Variant Coverage – June 13, 2018

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

Hey buddy. Yeah, you. Word on the street is you like comics. Turns out we just got a few for, you know, discerning sorts. Check these out!

Proxima Centauri 1 (Farel Dalrypmle): Sounds like the name of a neighboring star system, actually the name of a new street drug made from engine coolant and Tang. You drop it into your eyeballs to get higher than orbit, take adventures with wizened father figures and adorable furry creatures and your younger self, next thing you know you’re on a ship covered in guts and seven people swear they just saw you burst out of a whale’s chest.

The Weather Man 1 (LeHeup/ Fox): Anyone that’s walked to school after checking the report in the local news, only to get drenched halfway to school, can understand why I have no sympathy for the title character here. The condemned may order whatever they want for their last meal, but they’ll not eat it in peace.

By Night 1 (Allison/ Larsen): “Dammit, this is why I hate using the GPS when we’re just walking!”
“You said yourself that you didn’t know how to get there!”
“I said that to justify why we’d be a few minutes late, not to trust our lives to some supercomputer algorithm put together by the lowest bidders!”
“It works fine for me most of the time.”
“It told us to turn right, stand on the rune and picture a cube folding in on itself, and now we’re in some pocket dimension. I’m not going out as cosmic lint because of drunken SkyNet!” [7/10]

Jane works in a small biochem lab, and while it’s not bad, her life is so boring it could almost qualify as dead. She cleans test tubes, leaves the office to eat/ sleep/ prepare to eat or sleep, then comes back and finds dirty test tubes to clean. Jane was resigned to repeating this process until she died, but then Heather showed up. Jane and Heather were best friends back in high school, but lost touch after going to college and maybe wrecking each other’s lives. But they’re back together now, and Heather’s got the perfect idea to reconnect: they’re going to break into an abandoned factory and piece together the true story of a missing entrepreneur that no one cares about. Jane’s not sure this works toward her best interests, but she as how none of her ideas worked toward them either, she throws her hat in.

From the writer of Giant Days, this issue makes it doctrine to include at least one joke/ pun/ quip at least once a page. That keeps the plot moving and might even get the reader to chuckle, but it doesn’t afford the characters a chance to look like they feel anything for long. Then there’s the town of Spectrum, set in anywhere USA, which can’t afford its own sheriff’s department yet employed a security staff to watch over an industrial park while it went unused for over two decades. There are a lot of things happening for no other reason than they have to happen to set up some point down the line, but this opening gambit doesn’t pay off so well.

The art takes a Scott Pilgrim approach to the storytelling, using heavy cartooning and linework to keep the page simple. But where Scott Pilgrim played with layouts and visual triggers around the otherwise simple structure, By Night is content to just set a scene, put characters in it, and move on. There’s little reward for studying the panels for extra information, letting the read move on at the dialogue’s quick pace.

By Night reads like a fireside talk with an old sailor – maybe there’s some worthwhile knowledge, but clearly the reason he’s telling you all this is because he loves telling people things.

Deadpool Assassin 1 (Bunn/ Bagley): Wade Wilson, taking a break from film making, decided to fall back to one of his first trades. Sadly, the interior decorating field underwent several evolutions since his time, and he just couldn’t get his old eye for color swatches back. And that’s how he went back to his other trade: professional murder.

Zinnober 1 (Singh & Brochhaus): “Well look at you and your adorable little toy. Did somebody bring a gun to a fire-breathing monster fight? Yes they did. YES THEY DID. Oh I’d tickle your face and give you all the belly rubs all day if you weren’t just too cute to live.”

Nancy Drew 1 (Thompson/ St. Onge): Now THIS is a franchise that can accommodate a gritty modern reboot! Nancy’s still this detective-style kid, only she’s seen too much for her age and matured herself out of connecting with kids her own age except through horrible crime scenes. And she doesn’t take a gun with her because they’re so easy to find for her, it just seems silly to weigh down her bag with her own. “Well, it weren’t no mystery how these six traffickers got shot and the revolver was found at the crime scene, Sarge: Nancy drew.” (CC Note: We’re going to fire you so fast people will think we did it with a cannon.)

Magic Order 1 (Millar/ Coipel): Somewhere on the ground stories below, a shattered arm shakes its fist at the four arcane wielders standing on thin air. For certain, they’d only taught Wile E Coyote half their secrets.

Plastic Man 1 (Simone/ Melo): It was the Justice League’s fault, really. Everyone told Plastic Man that he should get a hobby, develop a way of making something himself to keep grounded. And nothing like Batman’s hobby of collecting orphans, a real hobby that doesn’t require mountains of paperwork. So he took up diorama building. In his early days when he was figuring out what to do, it was fine, but once he got good at it his scenes kept turning out as grim crime scenes. Superman asked if he could make him a little lemonade stand that he could give to his folks, and Plastic Man came back with an ashamed look on his face and a miniature sweatshop. “I promise, I started with a sunny street corner, locally-sourced products, and happy customers in my head. I don’t know where I lost it.” [8/10]

Eel O’Brian might be the last person to consider himself a complicated man, but then most of the formative moments of his life happened because he’s wrong about things. On the late-night armed robbery where he got smothered in science juice that would give him his powers, he thought his teammates would watch over him, but instead they threw him into a ravine from a speeding car. When he got up this very morning, he was sure “wang” meant penis, but now his head’s full of doubt. And now Plastic Man’s asking himself if he’s capable of murder. Not that he intends to kill someone, not that anyone’s asked him, but if it’s possible his wise-cracking persona’s more than a support for his body’s visual gags. Oh, and global conspiracy, millions of lives hang in the balance, biff bam boom.

I’ve never known much about Plastic Man other than he was a guy that fell into powers and tried superheroing for a change of pace, and he was mostly around to be funny. In this series, which adapts his origin story to fit into DC’s current universe, he’s still pretty funny, and he’s still not sure how to superhero, but under all that he’s asking himself a lot of questions. Gail Simone’s being Gail Simone again, penetrating characters in challenging ways and showcasing their more entertaining sides at the same time. Unlike her, however, is a rather big plot hole toward the end of the book, otherwise I’d be rating this higher.

Melo draws some wonderful Plastic Man. Whether he’s in his humanoid form or a bouncy ball or stretching himself into an MC Escher painting, it’s simply delightful to watch play out. The rest of the characters, plus the backgrounds, objects, and everything else, conforms to DC’s expected style. This may sound disappointing, but in a way it enhances PM’s goofiness. When it comes to self-aware polymorphs addicted to childish sight gags, it’s nice to see that DC allows their artist the freedom to play around.

Plastic Man reads like a jawbreaker – sweet and just a little dangerous, assuming you can get your head around it.

Awaken Skies 1 (Mastromauro/ Lorenzana): Wings that allowed me to sail through the skies, mocking gravity and its puny grasp, would quickly fade to second place as soon as I perfected the graceful art of pooping on cars. Now THAT’s the bright side of being a bird!

Konungar War of Crowns 1 (Runberg/ Juzhen): “Listen, I know you’re mad, I get it. I don’t know how many times I’ve said this in the past week, but please believe me when I say I’m terribly sorry I tried to ride you.”

Marvel Rising Alpha 1 (Grayson/ Duarte): Clearly, in spite of the lackluster performance of their video game collaboration, Marvel and Capcom have every intention to keep their partnership going. I mean look at this: two main characters on the cover and they’re BOTH using the Dragon Punch? Oh pleasepleaseplease I hope the recurring baddie is M(agneto) Bison. Don’t keep him from us any longer!

Hawkman 1 (Venditti/ Hitch): It’s not so much the idea of a guy ready to punch something when he’s got a giant mace in his other hand. It’s not the fact that whatever he’s punching has at least four hands and they all seem to be pleading for mercy, though it really should be that. No, I’m afraid it has to be that, in a scene full of alien soldiers in full gear, he’s not just going into battle without space equipment, he’s going with his nips out.

Stellar 1 (Keatinge/ Blevins): The saying goes “any landing you can walk away from is a good one”, but as she studied the corpse of the magnificent giant space wolf embedded into the ship’s fore section, she wondered if, contrary to what her study buddy in flight school swore, she actually had missed something in class that day she skipped. [7/10]

War’s bad enough when it’s just between two parties. War’s even worse when it catches neighbors in the crossfire. Then there’s the war that sucked an entire galaxy in and spat out shredded trash, and it is that far-future interplanetary hellscape where the bounty hunter Stellar keeps getting her paychecks pulled out from her bank account. She’s already broke, doing everything she can to support the decrepit temple that helped her out one time, and barely tolerating a mouthy space nogoodnik she can’t even kill without costing her money. And to make matters worse, when she checks the bounty boards hoping for a fresh, high-paying lead, she finds herself. She can’t even complain: she knows exactly what she did to deserve this.

While most of the story takes place well after “The War”, when societies have begun rebuilding, very little actually happens. There are references to dramatic showdowns between criminal and bounty hunter, political intrigues, and basic struggles for survival, but none of them play out on the page. Stellar herself mysteriously recalls what she did during “The War”, and yet what the reader’s allowed to learn is what took place after she supposedly went AWOL. This book isn’t absent of climactic scenes or grand lore, but it feels driven to hide it from you for as long as it can get away with. If you’re hunting for a epic tale of tragedy and redemption in the far reaches of space with a multitude of perspectives, prepare to be frustrated.

Without much in the way of context, the art at least is pretty. Blevins indulges in his duties as illustrator to present a wide array of sceneries and species. Pulling inspiration from the pulp stories of the 50’s, the visuals succeed in balancing stereotype (aliens with bug eyes are evil, those with blank eyes and walking sticks are monks, etc.) with contemporary ideas (aliens can have dynamic cultures and attitudes too, they don’t all have to be empires dating back centuries). The design of Stellar herself isn’t new or even very interesting, but it pushes the concept that she’s down on her luck and burdened with a past she can’t remove.

Stellar reads like a fresh meal from a recipe out of the 1910’s – waves of nostalgia are going to hit you with all-new, all-different flaws.

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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