Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
As I type this, it’s raining out. It’s been raining off and on all day. There’s something in the air that, while not driving people mad, definitely agitates them. I’ve heard baristas and dental hygienists both fret over how tense the day feels, how on edge everyone they’re encountered behaved, and I absolutely get it.
So you know what? Screw the day. Screw the rain. Screw the anxious zeitgeist, because we’ve got comics, and they’re still some of the best escapist mechanisms on the planet. Fite me IRL if U disagree/ are dumb!
•Babyteeth 12 (Cates/ Brown): Blood drops keep falling on my head
But that doesn’t mean my life
Is chained to my death bed
Dying’s not for me cause,
I’m never gonna stop the pain
I’m in a frenzy
Nothing’s stopping me
•Volition 1 (Parrott/ Francia): Everyone gets distracted by dangling keys. Hold them up, shake ‘em a bit so they make noise, and 19 people out of 20 will turn to check it out. This is a great way to distract a crowd for an instant. But when you need to distract 30 characters for more than a second, a loose set of keys will only unlock disappointment. [7/10]
The secrets of consciousness have been cracked open, and artificial intelligences walk among humanity. Some humans aren’t too keen on the idea, but from a legal standpoint at least, robots are citizens. Now they can enjoy the uniquely human experiences of being told they’re obsolete, and fighting for basic medical care. Their first plague – a mental degenerative virus called Rust – has yet to inspire an effective treatment, though plenty of conspiracy theories are making the rounds. Maybe the most virulent is the one that says the mother of all AIs, the reclusive Dr. Elizabeth Traymor, can cure Rust. It’s a fantasy, nothing more, and by the way there’s a nurse, a robber, and a 1st-gen android that need to be destroyed. Completely unrelated, I assure you.
Instead of a light premise or jumping right into it, this book starts with the birth of a central character and moves right into a condensed history lesson. After being assaulted with feels and trivia, the pace levels out with a heist gone wrong paired with a medical drama. As for the main cast, there’s a top-of-the-line nurse android whose existence helped define AI as a new species, and then there’s a serial thief built like a tank but trained like a troop commander. There’s just a lot going on in Volition, possibly too much to take in at once. Don’t let the sassy robots fool you, this may not be heavy reading like Maus or Sculptor are heavy reading, but it’ll take some effort to fully absorb.
The art style holds itself to a high standard of detail and proportion, leaving realism behind only when it suggests refining it further. Early generations of androids are designed to be blocky, with easily distinguished parts that could be replaced or modded without much effort, while later generations attempt muscle and skin tissue so successfully you’ll think Uncanny Valley is a type of salad dressing. The coloring is feverishly computer-generated, taking the trouble to reposition reflections on armor plates depending on where the light source is. For more casual readers, it’ll look very good, and the more inquisitive reader can have fun studying the different layers piled onto each image.
Volition reads like an advanced yoga session – it sounds intimidating, but working through it can yield definite rewards.
•Edge of Spider-Geddon 1 (MacKay/ Sandoval): I don’t know what’s worse. Is it that Marty McFly’s apparently a Spider-Man in some reality now and yet I’m not, or is it that he’s attempting to crowd-surf crotch first? Was there some editorial movement at Marvel where every comic needed to feature super-pelvises at some point? Pelvisus? Pelvisi? A murder of pelvis? How’s that work?
•Tony Stark Iron Man 3 (Slott/ Schiti): I have a question for the cover artist, Alex Lozano: Who told you the market demanded Iron Man’s taint? Because I sit here with my eyes hit by armored crotch, trying to imagine who this is meant to satisfy, and I’m drawing a blank. I bet the disco-tech background that would kill as a blacklight poster (Marvel, make it) was supposed to distract us from the jacked jockstrap, and if you follow the twisting pattern it leads to Tony’s hand, but come on. Don’t insult us by claiming innocence, you knew what you illustrated, all I want to know is why.
•Pearl 1 (Bendis/ Gaydos): Which would you rather have – a poison ivy rash, or a gunshot wound? Gunshot wounds are horrible, but maaaaaaaaaan do I hate rashes. Those things stay on you forever, and what makes rashes worse is that no one lets you off work for contracting them! These whiny pills hog all the attention just because someone put a little hole in them, meanwhile I’m scratching my skin off layers at a time thanks to an allergic fire and everyone’s all “get out of the bushes, I’ll call the cops!” Crybabies. [2/10]
Like so many other artistic fields, there’s a subculture behind body modification. Lots of people dabble in it, but if you go in deep enough you’ll quickly find how much you didn’t know. For instance, there’s Pearl, a young tattoo artist who herself was worked on by a modern master. Her list of clients isn’t long, but they fiercely appreciate her work. She’s satisfied with the gentle pace her career is taking, and enjoys casually hanging out with people that understand what she raves about, when the shooting begins. Against all odds, a good gal with a gun ended the the shooting, and Pearl was that gal. Now her skills are in much higher demand, only they don’t want ink.
Hoo-kay. Single, career-minded woman that’s no stranger to violence: check. Attempting to bank on connections to an isolated subculture: check. Bendis has a type that he keeps going back to in his narratives. Loads of creatives do, there’s zero wrong with it. Pearl’s slightly unique in that her profession is as much personal expression as it is talent.
Likewise, Gaydos and ink go together like water and more water. If one were to take his style apart, it might seem more flawed than anything else – his lines are sloppy, his subjects don’t consistently match up with each other – but putting them all together results in something more potent than a photograph. Each panel doesn’t simply capture a frozen moment, it attaches intention behind each element’s presence and why he chose than moment for capture. There’s almost nothing of interest for him to draw – mostly it’s two people talking with a subtext of sex or violence – but if there were I bet I’d like it.
So if I’m enjoying things about it, why am I only giving it a 2/10? Because Powers is on infinite hiatus. It’s because Scarlet died quietly out of everyone’s line of sight. It’s because United States of Murder skipped town without a forwarding address. Whether by competing obligations or sudden onset culture discomfort, the writer’s abandoning projects and I don’t have the energy to invest in another one. I don’t believe any artist owes their audience anything, but once upon a time there was a bald guy who got name dropped in space and he wrote “The End” on his last page. If Bendis won’t eat his meat, he can’t have any pudding.
Pearl reads like a phone call from your ex – you can handle it, you may even feel excited, but the healthier move is to just move on.
•EXtermination 1 of 5 (Brisson/ Larraz): “I don’t like the X-Men franchise anymore.”
“Why? Is it because you no longer identify them as feared outcasts?”
“Is it because their whole roster is so entwined with time paradoxes that it takes a five-dimensional chart to keep track of everyone?”
“Is it because Rogue and Gambit got married, so you have to remake your Top 5 Fictional Crush list?”
“It’s because there’s a huge crack down the middle, you idiot!”
•Cable & Deadpool Annual 1 (Walker/ Diaz et al): It’s trendy and hip to hate on Rob Liefeld. To his credit, he stands by every drawing he ever released, and he’s mostly aware of where it falls on the art spectrum. Here’s what I’m mad at him for: he shamelessly avoids drawing feet because – and the industry accepts this – he’s bad at drawing them. So there’s a generation of comic viewers reared on the idea that the successful strategy is if you’re bad at something, you shouldn’t make any effort to improve at it, just obscure it in whatever way you can think of.
•Sheets GN (Brenna Thummler): Exactly how much starch do they use? You’re not supposed to put it in the dryer, are you? I do my own laundry but I don’t do fancy stuff – if it can’t handle the regular cycle, I just don’t wear it. Please @ me with clothing advice, I’m just a couple of steps above Vagrant.
•Crowded 1 (Sebela/ Stein & Brandt): This will be how millenials die. Not a plague, not climate change, but because everyone else shouted “Duck!”, and they thought that meant they should make a duck face. Use your words carefully, people, because they matter! [8/10]
Every part of Charlie’s life involves the internet. She works part time through a dozen online schedulers, her daily diet posts to her profile as she orders it, she’d attach a view counter to her soul if it could help pay the bills. Charlie lives by microtransactions, and thanks to the generous donations of a group of like-minded citizens, she’ll die by them. The largest crowd-funded hit mark ever is the little red dot twitching toward her head, and knowing nothing better to do, she goes right back to the internet for help. Enter Vita: a freelance bodyguard with a strict routine, a fast response rating, and no patience for delusional people. Vita thinks if she takes Charlie’s case, Charlie’ll pipe down about her overall profile rating, but there’s something they both want.
This entertained me. The pacing is set too fast to ask logistical questions, every action and line of dialogue reinforces a tone of gleeful mischief, and the characters are perfect foils for each other. Charlie’s scorching presence meeting Vita’s icy demeanor constantly annoy and provoke each other, and that’s not getting old any time soon. From the gun-toting grandma to the sulking mob, every level of the story involves itself in how the pair get in and out of problems. At times, this chaotic method of narrative undercuts itself, particularly when you can’t trust the narrators. Ultimately, this doesn’t get in the way of a fun time.
Visually, this book knows exactly what it is, what it wants to do, and just does it. When two people talk over fast food, they’re fidgety but not falsely intense. When a car chase sends three people to intensive care, their bodies launch but they don’t fly off into the sky a la Team Rocket. There’s a set range to how much energy the style shows off, and within those boundaries it plays zealously. Facial expressions turn out to be the belle of the ball, absolutely shameless compositions that accomplish in one panel what might take prose an entire novel to flesh out.
Crowded reads like a good fart joke – it’s not high-brow, but it will amuse and endure.
C U nxt wk!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues