1 (Osajyefo/ Smith): Well, fur is still murder, so I suppose this passes that particular test. But a full, voluminous shawl made out of fake babies would fail a very different test that ultimately no one should need to study for. If you need an explanation as to why that’s important, it’s sincerely important for you to talk to someone, and it’s equally important that person not be me.

Fear Diaries One-Shot (Gunn/ Callahan): “Dear Diary: AUAUAahauahauhauhghg aughhgoh gawd the bears ayayauauawhghghgg the pieces cry the PIECES CRY they traded their eyes for buttons so they wouldn’t see what was coming aughghghghghgh!”

Anton – The Black Knight 1 (Okorafor/ Battle): Some prefer the school of simplicity when it comes to covers, but this came from the school that sneaks into Simplicity’s dorms late at night and leaves shaving foam everywhere. Every available space has a different component that’s got to refer to something in the story but there are so many the story could center around any of them. For what it’s worth, I’m probably most curious about the blinged-out camel. I have no idea what it took but that thing’s clearly found some amazing plane of existence and I hope I can afford a ticket. [7/10]

Antar didn’t need to have humble beginnings, yet he was forced to so that the king could prove a point. His mother was the fastest runner in a dozen villages at least, and made her living as a messenger before ambushed by slavers. In service and wearing a chip on her shoulder, she caught the eye of the king and before long bore him his first son. Deemed “too dark” to serve as a prince, he served as a slave somewhere on the bottom of the totem pole, yet he knew he had a royal heritage and the potential that came with it. Where a man’s strength might make a task bearable, the boy developed skill. Where a soldier-in-training learned how to hit an opponent, the boy learned how to take a hit. When the boy was crushed by his saddest moment, a general made him a student.

All the ingredients for the standard epic tale shout present and accounted for in this first issue. There’s a child raised in poverty proving himself to climb the ranks, a genealogy pointing toward greatness (possibly wonderful, usually terrible), friends and enemies waiting to change places, suffering and loss peppered with occasional moments of hope and joy. Through it all is a third-person omniscient narrator assuring us that in spite of things, Antar will survive his childhood and grow into the kind of person an omniscient narrator might want to talk about. This plays up the idea that this is a tale passed down again and again and lending it gravitas, but this costs the story some drama and threat.

The artwork might have missed an opportunity to distinguish itself. They basic style appeals to established house standards, with idealized physiques and brutal actions composed with energy. It’s strong work, but it’s the kind of work found just about anywhere. The inking and coloring lack precision – a heavy stroke presents an element when a lighter touch would’ve accomplished just as much without cluttering the page.

Antar The Black Night reads like an over-excited investment presentation – there’s a gap in the market and this is absolutely capable of meeting that need, it’s just that there’s room for refinement.

Hunt for Wolverine 1 (Soule/ Marquez & Siqueira): I’m having two reactions to this cover and they’re both purely awful. (CC Note: So you’re going to take the high road and not mention either of them, right?) The first one (CC Note: Consarnit!) asks me how many characters could peel adamantium off someone like an orange. There are a few, like Thanos or Galactus, but convincing them to take the trouble would be bothersome. The second is having Logan dipped into a nuclear-powered deep fryer to create the most metal batch of curly fries ever.

Savage Dragon 233 (Erik Larsen):

A surface smoother/ than a sanded board/ will help you forget/ your dad’s Overlord. Savage Dragon.

Aliens Dust to Dust 1 (Hardman/ Beredo): Forget Aliens vs. Predator, been there done that judged it too bad for even Rifftrax to salvage. Let’s look at Aliens vs. Titans, or Aliens vs. Rock Giants. Those things sleep for years at a time, they wouldn’t notice if a itty bitty xenomorph laid an egg or 300 in one of its cave-pores, two days (or six months if gestation is proportional) later and you’ve got a walking penis-wrench monster whose back scrapes the heavens. Please please PLEASE tell me I have a reason to be interested in this franchise again.

Dungeons & Dragons Evil at Baldur’s Gate 1 (Zub/ Kotz): With so many fighters on this cover, I’m sure there’s a healthy representation of evil. What I’m not seeing is anything in the way of a gate. Not a grand and ancient ceremonial arch, not a reinforced door made of foot-thick, decades-old oak, not even a wrought-iron fence with a squeaky entrance. A true scandal in the world of comics: GatelessGate.

The Prisoner 1 (Milligan/ Lorimer): “Well of COURSE I know the bubble’s behind me. I don’t know how long you’ve been here, but I’m kind of a big deal. The bubble might as well be my shadow, it’s always there. There’s no need to pay any attention to it until it does that ‘I’ve got a tortured soul in me’ poking trick, and it hasn’t done that in… what’s that look? Is it doing that thing? It’s doing that thing. Okay, I’m going to need you to panic and flail about without actually moving, I’ll tell you why that’ll save you life after I’ve run far away.” [7/10]

There are intelligence agencies, then there are Intelligence Agencies, then there are illuminati societies, and lurking in the shadows of all those rests the Village: a secret-harvesting group allied with no country, with no known base of operations, and no IDs of suspected agents. Most operatives and their superiors would call it a myth or a story except a number of high-level artifacts have gone missing. The only thing left behind was a small tile with the letter “V” on it. Special Agent Breen just lost his partner in an ambush that was supposed to be them ambushing someone else – it was a mission so secret no one but the Village could’ve gotten word of it. MI5 wants to use this as an opportunity to get a man inside this spy Shangri-La and get some hard data, or to at least prevent Breen’s partner from giving up anything. Breen loudly and publicly objects, quits, and locks himself in his flat to eat pizza and wait for someone to kill him. Instead, he wakes up as the Village’s latest prisoner.

Having not watched the classic television series, all I could tell you about the show was that everyone dressed sharp and maybe there was a race between man and giant semi-sentient bubble. This brings a LOT into context, and possibly answers some minor questions that the show left for its audience to ponder. As a first entry into a larger franchise, this does everything it needs to: it establishes themes, purpose, and a level of threat and scope. It also carries over the surreal qualities from the original program that push the overall tone from political thriller to psycho-visual drug trip. If that’s your thing, grab this issue and pack your bags.

Most of the story takes place in London, stereotypically shown as a constantly overcast place just a little too crowded for its own good. Not only do the visual play those themes perfectly, they render everything with measured lines and crisp angles as if to exemplify dry British sensibilities. That might sound appropriate, but the strategy never directly applies. Breen’s a veteran and yet projects high waves of passion that direct his actions, the occasional peek of the Village operating outside the Village mean to be subtle and easily overlooked, but neither of these show themselves.

The Prisoner reads like a limited-time chip flavor – an experimental fusion of elements that might develop a small following, and yet might not work out.

Ice Cream Man 4 (Prince/ Morazzo): “That prepubescent whiner with the midget alien managed to fly with his cheap two-speed. I’ve got a bike that’s actually built for two, and my co-pilot’s an animated skeleton, so I’m pretty sure I can get to Mars before my heart rate monitor goes off AND bring more than a houseplant back from the dead.”

X-Men Blue 26 (Bunn/ Silva): The updated targeting protocols don’t just calibrate their blasters to a hundredth of a degree, they track a subject’s momentum and direction to properly lead their shot so it’ll hit where the enemy will be, not simply where it is. Lens material and polishing tech advanced to the point that five times as much energy can be channeled ten times more precisely than first-generation systems. That much code and design took fifteen specialists over five years to develop, test, and render compatible with most major operating systems. In all that time, not a single sentient creature ever came up with a better name for the system than “PewPew.exe”.

Savage Dragon 233 (Erik Larsen):

Labor and lather/ while in the bath/ can save you both/ the dragon’s wrath. Savage Dragon.

Doctor Strange 389 (Cates/ Henrichson): “Do you see the wizard that laid the curse on you?”
“Are you sure they can’t see me?”
“Absolutely. This is a sound-proof room and that is two-way glass. They simply cannot see into this room.”
“Even the one whose entire head is made out of fire? Whose eyes emit more light than could possibly enter them? Even he can’t see me?”
“Aw, don’t worry about me, I’m actually a plain-clothes cop just filling the line-up.”

Deep Roots 1 (Watters/ Rodrigues): So are red ivy knights the fruit of this book tree? This tree could be a Rivendell book shelf, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they could grow a person in plate armor. (It must be some uber taboo thing otherwise they’d have ended the Lord of the Rings trilogy in half an hour.) Wait, considering how he’s coming up out of the ground between the roots, maybe this is some hyper-evolved truffle. “I shall crusade until the heretics’ memory is erased from the pages of time, and also I’ll enhance the flavor of anything I’m scraped over!” [8/10]

In a deep, dark forest, the trees grow restless. They twist and unfold earth and bring up a warrior from another era, one sworn to protect the darkest woods from danger. But he’s already too late, the enemy has all but won. Humanity sits in their boxes, trading and hoarding pieces of cloth as if they held power, ignorant to the damage they cause to the trees. This is the story about how the trees began tapping into their old power. This is the story about how the trees started fighting back. This might be a story about how humanity suffers, reflects on the situation, and adapts itself to find a new balance with itself and its surrounding, but not bloody likely.

It’s a strange thing when an issue’s more than halfway done and it’s clear none of the characters know what’s going on. Normally that’s a inexcusable mistake, instead it’s a plot element. At several points, the narrator highlights how trees could use language in a way that’s all but impossible for humans or human-like minds to understand. Once it clicks that the puppet-masters think on a different level than anyone else, the threat jacks up a few notches. Another trick that shows up multiple times is killing off the point-of-contact character. Sometimes they’re alive for two panels, other times they share characteristics with any number of blockbuster heroes, but no one is safe. There’s enough material for readers to get a grip, and plenty of surprises to hold their attention – I’m definitely picking up issue 2.

As hard as the narrative works to sell the concept, the visuals seem to work doubly hard to tether it to the ground. The lines are set in precise arrangements consistently throughout the book, which is great for consistency but a bit boring when a recurring character could express different mental states under different circumstances. The colorist worked overtime to add layer upon layer of texture onto surfaces that really don’t need it. The art communicates more than enough to support the story and give the reader a sense of reality, but it also serves as a warning to the tune of “don’t look too closely or you’ll get hurt”.

Deep Roots reads like a high-intensity ice cream binge – chilling, perhaps a source of hurt later, but utterly satisfying on many levels.

Savage Dragon 233 (Erik Larsen):

If you’re multitasking/ and sharing a razor/ You’ll learn what it’s like/ to be shot by a taser. Savage Dragon.

I’m done. I’M DONE! 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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