Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
I can’t believe it’s September already! Let’s read some comics!
•Asgardians of the Galaxy 1 (Bunn/ Lolli): Are we sure that Asgardians and Frost Giants aren’t the same race, just different cultures? I ask because they’re all “dressed” for mild to hot weather but they’re clearly in the cold vacuum of space. Maybe the chill gets channeled right into their expressions, since every one of them’s devoid of warmth – Axe-Man hides his eyes and the horrible pain he lives with every day. (CC Note: That went dark fast.) (Dark like space!)
•War Bears 1 of 3 (Atwood/ Steacy): Adolf Hitler mauled by bears. Adolf Hitler? Mauled by bears? Adolf Hitler mauled. By bears. By bears, Adolf Hitler is mauled. Goldy-fuhrer and the Three Maulings. [Exit Hitler, mauled by bears.] I keep spinning this around in my head, and no matter how I approach it, it works. It’s like Einstein’s theory of relativity describing the order of the cosmos in a matter anyone can understand, only with bear maulings. [8/10]
It’s 1941 in Canada. The Second World War’s chewing up lives at the rate of hundreds a minute, and Alain Kurakowski wants to draw him some funny books. This is the kind of guy that could’ve gone toe-to-toe with Steve Rogers back before the Super Soldier Serum, only he took the hint when no branch of the armed services would take him on. Instead he focused on his strengths, developed his talent, and managed to land a job because he was literally the last qualified candidate around. Though he’s stuck on inks and backgrounds, Alain’s got big dreams, dreams about the war, everyone trapped in it, and a French femme were-bear that looks at Nazi tanks like Yogi looks at picnic baskets. Look, it’s a weird and winding road from A to B but dangit Alain’s going to get there! And it’s going to be glorious, because it’s set in a warzone where the good guys stay the good guys and nothing will change.
(Before I get into it, can I take a moment? Comicsgate was supposed to drain right back into the sewer after it sullied the waters of the comics industry the first time, but instead it seems to be making a surge. Comics speak to the outcast in all of us, but when that voice promotes bigotry and sexism, it’s hitting its drawing hand with a hammer while trying to convince everyone that it doesn’t hurt. It’s easy to look at a trend like that and feel rotten for comics, but at the same time we’ve got Margaret “Handmaid’s Tale” Atwood and Ta-Nahisi “Between the World and Me” Coates, two of the most powerful creative voices alive, contributing as well. I’m not saying it’s worth one to get the other, I just want to recognize the wide spectrum we’ve got today.)
The comic promises bears, but open it up and a whole mess of “tortured soul making shaky choices to find a place in a world that doesn’t need him” slides out. Alain’s got a lot of pluck and about five people’s worth of tenacity, so you’d think it’d be easy to root for him, but then he applies those qualities to doomed political rhetoric and a hasty sense of possession. He’s got a lot of layers, only some of which get peeled back here. The beats synch up just as easily with a quest plot as with a romance, and by the end of this issue there are a few places this story could go. Just a little bit of world history could tell you they’re all probably dramatic.
If the writing seems awkwardly relevant, the art takes this series to a new level of meta. The dialogue deliberately name-drops the classic artists that the visuals work so hard to emulate. Everything from the architecture and figures to the shading all evoke that Golden Age sensibility muscle tone and grit. Thankfully they didn’t go so far as reverting to four-dot coloring, so the surfaces all feature smooth hues and transitions. It’s a light and delightful treat for the eyes.
War Bears reads like a blind date – so far everything’s champagne and roses, but the real story comes after things start going to hell.
•Casper’s Ghostland 100th Issue (Shand & Wolfer/ Shanower): Well of course he’s terrified – Thanos just condemned Ghostland with a sudden population explosion! Do you know how hard it is to haunt people when you’ve got social anxiety? And now he’s got twice the souls to work around, it’s horrifying.
•Thanos Legacy 1 (Cates & Duggan/ Smith): Thanos is just waiting for the first critic to tell him his statue’s too ostentatious. The sculptor took a big risk in portraying the Mad Titan as the Abraham Lincoln of Blood, but the purple people killer appreciated the message, and anyone that disagrees better have a fine arts degree and a death wish. Thanos, of course, famous for his Exsanguination Proclamation.
•Bully Wars 1 (Young/ Conley): Are those poor victims going to be forced to choose between relentless social abuse and tentacle assault? A false choice if ever there was one, but if I were in their shoes I don’t know what I’d pick. I mean one violates everything you are and leaves it a gooey mess, and the other’s a mass of tentacles. [7/10]
Behold three adorable moppets: high school freshmen Ernie, Edith, and Spencer. They’re fresh off the bus and starved for a new school experience. Then there’s Rufus, the bull of a boy that made their collective suffering a personal sport of his, but now that they’re in high school he wants to go varsity. Things are looking pretty grim until Rufus meets Hock. Hock is twice the size of Rufus, five times as brutal, and even trash-talks without mercy or pity. What follows is the worst day of Rufus’s life, which happened to be the average day of Spencer, Edith, and Ernie’s last several years. Of course, you realize, this means a large-scale conflict between opposing parties (I used to know a word for that…)!
There’s little to worry about as far as being triggered by the realism of the premise – this is a parody of bullying. While the show of dominance remains in play, things like Rufus’s inquiries for constructive feedback, Spencer’s grand equalizer plan, and Hock’s compulsion to step in on a good line do everything but guarantee that it all plays out as cartoonish humor rather than abuse. The way the narrative is framed puts the spotlight on Rufus and his introduction to the role of victim, so if you’re the kind of person that loved Prince Joffrey because you believed he’d get a fitting punishment, you’ll like Bully Wars. Just don’t expect anyone to venture far from their stereotype.
Plenty of comparisons could be made between Conley’s and Young’s own art style – both dive deep into cartoonish proportion and expression – but the differences are worth noting. Young tends to craft each page like an exaggerated climax, versus Conley who intends to establish a sense of normalcy before pointedly jumping into the ludicrous. There’s no such thing as a panel without a hidden gag. Character designs rely on distinguishing features like physics-defying haircuts and a random sampling of body shapes, and aside from that there’s no reason to stay consistent with how each figure’s drawn.
Bully Wars reads like a standup comedy bit – it starts off like an everyday thing, quickly abandons any pretext of believably, but doesn’t lose its connection to the audience.
•Cover 1 of 6 (Bendis/ Mack): If this is 22 pages that just have “Page” on them, I don’t care how intricate the collage work is, I’m kicking someone’s ass!
(I just wanted to take a moment to call myself out. A few weeks ago, I gave Bendis a ton of grief for his cornucopia of titles that, at the time, seemed to have passed their expiration date. The last couple of weeks brought most of those same titles not only back from the abyss, but right about where they left off. So I’m learning a lesson here: as soon as I take a bold stance, reality rewrites itself so that stance has already been wrong for months.)
•Family Graves 1 (Bach/ Atkins, Lima, Daniels): I realize that there must be plenty of angsty kids at Hogwarts, but an entire family that wants to each become a unique curse upon the world is something else entirely. Seriously, if JK Rowling wants to afford the other half of the world, she’d just write 20 volumes of crazy things the Mirror of Erised reflected to people’s unsuspecting minds. “I see my girlfriend!” “I see your girlfriend too.” “Wait, what?”
•James Bond Origin 1 (Parker/ Q): Near the end of WWII, the English spies hijacked a transport loaded with a proto-super-soldier out of Germany. The plane was shot down at the border – as they read the code-phrase they spelled “realize” with an “s” – and before crashing, the agents managed to replace the German flag the test subject was wrapped in with a Union Jack. It really should take more than that to program a hedonistic killing machine. It really, REALLY should.
•Silver Surfer Annual 1 (Sacks/ Araujo): I know crowd surfing is a thing. I also know that crowd waving is a thing. Affecting both at once sounds like something Cirque du Soliel would try if they had two-hundred performers perfectly trained and synchronized, instead of the team of five hive-minded humans they have now. Audience participation can breathe some vibrancy into a show, but taking over the audience’s minds after they’ve paid to be performed at reeks of top-tier villainy.
•The Vigilant One-Shot (Various): 31 years ago (CC Note: Feel old!), Billy Crystal immortalized the farewell exclamation “Have fun storming the castle!” Clearly there were some that devoted every day of those years to have the most fun storming the most castles. And you know what, they’re living their best lives. Good for them.
•Border Town 1 (Esquivel/ Villalobos): I thought the whole big benefit to being undead was that you didn’t have to worry about growth spurts rending your wardrobe obsolete. This husk looks like they either stitched themselves together with taller people’s appendages or purposely robbing the clothes off smaller corpses to conform to some necro-social ideal. It’s such a shame to see that even in Death, we still can’t escape body shaming. [9/10]
Kids don’t get much of a say in where they grow up, it’s pretty much up to the people raising them. Sometimes that means a better life with more opportunities, other times it means tripping over some bloodthirsty monster that wants nothing more than the other poor sap dead. Frank is all too aware of this situation, and he spins it around his head on the way to his new place in Arizona with his mom and her boyfriend. Getting to know anyone in a new school can be painful, Frank just has an easy time finding exciting ways to hurt. It’s not until the end of the day, when he’s reintroducing himself to his peers, that he stumbles upon one more hard truth: it’s easy to think you’re on top of the food chain when you only look at everything beneath you.
The themes of not belonging somewhere and running away from someplace worse appear repetitively in this story. No one’s particularly comfortable where they are, but they either try to adapt and make peace with the situation or make everyone else adapt to them and leave the bodies of the uncooperative behind. It’s a world that mirrors our own in enough respects to connect and feel poignant, but some early elements ensure that readers won’t fall in too deep before recognizing this as a fictional setting. Frank wastes no time establishing himself as equal parts bleeding heart and live grenade, with enough independent learning to clinch his nomination for Best New Mary Sue. Nothing stands out as particularly clever or outstanding, but everything from the premise to the side characters come together so perfectly that it’s simply got to be recognized.
The first page of the issue evokes a strong sense of Frank Quietly’s pumped-up, too cool to live figure design, and while the next thing that comes along tears into that sensation without delay, the influence persists. Every character looks exactly as their character’s dialogue makes them sound, from Frank’s informed method of blending in to Blake’s larval radicalism that’s only obvious if you’re looking for it. This particular stretch of Nowheresville includes long swaths of natural wasteland, concentrations of angsty teens, and generous suburban planned boring along the way, all of which coexist effectively.
Border Town reads like a travelling circus show – you know there’s a trick somewhere, but it’s a fun performance that’s meeting you halfway.
See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues