Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
Let a new week of comic releases… BEGIN!
•The Unexpected 1 (Orlando/ Nord): I will believe this is a team of talented individuals worthy of entrusting lives and infrastructure to when they step off the red-hot rocks in the middle of the road. The rest of the street is clearly fine, you can’t even tell if it’s a path of hot coals or just the one spot. If they’re too intense or badass or any other extreme way of saying “dumb” to go around an environmental hazard and spare their footwear the trouble, I wouldn’t trust them to fetch the bag of chips from on top of the fridge, much less my cat from a tall tree, SO MUCH less a family from a burning building that was thrown at another building. I do have standards.
•Immortal Hulk 1 (Ewing/ Bennett): And thus dies the hope that the release of death brings a person peace. “Hulk not like eternal slumber! Questions of existence without physical substance challenges Banner’s understanding of persistence of matter. Hulk should like puny Banner’s crisis of spirituality, but already Hulk reads online replies abducting subject to push atheist narrative. Why won’t puny trolls leave Hulk’s posts alone?!?” [8/10]
Bruce Banner’s always known a little too much for his own good. When he was a kid, his intellect got him abused at school and home. As a scientist, it led him to building bombs, which led to him becoming one. Recently, he learned what it was like to come back from the dead, and he’s not handling it well. But compared to the hapless, desperate kid that shot him and two others during a gas station robbery, Banner’s a marvel of emotional stability. Yeah, just as Bruce’s getting the feel of walking above ground again, someone puts another projectile in his brain. It’s been done before. The Hulk knows how to get over it on his own now, and he knows who shot him, which brings us to the Hulk’s new calling: extreme life coaching.
Back in the earliest days of Hulk stories, it was about a meek nerd trying to cope with a brutish, destructive, but otherwise rational thug he couldn’t escape – a conceptual horror story with a bit of action thrown in. Immortal Hulk takes its cues from this version to embrace the notion of a psychological thriller. Anyone that loses their conscience along their way, Hulk chases down and puts it back in by whatever force necessary. The Hulk isn’t just a live grenade lost in a crowd anymore, he’s Jiminy Cricket riding a steroid high and packing a rack of sledgehammers. Yet for all his power, all his intent, he still goes out of his way to not kill, which honestly is where the narrative loses me. Exposition makes it clear that everyone involved gets extensive stays at the hospital, but without seeing their fate it’s difficult to be satisfied that some form of avenging’s taken place.
Most of the art designs rest comfortably in realism. The lines and colors are a little too clean to feel real, but their position and shading make identifying with the characters and places easy. They’re everyday people in Smalltown, USA, ready to mind their own business. But then comes the Hulk. The Hulk must stoop to fit into the panel. There are bulges of muscle on the Hulk that don’t exist on a person, and yet they’re jacked up to 12. The Hulk likes to show off his billion-dollar smile, featuring perfectly straight white teeth and a grin stretching almost past his ears. The Hulk smiles when he’s about to smash, so Hulk smiles a lot. It’s gruesome, monstrous, and some of my favorite rendering of him in a long time.
Immortal Hulk reads like amplified schadenfreude – it’s not simply joy at another’s shame, it’s jumping up with excitement when someone does wrong because you’re about to watch it backfire spectacularly on them.
•Aberrant 1 (Grant/ Huszka): “Well there’s your problem: too much building on Skull Island. Oh I bet the tribe there jumped at the offer you made for the property, but you didn’t have a single clue what to do with it, did you? Now you’ve got miles of materials but no patch of ground solid enough to support the weight of construction. Between the water table and the tunneling worms that grow to 20-yards long, you’re tryin’a erect a skyscraper on Swiss cheese. This is why zoning laws exist, you know.”
•Dazzler X-Song 1 (Visaggio/ Braga): In the future (should humanity make it that far) the sign of a truly brilliant live music stage performance will be the star belting out the wildest notes into the mike while, on the screen behind her, images from the star’s FUTURE gigs play out. Will they endure, or will the video feature an obese mass of wrinkles and regret sitting on the couch on their third bottle of cheap booze staring at the spot where their screen was before it got repossessed? Only the bravest of performers can bring themselves to roll them dice.
•Brother Nash 1 (Bridgit Connell): Brother, sister, fourth-cousin, neighbor’s cat, I don’t care who it is but will someone tell them to get out of the flames please?
•Cellies 1 (Flood/ Scheidt): No offense meant, but in a zombie apocalypse situation, cell phone clerks would have perhaps the least to offer to rebuilding civilization. Rollover data and a customizable case might’ve made customers swoon back before Shamblers rage-flipped the food chain, but now all people want are things like “uncontaminated water” or “food”.
•Sword Daughter 1 (Wood/ Chater): And thus little Mindy began her rigorous training. The countless hours of honing her muscles and reflexes would eventually serve her well, though it would be many years before realizing that when her mother’s friend prophesied that Mindy would be beating the suitors off with a stick, she hadn’t meant it literally. Mindy did learn the woman’s true intention eventually, but never got over her distaste for men’s fine clothing. [7/10]
Elsbeth Dagsdottir was a whopping two years old when she became a caretaker for the disabled. That’s how old she was when a fanatic band of Vikings slaughtered her village and burned it to the ground. That’s how old she was when she found her father so traumatized by the sight that he completely disconnected with the world, leaving her to take care of both of them. By the time her father Dag came out of his stupor, she was 12, a skilled salvager and trader, and ready to beat his head in with a rock. Dag wants revenge for the villagers killed and the wife and decade he’d lost. Elsbeth wants the Roman-forged swords he wouldn’t let go of during his nap. Maybe they can work together?
There’re plenty of similarities between this and Lone Wolf & Cub, the classic manga series. Both focus on a parent-child relationship focused on revenge. Both take place in settings where politics and codes attempt to manage primal instincts. But where LW&C wove a functional single-parent story into a bloody quest, Sword Daughter heaps insult and negligence onto trauma and hardship like a Las Vegas buffet plate. Sword Daughter burdens Elsbeth with the responsibilities of being the more intense, measured, and compassionate of the pair, while the dad confuses his quest for justice with his habit of finding new ways to abandon and damage his child. It’s one thing to provide the child with an edge so they’re not overshadowed by the parent, but this is just a pipe and recliner away from being a 1950’s tv family drama picked apart for horrible social messages by college students. It’s ridiculous.
Mack Chater’s art reminds me mostly of Michael Lark (currently on Lazarus with Greg Rucka). Both use shark lines of minimal width to create their subjects, leaving as much space open as possible. Filling with with color and subtle shading can trick the eye into thinking there aren’t lines at all, adding to the sense of realistic proportion. For all her pain and anger, Elsbeth produces a fair range of emotional expressions, occasionally fitting awe or contentment in when grim focus or frustration aren’t immediately called for.
Sword Daughter reads like a Millenial’s manifesto – it’d be funny how ineffectual the previous generation was if they hadn’t left such a grand, fiery mess behind.
•Isola 3 (Fletcher & Kerschl/ Kerschl & Msassyk): Featuring smoking on a comic book cover, like smoking on anything for the public, has its problems. Most of the time they get away with it by establishing the cigarettes are chewing gum or the pipe just blows bubbles. This is the first I’ve seen anyone try smoking butterflies, but I shouldn’t be surprised. As history records and as vape devices prove today, if it can fit in-between a person’s fingers, someone is smoking it.
•Ant-Man & the Wasp 1 (Waid/ Garron): Because insects ride subatomic particles, I guess? Either I didn’t pay attention in school, or I paid attention to the wrong stuff. This scenery works with almost any other character set than these two – X-Men are children of the atom, there are about five Ph.Ds in the Justice League (17 if you count each of Batman’s), hell even the Mercs for Money would find and lasso a particle of dark matter if someone offered Deadpool a taco button.
•Cardboard Kingdom GN (Chad Sell): The benevolent ruler and the brave knights did travel all across the map, righting wrongs and inspiring the people wherever they went, but for all their training and general virtuous manner, they would never know anything but defeat anytime it rained.
•Vagrant Queen 1 (Visaggio/ Smith): This woman may have royal blood, or the weight of a kingdom on her shoulders, or a destiny that proves to the world and herself that she’s capable of ruling, but if she goes around like this regularly, I wouldn’t take her seriously as a monarch. It’s not because I can’t handle a matriarchy, or even my basic skepticism toward inherited power. Just by looking at this single image, I would bet cash money that she shouts “pew pew” in her head. Whether firing her gun or changing channels on the remote or just pointing at something, every time there’s a little voice in her head whispering “pew pew”, and it’s hard to not chuckle at that. How would I even fake an expression of reserved awe or even resigned respect when I know her mental soundtrack is basically sound effects from every 80s cartoon ever? If you can, great, but I can’t. [6/10]
History’s written by the winners, but not rewritten unless the winners were VERY thorough. The royal line of Al-Feyr was overthrown in a military coup over a decade ago, and the history books call it a rescue of the people from a worthless leader. Princess Elida, who’s been on the run and doing a good job at it, could supply future historians with a different perspective, one the Republic and their admiralty would rather never get published. The time’s come for them to tie up loose ends, means means it’s time for Elida to run. So of course this is the moment an old associate of hers approaches with a job she cannot refuse.
On the one hand, this story knows exactly what it wants to be. It knows how to make the reader like a naughty character, how to make them hate a man in uniform, it knows when to shift scenes and when to drop the twist. The story soothes and comforts you in its reliable, methodical beats. On the other hand, it does not deviate from this formula. It changes the details and decorations, but everything else feels crafted from a template that’s been in use for decades.
In contrast, the artwork feels too young for the task. When a panel calls for a straight face or a profile shot of a character, the structure fails to stay consistent with other panels. When a panel calls for a challenging angle or a wide view, individual elements fail to stay consistent with other elements within the panel. There’s nothing wrong with the layout of the pages, and between the colors and outfits it’s easy to tell who’s who at any moment. The art serves its most basic purpose, but it’s not a pretty job.
Vagrant Queen reads like a military ration – it supplies all the essential materials to meet requirements, but can be left alone if there’s any available option.
•Justice League 1 (Snyder/ Morales): I unironically love this cover, because while everyone else has their first/ cosmic weapon drawn and is otherwise ready to strike, Batman’s tugging on his grappling line. “I don’t need superpowers or ordinance, I just… I need a closer look and a ten-second head start. Fifteen at most. C’mon, team, wait up! You do this every time!!”
See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues