Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
Who’s excited for GenCon this weekend? It’s me. That’s the only valid answer, I don’t know if anyone else is and therefore they can’t count. Deal with it by reading comics.
•Harley Quinn 47 (Humphries/ Timms): “Ha ha, you fools! You thought I was a factory direct replacement, when in truth I’m a knock-off from a third-world planet! I’m in your divine supermachine, and I’m invalidating your warranty! Good luck getting tech support to take your calls now, mwa ha ha ha!”
•Leviathan 1 (Layman/ Pittara): They’ve actually been kissing for over 20 minutes. Any time they’re about to stop, the red scaly perv back there threatens to pick them up and mush their faces together like action figures. As it turns out, just as we have shippers for certain fictional romances, so do extra dimensional monsters for human couples. These two’ve only met twice, but the big guy noticed they both order their coffee the same way and now insists they’re his OTP. [8/10]
Ryan’s got almost everything he wants: he’s got friends, he’s got monster movies, he’s got a lady that’s into him. What he doesn’t have is enough beer for them all, so he runs out to grab a case, figuring he’s the host and that not much can happen while he’s gone. The guy knows that some of his friends are really just jerks that show up sometimes. Little does Ryan know that such jerks are packing tomes of forgotten rituals, but he figures it out when an enormous red kaiju erupts from the ground and heads straight for the party, annihilating everything in his path. Will two cases of beer be enough to chill it out?
From the sit-com narration that establishes the status quo to the explicit death scenes punctuated with post-mortem twitching, this story’s all about the camp value. The repetitive character intros of crazies obsessed with the end times cram about five different tongues into one cheek (enjoy that image), it’s that aware of what it’s doing. None of the characters stand out as unique, but remain satisfied filling their role, whether leading man or dorky background kid or multicultural friend dispensing wise-if-uncomfortable truths. It’s just as well there’s no one to get particularly attached to, because once the title disaster shows up it’s all fire and destruction.
To that end, the visuals gleefully rejoice in fire and destruction. The cartoony style of illustration bears no small resemblance to Frank Quietly, only with less interest in proportion. The details and designs add enough depth to encourage the reader to treat it seriously – there may be a comically large dragon knocking over skyscrapers like an energized delinquent in a cow herd, but that doesn’t mean the story’s free from tragedy. There’s a wealth of in-jokes and gags hidden throughout the book, waiting to reward anyone that looks close enough to find them.
Leviathan reads like a teenager’s diary – a tale of impossible tragedy and woe that’ll make you chuckle.
•3 Story – The Secret History of the Giant Man GN (Matt Kindt): So the front image of a story about a man three stories tall features him towering over builds at least a dozen stories tall? I guess he could be insecure about his height, but you wouldn’t think he’d overcompensate in this direction. Unless he’s insecure about a certain other measurement, and this is how tall he’d have to be for it to appear to others as large as he feels he should be. I’m talking about ring size, get your heads out of the gutter!
•Carson of Venus 1 (Mills/ Wolfer & Mesarcia): “‘Let’s get a pet’, he said. ‘Make it two or three so they don’t get lonely’, he said. ‘They’ll bring so much love into our lives’, he said. Still think that last session was worth the money, Shnookums?”
“Okay, ONE: I wanted dogs. TWO: you were supposed to get them food on the way to pick them up. And THREE: Neither of us realized that John Carter recommending a relationship counselor was the reddest red flag ever, Honey!”
•Raid 1 of 4 (Masters/ Setiawan): These two read the part of the invitation that said “Business Casual” very differently. [7/10]
Bringing down criminal overlords like Jakartan patriarch Bejo is dangerously tricky stuff. It may be satisfying to burst into a boss’s place, grab him, and shoot your way out, but to actually lock him up for more than two minutes everything needs to be done perfectly and above reproach. Special Tactics Officer Teja didn’t see it that way, which is why he’s languishing in a prison cell surrounded by crooks yelling over each other about how they’ll kill him. They might have to contend with Bejo’s three elite assassins, who need to demonstrate that they won’t let anyone harass their boss. And they all might have to contend with the vicious loner prisoner Yuda, who’s got his own secrets and business to keep.
There’s a primer in the front of the book that provides the low-down on the main characters and how they fit, and aside from that there’s little help for readers new to the franchise. The characters have backstories and motivations, but these are fuel for the action scenes and not critical to the plot. Don’t expect much in the way of development or thematic exploration – very little in this story happens for a reason, more like what happens was just waiting for an excuse. That’s not to say the narrative is without value – it sets up some dramatic and intense conflicts both verbal and physical – just understand that this is the fiction version of junk food.
Comics come at fight scenes at a natural disadvantage against movies. Movies bring their own motion and kinetic energy, while comics depend on the audience to fill in the gaps between panels. The art team knows this, and rather than try to replicate a movie’s motion, plays to the strengths of still images. This comic, for instance, provides the reader all the time they need to process everything that happens under a strobe light at a club, and pauses individual strikes so they can appreciate the damage done under clothes and tissue. They’re not perfect solutions, but they’re distinctive approaches to the problem.
The Raid reads like a nesting doll – there’s a fight inside an argument inside a conflict inside a war.
•Teenage Mutant Ninja Cerebi (Sim & Hobbs/ Sim & Dore): Don’t tell me Cerebus is getting in on the anime-spinoff mix. I feel it in my bones that no one wants to see a team of Cerebi transform and smoosh together into a slightly-larger Conan allegory, nor does anyone want to see the little aardvark stripped naked by magical energy and squeezed into a sailor uniform. First of all, I’m sorry I put that image in your head (CC Note: It’s about time you apologized for something!!), and second, you just know that Dave Sim wants to craft such a story. He probably has a notebook full of school uniform designs and tragic childhoods just shaking to be published.
•Robots vs. Princesses 1 (Matthy/ Chapuis): What’re robots’ beef with princesses? I get why princesses don’t like robots – they were perfectly happy with the fire-breathing dragons guarding their towers, but automation pushed them out of the workforce, not to mention that the robots can’t barbecue to save their steel. You’d think they’d get it, but they do not.
•Animosity 15 (Bennett/ Maiolo): I can’t wait for the comprehensive conspiracy theory of pyramids to take hold of the news cycle: Aliens wanted to communicate with the dead, and because they knew it would take a long time they made granaries that also reminded them of what each day’s balanced meal looked like. How else would you explain the ancient Egyptian obsession with precise measurement, but that they were desperate to conform to the dietary standards of the pharaohs, who demanded six grains, five veggies, and one child & her pets daily.
•Seeds 1 (Nocenti/ Aja): I’d be thrilled if the bee population wasn’t endangered, just lost in a maze of bushes or paperwork or that ghost corn from Field of Dreams. Now hold on a second, is this some kind of reboot of the story about Theseus killing the minotaur, only the minotaur is made of bees? Because I don’t think that counts as a minotaur. As a cosplay it’s fine, but not as a dungeon boss. [8/10]
There are two kinds of people in the world, one for each side of the massive wall: the kind that’ve embraced humanity’s symbiotic relationship with technology, and the kind that’re working themselves mad to abandon the stuff. Between the two you’ve got people like Astra (a journalist hungry to write a proper story about the growing divide), Lola (a young woman ravaged by a flesh eating virus and a unique taste in romantic partners), and everyone not in denial about the planet’s eco-system. The world’s just a couple steps away from a shift in balance that’ll shrug all current life off it – power brokers know it, beekeepers know it, even the interplanetary specimen collectors know it. What, the what?
Under the surface of a proto-dystopian society and voices being clever at each other, there’s a lot going on in this book. Themes such as ecological balance, the value of life, the meaning of relationships, and security vs. privacy all bask in the spotlight without hogging it. The narrative never follows one thread too deeply to lose the others, and in fact breaks itself off to help the audience know when they’ve changed perspective. Speaking of those, each of the main characters identify their goals within two pages of their introduction, proceeding to distinguish themselves by pursuing them with their varying passions and resources. There’s very little telling and a whole lot of showing, which is how it’s supposed to be. If what you’re interested in is light escapism with flashy figures, this may not be your thing.
Strict adherence to human proportion, calculated but uncomplicated panel layout, usage of the same panel to mark the beats – this is what you can expect with any David Aja book, and it’s what you’ll find here. It’s not a style that immediately makes the reader think “clever and funny”, yet ultimately succeeds at this. The fun doesn’t come from the direct visuals, it comes from the framing and perspective. Full color would have added something substantial if done right, but I can understand the decision to go black-and-white: it forces the reader to process what they’re seeing and contribute whatever it is they think is missing.
Seeds reads like an upper-class wine tasting – vibrant discussion of particular vintages and grounds, perhaps forgetting that it’s okay to simply enjoy things.
•TMNT Body Count HC (Eastman/ Bisley): Think to yourselves how weird birthdays are. It’s the only time when it’s socially acceptable to put something that’s on fire right in a person’s face. There are plenty of other holidays and special occasions, but I can’t think of any that allow to just hand someone active combustion. And yet they’re just so happy to be giving this away, it’s almost more harmful not to accept. How does that old saying go, “Keep your friends at minimum safe distance, and your enemies closer”?
See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues