Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
There was a man. He collaborated with some of the most popular artists in the world. He didn’t always recognize his partners’ contributions, but he never disavowed them. Without him, the Comic Code Authority might still hang over the industry’s head. Love him or hate him or anything in between, this man was the face of Marvel Comics like no one had been the face of a franchise before, and no one since. His quirky cameos lit smiles on millions of faces, and the world is darker for his loss.
Rest in Peace, Stan “The Man” Lee.
•Hope TP (Adams/ Broxton): Okay, so a noir detective finds himself in a modern club scene, and has to team up with a committed DJ to penetrate the underworld and find the real killer in a series we call, “Magic & Melee: Bio-Warlock and the Club”!
•Uncanny X-Men 1 (Various): Somebody told the Jean Grey Academy that staff photo time was up and they could include as many as they wanted in the group shot, they had a studio with plenty of room. The Jean Grey Academy sent plenty of people to make themselves look strong and well-balanced. No one at the Jean Grey Academy read the photographer’s card closely, so they only have themselves to blame when they accepted the bid of Trask Photography – “Destroy All Obstacles to Visual Clarity” – and teleported most of their senior faculty into a complete vacuum. [7/10]
It is truly a time of sorrow for the X-Men – their election season’s upon them, and they’re presenting a carefully prepared counter-argument at a rally for the candidate running on a “Vaccinate your kids before they become mutants” platform. Kitty Pryde, headmistress of the X-Mansion, will be presenting, and she’s taking her students on a little mission to get the violence out of her system before taking the stage. That mission, the rally, and a leisurely breakfast all fall apart after a series of bizarre kidnappings and waves of Madroxes. Someone’s collecting advocates, and one of the early specimens is usually the one doing the kidnapping.
A fundamental problem with any series with a print run as long as varied as X-Men is that storylines tend to repeat. Some succeed in mixing elements up enough to keep things fresh, but this issue doesn’t try that method. There’ve been politicians promoting anti-mutant agendas, there’ve been mutant “cures” with questionable origins, there’ve been foreign actors needing a captive audience. And could there be hints of friend and foe collaborating, or misunderstandings leading to violent outbursts? Yes, there are. Oddly enough, it’s the slice-of-life segments that stand out unique, including Iceman and X-23’s debate over claw sanitation, or the lesson in humility after meeting Forearm (he’s got four arms, it’s a pun, get it?). New readers might be captivated by such personable characters against difficult odds, but the more experiences/ jaded will need to search harder for a hook.
Asrar’s duties as the X-Men’s illustrator for over a year now means he’s comfy and confident, and that shows on the page here. As a veteran, he knows how to pace his panel layout to allow for gentle moments so that they can build up in intensity. The subtle-yet-significant differences in faces allow readers to tell the difference between looking apathetic, angry, and playful without changing much. The inking’s a bit rough, giving the art a slightly unfinished quality, but with full detailing and precise coloring this is more likely intentional, as if they want the X-Men to be rough around the edges.
Uncanny X-Men reads like your usual at a restaurant – it’s nothing new or challenging, it’s maybe not even impressive, but the flavor and familiarity are still good.
•Only Living Boy Omnibus (Gallaher/ Ellis): So either he’s the default choice in a planetary harem, or he’s solely responsible for the entire Boy Scouts of America’s yearly revenue. I’m not bothering to calculate boys’ economic leverage across all markets, just this one minor element. $219,000 may not sound like a lot in contemporary finances, but in post-apocalyptic bottle cap currency, that’s a ridiculous fortune!
•Black Order 1 of 5 (Landy/ Tan): “Okay, this cover’s going to be amazing! Just random angles and brightness against different shades of black and navy, only they’re not random because they make up the members of the Black Order! It’s gonna be epic, I can’t stress this enough.”
“Alright, have you left room for Thanos?”
“Thanos? I read the script, he’s not a major player in this.”
“But they work for him in the movies, and so that’s the only way some readers will recognize them. This was in your contract, are you telling me you can’t do it?”
“NO no no, not at all! This is just annnn… early draft, I’m still working on it, we’ll have an updated version to you toot sweet.”
“Sounds good. Later.” *click*
“Okay, Thanos needs to be on this cover, literally no one cares how you squeeze him in, just do it!”
•Star Wars Darth Vader 23 (Soule/ Bonetti): “I will never forget… that time I had legs. I would literally slaughter an entire race to experience fresh socks again.”
•Firefly 1 (Pak/ McDaid): Sepia tone’s a bit on the nose, isn’t it? I mean yes, the independents wore brown coats, so all the clothes need to be at least a little brown, but do you expect us to forget that in a dystopian future, colors still exist? And in addition, recording colors onto film and print also exists? Because that’s canon, that’s very canon.
•Alien 3 The Unproduced Screenplay 1 (Gibson & Christmas): Game shows of the future look disgustingly sterile. They blindfold contestants, lock them in a pod, and challenge them to count the number of space horrors wanting to incubate their flesh just by the clawing sound they make against a ship’s hull? Who wants to see that? And they’re too afraid of alienating people with putting one face on the property, so they have the host wear an EVA suit to avoid whatever they think a controversy is. Read books, because the future of TV doesn’t look so good. [8/10]
Take everything you know about the movie Alien 3, crush it, maliciously throw it into a ship, launch said ship out of Earth orbit, and nuke it. (Some of you may’ve done this on your own, and that’s fine.) On the way back from LV-426, having rescued one child and lost almost everything else, the Sulaco sleepily marches through space back to Earth… only it gets told to make an unscheduled pit stop via a short cut taking the ship through unaligned territory. Ambitious members of the United Progressive Protectorate break in to grab what they can, not expecting to find the debris from a horror movie everywhere. It’s kind of funny how unprepared they are, considering could’ve taken guns, vehicles, gear, and nukes, but ignored them all for half an android.
It takes some cojones to write a franchise story that contradicts canon as nakedly as this does, but William Gibson – that Neuromancer guy – possesses such things. Instead of starring the characters from Aliens, they merely get cameos while the real narrative lifting is done by corporate teams from warring tribes. None of them stand out from the others – they’re all greedy jerks who think they can control the uncontrollable – and with the only people anyone’s invested in off to the side, all that’s left to root for really is that the most crooked jerks die first. For some stories, for some audiences, that’s all you need.
The overall art style emphasizes energy and attitude over scale and anatomy. While not photorealistic in the least, figures gesture, twist, and move in such a way that their intent and motivations are plenty identifiable. Linework and detail is high for whatever’s in the foreground, but the backgrounds become more abbreviated the farther back they rest. The colors and shading don’t try too hard to help any element pop out, instead they’re fine with simply clarifying what the reader’s supposed to see. If you didn’t know better, you’d think this could be a movie storyboard.
Alien 3 reads like a rant from a childhood hero – someone hates a story and writes their own, which is how fanfiction came to be only this bit of revenge has a distinguished pedigree.
•God of War 1 of 4 (Roberson/ Parker & Jackson): “I’m not the god of hammers, nor am I the god of dire bears, nor am I the god of arms on fire oh Dear ME, WHERE IS THAT BOY WITH THE FIRE EXTINGUISHER?!”
•Dr. Horrible Best Friends Forever 1 (Whedon/ Beroy, Soler, & Jackson): This cover needs at least 40% less Smug. Both characters are overflowing with smugness, and that science gun clearly was designed to be too pleased with itself. Can we get the attitude police in here? What’s that? There’s no attitude police and now the real police are coming to shut us down? Alright, readers, you NEVER saw me!
•Elisabeth Dumn Against the Devils in Suits One-Shot (Arabson): Alright, elementary school along must have been an objective, undeniable hell for anyone with the last name of “Dumn”. What’s more, she looks like she’s overcome armies of bullies, school counselors, civil psychologists, social workers, and real ‘Muricans already. If she can still stand up straight under all that pressure, she’s got my vote in 2020, fictional or not.
•Electric Warriors 1 of 6 (Orlando/ Foreman): You’ve got cyborg spiders and TRON cosplayers bookending a team that’s all about holding a charge – that’s three steps into negative territory right there! (CC Note: We speak on behalf of chemists everywhere when we say BOOOOO!) (Chemists of the World: Actually, we appreciate you getting this little facet about us accurate, here are two Science Points.) (This is the most rewarding failure I’ve ever experienced!)
•Bitter Root 1 (Walker & Brown/ Greene): “Hey, remember when all those old white men told us that we couldn’t be adventurers because it was too sophisticated for us? They’d have heart attacks on their heart attacks if they saw us now.”
“Hey, remember when I said adventuring was a stupid idea because we’d have literal, physical nightmares up our butts all hours of the day, and you said it was nothing to worry about?”
“I feel like you’re not with me on this.”
“I feel like a man-sized moth’s trying to eat my torso, I don’t care what you feel!” [9/10]
Every religion comes packaged with gods, and with those gods are demons, and those demons need officers to fight against them. Catholics have their exorcists, Voodoo call them witch doctors, ancient tribes call upon shaman, New York calls the Ghostbusters, and somewhere in between them all are the Sangeryes. It’s the 1920’s down in New Orleans, and everyone knows that if hatred or anger turn men into monsters, you bring them to the Sangeyre’s attention. For generations, the family’s been working to remove corruption from the souls of man and civilization, and they’re adapting to the times as well as they can, only that may not be enough. The rate of demonic influence remains constant, but they’re fewer in number and influence, and everyone has their own questions about who should go where from here. And as if that weren’t enough, a couple of new kids’ve come into town with maybe a hundredth of the experience yet fully convinced they could do so much better.
There’s a lot working in Bitter Root’s favor. First, there will never be a time when 1920’s New Orleans isn’t inherently fascinating. Second, there’s a secular approach to demon hunting that doesn’t attack or slight any previous interpretation, but instead accommodates everyone’s in a relaxed, “nobody’s wrong” method that encourages acceptance, especially when it comes to hate-fueled killing machines. The family dynamic may be the most engaging factor, which includes a tea-drinking fountain of wisdom and words-of-the-day training his underachiever of a protégé, the family matriarch trying to negotiate family duty and natural strengths with her granddaughter’s eagerness for field deployment, and a constant game of “Who’s cleaning up the mess?”. Between the banter, the lore, and the vicious action beats, there are plenty of reasons to give this a proper read.
Sanford Greene’s art style may look familiar – he worked with Walker on the latest iteration of Heroes for Hire, but this project provides many more opportunities for him to design, layout, create, and otherwise play with the look of the book, and he indulges. Glass tubes on shotguns, walking sticks that also work as musical instruments and weapons, ritualistic herbal potions injected with syringes decades ahead of their time – this is steampunk eldritch action at it’s most self-aware. Any excitement you feel at the idea is perfectly natural.
Bitter Root reads like the first bit of farm-fresh produce – tasting hundreds of forkfuls of grocery store fare does nothing to prepare you for what you’re about to experience.
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues