Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
I’m in the mood for comics. Simply because they’re near me!
•The Wrong Earth 1 (Various): “Excuse me, I think you have my Earth.”
“Oh no, this happens all the time. Your Earth is post-Pangean too?”
“Yeah, it’s not the prettiest thing but I’ve grown attached.”
“Well, I’m pretty sure this is mine, unless your Earth also had a Hitler that fought Nazis.”
“You know what? My mistake.”
•Mystery Science Theater 3000 1 (A flock of creators): Alright, what is with bubbles of fear? This didn’t start with Thanos, and it’s not as if his bubbles were frightful anyway. Is this some kind of primordial instinct where our oceanic ancestors knew to fear hot springs or air pockets in the water? Did a whole generation of artists suffer the same kind of bubble-based trauma? If so, what is it? Tell me, I’m really curious. [8/10]
MST3K is sort of about breaking an average human’s sanity down to nothing, but it’s mostly about making fun of old, bad intellectual properties. Jonah, Crow, and Tom are forced to endure terrible movies while a sadistic overlord watches to find the precise frequency at which people go mad. But Kinga Forrester has more ambition that her ancestor Clayton – she sees so many more ways to crush the human spirit. She sees… comics! And so she magi-sciences a way to dump her guinea pigs into a dull 1960’s era “adventure” with the hope that they don’t make it out. That’s it, that’s the basis for a phenomena that’s spanned the last three decades.
I had to look this up, but the comic they riff on is real. It was published in the same 1960s that people like us lived through. I wasn’t expecting that, but I certainly respect it. The thing of it is, where it was clear when the riffs ended and the source material began with the movies, there’s no signalling as to how much of the original story you’re getting with the comic. The jabbering monkeys are thrust directly into the narrative, and while it’s clear there’s creative license taken, for anyone (i.e. everyone) that hasn’t read the original comic, it’s hard to tell if the joke is on the characters, the story, or whatever happens to show up on a panel, or if it’s a joke at all. If and when you get over the curve, and stop trying to find the jokes, you’ll catch yourself laughing at the spectacle. Short version: No, really, just relax.
The art style of the brand new content – that is, Jonah and the bots – is so readily identified as action comic format that it claws at Rob Liefeld’s pant legs. The thing is, where less reasoned artists might make every panel a parody of good against evil, this team knows to let the bad guys wear the badge of over-the-top villany while the good guys are just minding their own business. Just like the audience must deal with every day of their wretched lives, the gang simply must face the onslaught of mediocrity and let it pass through them. The 1960s comic looks like a 1960s comic, only with some modern coloring and a few more robot heads.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 reads like an experimental art piece – it doesn’t quite work with what you know works, but it’s trying something different and just might have the moxy to pull it off.
•Low Road West 1 of 5 (Johnson/ Flaviano): This is what happens when society makes calmly walking away from an explosion look cool. Walking away from explosions isn’t cool, taking cover from minimum safe distance is cool. Walking away from explosions is a prime method to get shrapnel embedded in your flesh. So if you’re really into body modification and want a surprise piercing or three, go ahead and strut in front of the pressure wave.
•Newbury & Hobbes – The Undying 1 (Mann/ Boultwood): Of all the cultural traits the USA lifted off of England before revolting, it’s kind of a shame quiet confidence wasn’t one of them. I’d love to see one Hollywood action hero face down a horde of undead and a steampunk cyborg while muttering, “If this makes me late for Happy Hour, I swear I’ll come down with vapors.” That’d be so badass, but no, American methodology forbids any action hero from whispering less than 90 decibels. I may never know what subtlety is, but if I did I bet I’d miss it.
•Rags 1 (Luther & Ball/ Teruel): You want to know what an American action hero looks like? Take whatever threat they’re up against, dress them to be vulnerable, put a gun in their hand, and you’ve got an American action hero. Trapped in a glass skyscraper? Lose the shoes. Guy’s afraid of snakes? Make his signature weapon long and slithery. Only hope against a man-eating extraterrestrial is the cold vacuum of space? You’re in your underwear! Apparently zombies and xenomorphs appreciate the same sense of fashion.
•Poser 1 (Miner/ McCormack): The years have NOT been kind to V from Vendetta.
•Archie 1941 1 of 5 (Waid & Augustyn/ Krause & Fitzpatrick): No matter the time, no matter the place, no matter the circumstances, there is one thing that shall always be true: one person with two (potential) sexual partners can walk down the street any way they want. Wear a plaid poncho, crocs with socks, and fake moustache – if you’ve got a pair of enthusiastic consenters hanging off your arms, you’re legitimate.
•Cemetery Beach 1 of 7 (Ellis/ Howard): “You said this place was majestic and peaceful!”
“That’s what the brochure said!”
“Did the brochure tell you that they take your passports at the border?!”
“No! Well actually, they did make this big deal about their thorough and exhaustive security process, but I thought it was a sales pitch.”
“And let me guess: you thought the proton colliders were regional cocktails!”
“I didn’t hear you argue!” [7/10]
Not every person can wake up naked and handcuffed in a foreign interrogation room with a smile and warm greeting, but Michael Blackburn is one of those lucky few. He got caught by a military force that speaks his language and equips gear that a forgiving sort might call retro, yet are aggressively curious about where Blackburn is from. Maybe they just feel very defensive about their textiles, but maybe it’s because a secret organization developed wormhole technology and set up colonies back in the 1920s and they REALLY enjoyed being a secret. They’re going to get all the information they can out of Jack before they kill him, and it doesn’t matter how many guards he kills or bases he blows up and escapes from to get that info (but maybe it should).
This story treats its implausible narrative catalyst exactly the way implausible narrative catalysts should be treated: enough to trigger the story and immediately made irrelevant. The story is not about Roaring 20’s steampunk teleporters, it’s about the kind of society shadowy power brokers would actually make for themselves given the chance. It’s about attitudes considered novelties in one culture and hangable offenses in another. It’s about the tactical benefits of being polite when no one expects it. Michael Blackburn knows when to punch a guy’s face off and when to compliment someone’s tie, quickly building him as a character that refuses to give up anything he doesn’t want someone to have. Sadly, Grace – the teenage urchin/ dystopian guide that Blackburn adopts – lacks such defining traits. She enables Blackburn, and that’s about it.
The visuals fill in most of the backstory about this particular colony and where they are as far as development, but it doesn’t make a big deal of it. It takes small details like communication devices and clothing material and, without drawing too much attention, sets this world distinctively apart from the one we’re familiar with. Grace gets most of her notable qualities from her appearance, with hair and makeup that show up in ultraviolet and perhaps set off metal detectors. Against the nuanced features everyone else has in this comic, it comes off as overcompensation, but not enough to take too much away from the experience.
Cemetery Beach reads like a high-grade protein bar – it has all the essential ingredients in an abridged format, yet won’t be anyone’s favorite thing.
•Iceman 1 of 5 (Grace/ Stockman): Does the “S” Mr. Drake just created stand for hope again, or is it something that actually begins with “S”. “Sub-Zero”? “Succulent”? “Searing anti-heat”? Surprise me, Marvel.
•Disposable Legends 1 of 6 (Mayo/ Romero): Not to base opinions on the way people look, but from the stink-eyes everyone’s giving each other these wouldn’t appear to be a meeting of Pacifist Club’s cosplay event. Which is a shame, because when you give pacifists an excuse to roleplay, they tap into reserves you never knew existed and it’s always a show. Someone dressed as Genghis Khan got into an argument over the persistence of a soul with someone dressed as Ted Kaczynski (at least I hope that was a costume), and I lost count at the quadruple entendres.
•MCMLXXV 1 (Casey/ MacEwan): An otherwise average joe(sephine) wielding a blunt instrument made of lightning? Gosh, it’s a wonder such a fascinating image hasn’t made into comics already.
•Mage Hero Denied 12 (Matt Wagner): “No, it’s too strong! I can’t… resist… the power of the Dew!”
•Journey Into Mystery – The Birth of Krakoa 1 (Hopeless/ Morissette-Phan): “Anyone got any bug spray? You just know the mosquitos in this forest’ll be the size of baseballs.”
“You attended the same briefing we did, right? How the forest is actually the tendrils of an unimaginable creature bent on consuming the entire planet?”
“It’s funny how I’m not afraid of something I don’t understand, and yet concerned about threats with plenty of history, like blood loss and malaria. Come on, who’s holding?”
•Moth & Whisper 1 (Anderson/ Hickman): That mask looks like it would threaten to cut the wearer’s nose off every second it’s worn, but if it can also function as a church key it’s worth it. You never know when you’ll need a church key – even if you don’t drink those things have a way of proving necessary. Breach into a vacuum-sealed box, short circuit a couple of live wires, open a bottle… it’s creepy how essential they turn out to be. [8/10]
In the world of espionage, secrets are weaknesses: you want to know the ones everyone has without betraying your own. The Moth and the Whisper were considered dueling geniuses of spycraft, carving slices out of the underground from all the shadowed corners no one was supposed to know about. Not too long ago they dropped out of sight, leaving the field wide open to ludicrous speculation as to why. Suddenly they’re back on the scene, or so it would seem. One thing no one knows is that they were much more collaborators than rivals. Another is that one collaboration in particular deeply needs to know what happened to them.
There are a number of threads to this story that a reader can grab onto and develop an attachment. Some may focus on Nikki’s capacity to change who they are at a moment’s notice to suit a need. Some may focus on the espionage story and its assertion that the difference between elite and dead is luck more than anything else. For what it’s worth, I keep coming back to parents never teaching their kids what they need to know, just what they think they need to know. It’s oddly ridiculous how adults can teach a child how to hack without making a noise or how to deploy a flashbang, but refuse to talk about the kind of people they work with. There are more, and it’s entirely possible you’ll become captivated by one or two of them.
Like the main character’s choice in casual wear, the art style is very middle-of-the-road. It stops at just enough detail to define a place or figure, just enough color to contrast everything else in the room, just enough facial exaggeration to add levity to a scene. It works perfectly with the narrative to present a world where things are what they seem, but also could be more. Unfortunately, when the reader looks back on it, there’s that much less to stand out and be counted.
Moth & Whisper reads like a good artisanal burger – it’s not radically different from what you already like, there’s just a little extra something to make it unique.
See you next week, everybody!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues