Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
Could this be New Comic Book Day? Lo, I believe it is. Let’s dive right in!
•True Believers X-Men 25 (Nicieza/ Kubert) (Original Printing 1991): I think I had a copy of this when it first came out, and back then it was printed with this card-sized lenticular image of a character from the book. I don’t know how I convinced myself they were removable, but days after I’d destroyed the front cover to claim that card, I had only seen enough reason to call myself undecided. Present Ryan gets it now: they were absolutely not meant to be removable.
(P.S. The one I was thinking about was Uncanny X-Men 304, and I bet I still have that non-card somewhere.)
•Bubba Ho-Tep & the Cosmic Blood-Suckers 1 (Lansdale/ Galusha): No one wanted to see Elvis die next to the porcelain throne, so why would anyone think we’d want to see him alive on a gold and velvet one?
•Flavor 1 (Keatinge/ Clark): Okay, so this is either a brutal prison colony where everyone has to prepare the side dishes to be served with them when the head chefs arrive to butcher them all, or the humanoid chef are pulling double duty on monitoring the cow creature in the background before carving it up for parts. Or it could be a dog, it’s hard to tell, but either might explain why the dishwasher’s getting all anxious. Did he learn more about cooking this day than he ever wanted to know? Did he see the secret ingredient? What wouldn’t a chef do for a Michelin Star? [7/10]
Beginning with her name, Xoo is not your typical character. Typical teenagers in the walled city attend school and chase their dreams. Xoo chases trains in order to hold onto her dreams – Xoo’s going to be a chef. In a city where the right ingredient can bring life to a dish and count as live ordinance, not just anyone can be a chef. It takes years of training and experience before the city’ll license a person to handle raw ingredients. Xoo’s too busy running her parents’ kitchen while they’re ill to actually attend those classes, but so long as they’re able to supervise it’s fine. They’re really not, though, and the city takes food preparation seriously, and the day’s approaching when the city’s not going to look the other way because of Xoo’s special circumstances any more.
Hold onto something. This may be a story about a magical semi-sentient dog with access to Hammerspace, or it could be a story about a wandering ex-paladin convinced he doesn’t have time for a family, or it could be an after-school special about the value of school, or how government social workers have your best interests in their golden hearts, or the true meaning of the color orange. I don’t know. I don’t think anyone can know once they read this book. Maybe the creators know, but they’re cagey about it and so never get around to setting up the story, they just scoot back and forth like they’re deciding where they want to start from. It’s likely tons of fun from their perspective, but most readers probably won’t have time for it.
There’s inconsistency with the way characters look from page to page. Xoo’s jaw, for instance, isn’t worried about how large it is compared to her chin. There’s a looming threat reaching over everything, but when an adult dog can apply medicine and take notes, there’s no way to take this threat seriously. Again, moments of creative joy present themselves at the expense of a cohesive narrative.
Flavor reads like a snow cone made by a master artist – the process and fundamentals are all uniquely qualified, but that doesn’t stop the end result being a moist paper cone.
•Ballad of Halo Jones TP (Moore/ Gibson): Trench coats with pauldrons. Why did that look never take off? I’m trying to think of a character in fiction who wore a trench coat and wouldn’t have benefitted from shoulder armor in some way but I can’t think of a single one. Columbo would’ve rocked that look and you know it.
•X-Men Wedding Special 1 (Guggenheim, Thompson, & Claremont/ Land, Cresta, Marika, Nauck): “Katya, I’m so glad you’re excited like I am, but we’d agreed to give each other personal space once in while. I can feel butterflies in my stomach but you don’t have to count them for me.”
•Persephone OGN (Loic Locatelli-Kournwsky): I suppose there had to be a shady underbelly to Venice, I guess I just expected the dress code to change if someone had to go down there. But it makes a kind of sense: if the natives don’t wear galoshes or wetsuits everywhere during the day, why would they bother at night.
•Hunt for Wolverine – Claws of a Killer 1 (Tamaki/ Guice): Well, all the canonically vicious characters certainly look vicious here. And from the look of the claws they’re throwing themselves at, we can count of some pretty vicious stuff to happen. But can we focus one moment on how ridiculous the title of this book is? How many clawed creatures out there are known for their incredible negotiating skills? What about their penetrating massages, or incredible surgical incision techniques? Nothing in nature (including mutant nature) finds itself with bladed appendages and devotes their lives to avoid using them. Or at least not yet, come on, let’s shrug off a persistent stereotype, we can do this!
•New Challengers 1 (Snyder & Gillespie/ Janson): This looks like the DC universe’s team of crime-fighting e-sports players. Is xxSkullmask420xx invading the servers again to control the leader boards with an iron fist holding a 32-oz jug of [we need an energy drink sponsor]? Only you can avenge the noobs and restore balance to those stats, New Challengers! [6/10]
The universe is an infinitely complex cluster of systems, equations, energies, all chaotically balanced on impossible probabilities. The smallest of nudges in any direction could lead to total collapse at any moment, but the DC universe has something to prevent that. Challengers Mountain serves as the focus point, both for the universe and those who would jump and restore balance whenever needed. Five fresh souls find themselves there having already faced down death, challenged to preserve the cosmos so that everyone they left behind might live to see one more day. Today, though, there’s a bone with glowing runes making just a bit too much noise.
Between a Gotham meteor strike, a plane flying into a superstorm, hyperdimensional travel cubes, and the space squid, there’s a lot to take in this first issue. There’s a distinct small scale story involving a young doctor’s hopes for her community, the macro-scale conflict of keeping reality from breaking down, and there’s a chance that the story from here on will play out in the middle only there isn’t one. There’s a mountain base that could be center stage, but its caretaker and facilities are fickle and seem to only care for themselves and the mission. The Challengers are told they’re special one minute, and replaced the next. Any attachment formed gets punished right away, both between the characters, the reader toward the book.
I’m not sure what cloning technology DC uses to produce their artists, but there’s no denying that it works. The visuals all conform to the fundamental DC house style, right down the the odd-fitting uniforms and characters’ compulsion to strike a pose no matter the situation. It looks how everyone expects a comic book to look, particularly people that don’t read comic books. This makes it a fair book to pick up if you’re just getting into comics, but anyone else may find themselves feeling pandered to.
New Challengers reads like an important conversation at a crowded party – something extraordinary might’ve been shared if it weren’t for random noise from every possible direction.
•Jazz Legend 1 (Lacek/ Duarte): Whoever’s typing this 1,000 words must have constructed some wild and crazy grammar and conjunctions to get a picture like this. I wouldn’t know even where to begin trying to type this is ASCII.
•Alien Predator Trilobite from Prometheus (Eaglemoss): For when even the alien and/ or eldtrich horrors in your media just have to be white.
•Superman Special 1 (Flynn, Gleason, & Russell/ Godlewski, Hitch, Andrews): Superman never uses guns, he just uses people that use guns, so he can say he’s lived by his principles.
•Ether – Copper Golems 1 (Kindt/ Rubin): Oh sure, it looks fun to ride a giant mutated chicken through a landscape made of giant robot parts and budding blue plants everywhere. That’s the selling shot, that’s the brochure experience. But actually go try it for yourself and all you get is dragons in ballerina shoes burning all your homework so that Professor Xavier in a rainbow mohawk will kick you out of Hogwarts on St. Swithun’s Day. Save yourselves the trip, kids: don’t do LSD.
•Walk Through Hell 1 (Ennis & Sudzuka): “Remind me again why we’re not taking the cars?”
“Because if we took the cars it wouldn’t be Hell, moron! At worst it’d be a low level of Purgatory, and that’s with no A/C and only AM stations on the radio.”
“So in Heaven you’d get heated seats and all your favorite streaming channels pre-programmed in?”
“Man, what’d they teach you at Sunday School, anyway? You WALK through Hell, you DRIVE through Purgatory, and you FLY through Heaven. What’d you think the wings are for?”
“Huhn. And the halos?”
“Google Glass minus all the bugs and crap.” [7/10]
When you’re an FBI agent, you see horrible stuff. It haunts you, it keeps you from sleeping, it’s not a part of the job anyone really wants, but it is what it is. Getting used to the horror isn’t as healthy as it sounds, but most learn to cope with the worst of it. Four thought so, at least, but a pair went into a warehouse and never came out. The local PD found their car, took a peek into the warehouse, and called in SWAT. They’re supposed to have their own coping skills, yet less than two minutes after going into the warehouse, they came out, piled into their van, and just stayed there. The other two agents, wondering what else can go wrong this Christmas Eve, mean to learn for themselves what’s so special about this warehouse. There is no coping skill to see them through this.
Readers might notice that I didn’t pull any names from this issue, and that’s mostly because there aren’t any characters of note. Some have more unique designs than others, some have more lines of dialogue or quirkier expressions, but there are no moments where a character departs from their stereotype. The plot and story demand Special Agent talks down to Beat Cop, and that happens. If there’s a time when one or two figures manifest into unique people with individual traits and histories that direct them to be just the soul for this time and place, it is not in this issue. Garth Ennis can still write a scene that sucker punches from around the corner, and in a way that the reader doesn’t need investment to feel hurt, which is a rare talent.
The art style roots itself into a position of blocky efficiency. Every line has a purpose, each panel paints a scene, and once the job is done these things do nothing else. It’s an efficient method of illustration that lacks embellishment, but in doing so almost draws attention to how little it’s pushing the boundaries of the medium. Horror stories so often indulge in dropping a visual cue here or an unusual spot of shadow there, providing mysteries for the audience to mull over, but not here. What we see is all we get.
A Walk Through Hell reads like watching yourself drop a drink – this is that split second when you know there’s about to be a mess and there’s just no helping it now.
Time to dive right back out. See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues