Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
Have WE got comics for you?!? I’m asking seriously, did they come in this week? (CC Note: YES!) We’ve got comics for you! Comics like these!
•TMNT Urban Legends 1 (Carlson/ Fosco): I love Raph wearing Casey’s hockey mask as a memorial thing. It’s something small that I could totally see him doing. But let’s talk about RoboTurtle back there. Nevermind that Donatello must have done the replacement surgery on himself, because seriously who else would he trust to operate on him. I want to know what prime directives (a la RoboCop) he programmed into his head.
1) Eat pizza.
2) Display mental superiority over brothers.
3) Compose “shell” puns.
4) Interface with the O’Neil woman (optional upgrades coming soon).
•Delta 13 1 (Niles/ Jones): So typical. Fused with a pillar of technology so completely that it’s impossible to tell where the PVC ends and the flesh begins, and some people still obsess over getting their waistline and abs just that right balance between slim and shapely. [6/10]
Old time prospectors would dig into whatever mountain or cave that looked like it hadn’t been dug into yet, hoping to find one that had valuable minerals. Space prospectors basically do the same with but with robots and a lot more plumbing. The asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter hosts almost countless rocks ranging from pebble to country-sized, so it’s worth it to probe and be picky about which ones they’ll eventually mine. An otherwise average scouting vessel’s just planted a spider-bot and thrusts toward their next scheduled stop when an unscheduled asteroid rushes up eager to introduce itself. It’s enormous, it’s uncharted, and their ship fits inside, so this should be a score, but there’s something off about the whole situation. It may be that none of their comm systems or scanners are working inside the thing, but what’s the worst that could happen?
As an unapologetic fan of the early Alien films, I will pick up a story in any medium involving isolated space ships going where they shouldn’t. As a decided non-fan of the later films, I have no obligation to like such stories. In the short time allowed, the reader successfully acquaints themselves with the ragtag crew, how they get along or don’t, what they each want out of this job, and how they react to new situations. What the audience doesn’t get to know is anything about the supposed threat they find themselves in. The astro-miners could be about to crack the shell on a horror from another galaxy, or they may have found a proto-planet thrown from its orbit for whatever reason. The Steve Niles name on top of the cover promises something blood-curdling, but there’s simply no delivery on that promise.
Niles arguably made his bones with 30 Days of Night, illustrated by Ben Templesmith, who also arguably gained public fame with that title. Nat Jones may or may not be trying to emulate that style of sketch-rendered figures and too-deep shadows, but it’s impossible for anyone that’s read 30 Days to not think of Templesmith. Plenty of opportunities to creatively design elements of the story exist here, but none are taken as most things look picked up from a sci-fi garage sale. That’s not to say they’re bad – these motifs show up repeatedly because they work – it’s just that there’s no adventure to them.
Delta 13 reads like a politician’s game of Mad Libs – everything’s what it looks like it should be, and thus completely misses the point.
•Animosity Evolution TP Vol 1 (Bennett/ Gapstur): The sign was posted clearly. It read in big red letters “Don’t Feed the Cyber Wolf”. It had a picture of a hand throwing meat into a cyber wolf’s mouth with a big circle and slash superimposed on it. And under that were seven signs that said the same thing but in different languages. The automated tour voice explains it every time something triggers its motion sensor. But there’s always that one jerk thinking it’d look so sick on social media if he takes a selfie while the cyber wolf eats cotton candy out of his hand, and now it’s twenty stories tall and threatening to blot out the moon. “How was I supposed to know?” my tide-causing butt!
•Star Trek TNG Through the Mirror 4 (Tipton & Tipton/ Nieto): Good LaForge:“Wow. I look good bald!”
Evil LaForge: “Wow. I look ten years younger without my moustache.”
“Good”(?) Wesley: “And I loo-”
Both LaForges: “SHUT UP, WESLEY!”
•Hit-Girl 4 (Millar/ Ortiz): This exact image will be used a propaganda against us by aliens within two centuries, just see if it isn’t. Masked terran female rides her planet to smash through infrastructure on a whim – that’ll get a few more tentacles to enlist, mark my words. By the way, if it gets to be 201 years from now and this HASN’T happened, I hereby consent to have myself resurrected to be told I was wrong. Even bette-I mean worse, put me in a cloned 20-something body so I can live a whole other lifetime with the shame. That’ll show me.
•Coin-Op Comics Anthology HC (Peter & Maria Hoey): Are they trying to steal radio waves? An armed robbery of AM/FM? Because if they did, I can’t think of anyone I know that would notice. This might just be the perfect crime, and they look snazzy doing it. Kudos.
•Black Hammer Age of Doom 2 (Lemire/ Ormston): It’s hard enough under standard conditions to get all your work buddies in frame for a decent selfie. Imagine when three of your coworkers have restraining orders against gravity, one regularly bends the laws of physics so often they’re more an origami collection, and your mask keeps the camera from focusing on you. Active social media’s a nightmare these days. [7/10]
The superteam affiliated with the Black Hammer disappeared a decade ago, declared dead by the general public but recently found by Lucy, the Black Hammer’s daughter. They’re in a small backwater town, not sure where it is on a map or how they got there, but they watched the Black Hammer die trying to escape, so they’re motivated to stick to their roles as eccentric farmers until they get a better idea. After exhaustive research, shadowy misdirection, and picking up her father’s enchanted hammer, Black Hammer Lucy figured everything out and was teleported away before she could tell anyone. Now Lucy’s in literal Hell while her dad’s teammates scramble to find the breadcrumbs Lucy must’ve followed. While they manage to pick up some juicy gossip, they’re just not natural investigators. Lucy’s had an entire minute of experience as a superhero, so the minions of Hell could pose a challenge.
I’d missed the first series of Black Hammer, so I came into this somewhat blind. We’ve still got Issue 1 of Age of Doom still on the shelf, which includes a summary of the story up to that point, which helped a lot. That summary fails to reappear in Issue 2, so it’s not as good a jumping on point. It’s very good at displaying the homages (and maybe parodies) of the classic superhero tropes – the mysterious magician, the alien playing at being human, the child exiled from childhood – and forcing them to confront the emotional sides they usually deflect. While they splash in the counter culture of the superhero genre, the action load is all on Lucy’s shoulders, forcing her to vent out the frustration from the smoking crater her quest has become. This story isn’t interested in a promise of escape so much as reveling in watching characters squirm. If that appeals to you, pick this up.
Fans of fine detail and grand perspectives will need to look elsewhere. The style of this book involves blocky lines that don’t hit their mark consistently, skewed angles that smoosh faces or artifacts sometimes, and overall designs satisfied simply doing more of the same thing. There are many books that thrive by utilizing what could be called simple or rough linework. One could argue that this story – with themes of imperfection, lack of control, and vulnerability – needs such a style to state its case. There are sets of panels where I can believe such a thing, but there are others where the art must admit it drops the ball.
Black Hammer reads like someone walking on hot coals – the tension and drama are burning and the end’s in sight, but they’re afraid to take that next step.
•Wormwood Saga Tp Vol 1 (Daniel Lieski): Behold, a scene so majestic it might as well be magical. An archipelago rich with lush, green life, mysterious temples, and endless opportunities to learn about yourself and your balance with nature. Actually, could you behold it a little faster, because they’ll be building a new district here soon and they’re scheduled to slash and burn this place tomorrow.
•X-Files Case Files Florida Man 2 (Casagrande/ Califano): I cannot tell if the Crocodile Man’s threatening to choke someone or doing a Fonzie impression. This is one of the failings of comics: it can only do so much without some audio component. That’s why some series suggest playlists for readers that just want their ears stimulated. Clearly Mulder and Scully don’t read those sections, because they look as confused as I feel.
•Scooby-Doo Team Up 38 (Fisch/ Carzon & Ottolini): Witness two pairs of crime-fighters work the same, tense-filled Case of the Pirated Software Patch! Who wrote the dastardly code disguised as a firmware update? What motive could spur such diabolical misdeeds? Why won’t Dyno-Mutt’s tail stop popping up like that? You’ll have to read all the way to the end to find out!
•Infinity Countdown – Darkhawk 1 (Sims & Bowers/ Lim & Hyuk): A bodybuilder in an alien power suit with razor wings? Why yes, beat cop holding what may be a nightstick, I’ll bet you can command his respect right away. Absolutely threaten him with jail time for walking past the tape line, in the end he’ll thank you for setting him on the straight and narrow. [8/10]
Raptors are Chris Pratt’s buddies, but before that the word meant “birds of prey”, but WAY before that they were a fraternity of philosopher techno-assassins from space that thought of the universe the way corporate CEOs think of bonzai trees: fine so long they don’t grow a single leaf without their meticulous consent, otherwise *SNIP*. Enter Chris Powell – a human quasi-abducted into this fraternity that convinced his abductor to abandon the Raptor cause. The ex-Raptor died, but locked his cohorts into a pocket dimension and left Powell with a tricked-out winged space getup. Powell thought he knew what he was doing before, but this new suit’s literally a different beast, and his science friend’s got some opinions about it. Between that and his engagement, Chris has enough to worry about. The giant cosmic robot/ bounty hunter called Death’s Head presents something of a distraction.
So I’m not sure why it works this way, but political espionage and secret societies make space bird police more palatable. Darkhawk’s origins didn’t go beyond a magic piece of jewelry early on and I largely didn’t care, but now that there’s galactic lore like something out of the history of European kings I find myself leaning in. It’s a shame that the book spends as much time as it does with plain human Powell and the responsibilities he’s rushing to avoid. His job as a beat cop and his fiancé both show up only long enough for the audience watch him arrange for time away from them, which begs the question “why reveal them at all?”. Yet though he’s hapless as a person, as Darkhawk he demonstrates definite competence and composure. If the series from here on focuses on that, it should be fun.
The artwork incorporates a generous amount of anime influence, emphasizing smooth body features and extra-large expressions. This gives the whole book the atmosphere of an excited action figure play. It’s careful not to dive too deeply in that direction, allowing for the occasional vivisection or car crash. There’s no point in the story presented as something especially serious, so it can get away with that, but if the narrative swings toward huge dramatic moments I worry that they won’t possess the gravitas to work effectively.
Darkhawk reads like the first kite-flight of the season – it climbs into the air just fine, but expect a lot of struggling rather than a confident flight.
See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues