Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
I’m one of those people that says “Happy Holidays!” It’s not because I’m a soldier-for-hire in the war on Christmas, and it’s not because I have birthdays to celebrate on top of national holidays. It’s because I don’t know what every single person I come across celebrates, I don’t expect them to know what I celebrate, and in the big picture I don’t care either way so long as we all get our cheer from somewhere. It sounds lazy, and it is lazy, but it’s thoughtful and honest lazy.
Oh hey, look at these comics!
•Betty & Veronica 1 of 5 (Rotante/ Fitzpatrick): You know what would truly be a revolutionary and untold story about these starcrossed BFFs? Exchanging clothes. Think about it: Betty knows how to rock the girl-next-door look, and Veronica won’t wear anything that hasn’t been vetted in Paris or New York. Is there any chance their friendly rivalry could survive borrowing just one shirt? Show me.
•Aquaman 43 (DeConnick/ Rocha & Henriques): A powerful man standing tall against all the maelstrom Poseidon can muster’s an impressive sight, until you realize it’s Aquaman doing the standing. This isn’t a feat of strength and control, it’s his daily shower. (Yes, Atlanteans take showers, and no, you don’t want to know how most of them do it.) Could also explain why he’s topless… he hasn’t decided what form-fitting orange shirt of chain mail he’s going to wear today. (No one but Wonder Woman and Batman notice the difference, and that makes it more special.) [8/10]
There’s this big guy that washed up on the shore of a little island, sort of an home for misfit seafarers. This is considered a normal method of population growth, so he fits in right away, particularly because this guy doesn’t remember anything about himself, so he just goes with the flow. He’s a good swimmer, pretty tough, people call him Andy expect this one lady in red. Before he can get restless he gets the full history of this place: it was a purgatory where the spirit of the ocean held lost sailors until it could send them somewhere else, but after one ornery witch left to complain, it became a prison. If only there were someone with authority over the oceans or something.
The basics of the story being with a recurring, tired hook: hero has amnesia, hangs out with the less fortunate. Arthur Curry (and other Aquamen) lose their memories often enough that they should invest in an RFID tag. Fortunately, there are other factors at work which breathe some life into the situation – an island with some dark history, a vindictive soul with a spirited daughter, a collection of zany and colorful characters, and the ocean from Moana. They lend the story enough depth to play around in, but not quite enough to overcome the trite fate of Andy/ Arausio/ Arthur. There’s plenty more of the tale to go, and maybe that’ll be enough to turn this into its own mark on the title, but for now it’s a dressed-up version of a story already told.
Visually, this book is gorgeous. Its roots stick to DC’s house style of sculpted figures with strong expressions, and they don’t stop there. The more complication and involved sections of the scenery don’t get generalized or ignored, but embraced. The ocean’s waves and flow are their own character, and receive the attention a character should have, and that gives every other part of the page more energy to use on their own. Likewise, Red’s outfit is equal parts clothing and fabric display, picking up every gust of wind and motion of its wearer, painting each panel of her as its own magazine splash ad. This is the hard stuff of drawing, it’s the kind of work that artists tend to dread, but here’s a team that’s willing to make the effort, and it shows.
Aquaman reads like a tree grown around a ruined pillar – ultimately strong and fun to climb, though the core’s far from inspiring.
•Livewire 1 (Ayala/ Allen & Martin): “Okay, so I’m a techno-super-savvy black woman that wears red and yellow, but that doesn’t make me Ironheart! For reasons! I’m, like, eight years older than her or something!”
•Witcher – Of Flesh & Flame 1 (Motyka/ Strychowska): He came up here to kill someone – it’s why he has the sword and a fire spell ready to go. He knew which he wanted to kill when he climbed the steps with cat-like grace to get to this chamber. But damned if he can remember if he’s sworn to protect the fair maiden or beat the shadowy threat to that sweet and ample bounty on her head. He should write this stuff down on his gloves or something.
•Artifact One 3 (Krul & Hernandez/ Moranelli): Don’t you hate it when you’re stalking prey, you’ve snuck right behind them without a single trace, you’re about to pounce, and the soon-to-be-victim shouts something like “Hello, is anyone hunting me? ‘Cause honestly I’m sort of in the market for a relentless tracker with their own reasons for picking and killing a particular target!” Nothing brings you out of the moment like suddenly finding out they have no appreciation for the craft, they just want spoil it with money. The nerve of some people.
•Hardcore 1 (Diggle/ Vitti): “Electronically downloading decades of life experiences into my brain in the space of two minutes and suffering hours of seizures are MY anti-drug-g-g-g-g-g!” [6/10]
Ever wish you could live someone else’s life for just ten minutes? Most in that situation would ask themselves “What do I do?” or “Who do I hang out with?” Agent Drake asks his own question: “How quickly can I kill my target?” A couple revolutions in nanotech and neuroscience allows a team to pick a target and basically shoot their preferred consciousness into them. This person could economically destablizing an economy, upend half the laws of an unstable government, or carry out assassinations without fear of reprisal, and the latter is Agent Drake’s specialty. He likes his work – it lets him kill bad people. The program’s designer expected to be in Agent Drake’s neurolink harness, since he built half of it himself, but without any moral compass at all, so the higher-ups fired him. They didn’t give him severance or the patents, they didn’t even bother with an exit interview. That last one may come back to bite them.
There’s not a lot of characterization to track here – the badass with a heart of commercial-grade silver, the scraggly scientist that believes in the work, the genius that doesn’t know how to overcome their own ego – many types play around here. But the focus is entirely on the gimmick – big macguffin’s a toy, someone has it, someone else wants it, fisticuffs and pistols at dawn. Everyone’s got their roles, and they’re sticking with them for the duration. Narrative arcs and personal development can be found in another comic, but this one’s about the technobabble and ultraviolence. Shamelessly embracing the cheese of this makes it work better, but it’s resistance to be anything more drags it down.
What may strike readers first about the visuals is the consistency of everyone’s Liefeld-face. The expressive range goes from “tired of this crap” to “I want to kill this person but I’m going to say it softly so it sounds menacing”, and as far as I can tell everyone talks through their teeth, with mouths opening only for cries of death or perhaps big bites of sandwiches. The coloring pulls more than its fair share of the weight in providing depth, shading, and light to the scenes, while the line work contents itself getting the shapes mostly right.
Hardcore reads like a grocery list – all the ingredients are checked off, but that doesn’t make it a meal.
•Freedom Fighters 1 of 12 (Venditti/ Barrows): If the CBLDF doesn’t grab as hard as they can for the rights to this cover – a remarkable take on freedom of speech vs. censorship – then they’re dumb. I believe they’re not dumb, so they’re going to need to get the checkbook out. (Click here to help with that if you like.)
•Klaus & the Crying Snowman 1 (Morrison/ Mora): As a general rule I think the world needs LESS gritty, hardcore reboots to classic stories, but I’m on board with this one. Too often people forget of St. Nick’s arch-nemesis: the child-hungry Krampus. These two battled for ages over the meaning of the holidays, and the compromise is tenuous at best. When Krampus stuffs one kid in his sack for hitting a classmate, but Santa’s got a gift for that same kid for shutting a bully down even though they were scared, the old elf should stop being jolly.
•Defenders Best Defense 1 (Ewing/ Bennett): Any surfer worth their barnacles will tell you that there’s a bond between surfer and board. There’s a wave of water with half the weight of an ocean behind it, and there’s only two things crazy enough to think they can ride it, but only if they work together. So when that whole relationship is taken to a quantum-entangled scale, BUT you’ve got three passengers that just don’t know their stuff, YES, even a surfer like the Silver going to have a less than rad time. [7/10]
Doctor Strange is dead, his atoms scattering the cosmos with the rest of the former planet Earth, long since a desiccated husk of its former self because a cosmic train passed through. Like Marley from A Christmas Carol, Strange conducts business with mortals still, recruiting the Silver Surfer, Namor the Submariner, and the modern-and-wicked Hulk to divert the train before it can crush Earth like a penny on the rails. Thing is, this train’s being driven by the mutated, twisted, and cosmically powerful undead aspect of something that lived and died off of cons, lies, and hatred for Earth and anyone that’s ever lived there. Who’s more motivated: the cobbled-together team that’re openly hostile to each other, or the determined monster sponsored by two elite demons of hell?
There’ve been a set of one-shots leading up to this featuring the individual characters, but I am living proof that you don’t need to have read them to follow what’s going on. We’re looking at some of the most powerful characters in the Marvel universe, of course they’re not getting together to look at color swatches, they’re working against twisted cosmic forces of eternity. What sells the whole premise is the places these characters are pulled from: an emotional quagmire of darkness and immortality, the middle of a Game of Thrones plot only with deeper stakes, suspension conscripted from a planet-eating boss, and oh yeah the friggin’ afterlife. These kids have very different perspectives, and they’re exploited for all they’re worth.
The art style might seem like the classic house style – larger than life and not afraid to get a bit ugly, yet detailed – but once it lets the reader gets their feet under them it pulls back to reveal mechanisms and machinations bigger than our solar system and probably older than it too. Like the cosmic crossover event Annihilation, this book knows what it takes to scale a herald of Galactus against Galactus’s grouchy neighbors without reducing any one element. The Silver Surfer looks imposing and celestial AND as dangerous as a hobbled mouse next to this set of foes. It’s something to see.
Defenders reads like a story from a grandpa that’s been telling it for years – yes, it’s gimmicky and beyond belief, but its delivery is brilliant.
I will most likely not be updating next week, so see you in two!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues