Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
I’m not fanatic about it, I just try to be mindful of the publishers I review each week, in particular I try not to review two books from the same company. It avoids favoritism and is an easy way to make sure fundamentally different titles get needed attention. This week I had to stuff that policy into a drawer. Image Publishing just had so much out this week, so much of it fascinating, and I’m not going to try working around it. They brought it, and good for them.
•It Came Out on a Wednesday 1 (Various): We’re not going to say who among our customers resembles this figure. They won’t even notice, and really we don’t need to burst that bubble. We’ll just mock them behind their back and offline so that no one but us is aware. You know, like back when Customer Service meant something.
•Outpost Zero 1 (McKeever/ Tefenkgi): “Everyone get together! This selfie’s going to be great!”
“Is anyone else worried about the purple lightning coming over the horizon?”
“Nah, that’s part of the show. This is a Prince revival concert, you gotta expect a lot more than Purple Rain.” [9/10]
(CC Note: That one hurt. You’re on notice.)
In the distant future, intrepid members of the human race embraced Mother Earth for the last time before embarking on colony ships, each with an idea of where they wanted to go and a cargo room full of hope and supplies. At least one of these ships crashed on a planet so cold and wind-torn it might as well be uninhabitable, but for generations they’ve been trying to live there anyway. Work is compulsory, the sky is artificial, many personal freedoms are seen as unaffordable luxuries, and they’ve been unable to get a signal in or out of the planet since they landed, but so long as they keep trying, they’ll keep surviving. Alea and the other members of her generation will soon step up and take on the responsibility of maintaining the ninth circle of hell they call home. Some are more excited than others.
Anyone looking to this title for a light-hearted, optimistic sci-fi story needs to look somewhere else. Look over there at the flowers, they’re so pretty, nothing depressing about them! …
To those that’re hanging in there, this book addresses teen suicide. The book’s world demands men and women endure a lifestyle they can’t control and never chose, with the only reward a possibility that a miracle might come from someplace that’ll improve their lot. LSS: this is the kind of sci-fi that takes current affairs and twists them up for a fresh perspective. The main characters run the spectrum of personality types from energized to resigned to spiteful; you’ll find someone you want to read more about, and probably someone you’ll like. If this sounds like your jam, grab it – you won’t regret it.
The art style aims closer to realism than cartoony, hopes to communicate much without appearing busy, and largely hits the mark. The environment isn’t just a background for the characters to stand on, it’s their motivation and nemesis and macguffin all in one freeze-dried package. The design and rendering make it clear that the creative team understands how important that is. Wide landscape shots and close-ups of characters all appear to carry the theme of technology made to mimic a living environment, but not designed for that purpose. The visuals don’t strike out in any one area, but they absolutely present the colony and all its lore as well as anyone could want.
Outpost Zero reads like a stone monument – it doesn’t need flash or spectacle to grab your interest, and it’s understandable if that sounds intimidating.
•Transformers Unicron 1 (Roberts/ Milne): There are artists that can render an entire forest with a single line. There are artists that can convey a lifetime of pain between two panels. A great artist knows how to excite the minds of thousands with a simple, everyday image. And then there’s this.
•Come Again HC (Nate Powell): The story of one woman’s brave struggle against an old tree root sticking up right where she wants to plant her new rose bush.
•Gear OGN (Doug TenNapel): So if a cat falls off a mountain, does that count as four out of nine lives lost? If four go up the mountain and only three come back, is that the feline equivalent of 127 Hours? You know they’re making everything so much harder on themselves by not bringing rope, but honestly, they probably know they’d lose too much daylight rolling it into a giant ball and playing with it.
•Little Girl 1 of 4 (Shand/ Pelaez): “Why am I mad? I asked for a rainfall shower head and you just threw me out here, I think you know exactly why I’m mad!”
(FYI: This is set in Indiana. This might be of interest to people in Indiana.)
•Die! Die! Die! 1 (Kirkman/ Burnham): They’re clearly upset about all the blood that’s caked around and on top of them (which you know are on top of older blood stains), but notice that they don’t say anything about the mess of shell casings and clips on the ground. Those are clearly their fault, but do they recognize their contribution to the mess? Hell no. Are they giving a single thought to who’ll need to clean it up. Hell. No. And the suffering woman in the office that’ll have to find a way to explain fifty consecutive dry-cleaning bills as a business expense, are they wondering what they’re putting her through? Take a guess. [8/10]
Picture a world like ours, where government officials shamelessly work to keep themselves in power and ignoring the people they’re supposed to help. Now imagine that there’s a secret organization purposed to eliminate those loathsome linchpins in the legal system. Now imagine that organization’s led by someone not only devoted to keeping government working in the public interest, but knows when to use that power to avoid killing. Sounds pretty awesome, right? It usually is, but someone’s figured out who’s doing such good work and is managing their punishment rapidly. The agency’s best field agent’s captured, and it’s up to the second-best to find him before he’s sold to the highest bidder (or killed by the freelancer with the most guns).
I want to take one moment to appreciate something here: this was a surprise in an era where there are no surprises. Kirkman explains in the afterward that his goal and the goal of everyone involved was to produce, publish, and distribute a book that no one in any comic shop expected. And they did it. The internet CAN be bypassed!
Now as to the book itself, it’s pretty good. I truly enjoy the escapist irony behind a benevolent assassination squad. Certain tropes like a drug-snorting administrator or clashing bureaucracies may trigger nostalgia if you’ve read The Boys or Transmetropolitan, and there’re other comparisons to find. There’s not much time to get to know the characters beyond their over-the-top performances, but that’s all this kind of story demands. It’s the plot that pushed the narrative forward, and it accomplishes this at a fast past without tripping over itself. Essentially, it’s a well-scripted action story.
The visuals compose a story with all the subtlety and understatement of a monster truck on fire crashing into a match factory. The various agents find new and exciting ways to make guns lethal, jump and kick with impossible grace, and when the time comes to perform amateur surgery, no details are spared. The characters can appear stiff at times, but this is exception more than rule. For the artist, this is a work of playful experimentation, and it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement.
Die! Die! Die! reads like the pie-in-the-face gag – it comes out of nowhere, no one does it anymore, and that’s just part of why it works so well.
•Amazing Spider-Man 1 (Spencer/ Ottley): Wow, Spider-Man’s rogues gallery looks pumped. There’s so much tension and energy, but what’s got me curious is that they all have the Wall Crawler’s back, as if they’re teaming up. Now what could’ve happened that would side the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man with some of the most vicious villains available? Oh, Nick Spencer’s starting his run? That’d do it. Makes perfect sense now.
•Relay 1 (Thompson, Bromburg, & Cates/ Brown): Ah, so they’ve attempted to compose a vision of the hell for men with beards. Behold, a stunning portrait of a patriarch with majestic facial hair, affixed to a monument to be seen from miles around, eternally unable to stretch out the shuttle pod itching at his nose. A chin scratcher just out of reach, like an oasis teasing a thirsty man toward insanity. Yeah, that looks about right.
•League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – The Tempest 1 (Moore/ O’Neill): “I’ll stab this book. I’ll do it, I’m crazy! My backup’s a ren faire couple with a laser blaster, and the last people that underestimated me are on that capsizing boat wishing they hadn’t. I haven’t had my morning crumpet yet. No one knows what I’ll do!”
•Casper & Hot Stuff 1 (Shand & Wolfer/ Shadower & Galvan): Well no wonder the tiny devil’s so mad at the plucky little ghost… between the flagrant grandstanding and scoring from out of bounds, that ex-brat’s one of the worst foulers I’ve ever seen in the sport. That devil must have the patience of a saint if this kid’s not being benched.
•Farmhand 1 (Rob Guillory): Huh. So that’s how you grow palm trees. [8/10]
(CC Note: This is your last warning!)
Zeke Jenkins left the family farm years ago after a bad argument with his father, Jed. Today he’s been invited back to start fresh. Since then, Zeke’s raised two kids and written a few books. Zeke’s father created a whole new field of bioengineering and is growing replacement body parts in ways that gives the unwary nightmares. Zeke wants to believe his father’s sincere, just as badly as his family hopes they’ll ever sleep peacefully again. And while Jed shows his son around the most lucrative farm around, a child spy shows himself into the main research lab. What he finds isn’t exactly rosy.
Farmhand is a narrative hybrid of The Lottery and Soylent Green, complete with god complexes and blurred lines between man and food. Zeke presents himself as a decent guy and a good family man, but his father Jed steals every scene he appears in. Whether threatening to spoil his grandkids rotten or condemn intruders to a painful death, Jed sounds fully sincere. He’s the kind of mad scientist that knows exactly how to be kind, and has no trouble choosing to be otherwise. Between the mysterious-yet-cheerful sister, the ambiguous value of samples, the town’s ignorant tolerance of a literal organ farm, and another half dozen dangling plot threads, the story’s burdened with choice as far as where it goes from here, but the good news is that any path should be rewarding.
Anyone that read Guillory’s work on Chew can expect more of the same here. The characters are drawn like caricatures, with visual gags squeezed into the foreground, background, and any level that’ll accommodate them. The worst thing a reader could do to themselves is look at the cartoony style and expect a children’s story. Like Skottie Young’s I Hate Fairyland, the exaggerated nature of the art pushes the reader’s guard down for some visceral panels and imagery. Not for the timid.
Farmhand reads like a compulsive liar’s autobiography – it’s far too incredible to be real, but it’s presented so dry and orderly that no one wants to call them on it.
•She Could Fly 1 (Cantwell/ Morazzo): It’s a wonderful thing to reach for your dreams. When your dreams reach back and beg you to pull them down to earth because of how scary it is up there, it’s okay to relabel your dream as a mistake of youthful ignorance.
•Superman 1 (Bendis/ Prado & Reis): Get that smirk off your face before one of your teammates suggests your “S” stands for “steroids”.
(OWwwW That hur-oh no)
(CC Note: Assuming we leave Ryan at all functional, he’ll see you next week.)
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues