Variant Coverage – July 18, 2018

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

How’s everyone’s summer turning out? Meeting new people? Creating pleasant memories that’ll last a lifetime? Uninterested in any of that because it’s too damn hot? Let’s open some comics and see if we can’t beat the heat.

Injustice vs. the Masters of the Universe 1 (Seeley/ Williams II): I could get even a little interested in this concept if He-Man wasn’t looking at his sword of power like it just insulted his mom. “Hey Adam, what’s the difference between your mom and Bruce Wayne’s mom? One’s a non-entity whose only influence on her son was her tragic death, and the other one’s named Martha.” (CC Note: Dang, that counts as two notches on the Battle Armor Figure!)

Bad Girls GN (De Campi/ Santos): What, they’re just a bunch of friends standing around. What, is the gun-shaped platform they’re standing on a bench? Are they wearing last year’s fashion? What’s so bad about them??

Clankillers 1 (Lewis/ Fuso): Look out, fractal geometric shapes forming patterns! They’re taking over the green spectrum of visible light and all we’ve got are sticks! We’re doomed! [6/10]

It is a time and place where brutality equalled power, and none were so powerful as Padraig the Grotesque. Here is man so cruel when his child subjects want to play, the easiest thing to do is put a severed head into a sack and kick it around. Two such children, the youngest princess Finola and an orphan boy Cillian, just so happen to play next to a monster-inhabited forest. Whether by delusional confidence or desperation, the princess wants to make a deal. She wants a chance to kill the mad god that inspired such insanity in her father. Contrary to the way these kinds of deal go, she’s almost giddy to begin paying the price.

Any hope for a clear distinction between good and evil need to be checked at the door before opening this book. There are no heroes or role models, just particular flavors of sadistic. Some enjoy cutting a person apart slowly, others want to pervert ideals, no one’s interested in things like city development or education reform. The characters all have in common the trait of delighting in their own circular arguments, negating any perception of raised stakes or goals. Between that and the convoluted series of events that play out in the forest sequence, the story never takes its own shape. It seems satisfied showcasing a mess of atrocities.

The visuals share the lack of interest in polishing anything up. Figures and most structures rely on proportion and a sense of realism, but the inks and colors might as well war with each other for the most prominence on the page. The lines are thick and dirty, and the palette would look watercolor if there was nuance to it. Mostly, the art indulges in drawing crude shenanigans, so if that’s your thing then here you go.

Clankillers reads like a jar of pickled summer squash – don’t let yourself feel guilty for not trying it if you don’t want to.

Nancy in Hell 1 (Torres/ Cicero): This only looks intimidating because there are no word balloons. In actuality, the two horny dudes are screaming “Wear eye protection! Wear eye protection!” Operating a chainsaw’s complicated enough, and any mistake ends up ten times worse that the same accident made with a simpler tool. Hell, even Doom Guy wears a helmet these days.

Life of Captain Marvel 1 (Stohl/ Pacheco): Superhero or college co-ed home to do some laundry? Can’t it be both?

Star Trek Terra Incognita 1 (Tipton & Tipton/ Shasteen): I always forget how much Officer Barclay annoyed me on TNG. His top five character motivations were all whining, and the next five focused on holodeck fixations. If this is another one of his messed-up delusions he’s playing out, I could see him in either position and he’d probably complain or get aroused by it.

Aphrodite V 1 (Hill/ Spokes): Remaking RoboCop with a female Officer Murphy could actually add a lot to franchise. It opens up the path to explore how corporations seek to objectify and control women, the casually sexist remarks cops and robbers make would suddenly generate tension and threat, the link between Murphy and her child would take on some new dimension. Of course it’d be controversial as hell, and I’m betting the first big debate would be about whether to redo the scene where Robo shoots a hostage-taker in the nads.

Batman 51 (King/ Weeks): I could spin some abnormal scenario where this becomes a scene of casual domestic life, but I’m not going to. Batman’s trying to choke out Mr. Freeze. I suppose if you just really have to choke someone out, might as well be the guy whose physiology is so slow he doesn’t need to breathe more than once an hour, but that’s some cold comfort. (CC Note: Chill out.) [8/10]

Not to spoil Batman 50 for you, but [this is where spoilers would go if I were dropping spoilers but I’m not so there!]. The Dark Knight’s not handling this well. He doesn’t have to, no one expects him to be Mr. Positive about it, but it’s creeping into his work. Three young women are dead, seemingly unrelated, until Batman pokes around and notices something strange. Deduction leads to clue finding leads to more deduction, which brings Mr. Freeze to the cops with multiple contusions. Mr. Freeze says he confessed because Batman tortured it out of him. The prosecution says Mr. Freeze has killed, now he’s caught, and that’s the way things should be. What’s the jury going to decide?

I’m not sure who thought Batman needed fresh anguish, but I have to admit he wears it well. So many Batman stories focus on how focused and capable he is against insurmountable odds, it was about time somebody told us what Batman does when he knows he screwed up. In classic fashion, it involves isolation from his loved ones who cover for him because there’s mutual enabling going on I guess? Superhero comics are not where anyone should turn to for examples of healthy mental behavior. But at its core, this is a murder mystery with a generous portion of twists and turns, and comics are great for that.

Lee Weeks could be easily and favorably compared to Joe Kubert when describing his style. Forgive a bit of pinching, and the faces express a deep range of emotions effectively. He knows how to frame a panel to capture the best angle for the moment, and how to arrange such panels on a page to hold the reader’s interest in the right place. It’s not dramatically dark all the time, rather it’s precise with how much gloom or noir a certain moment in the story needs. It’s not the normal house style that so many DC books use currently, and yet I wouldn’t call it outside the mainstream, either.

Batman reads like a cold glassful of water to the face – bracing, a bit surprising, perhaps unwelcome at first but ultimately refreshing.

Shaolin Cowboy Start Trek 1 (Geof Darrow): That donkey did NOT sign up for this. Carrying huge loads, walking incredible distances, endlessly hearing the same four Juan Valdez jokes, fine, but no one ever said anything about one-on-one time with carnivorous giant lizards. That worked in one franchise because it was scripted, don’t even try arguing theirs was a healthy romantic relationship because you can. Not. Win.

Madame Cat GN (Nancy Pena): I loved everything everything about this until I noticed the cooler. Don’t make kitty clumps where you eat, that’s just basic.

Deadlife 1 (Gaudin/ Mamba): “Billy, it’s a proud moment when a father can take their son and show them where their food comes from. Behold: the last refuge of the living. This is where we’ll feast until the world ends.”
“My name’s Steve, and this is an abandoned school yard. We’re just ten feet away from where I ate my teacher.”
“In my defense, young man, I lost my eyeballs a while back.”

Euthanauts 1 (Howard/ Robles): Is this how we develop heads in jars? Just design space suits that eventually stop worrying about the body so long as the head’s functional? That sounds like a slightly more boring method than on Futurama, but it’s a pretty good plan.

The Mall 1 (Handfield & Haick/ Louriero): And today on Unholy Mash-Ups, we’ve got a young man’s coming of age with a little help from his role models and his friends Smith & Wesson in Boy Meets Cruel, Cruel World! I just hope they don’t run the “very special episode” where we learn one of the characters is actually from a well-adjusted home and was hiding it because they were worried they wouldn’t fit in. Or live. [8/10]

Lena, Diego, and Dallas have more in common than they’ll ever admit to anyone, and that’s before things get interesting. They all go to Edison High School, they all have barriers keeping them from making friends well, and they all have home situations they’re not proud of. They’re starting to think ahead about what to do after high school. One more thing they have in common: they’ve all suddenly gotten into a work study program that could cover college fully. The letters just tell them to meet the manager at the mall for details and their assignments. It gives no indication that they’ll be jumping straight into the deep end of the pool, professionally, personally, and criminally. Something that didn’t get printed on the company letterhead is that the sponsor was a crime boss with more than one secret left dangling.

The cover and first few pages set up a “typical” idyllic setting, complete with 80’s movie homages and inflated high school drama. It looks, sounds, and feels like an after-school special where kids learn a lesson or something. This is a trap. The bait is saccharine slices of life, and vicious scenes including bullying and sexual abuse are the bar that will crush whatever reaches for it. Like hair styles or accessories, the characters’ suffering works toward distinguishing them from each other and their peers in general. It’s ugly to see play out, but essential to the story and remarkable to see as so few creators are brave enough to touch on such themes. The narrative has a few ways it can go from here, and while any of them should be entertaining, readers should be aware that they won’t be pretty.

In contrast, the art’s lovely. The linework is clean and precise, the figures and scenery all use realistic proportions if not proto-referencing, and yet the overall appearance avoids coming across as stiff. Quick glances and fast reading will provide all the essential information to progress, but taking just a little time to study each panel yields benefits – sometimes it’s a detail that could prove a plot point later, other times a subtle visual gag. Rather than try to illustrate every character the same way – straight-laced or muscular or curvy – the drawing and design goes out of its way to fit the character. This kind of variety brings depth and weight to the book in ways too easily taken for granted, so I point them out here.

The Mall reads like a shot of espresso – bitter and jolting, and yet there are a lot of people finding they need one now and then.

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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