Variant Coverage – October 3, 2018

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

We’re well into the season where leaves change color and fall off branches, but we deal with brightly-colored dead tree matter all year round, which means we’re cooler than Autumn. Yep, I said it. Now to prove it…

Blackbird 1 (Humphries/ Bartel): When someone shouts “What’s that monkey doing?!?”, it doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re in the middle of, you turn your head and look. That’s called a survival tip, because it’s worth the risk of taking social damage versus the many, deadly alternatives.

Dead Rabbit 1 (Duggan/ McCrea): Mr. Nestle Quik? Why’d you stop moving? Mr. Cadbury, why isn’t your nose twitching anymore? That guy talked about using tricks, Mr. Rabbit, isn’t that what you want? Why won’t you get up? Please. Please? [6/10]

The Dead Rabbit once stalked the streets making victims of power players on every side of the law – if you got your money by exploiting others, he’s the guy that made sure you didn’t keep it. He’s been out of the scene for ten years, but in that time he built a nice and fat nest egg. At the time, he had it all, but times change. His wife’s degenerative condition takes a lot of effort to treat, and there’s no medical insurance for someone that’s burned through a bunch of IDs already. So when a neophyte murderer trots right in front of his civilian persona, it’s time to bust out the mask again. Plenty have been waiting for this to happen, and I don’t just mean journalists or historians.

This comic poses a very complicated question with a very simple answer: Who’s the real criminal, the crime lord, the corrupt financier, or the thief that steals from both of them, or the medical system that robs them all? The narrative poses this as a matter of choice for the reader to make, but forgets that “All of the above” is also a valid answer. Dead Rabbit as a character is the closest thing to a happy medium between Rorschach and Nite Owl from Watchmen: absolute and remorseless when facing someone they see as an enemy, doting and anxious about living with someone they love. It succeeds in that it makes a brutal vigilante seem sympathetic, but fails to build its own stakes to such a level that readers will invest in the story.

Visually, the book meets all its expectations. Its settings and props benefit more from the style than the characters – little touches fill in the backgrounds to paint a room as bleak, cozy, ostentatious, or whatever the situation demands, while the people look more like cracked mannequins than anything else. This would’ve been a good opportunity for the art to provide gravitas or any other quality to the characters when the script proved ill-equipped for the job, but it let the opportunity pass by.

Dead Rabbit reads like good taxidermy – there are points of success that can be appreciated, but you have to ask yourself if this is really what you want to read.

William the Last 1 (Brian Shearer): Kid, there’s only one smart thing to do: climb back down that cliff. Don’t try to befriend any strangers, don’t seek out giants with lax security measures, and especially don’t get into urban shenanigans with street urchins that look suspiciously like the royal family. You grab that rock and you get away from there. If you fall and break your leg, that’s great – you’ll have broken it away from that place!

Bastard GN (Max de Radigues): “This is going to be the best car wreck heist ever!”
“You keep saying that, but I’m not seeing how it’s an accomplishment.”

Shatterstar 1 (Seeley/ Villa & Sandoval): You want edgy? Alright, we’ll take the edgiest character the 90’s ever produced and double his edges. That edgy enough for you? No? You’re wrong! You can’t handle all this edge!

Errand Boys 1 (Kirkbride/ Koutsis): Is this what my parents were doing whenever they left the house? Is this what interns do for the sake of putting an entry under “Work Experience”? Are muscle adults powering through adversity to get documents where they need to go called “boys”? These are not questions you want potential readers to ask.

Umbrella Academy Hotel Oblivion 1 (Way/ Filardi): I think I’m going to be sick – a table setting without a salad fork? And no napkin to protect my clothes from my food? I feel sorry for the roach – at least it’s trying to present itself nicely!

Jook Joint 1 (Franklin/ Martinez): It takes a special kind of character to mash up Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, Dahmer’s court reports, and the Zagat ratings journal into a single narrative unit. It takes an even more special character to say to themselves, “You know what the world needs? A gourmand cannibal in a summer dress!” [9/10]

The Jook Joint’s a bridge and haven to any soul and their most passionate desires, and the rates are dirt cheap, but they’re rather strict about enforcing the rules. “Keep Your Hands to Yourself”, “Respect Everyone”, and “Live to See Tomorrow”. Guests that violate the first two rules tend to find the third impossible to abide by. How Mahalia – the proprietress – stays in business is a mystery no one’s itching to solve, on account of just how capable she is at customer satisfaction. Working for her’s a sweet gig, but building one’s resume for consideration hurts like a number of ordeals.

First thing to know: this book means to make you feel uncomfortable. It will make you squirm for one reason or another, and it will celebrate this. Second thing to know: this book builds and plays with power dynamics like a manic six-year-old plays with LEGO. Think you know who’s in charge at any given moment? This book takes almost sadistic joy out of putting the obvious answer in front of you only to buzz you wrong. Third thing to know: underneath the tropes and tricks and shameless gorefests lies a story about a complicated character living by her own complex code and genuinely wanting to make the world a better place. This is the kind of brutality that inspires sympathy, even respect.

The mission statement for the visual style of this book is very clear: make everything beautiful, especially the ugly things. The art comes at character design with the philosophy that all types are beautiful, and poses its figures to catch that beauty at its most obvious. There are a lot of naked boobs on display, but only gently implied genitals (Batman: Damned showed more bait and tackle, but not by much). There’s also plenty of violence, blood, and other forms of viscera – the first page of the book is all trigger warnings and help line phone numbers, and by the last page this feels like responsible storytelling.

Jook Joint reads like the Twilight Zone – a world just a bit askew of ours, and somehow much more representative for the difference.

Shibuya Goldfish 1 (Hiroumi Aoi): Oh hang my underwear on a pike, how embarrassing. I’ve got egg all over my gills. It seems like I trip over myself belug-all the time. If I don’t stop writing about it soon, I’ll give myself carp-al tunnel. Pardon me while I trout out some more mackerelikable vocabulary. (CC Note: Fry.) Whoa, don’t get your cod piece in a bunch!

Barack Panther 1 (Brian Denham): If his birth certificate had been from Wakanda, honestly, I’d have still voted for him. Hell, that’s a mark in the win column: friendly relations with foreign countries that control valuable mineral wealth, keen fashion, not to mention I know so many Americans that’re jerks.

Death Orb 1 (Ferrier/ O’Halloran & Aragon): You know, if this person is toxic, knows they’re toxic, and warn others about their toxicity, they’re better than most toxic people in my book. Good on you, walking biohazard.

Batman the Maxx 1 of 5 (Sam Kieth): Which one has cilantro in their teeth? We know Batman eats burritos, it’s canon.

Sparrowhawk 1 (Dawson/ Basla): “What’d you say about my wings?”
“Nothing! I, uhh, you have wings?”
“You saying my wings’re small, that it?!”
“No! They’re very nice!”
“You sure? ‘Cause the last guy that tried saying my wings were small is now a puddle encrusting itself over my knuckles. I’d hate to think I missed any valuable constructive criticism.”
“Every wing is beautiful, just please don’t break my bones!” [8/10]

Artemisia is not supposed to be living on the family estate, and yet she is. Her father’s a naval captain who found his fortune overseas, and brought her with him on his return, much to the dismay of his wife. Artemisia’s life there certainly feel below the standard for the daughters of officers, but as she was also the daughter of a slave, she appreciated not being in chains, though she was no less a prisoner. After the tragic death of one of her sisters, Artemisia’s to be wed to whichever rich noble will take her, and in her desperation for any way out of it, she trades places with someone else – something worse. Artemisia’s now a resident of the land of faerie, and getting out of there’s going to be murder.

Artemisia (from here on Arty for the sake of my fingers) is Cinderella with sass. Even the most positive relationships she has are kept with a share of racism and skepticism, and the worst paint her as a faulty piece of hardware they lost the receipt for. Even the Queen of the Unseelie makes it clear that Arty isn’t special so much as handy. Her quest to get her life back is also her first chance to gather power and status for herself, and once it begins it promises to be an eventful show. Betrayal’s a recurring theme, and so the relationships Arty makes persistently come with a side of malice.

The art style takes minimal lines and, with practiced skill, renders characters with facial and body language expressions easily. Some smile with genuine happiness, some with unleashed sadism, and the reader can reliably tell one from the other. The designs for the human estate come straight from Jane Austen’s darkest first acts, and while Faerie kind of looks the same no matter who draws it, this particular combo of elements should please most. By and large, the visuals are light and breezy, but the details add some grievous weight once you notice them.

Sparrowhawk reads like a wrapped up rocking horse – it’s covered with elegant finery, but underneath it’s a ride.

And it is upon such a horse, pale and beaten well past death, that I take my leave. See you next week! (CC Note: Do we have to?) (That’s how the curse works.)

Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival?  They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues

Variant Coverage Review Blog by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival

Variant Coverage Review Blog by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival


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