Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
What do George Carlin, Charlie Brown, and Captain Marvel have in common? I don’t know, someone suggested I work that line into my intro but I cannot figure out why. Meh, can’t say I didn’t try. Alright, COMICS!
•KISS Blood and Stardust 1 (Hill/ Buchemi): Come for the music, the suggestiveness of the Demon’s tongue, or Stuart Sayger’s cover – Stay for the merchandise that you swore you’d never buy more of but just can’t help yourself.
•Dead Kings 1 (Orlando/ Smith): I never want to live in a world where exterminators can come to my home with a truck of guns and I’d let them in. How big to the rats have to be to require assault rifles? Do silverfish develop armor plating? Too many questions I do not want to ever ask. [7/10]
Giant robots pummeling each other sounds great as far as a movie franchise, but when it happens right outside your little town, your feelings are allowed to be complicated. When said battle serves to wipe out the world’s immortal rulers and condemns the world to an anarchist’s nightmare, it shouldn’t be illegal to notice how it sucks, but the world’s found ways. What survivors from Rus there are, now section Thrice-Nine, meet obstinance or outright hostility wherever they go, but none of that compares to going home. Home is where the royal guard set up camp, but without any royalty to guard they’ve instituted a sadistic form of martial law, but it’s exactly where Sasha needs to go. His brother’s imprisoned there, and his mother’s only alive because she wants to see them again, and he has a plan to break him out, but it’s a crappy plan. The much less crappy plan doesn’t work without backup, and so he’s looking for the only soldier strong, crazy, and neighborly enough to help.
This beginning chapter shows no mercy on the reader, pitching one divergent element after another until the only resemblance between this world and ours is cosmetic at best. The heart of Sasha’s quest is absolutely identifiable just so long as no one reads too much into the giant robot war that was either aliens or the now-dead royalty or something else entirely because no one’s lamenting the past so much as figuring out what to do now. This trait sells the idea that this takes place in this world’s version of Russia, but treats the extravagant pieces of lore like unimportant window dressing. The only reason to include them at all that I can imagine is that there are too many real scenarios just like this, and the creators needed a way for the audience to detach. That’s depressing and bleak, yet matches the tone of this story precisely.
Visually, the book resembles a subdued David Aja – it lacks his playful yet poetic arrangement of set pieces and figures, but does the job of telling a story through sequential images just fine. With very little electricity or hope, the color and shading spend most of the time kept in the dark. It’s a stark image of the world they face today, but more than a little effort was made to give the characters and architecture a concrete feel, which more than anything may anchor the reader to the narrative.
Dead Kings reads like secretly spicy salsa – It appears complex and delicate until you try it, then you realize most everything in there wants to hurt you.
•Judge Dredd Toxic 1 (Jenkins/ Castiello): I love how in the present we see a horrible abomination of nature and man’s science gone horribly wrong, but in Mega City One this is probably their Tuesday. The teams of sanitation workers must pull straws for shifts and just praying to whatever god they found that they don’t have to cover the laboratory district. Most of the time they just plead for death’s mercy, but the paperwork they need to fill out is ridiculous, so they just take them to the morgue and say, “Look, you want to wait three days for the inevitable, I won’t argue, but if you want to save yourself some time I won’t ask how.” (CC Note: Why’d you go so dark toward the end?) (It’s almost Halloween and I need my splatter fix!)
•Bill Sienkiewicz Mutants & Moon Knights HC (Bill Sienkiewicz): “Alright, students this is the part where I say ‘I’m not mad, I’m disappointed’, but I’m actually mad. I had Kurt write the next month’s lesson plans on the chalkboard, and normally I’d have him put it back up, but he’s dead right now, which means I don’t know them either. So now I’ve learned to make multiple backups of people’s memories, but more urgently you will be scrubbing down the Danger Room with used toothbrushes until whoever erased the blackboard to make space for their admittedly-accurate picture of Hank McCoy can restore the outline.”
•Caveboy Dave Volume 2 (Reynolds/ McAndrew): Good ol’ Dave on the throne only thought he was nervous about assuming control over his tribe, but how he’s noticing just how much back hair EVERYONE has and all his masks are falling off. Clearly this was the plan of Dave’s “buddy” lounging on the ground next to him. Dave’s rule is doomed before it’s truly begun, the people will demand new leadership, and where before no one would’ve considered him as a leader, now he’ll be a savior. (CC Note: No more political histories for you!) (Dangit.)
•Lodger 1 (Lapham & Lapham): What’s scarier? The gun in her hand, the amount of mascara she must’ve been wearing for so much of it to slide down her face, or a slightly larger and golden gun just hanging around. Hopefully when that thing wants to get loaded it’s with beer and nachos, not bullets. [5/10]
There’s a travel blogger who’s addicted to buses and the MidWest. This blogger seeks out the quiet hidey holes for the best ice cream, food, and otherwise interesting stops to see what’s worth posting about. Then this blogger seeks out victims and steals their lives, but doesn’t post about that. Then there’s this other person, a gal named Ricky, that’s addicted to the blogger’s posts. She reads them religiously, hits every place he might’ve gone, and carries a loaded gun everywhere she goes. She may or may not be eligible to vote, but she’s spent the last five years of her life tracking this guy, and it’s probably not to get his autograph.
This story simply doesn’t care whether you follow it or not. There’s an old guy that might be a hunched-over creeper, or he may be a shapeshifting entity that also happens to be a creeper. Ricky could be a hard-as-nails tracker on a personal mission, or she could be delusion and prone to mood extremes. People might be dying from foul play, or just as likely unfortunate coincidences. None of these ambiguities get resolved by the end of the issue, and odds are that’s because whoever’s writing this hasn’t figured out the answers yet. This opening issue almost gets done explaining what characters are doing, and never touches on why they’re doing it.
If you like rough, unrefined, exceedingly basic art, then this book’s for you. There are two colors – black and white – with no shades in between. The designs for the characters and settings come from staged pictures of the 1960’s, while the smartphones and hybrid cars affirm that this is current era. This works for the most mundane situations, but fumble when they draw two lines done each cheek with no texture changes and expect you to realize the person’s supposed to be crying.
Lodger reads like a waiting room lollipop – it might look innocuous and distracting, until you unwrap and see some two-year-old licked it twice, rolled it on the floor for a while, then rewrapped it and put it back.
•X-Men Black Juggernaut 1 (Thompson, Nadler, Thompson/ Crystal): I bet Cain Marko’s just the kind of jackass that’d let himself get arrested just for the mug shots. He’d post selfies everywhere if someone made an adamantium smartphone, and he doesn’t fit in photo booths, and so this is what he resorts to when the itch gets too intense to ignore. He holds a guard hostage demanding three copies, gives the hostage one, and just walks through the entire building mulling over whether or not the photographer captured his look.
•Star Trek TNG Terra Incognita 4 (Tipton & Tipton/ Hernandez): I know this took place in the show a few times and it wasn’t addressed then, but this seems an appropriate chance to revisit that and ask ourselves the hard questions. In the 24th Century, is it really any easier to report sexual harassment by a superior officer? Notice the detached and hollow look in Ensign Crusher’s eyes, as if he knows what’s about to happen and there’s nothing for it except to mentally put himself somewhere else. He knows Riker’s just waiting for a moment to tell him there’s a Cardassian wolf spider on his left shoulder or whatever it takes to make him turn his head, and then it’ll be warp factor grind.
•Mark Twain’s Niagara Book 1 (Various): Wow, this cover has everything! Revolutionary-era British soldier, black man offering enlightenment, a beautiful woman almost walking on water, and Stephen Colbert doing a shameless impression of Mark Twain!
•Whispering Dark 1 (Emgard/ Aira): “Does anyone else notice the moon’s looking kinda skeletal lately?”
“I don’t know, does anyone else notice that Sheila’s been judgy lately?”
“We’ve talked about this, it’s unfair to drag the rest of us into these conversations.”
“Hey, don’t make this about me! I’m genuinely concerned the moon’s developed an eating disorder.”
“We can’t all be comfortable with our wide and round bodies, Sheila!”
“Did you just, oh that is it! I’m going to do it this time, I’m gonna shoot the moon!”
“Not without a well-funded space program you’re not. And we don’t, because we all know the moon just wants attention.”
“It’s so lonely up here!”
•Spider-Gwen Ghost Spider 1 (McGuire/ Kämpe): I’m just remembering Edna Mode’s rant against capes from Incredibles, complete with multiple examples of heroes’ gruesome deaths by getting their accessories caught in mundane things that eventually killed them. She’s take one look at this girl with her off-the-rack bag, the mired headphones, the zipper pulls, and probably suffer a heart attack, brain aneurysm, and nervous breakdown all at once. And that is how Spider-Gwen will get four and a half arch-nemeses overnight. [8/10]
Last time Gwen had her own series, she was walking into prison to serve time for a slew of heinous crimes that, while she was involved, she wasn’t guilty of or responsible. It quickly became clear how ridiculous it was to hold a young woman in a jail that she could lift, so she didn’t stay there long. Now she’s back to slinging webs and making thugs feel bad on many levels, only this time people know who she is, and they’re generally cool about it. Gwen’s not sure if this is worth freaking out over, but fortunately an extra-dimensional pig with spider powers comes to bring her into another dimension where they all need to fight against totemic vampires. Wednesdays, amiright?
This isn’t the original creative team, but these new folks are clearly respectful to the ones that got things started. The story’s a fresh take that builds straight from Gwen’s last run, right down to the [REDACTED BECAUSE IF YOU DON’T KNOW YOU’LL FIND OUT AND IT’LL BE FUN]. And just like the beginnings of her first run, this one starts by springboarding off a spider mashup event. It goes in a very different direction and ends up in a particular form of emotional hell. In other words, it’s like the old series never ended.
The art style’s not as signature as it used to be, but it’s not mainstream house style, either. The basic anatomy and proportions conform to what we see in reality most of the time, it’s the colors and multiple shading tools that help stand it apart from its peers. A few calculated lines in the right place establish light, position, even texture. It recreates everything from the old series fine, and the new elements brought in prove themselves on top.
Ghost Spider reads like a seasonal sandwich – it’s not a thing you think about all the time, but while it’s around it’s nice to enjoy.
See you (a little) next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues