Variant Coverage – August 22, 2018

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

In case the past six years of regular updates didn’t make this clear, I like comics. Like any other medium, when they’re bad they’re fun to laugh at, but when they’re great they arrange a special place in your soul for them to rest in forever. There are examples simple enough for young children to understand, and examples so rich and complex they simply can’t be fully enjoyed with a single read. I’m happy to be living during a time when they’re finally being recognized by the larger reading community as a valid way to contribute to publishing. There’s some that haven’t clued in yet, but every mission of progress leaves a few stuck-in-the-muds behind.

For everyone that calls reading for what it actually is, here’re some new things to read!

Beasts of Burden Wise Dogs & Eldritch Men 1 (Dorkin/ Dewey): You know, I was just fine when humans had the monopoly on demonic rituals. When I imagine the world melting into a hellscape of our own hubris, I’m more concerned for the pets than anyone else. It’s unsettling to picture a small gathering of four-legged friends in a zoo or pound or slaughterhouse scratching out a summoning circle and tossing artifacts in there, mostly because they have so much reason to unleash hell.

Cold Spots 1 (Bunn/ Torres): I’m sorry, this is too much. You can either have an illuminati-like organization, or a secret underground movement, but both crosses the line into trope-hogging. Not to mention it’s hard to believe there’s enough administrative and cloaking power to form even one shadowy society. You know how we describe leading the unleadable as herding cats? Alien civilizations mean the same thing when they say “corralling humans”. [7/10]

Call it climate change or the creeps, either way there are pockets of freezing temperatures roaming around and occasional strikes of people disappearing. This would normally be fine for Mr. Kerr, a normally elusive guy that happens to be really good at finding people when he’s paid, but one of the persons of interest happened to be the daughter of an old boss with a few truckloads of emotional baggage. Kerr’s strongest lead shows him to the frosty armpit of America, complete with an island that cut off tourists from visiting. Curiosity peaked, Kerr checks into a local motel to wait for the next available boat, and he shouldn’t expect to get his security deposit back.

There are two distinct narrative threads, and they don’t always run parallel. One is the missing persons case and the painfully hinted-at history between investigator and client, which bends over backwards to avoid giving too much of itself away. The other is the wind-chill effect that makes those who experience it feel like a grave just walked over them. The victims don’t share much aside from goosebumps and a possible history of abusive behavior. In both stories, the reader finds conspicuously few details and absolutely no one to root for. There are plenty of characters to be suspicious of, characters that blow their first impression, and characters that don’t do anything objectionable, but we never meet anyone that we’d want to see succeed. With so many mysteries blowing through and no character to anchor the reader, there’s nothing for the reader to connect with.

Visually, this title borrows enough key elements of noir to nail its spot as a detective-mystery, as well as the crisp and lifeless stillness found in a psychological horror story. Neither genre prides itself on vibrant colors or subtle tones, and so while definitely absent, they’re not missed. The design and linework follow realistic proportions and at the same time seem to avoid realism. It could be that someone took a photo for each panel and simply drew confident-yet-messy lines over it. The overall effect is a small but significant detachment from the real world. The reader may appreciate the proximity of this style to what they see normally, or object at how little work it does to display its monstrous side, it’s something that each reader’ll have to decide for themselves.

Cold Spots reads like the kind of perfect that’s the enemy of good – it takes so much care to avoid mistakes that it fails to succeed.

Sullivan’s Sluggers HC (Smith/ Stokoe): Mighty Casey needs to make a sanity check…

Trials and Tribulations of Miss Tilney 1 (Doub/ Elkins & St. Pierre): It’s one thing for a massive tiger to jump at you with its paws in some kind of half-mocked scary position – it’s not actually attacking, it’s imitating what people do when they sneak behind each other in the dark. But if you look at the lady, you can see just a slightly upturned eyebrow on her otherwise stoic face. It’s like this cat has been trying to scare her the exact same way every twenty feet for the past five miles, and at first it was scary, then it was cute, and now she’s pondering whether or not the furball simply can’t communicate that it’s suffering from an embolism.

Curse Words Summer Special (Soule/ Quinones): Baywatch: Narnia! Wizards Gone Wild! Watch these 1,800-somethings bare all the secrets of manipulating the cosmos! The themed drink this year is the Pan Dimensional Colada.

Obliv18n 1 (Kristensen/ Gaston): I have always wanted Disney to set one of its animated musicals in a dystopian wasteland. Like a princess is trapped in a tower, and thus is one of the few to survive an apocalypse. This might have something to do with the soundtrack of Frozen playing while I was watching Terminator 2, it doesn’t matter. The point is, if Shuri even hums a mournful tune in Avengers: Infinity War Part 2, I’ll be satisfied. [7/10]

It’s Maxine’s 17th birthday. She’s been excited about it for a while, building up her own plans and how amazing they’ll be to her friends, but things keep screwing up her ideas. She wanted to celebrate with her different social circles separately, but instead her parents schemed a surprise party. She wanted to lose her virginity, but her boyfriend was busy sleeping with someone else. She wanted to hate her parents forever, but they’ve mysteriously vanished along with every other legal adult in town. The good news is that the cowboy-themed party her parents were organizing to destroy her social life for all time is on hold, so you know, silver linings.

Just about every element of the narrative plants its first foot properly – a dystopian nightmare everyone’s having at the same time but no one realizes, the brutal collision of ideals and reality, the cruelty teens are capable of when there’s no supervision. The story then wastes no time in fumbling each element. There’s not one character that doesn’t side-step right into a one-dimensional trope. The small-town setting prevents the big event from landing effectively. The attempts to foreshadow that same calamity confuse things more than clarify them. No one element in particular ruins the reading experience, it just becomes clear early that the story won’t impress.

The art style finds itself resting comfortably in standard action comics fashion, favoring round features and faces on what ultimately turn out to be proportionally realistic figures, but result in an overall air of cartoonish ease. This works with the majority of the younger cast, especially when they act viciously for their ages, not so well with the adults. With only story-essential exceptions, the coloring invests in grays, browns, and otherwise muddy colors. The visual elements come together with better results than the narrative elements, but they’re nothing spectacular.

Obliv18n reads like a class assignment – it meets all the basic criteria as provided, and lacks the passion of a personal accomplishment.

Quest of Ewilan Vol 1 (Lylian/ Baldetti): “Hello? I think someone dropped their magical forest. Is this your magical forest? It landed in our boarding school. I’m sure the roots that’re tearing the foundations apart would be much happier back with you. I like days off as much as the next student, just not so much the man-eating trees.”

Punisher 1 (Rosenburg/ Kudranski): Someone REALLY shouldn’t have jumped that turnstyle.

Action Comics 1002 (Bendis/ Gleason): “What lurks in the shadows of Metropolis?” It’s Batman. It’s ALWAYS Batman. Gotham, Metropolis, Nanda Parbat, Cleveland, Atlantis, the moon, Batman’s skulked everywhere. His shadow passport needs extra pages for all the different stamps.

West Coast Avengers 1 (Thompson/ Caselli): There are heroes that throw vehicles at people. There are heroes that throw other heroes at people. And then there are heroes that pour over the latest Guiness records looking for any activity that hasn’t been catalogged yet. “Alrighty, no one’s ever crammed five super-powered people onto a Vespa and thrown it a whole football field!” Joke’s on America there – the Hawkeyes are normal humans with training, so they don’t count! [9/10]

Who opens with land sharks? The answer is Kate Bishop, recent California resident and second Hawkeye of Avengers fame. She was minding her own business (which just happens to be snooping into other people’s business) when she finds herself riding a stampede of abominable creatures that’re the cross of Jaws and the bear from Grizzly Man. She put out a call, and she found herself joined by America Chavez, Hawkeye (1.0), and her boyfriend Fuse. With the West Coast saved, a crushing truth hits Kate: Cali is a place full of sweet, succulent targets for baddies, but no team set up to counter them. If they’re going to seriously consider protecting the area, they’ll just new a few more things, like experienced hitters, a looming threat, and some basic funding.

Throughout the history of the franchise, West Coast Avengers planted one foot in classic comics action and the other one in self-aware satire. This volume keeps the tradition alive and (hyper-dimensional) kicking. Most of the characters thrived on their own before, but unlike their East Coast counterparts, none (except maybe Hawkeye 1.0) would be considered a Marvel mainstay. Each character keeps their own distinct voice, yet the way they banter back and forth doesn’t just betray awareness that they’re filling roles, they’re kind of excited about it, and it’s easy to get caught up in that energy. Between their struggles for team unity, a revenue stream, and for one thing to go according to plan, there’s plenty of thrills and giggles for any reader, fresh or weathered.

Caselli’s skilled at framing a scene, and populating it with figures that’re dynamic but not ridiculous. Where he truly shines is his facial expressions, which’re just exaggerated enough to fully sell the intent of the panel. Glee, fury, annoyance, the entire emotional spectrum gets representation here, and between the characters and set pieces, it’s shamefully obvious how much fun the art team had putting all this together.

West Coast Avengers reads like good stand-up – it puts you right into a different life and highlights just how bizarre it can get.

Read what you like, and when you want some more, we’ll 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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