Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
The thing about holidays is that whether you enjoy, hate, or avoid them, they’re exhausting. There’s no getting around them, they can only be lived through. If you’re reading this, you made it. Take a break, grab a drink of something nice, and read some comics.
•24 Panels TP (Various): In the 24 panels on the cover, they could have spelled out “Twenty Four Panels”. Hell, if they really had gusto they could’ve gone with 2-4 – “Twenty Hyphen Four Panels”, but they didn’t, so instead they’ve got all those blank spaces to fill. Crazy kids.
•Middlewest 1 (Young/ Corona): I’m at a loss to say which element to this cover’s the least believable. A kid keeping a shirt white’s already asking a lot, but that’s almost normal in comparison. You’ve got a tornado that can’t be bothered to consistently destroy every house, and insists on maintaining a face and a hand. Then you’ve got the cartoony magical forest creature behind 50 pounds of meat and it’s not jumping for it, which is just plain weird. But there’s also the bunny water tube leading into a trailer filled with pink goo, and that’s either madness or the next natural step in semi-mobile housing, I cannot tell which. [7/10]
The town of Middlewest may not look like much compared to a big city, but it’s got all a family needs: good food, a decent roof (and magical tank thingy) on every home, a train stop to keep stocked and in touch with the world, and lots of love. Tween paperboy Abel isn’t getting much of that last one, not since his mother hit the road and his dad’s coping by turning grief into anger and letting it out on Abel. What should be a regular and fun day with his friends turns into something much darker after a dumb plan poorly timed triggers something disastrous in Daddie. If Abel is going to survive his father’s wrath, he’ll need to run like the wind.
The subtitle to this could be “Trigger Warning”, that’s the level of abuse and dangerous behaviors laid out for you across 22 pages. Something that feels so messed up but also on point is that Abel’s suffering is more tragic for its inconsistency. Hints drop like rain from a tree that before his mother left, family life wasn’t nearly as bad as when the issue begins. Abel knows what a decent life is like, and he knows he’s not safe now. The twist at the end isn’t completely out from nowhere, yet still asks a lot from the reader. As a whole, the reading experience isn’t so much confusing as incomplete – it lays out way more questions than is normal, and the answers provided are few and irrelevant.
The art looks like something that would come from an apprentice of Skottie Young, which considering he’s the writer should surprise no one. The design style is shamelessly cartoony, and oddly enough that pairs well with the subject matter. The architecture fits everything fine, and even takes an extra few steps to prepare the reader for some wacky stuff. If presentation is key, Middlewest has enough to fill a keychain.
Middlewest reads like baker’s chocolate – from the look you might think kids would like it, but it’s more of a teaching experience than anything.
•Dick Tracy 2 of 4 (Allred & Allred/ Tommaso): Until I’m proven otherwise, I’m just going to believe that Dick Tracy and Mario Mario are related somehow, because who else could knock a guy out just by applying gentle pressure with his foot? Tell me you can’t hear the “boing-thu-blip”!
•Crimson Lotus 1 of 5 (Mignola & Arcudi/ Lee & Madsen): Okay, what does it say about my movie-watching habits that I don’t know which is supposed to be more disturbing: the skull and bones, the physical reincarnation of Rasputin minus the cuddliness, or the otherwise innocent little girl. As far as I’m concerned, film has taught its lesson and all three of them in their individual ways are harbingers of death and doom. You don’t believe me? Study that girl’s face, now imagine that same expression as she’s tightening her scarf around your porcelain throat.
•Lightstep 1 of 5 (Milos Slavkovic): “I’ll show all of your brutal old thugs with your pretentious and over-accessorized prop comedy you call ‘fashion’! I’m going to Earth where I can make something of myself! If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, don’t you dare try to stop me! No one! Not from travelling to a garbage disposal planet filled with superhumans and insects and violent aliens and processed food, no, no one save me at all. I’m not saying it’s worth trying or anything…” [6/10]
The Lightstep planetoid – a world hurtling through the cosmos at close to the speed of light, allowing its citizens to live for millennia – features an interesting population. Their culture resolves around tributes and reenactments to their founder, the Primogenitor. The Primogenitor rallied his people with his siblings and established a thriving civilization, then went mad and was thrown off Lightstep to stop him from burning it all to ashes. January Lee (Anu for short) was born into this world, raised there, climbed all the proper social ladders here, but when the coming-of-age ceremony came around, she couldn’t go through with it due to a critical case of sanity. This isn’t a crisis to the powers that be, though – there’s a cure for that.
The premise is twelve full shades of wonky, from the casual disdain toward basic physics to the clothing fashion that just happens to look like nudity to the extreme solution to overpopulation to the mass psychosis to the unstated-yet-obvious multigenerational incest involved in sustaining this kind of place. Anu’s got problems of her own, mostly from her defining moment being an act of inaction. If the protagonist doesn’t DO something, they’re just less fun to watch, and page time is valuable. This doesn’t have to be a deal breaker if the story’s aware of itself enough to parody such a landscape, but instead Lightstep takes itself seriously, so when you laugh at certain moments it feels awkward.
All the positive qualities to this book are in the visuals, which approach this project from a place of love and earnest expression. Though things may look crazy to us, the players violently love their aesthetic, their position, their history, and the artwork communicates that love effectively. The designs are extravagant and also sell the idea of a narcissistic techno-utopia. The coloring is bright and detailed, and finishes off a particular visual style. Say what you will about the narrative (I sure have), but Lightstep succeeds at generating visual appeal.
Lightstep reads like a polished turd trophy – it’s shiny and presented as an achievement, but trying to take it seriously will only hurt you.
•Rick & Morty Presents Pickle Rick 1 (Dawson/ Filardi): It’s clearly a lack of foresight on the convention’s part that the Geneva accords failed to place war crime boundaries just against people, and not pets or vegetables. Did the chimps from the Space Race teach us nothing – but a tool in front of anything with enough intelligence and dexterity and literally anything could happen. When our petting zoos and salad bars can host graver atrocities than us without global oversight, they become the dominant species of the universe. I’m calling it now.
•American Carnage 1 (Hill/ Fernandez): I want to snark about a mouthful of pearly whites being part of a mask, but more than anything this cover screams “Too Soon” to me. And it sucks that it’ll probably keep screaming that for some time.
•Smooth Criminals 1 (Lustgarten & Smith/ Riddel): “That Sally Spymaster thinks she’s so big, with her skin-tight body suit and her body that makes the suit look awesome and her fancy jewels and her obvious competence by bringing rope to any situation. Well you know what she doesn’t have? Give me half an hour and a decent internet connection, and the answer’ll be ‘a passable credit rating’, THEN she’ll know who’s boss!” [8/10]
The year is 1999. America’s getting ready to call the last decade problematic, neon’s not quite done being a thing, and the dawn of the Information Age peaks over the horizon. Brenda aches to plunge into a hacker’s lifestyle, perhaps because she’ll be one of the trailblazers on that superhighway. But for now she’s still learning, which means she’s got to look presentable until she can support herself off the grid, which means going to college and working a crappy job where she’s smarter than her boss. A punishing cleaning job goes awry when Brenda finds some vintage supplies leading to your standard black tech cryo pod, from which hatches Mia Corsair, top-tier cat burglar at least a generation away from her time. The introductions are violent, but also cute.
There are some interesting world-building questions that pop out, like “Is there a philosophical reason for these time periods to meet?” or “Will there be some quality that these two lack but find in each other?”, but the most likely answer’s probably “Because the fashions clash!” and honestly I don’t need anything deeper. But mains are funny and professional, but accomplish this from very different starting positions. It’s an opportunity to compare different worlds without reaching too far and it’s not going to meet academic standards but makes for good storytelling. Their struggles are equal parts outside forces and self-constructed, so there’s plenty for them to do, and they both demonstrate the capability to handle it. Fun times begin and promise to continue.
To understand the art style, start with standard American-style. It hasn’t changed much as far as anatomy’s concerned – the basic builds and poses and presentations that worked in the 60’s and 70s still work today. Blessedly the coloring uses modern tech, so there’s no layered pointillism, and it’s just as bright and colorful as both time periods are remembered for. The attire might be a bit bland as far as comics go, but they really sell that these certain people have those particular jobs.
Smooth Criminals reads like storytime at a bar with friends – something that starts with a serious bit and turns quickly into funtime.
Alright, we’re in the clear, people! See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues