Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
So last weekend featured the release of a movie that culminates roughly 10 years of cinematic storytelling. Since Iron Man 1 came out we’ve changed presidents twice, landed a robot on Mars, and three new Star Wars movies came out. It’s been a busy decade.
But now is not the time to dwell on the past. We must look to the future, particularly this Saturday, aka FREE COMIC BOOK DAY! And to pass the time, I guess we could focus on the present.
•Xerxes Fall of the House of Darius 2 (Frank Miller): I want to thank Frank Miller for producing this cover that, on its own, is objectively horrible, but when joined with another cover makes it better.
See, half a dude’s head screaming at nothing. He could be crying for blood to avenge his family or taking a dump that could fill the pass of Thermopylae, there’s nothing to go on. Now look at this different cover…
•Daygloayhole Quarterly 1 of 4 (Ben Passmore): A highly-stylized dumping ground of assorted junk and corpses. The colors bleed together and the lines terminate at such disconnected spots that all the elements blend to the point that it could easily just be an amorphous blob.
You know what could help this cover stand out? It wouldn’t take much, just a little bit of variety, something to mix up the map and force the eyes to focus. Something like…
BOOM! Ahem, moving on.
•Avengers 1 (Aaron/ McGuinness): Behold, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes defending a… pile of rubble? I get that you don’t want the background to distract from the main figures, but give them something better to protect from that. “You turn back and never return to our planet again. This here’s OUR trash!” [8/10]
Brace yourselves, because this might blow you away: the Avengers were not Earth’s first superheroes. Hell, half of them weren’t from Earth, and the other half might as well have come from another planet. No matter their backgrounds, they managed to keep the ball spinning even though space giants wanted to stop it dead. A million years later, said space giants want to revisit that idea. There’s no hero on Earth that hasn’t been through an absolute minefield both physically and emotionally lately, but an angry universe comes knocking at their door, so they have to put.. themselves together or… something.
Perhaps the first thing that’ll strike you is how many tropes and archetypes walk down the runway to be appreciated. No one’s hiding their brash demeanors or conflicted insecurities, or how common any of these brash insecurities are throughout time. For that matter, the repetition itself takes up a share of the issue as well, right down to a discussion over drinks as to whether or not it’s worth breaking the cycle. At its best, this self-awareness comes across as insightful or satirical, or at its worst it sits you down and explains that the House of Ideas is out of stock. It’s refreshing to watch the characters actually cope with things instead of quietly retconning them, but there’s nothing here that feels new or intriguing.
McGuinness drips with talent to make the ridiculous acceptable. His demi-cartoonish style renders figures as highly-customized balloons, with muscles and other bulges so pronounced they might squeak if poked. At the same time, there’s a consistency and momentum to each panel that the eye takes it seriously. If the hardest thing to do is make something look easy, the artist on this book performs the mightiest deeds of all.
Avengers reads like a hiatus-breaking episode of a show – the group hopes you haven’t lost interest since they’ve been away and that they can keep doing what they were used to.
“CAN I COME, TOO?”
•Cyber Spectre 1 (Emms/ Graza): There’s a city of the future with flying cars and countless other technological advances, including the capacity to objectify women. Full body armor and a whole cabinet of small firearms are available in a single spray-on can. If only she’d called within the first 30 minutes – she could’ve gotten the helmet for free.
•Alien Toilet Monsters 1 (Barnett & Zara/ Barnett): Urban dictionary’s visual definition of “Trying too hard”.
•Coda 1 (Spurrier/ Bergara): Here’s another book featuring a protagonist dedicated to defending the chastity of a trash pile, however there’s magic creatures and horrible furious unicorns in this shot, do maybe this is a trash pile worth pillaging. But then if it’s such nice trash, why’s there just the one sentinel and steed, and more to the point why’s he letting people rummage through it. Somebody sell me on this trash already! (CC Note: That’s YOUR job!) Right, right, sorry. [8/10]
What good is a bard that doesn’t talk much? About as good as a wizard without magic, a gun without ammo, or a mer-creature out of water, but that’s all there is anymore. Some nihilistic dark sorcerer made good on their oath to doom the world, leaving the survivors to come up with a different way to make ends meet until something comes along to kill them. The tight-lipped human storyteller that goes by Hum tells himself a lot of things so he can do the things he does. Today that’s looting a dragon’s corpse and infiltrating a city. Maybe he’s on a secret quest, maybe he’s the last lieutenant of the dark sorcerer, maybe his brain’s well and truly cracked. For now, it’s enough that he’s convinced just about everybody that he knows what’s going on.
Coda is the story of a broken man, someone so swept up in the idea of finding one good thing that he didn’t notice when he lost himself. Hum represents the perfect underdog – he’s surrounded by enemies, cannot be trusted by those that could be his friends, just capable enough to know how limited he is, but too dumb to see what his limits really are. Most of the info about the world he lives in, as well as Hum himself, comes mostly from the dents left by what came before, as if to reiterate the theme that things only get more terrible each day. The presentation’s polished and authentic, yet there’s very little to indicate what to expect from here on out, and there’s no one for the reader to invest themselves in, so by the end of the book there’s not much aside from curiosity to drive anyone to look for issue 2.
The art style to this book answers the question “what would Whimsy look like if it had rabies?” Picture Chris Bachalo’s sense of design and poise, mix it with a dash of trust in negative space, and you more or less have it. The linework plays with ideas on the page, careful to craft and engineer ambitiously only to portray such things as having decayed for years. In contrast, the shading and colors are applied in blocks or large patches, preventing a panel or page from feeling overburdened with detail.
Coda reads like a scathing editorial – viciously tearing down a fantasy status-quo without any suggestion for how to improve things.
•Action Comics Special 1 (Jurgens, Landis, Russell/ Manapul, Thompson): “Kryptonian shadow boxing. And the Kansas cape style. If what Clark Kent says is true, Krypton and Kansas could be dangerous. Do you think your styled hair can defeat me?”
“En garde. I’ll let you try my Solitude style.”
•Animus GN (Antoine Revoy): Oh yeah, this kid’s got it all sorted out. You can’t roll a critical failure when you take out all the numbers. That’s why he’s wearing a Bat-mask, it’s to warn everyone that he’s used his prep time well. Game. Broken!
•Death or Glory 1 (Remender/ Bengal): The classic diner and car clash so profoundly with the figure’s crisp and clean jumpsuit I can’t help but wonder if she’s supposed to be a time-traveler or amusement park staff member in the wrong hall. Notice how she’s got stains on her shoes from the road, but not a single ketchup or mustard stain on her top. Now I’m sure she’s never been in a greasy spoon, why should I believe in anything anymore!! [7/10]
When you’re off the grid, it means no one can tell you what your options are. That’s great for when you feel stifled by oversight or nosy neighbors, of if you can’t stand the idea of paying into a system that’ll probably never pay you back. But when you get sick and need more options, suddenly the grid can appear inviting. Old Red was a wise, kind, and strong man that helped others live outside of the social construct, but now he’s a cancer patient without any insurance. His surrogate daughter Glory’s got an idea on how to get Red treatment, only he wouldn’t like the idea of her going through with it. It involves taking a lot of money from the kind of people the system’s supposed to stop, the kind of people that tend to value money more than life, and don’t need a reason to hurt others so much as an excuse.
Like the overpowered crime car the main character builds, Glory lacks polish. The rough idea’s great – what one passionate member of a community off the grid will do for a loved one versus the rest of that community or their rivals – but the execution trips up on more occasions than should be possible. Glory the person’s capable enough to build a muscle car on her own and stunt drive it herself, but can’t imagine a way to monetize that other than pull a Robin Hood. She’s young enough to look like everyone’s daughter but old enough to have a suit-wearing turd bucket of an ex-husband. These don’t sound like qualities that can coexist, but that’s what we’re expected to believe.
For all the plot contrivances and damaged characters, visually the book is stunning. Bengal’s a member of the elite class of artists that find a different balance between realism and illustration every panel, yet keeps enough common elements in play that the eye never gets lost. Glory combines the images of vulnerable and strong in a way that’s believable without looking extraordinary. The colors, inking, and details have their own dichotomy, appearing bright and proud and also capable of getting run through the dirt a few times. Certain panels seek to emphasize despair and loss, others delight with the idea that something crazy’s about to happen.
Death or Glory reads like a loot box – glossy trappings trigger a compulsion to pick it up, but digging into it reveals a collection of both jewels and junk.
•Jasmine Crown of Kings 1 (Mackie/ Vitorino): Sixty stories up without a parachute or even a jacket that covers her whole torso, but this woman’s looking pretty damn smug. It’s like she just won a bet or conquered a personal challenge, like getting up here was her real goal. In that case, I’m happy for her, and I’m happy for me since I don’t have to read the rest of the book!
It’s a good thing, too, because it’d be horrible if something came along to startle her.
We’ll see you Saturday, and if not we’ll see you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues