Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
Who loves comics? Yes we do! We’ve got comics, how about you?
•Wizard Beach 1 of 5 (Simon & Nolan): What’s magic is how empty that stretch of sand is. Clear skies, active surf – anyplace else would be drowning in beach bums, but his nearest neighbor’s not even in shouting distance. I was tempted to call out the cocktail steadily floating in air yet the can of cola’s quenching the ground, but forget it. This is a stellar sample of solitary sorcery.
•Freeze 1 (Wickline/ Sevy): You know the old saying “You can’t stop what’s already stopped”? (CC Note: No. In fact, I don’t think anyone’s sai-*) Well here’s a handy fellow that stops an unbeating heart, how do you like them apples?! (CC Note: What apples? That’s a heartbeat, I don’t even -*) Yeah, that shut you up. (CC Note: You know what, you’re right, we won’t bring this up again until your performance evaluation. That’s in two days, BTW.) I’m frozen in confidence, not fear. Anything but fear. Unless you want fear, then it’s totally fear. [6/10]
As the huey lifts off after a violent but successful extraction, guns steaming from recent fire, Ray Adams can reflect on how a fella like him wound up there. Ray worked in IT, he lived with his ailing mother, he said hi to people on his usual bus, and he was treated just a step above furniture by his employers. Just run of the mill stuff for your made-in-the-USA “cog in the machine”. Then, at lightning speed, everybody around the planet just stopped. They didn’t fall down, there was no warning, every biological life sign halted, except for Ray’s. More sensational, Ray can bring people out of their statis with a touch of his hand. Who does he wake up first? The answer may surprise you.
The characterization starts strong and continues to hold as the story progresses, though slowly. The setting and accessories come from only yesterday, giving a definite sense of groundedness as we get to know Ray, and that groundedness influences the players by not letting their actions or reactions go too far from the norm. “The norm” is where the thing kind of falls apart – there are hints of malicious content and evil conspiracies throughout the issue, but from what’s actually told to us we’re supposed to believe a physics-defying cosmic event took place because of an office accident. Grossly ridiculous circumstances are fiction’s bread-and-butter, but this sample of time-stoppage because of Dunder Mifflin antics compares to setting up a see-saw so a freight truck and a puppy can play.
The visuals side with the grounded sensibilities of the narrative, which just shoves the twist even more out of place. The lines are sharp and clear, the colors bring out texture as well as color and light, and the form descriptive pictures that’re easy to follow. While easy to read and track, there’s not much to show aside from the appropriate apocalyptic scenes and coffee gags.
The Freeze reads like another giant winter holiday – it may be what we deserve, but it’s not what we need right now.
•Uncanny X-Men 4 (Brisson, Thompson, Rosenburg/ Perez): Swole Jesus unnerved me during its first rounds across the internet. Mutant Swole Jesus utterly fails to make me feel any better.
•Black AF Devil’s Eye 1 of 4 (Ayala/ Kangas): Black hair, pale complexion, a single point of blood red, and a blue wardrobe… if not for where exactly that red was, DC would have a case against this burgeoning series for character infringement. That not enough to stop me from hearing Raven daughter of Trigon scream in multiple tongues for a team of lawyers.
•Self Made 1 (Groom/ Ferigato): All those spare parts and she didn’t think to make herself a stepladder. And don’t even think to make excuses for her – that can’t be an intimidating project with so many helping hands around.
•Breakneck 1 of 5 (Swierczynski/ Guglielmini & Semeraro): This here’s a perfect shot of a complete and comprehensive noir trope cache. You’ve got your lovely ladies in deshamble, rough and ready men in suits armed with weapons, bars and motels everywhere. In the event of a planetary disaster, survivors should be able to rebuild dark alleys and dastardly deeds.
•Die 1 (Gillen/ Hans): There’s something bursting out of her eye and chest, and it’s probably a sense of power or liberation or enlightenment, but on the slim chance that it’s an alien chestburster, I’m hopelessly intrigued.
•Laguardia 1 (Okorafor/ Ford): You think yoga nowadays breaks the limits of the human body? Wait until sci-fi level tech works its way into the picture and you’ll see downward dog utilizing the gravitational difference between Mars and a neutron star. (CC Note: That’s the best you got?) And you thought the airport was scary?!? (CC Note: To all readers, we’re sorry.) [9/10]
If aliens showed up tomorrow to open negotiations for trade and immigration, would it matter where they set up shop or would the world go mad wherever? The answer this story suggests is “a little bit of both.” Only a few cities set up infrastructure to accommodate exoplanetary cohabitation, and yet their point-of-entry – Lagos, Nigeria – enjoys an economic and political boon from the whole deal. In record time this place has become one of the most important cities on the planet and the center of human-alien relations… along with the center of the biggest objection movement looking to shoot every last squishy back into space. What does this have to do with a pregnant woman named Future and her talking plant? Kind of a lot, really.
If the MCU’s taught us anything, it’s that Earth-shattering things can only happen in dense population centers, and that’s the kind of thing we could unlearn and profit from. Consider that Superman grew up in Smallville, Wonder Woman came from nowhere on any map drawn by man, and Son Goku was raised as a secluded farmer – it’s a great thing to start small, and on a global scale Lagos is small enough that you’ve probably never thought about it. It’s also a quick way to push the local culture into the global stage, turning what might once have been a mocking reaction to Nigerian attire into genuine praise. Moreover the individuals running around this fascinating world are far from perfect, range from talking props to double agents, but everyone comes with their own quirks and traits.
One the surface, the artwork feels rough. There aren’t many clean lines, the backgrounds aren’t computer generated, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s unpolished. The landscapes and sceneries pulse with life of all kinds, any building is an active and purposeful one, and character designs go beyond detailed – they’re intricate. This is a wholly handcrafted tale, which I wasn’t too keen on until one panel that sold me on it.
LaGuardia reads like a high-value Advent calendar – it’s a cheesy kind of fun that keeps paying off.
•Killmonger 1 of 5 (Hill/ Ferrayra): Think of all the remarkable differences in political, military, and intelligence affairs might have worked out different if only someone had handed this man an umbrella.
•Snap Flash Hustle 1 (Shand/ Pearson): As a society, we’re already chest deep in coming to terms with treating people as commodities, so stuffing a warehouse with supermodels may backfire just a smidgen. At least these four got out of their packing material and – true to form – look like they’d been prepping for hours and not only recently wrapped in styrofoam and bubble-wrap.
•Grumble 1 (Roberts/ Norton & Louise): “What, you guys got a problem with my dog? He’ll kick your asses without bothering to sniff any of them!”
“No, you’re the monster, lady! Pugs already are prone to breathing issues, and you’re supporting his smoking habits? We have regular dealing with demonic worlds, but even they’re non-smoking.”
•Martian Manhunter 1 of 12 (Orlando/ Rossmo): “You’re a shapeshifter, right?”
“Can look like anything you want, any one, and whatever clothes you can imagine?”
“So… why the badge? Kinda clashes with the alien mystique thing the rest of your look cultivates.”
“Martians aren’t savages. We like to accessorize.”
•Prodigy 1 (Millar/ Albuquerque): Thinking takes on a different tier of weight when you’ve got a gun in your hand, but I’m telling myself it shoots bubbles, and he’s wondering if walking through a bunch of them counts as dry-cleaning.
•Winter Soldier 1 (Higgins/ Reis): Don’t get too excited about Cap’s pal travelling through the Crossroads of America. If he’s counting on his license to carry (first issued 1941) getting him out of awkward conversations around his scale-model Howitzer, he could be disappointed. At least he had the self-awareness to not apply for concealed carry. [7/10]
A man robbed of choices forced to commit horrible acts, desperate for a hand on the road to redemption, even though the odds are astronomical against them. Bucky Barnes overcame a lot to get to where he is, but he’s not as alone as he’d like. People all over the country find themselves cornered into a list of bad choices, and Bucky’s geared up to give them a hidden option. With almost a century of combat experience and a chaotic redemption story, Buck’s got a lot of work to do to balance his own ledger. The MidWest practically generates opportunities for bad naps, so it makes for a good base for Jimmy B. to see if his idea could become a movement. And this is such a niche market, who would bother interfering with Hydra’s premiere assassin of the past 80 years?
Given that this guy’s single-handedly executed a global spy organization’s hit list and served time as the single agent against cosmic threats, this could be seen as a step down from the Winter Soldier’s average week, but it’s also a mission he’s giving himself. This is key – even as Captain America, he was directed toward targets and objectives, so this is the first time he’s calling his own shots. Watching him try to talk Tony Stark into a tenderloin sure doesn’t hurt either. Despite the decent cameos, Bucky doesn’t receive much positive feedback from his clients, and the meeting with his direct opposition could technically have been more traumatic, but not by much. There’s a golden heart pushing a train full of good intentions forward, only the track was built by the scummiest company that also could afford to bid low. So have fun with that.
The visual style milks the idea of home-grown Americana, right down to the simplistic-yet-informed easiness of how Bucky knows his neighbors and cares for his tools. This method helps bring the intensity down while the actual events remind us that intense things happen to average people too. The simplicity roots the panels into an earthy, labored aesthetic, which captures the environment fine but doesn’t always succeed in telling the reader who is who. And when identity is the name of the game, that counts for something.
Winter Soldier reads like a New York corn dog – a fine taste of something rarely found in more cosmopolitan places, but maybe not enough to convince the truly initiated.
See you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues