Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
Gen Con fatigue? What’s Gen Con fatigue? I never heard of it, and even if I did I’d never admit I had it. Look at these comics!
•Dinosaucers 1 (Uslan/ Pepoy): I don’t have a problem with art that styles itself after dolls or action figures. Greats such as Jack Kirby accomplished much drawing this way. But everything here looks like they’re made from BAD action figures, as in boring clothes, awkward poses, a monster figure whose mold fell face first onto the floor and no one noticed, and a stream of things that could be space ships or space silverfish. This would be the playset brought out to the most depressing eighth birthday party ever.
•Fantastic Four 1 (Slott/ Young, Bianchi, Pichelli): In an ironic twist of fate, from the perspective of the Fantastic Four, it was the Marvel Universe that disappeared without explanation or trail. Ben Grimm’s screaming because that rock he’s lifting is the one the 616 has been under this whole time. “Cap was Hydra the whole time? Kill it, Johnny! Kill it with fire!” [8/10]
The hole left in the world by Reed and Sue Richards’ sudden disappearance remains empty. Sometimes, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm searched the cosmos for signs of them. Other times, it might look like they were moving on. The same could be said for the world itself – it typically kept spinning as planets do, but every now and then a little reminder would flare up, and they’d mourn all over again. The question everyone’s asking is “Are we ready to live in a world without the Fantastic Four?” And as has happened so many times in the past, the guy with the strongest suggestion is Reed Richards himself.
As problematic as it sounds, this issue spends most of its energy defining empty space (I almost said negative, but we’re not in that zone yet). It demonstrates that the universe hasn’t forgotten about its missing cast members, even though it’s lived without them for so long. While the macro-story plays out an existential crisis, the micro-story puts a tight focus on Johnny and Ben (the Human Torch and the Thing), and the effort they’ve put into independent living. Galaxy-spanning sci-fi soap opera this is not, but as a tale about surviving loss, it’s got its strengths. The characters play and speak as well as they ever have, and help ground this first issue as a moment for everyone to kind of catch up with each other.
Most of the artwork comes from Sara Pichelli, more recently of Iron Heart fame, and it stays consistent here. A strong sense of proportion gives the world and its inhabitants solidity, but slightly more important is the sense of expression and possibility. There’s a difference between a large man made out of orange brick and the Thing, and it would take me too long to explain it, but just know that Pichelli gets that difference, and that the bus-sized guy in the trench coat is definitely the Thing. Bianchi has a back-up story featuring everyone’s favorite super-autocrat, and Skottie Young throws in a page of odd self-awareness as far as a Marvel comic goes.
Fantastic Four reads like sudden onset nostalgia for a favorite band – it’s been a while since we even thought about them, and it’d be nice to see them again.
•Hot Lunch Special 1 (Rahal/ Fornes): There is something magical about a bite into a sandwich that triggers all your tastebuds. Sweet, salty, and savory; parts tender and juicy, others crunchy and dry. Some consider sandwich making an art form, but not me. Unlike so many other art forms, if you’re putting your blood, sweat and tears into sandwiches, you’re doing it very wrong.
•Riptide 1 of 4 (Chitwood/ Luckert): If by some small chance the loaded passenger crusieliner survives the tremendous waves crashing into it, and by some miracle avoids getting hit by the burning meteorite hurtling towards it, it still has to deal with a stomach flu plaguing its decks. But no, you just had to show the airlines that they don’t control you. Great call.
•Sandman Universe 1 (Lots of dreamers): As someone with siblings, I can never say I’ve ever thought of drawing caricatures of them and wearing them like a bat or shoulder pads. Now that I’ve seen it in action, I cannot say I’m ready to adopt the look. Chibi-sibies may be the latest in a long line of fashion trends that rushed by me. [9/10]
The Justice League worried about the dangers they put themselves in when they shifted their universe onto the proper Multiverse, but they were only concerned about what they could see and measure. All the things that can’t be defined, all the devices never invented, all the lands undiscovered, they all fall under the category of stories untold, and that’s called the Dreaming. Lately, pieces of the Dreaming have gone missing, changed unexpectedly, or cracked like a fault line. No one knows what’s happening and they’re too busy deciding who’s problem that is to actually fix things. Normally, this would be Dream of the Endless’s time to shine, only he’s been displaced too.
The Sandman mythos holds a unique, almost hallowed place in the greater DC universe. Everyone recognizes its standing, almost no one touches it. I enjoyed the main run and most of the spinoffs, but largely agree that it should be left out of most narratives. So many readers have their own personal favorite elements from Gaiman’s Sandman, and it’s simply not possible to touch on all of them in one issue; certain people will not find theirs.
Normally I try to read a book with no expectations, but this is one of the rare occasions where that’ll hurt the reading experience. I strongly recommend directly asking yourself what you want to see before opening this book. I told myself I wanted to feel the same sense of epic scale as I did from the initial run, and lo and behold I found stacks of complex worlds on top of each other held together by threads both strong and fragile. Once I’d found something I wanted, I could read the rest of it without the tension that comes with any creator going back to the property that made them famous. The Neil Gaiman that wrote Preludes & Nocturnes will never come back, but the Neil Gaiman that wrote this is doing okay so far.
Drawing Sandman means needing to draw everything real as if it were imaginary, then real, then a different kind of imaginary all in the same issue, sometimes the same page. It’s fiercely demanding, but there’s a wide pool of talent feeding this, so the visual aspects of the storytelling tirelessly hit their marks. The lack of consistency means the only dependable thing about the art is its chaotic nature. Just about everything you could possibly want to see is on the page, but anyone looking for a hand to hold from beginning to end will wait (I’m sorry) endlessly (not sorry).
No one really knows what Sandman reads like, but I can tell you that it does NOT read like half-edited fan fiction – I didn’t want to see Morpheus ride in on a pale unicorn and slay the personification of Civil Ennui, and fortunately for all of us that doesn’t happen here.
•Oddwell 1 (Clark & Bryant iii/ Rodarte): The weaponization of Disney World is inevitable. A number of scenarios have already been thrown around. What no one expected was for the House of Mouse to stay so adorable while they scourged the planet.
•Donald & Mickey Quartley (Castellan, Torcivia, Van Horn): “Hey, Donald, watcha doing there, looking for, moon men?”
“No, Mickey, I’m tracking the positions of stars whose first light shone millions of years ago to reveal the ancient ones. One day they’ll be in position to shine that same light upon this world again, and clear a cosmic path for their return. The bones of those who’ve oppressed me shall be the first crushed when they take their first steps!”
“…Everything okay at home, buddy? How’s Daisy?”
•Black Badge 1 (Kindt/ Kindt & Jenkins): “Josh, how long did it take your dad to build that walk-in refrigerator?”
“About four days. Why?”
“Think we can make one in twenty seconds? Otherwise we’ll be the first scouts to earn the ‘Surviving Nuclear Fallout’ badge.” [7/10]
Before there were platinum trophies or emojis, there were badges. Scouts accepted challenges, and by meeting them they collected wearable symbols that informed any who saw them that they’d done the thing. Most were only interested in getting enough to advance to the next level of scout, some wanted all the ones in a particular group, but there are a few that just want them all. The desire’s so strong that the reason doesn’t matter, it’s just about getting that next badge. Will thought he’d earned the last badge at age 14, so when he heard there was one more, he signed up on the challenge without asking what it was.Willy may be able to plot out a campsite in total darkness, but in other ways Willy’s really dumb.
On the surface, this is a spy book. It’s intelligence versus counter-intelligence, four-D chess, hiding reasons inside excuses, all the black ops stuff. The trick of using children as the operatives is that they simply cannot hold their own if they get into anything resembling a fair fight, and so it’s all about avoiding, deflecting, hiding, and otherwise keeping things quiet and boring, which does not make for engaging storytelling. Underneath the so-successful-it’s-boring narrative is a striking coming-of-age story. Most go with the classic “kid accomplishes things and becomes an adult” theme, but this one proposes a different outcome: exploit kids until they’re dead or grow old enough to start exploiting the new kids.
The figure proportions and overall disconnect with detail and perspective lean heavily into the cartoony side of the art spectrum, but that does not make this a light or gentle read. The linework slops all over the place, the colors jump on each other to form new shades of mud, and the expressions can look downright painful. Everything builds up the thread that this world is messy and will stay that way, tying all the various elements together effectively. It doesn’t care whether it looks good, so long as it gets the job done.
Black Badge reads like an ominous fortune cookie – it’s a little bit too innocuous to be this insightful and uncomfortable, and yet there it is.
See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues