Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
There are some matches that come together so perfectly and harmoniously that they inspire belief in a higher power. Whether romantic partners, brothers in battle, or comedy troupes, their union proves that something can be so much more than the sum of its parts. This week’s comics are about the other kind of mash-ups, the kind that make train wrecks easy to watch. That’s not to say they’re not good, but maybe I should explain…
•Heroes in Crisis 1 of 7 (Kinn/ Mann): You think your intervention experience felt intimidating? There’s enough mental and physical power here to literally move the planet, and it’s united to confront some poor sap about leaving their costume laundry all over the place. How obnoxious do you have to be to bring together a coalition from various planets, species, and time streams?
•Fearscape 1 (O’Sullivan/ Mutti): From the way most of the image is framed like a wisp of smoke and how the foreground guy’s climbing into it, I get that the lady and the flower majority of this image is supposed to be fantasy. The problem with that is I know plenty of women that would have no problem hanging out in ponds or surrounding themselves with foliage (so long as they’ve taken their antihistamines), so there’s no element of actual fantasy for me. I didn’t realize this until I saw the grey skull in front of the lady and I immediately had names of specific people who’d bring skulls to a photo shoot. That could be just me, but I doubt it. [5/10]
Something wicked’s manifested in the world of imagination, and we’re soon told that actions in this world called the Fearscape have equal and opposite reactions in the human world. It takes an impossibly wise and beautiful creature to cross the barrier between the two worlds, find someone with a supreme gift of weaponizing imagination, and bring them back to the Fearscape so they can neutralize the threat and save both realities. This muse has just found her next champion: a writer that’s captivated audiences for generations… or at least she found that writer’s freshest work in the possession of a wannabe with dashes of narcissism and self-delusion. One should prove as good as the other, right?
This issue starts with a solid page of text about the majestic of a nine-panel page format. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be ironic or the first warning sign that the narrator cannot and should not be trusted, all I know is I fought push through it. Once you get past that, it becomes a story about a storyteller riffing his own life and calling it a hero’s documentary. It’s not that he’s a horrible person – he doesn’t demand subjugation or render punishments on the innocent – he’s just kind of a jerk. The only redeeming quality to him is that he’ll probably receive his comeuppance, but that doesn’t happen by the end of the issue so it’s probably not worth it.
The visual storytelling may think it’s working to redeem the book, but in practice it enables the narrative’s malicious agenda. Idealized figures and larger-than-life scenery reminded me a lot of Mark Buckingham’s work on Fables. There’s an attractive marriage between reality and fantasy in the art, but it takes so many steps to match the text for spotlighting and ridiculing the elements of comics that it’s unclear if this is hate or love.
Fearscape reads like contaminated snacks at a comic convention – it pinches so many fans and creators in the gut at the same time and so effectively that it might be intentional.
•Gamma 1 of 4 (Freitas & Farinas): There was always that one little kid in class who would take the “make a collage of your ideal world” assignment and hand in a collection of nightmares. So when I study this tableau of angry kaiju, mafiosos, murder bots, and perhaps normal looking people a bit too comfortable with it all, I think to myself, “Yes! It’s not me this time!”
•Stranger Things 1 (Houser/ Martino): I worry sometimes that there’s a parallel universe of people just watching us, all the time, and occasionally shouting at the screen some advice that looks really obvious from their perspective. “No kid, you left your house keys in your school drawer, now you have nowhere to hide after the military dire wolf escapes from his cage! I am so glad the cinematographer foreshadowed your death.”
•Friendo 1 (Paknadel/ Simmonds): How many sentients were burning to death or otherwise going through long periods of suffering at the time Thanos snapped? As they faded into less than dust, do you think they thought, “Oh thank the universe: oblivion!”? I’ll just put this on the list of possible MCU spinoffs.
•Star Trek vs. Transformers 1 (Barber & Johnson/ Murphy): I’m experiencing a lot of emotions looking at this cover. I hate that they made this, and that they made it look like a 70s canon crossover, and that the little kid locked in my soul wants this so badly. [7/10]
The Federation’s lost contact with a remote mining colony, and sent one of the greatest ships of all time to investigate. What they found was a war-torn battleground with plenty of armed and armored vehicles and not a pilot in sight. A company of antique jet fighters are assaulting the outpost, then transform into giant robot-like lifeforms to stake their claim, and before Cpt. Kirk can even think of seducing any of them, an old red truck bursts out of the mountain to save them. Kirk and his crew regain control of the area, but are left with a mess of questions and a half-dead Optimus Prime. On the other side of the planet, Megatron and his group discover that not all squishy organics stick together.
The issue starts like your standard Star Trek episode with a mission out on the edge of nowhere and a setup for confrontation, but ends like your standard Transformers episode with a diverse group of metal warriors bemoaning how unpleasant it is interacting with humans. Probably the most aggressive change from the source material is Kirk’s looking out for the token redshirt in his away party. Never is there a point where the various teams slow down and handle introductions, which leaves the reader a bit lost as well, but after 30+ years it’s a safe bet you know who the major players are. This story doesn’t involve itself with fluff or filler, instead cutting right into the conflict and drama, and the result is a refreshing burst of nostalgic fun.
If the story doesn’t make the point clear, the art does: this is not a penetrating retelling or analysis of different forms of consciousness. This is people and sci-fi people blowing each other up, and it’s shameless about it. The art looks like cleaned up animation stills from the franchises’ early cartoon series – not redrawn or remastered, just free of static. If someone’s encountering this style of illustration for the first time it could make for an aggravating experience – thick lines and awkward poses are everywhere – but anyone that actually watched these shows will immediately connect.
Star Trek vs. Transformers reads like a school pizza lunch – the best possible outcome from a problematic time.
•High Heaven 1 (Peyer & Morrison/ Scott, Giarusso, Geary, Wheeler): While all dogs may go to heaven, it’s looking pretty clear from the uneaten crackers that parrots don’t.
•Man-Eaters 1 (Cain/ Niemczyk): Wrong! Those are man-shredders. Anyone who’s ever dealt with cats knows they’ll rip skin and flesh to ribbons without hesitation or regret. Even the declawed ones, they just get more creative. And how can they rise to power when they already get us to feed and clean up after them? Or is this more of that style of propaganda where those in power project that they should fight for more power in an effort to keep the opposition cautious? Clever fuzzy demons.
•XTC69 GN (Jessica Campbell): If I wanted to shell out $12 for a book clearly illustrated by a class of second graders with too much crayon, that would be a fair price. Have you worked with kids that age? Individually they might be okay, but in groups they’re a solid argument for repealing child labor laws.
•Justice League Odyssey 1 (Williamson/ Sejic): RPG party foul #1 – everyone picks the same weapon class. Everyone’s just looking to outdo the others on energy weapon specs, meanwhile the GM quietly and calmly rerolls their bosses to be immune to energy damage. Don’t be like the Justice League – respect diversity. [8/10]
In the wake of a galactic calamity, there’s a sector of space crammed with random planets wrapped in a class-10 cosmic storm (where the maximum is supposed to be a 6). Green Lantern Jessica Cruz volunteered for the thankless and dull task of keeping everyone out and the sensor grid in repair. Two days before going mad from boredom, she notices a ship headed straight for the middle of the sector, a move so nakedly dangerous that only the most desperate and damaged of characters would even consider it, and so naturally she goes right in after them. To her dismay, it’s her friends Cyborg, Starfire, and (more like an acquaintance) Azrael that staged this moonshot into what turns out to be monster-infested space, and they did it because a little voice in their heads told them to.
Everything to be loved and hated about superhero comics comes out to play in this story, from coping with isolation to ridiculously large monsters being mistaken for furniture. This is as much a distillation of comics as it is a comic itself. This might threaten to ruin the experience if not for Jessica Cruz’s role of telling the crazy people that they’re doing crazy things. Beyond that, the central theme of the book is hero worship, and perhaps specifically where the line rests between capable individual and divine avatar. Multiple elements demonstrate an odd kind of self-awareness, and the dynamic of the assembled characters promises to be one of those tragedies that’ll amuse audiences all over.
Sejic’s art consistently staggers the mind with its dedication to design and detail and mindfulness around keeping the scene from getting too heavy. His illustrations are as close to full digital paintings as you’re going to find anywhere. His sense of scale and form reaches for epic proportions, and his facial expressions run the full range from elation to devastation. It’s a dense amount of visual information to take in with every panel, but in general it stays on track and leads you where you need to go.
Justice League Odyssey reads like a shot of espresso – a sudden hit to grasp your attention, and a lingering taste of potential.
And on that flavorful note, see you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues