Variant Coverage – January 30, 2019

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

This week’s edition took longer than normal to post – a few reviews got frozen on the way to the page and needed thawing.

Catalyst Prime Keno 13 (Paknadel/ Guzowski & Galindo): Someone else is going to have come up with something funny for this one. I never could see the shape in those faux 3-D things.

Mysteries of Love in Space 1 (Various/ Various): What’s Darkseid got that Superman doesn’t? Superman IS the man who has everything – Bruce Wayne himself ceded the title and that guy’s got a barrel of eighth century mead because the extinct strain of yeast used in its production might be essential to a crime later. Hell, Darkseid’s practically wearing the same clothes: lots of blue, splashes of red and yellow, it’s nuts! The only difference I can tell is Darkseid’s rock-hard skin and I just now heard it this makes total sense I’m leaving.

Age of X-Man Alpha 1 (Thompson & Nadler/ Rosanas): It’s hard to believe that these folks desire a world that humans and mutants can share peacefully when their recruitment posters are full of mutants literally looking down on everyone. They’re supposed to live in a school but apparently no one teaches basic media design? [7/10]

It’s beginning to look a lot like paradise. Humans get along with mutants fine, mutants aren’t afraid to be seen, the world’s clean, everyone smiles at each other, the whole happy deal. It’s Charles Xavier’s dream realized in its most positive way, and it’s all because of Nathan Grey, the X-Man from the Age of Apocalypse. He’ll tell anyone it’s because of his remarkable team, the strength of their faith in their fellow man, or the global capacity to see the best in each other. He won’t tell anyone that he hijacked Legion, rewrote planetary history, and basically subjugated every mind on the planet to bend to his whims. “Not killing each other”’s a decent whim to bend to. “Not developing romantic attachments because Nathan was lab grown so now everyone should be too” still suffers in polling.

It’s almost sweet to see Nate Grey – perpetually begrudged boy raised during the Age of Apocalypse – so openly nostalgic for a little piece of home. Oh, the finishing’s different, far fewer death camps, but at its core it’s pretty much the same: enjoy the way my world works or you’ll be removed/ reconditioned until that happens. Everyone’s dialogue – even when spouting heresy – also sings only Nate’s praises and skip the part with the shadowy enforcement squad. The unilateral tone of the beats comes together to create a world between Pleasantville and 1930’s Berlin. Being intentional doesn’t stop it from coming across as creepy.

The public areas all include a view of 1950’s America through rose-tinted glasses: happy, simple, almost innocent. The buildings for housing and educating mutants aren’t as beholden to the retro style, as seen with their flat/ no screen monitors and bunker-esque architecture. The figures and faces show a few characteristics with Phil Noto’s work (seen on the cover), but the colors and finishing polish off any edges or imperfections.

Age of X-Man reads like a propaganda documentary – you should decide things for yourself so long as you come to the same conclusions as everyone else.

Fight Club 3 1 (Palahniuk/ Stewart): I wonder what this guy’s running from. The credit card companies are probably still trying to recover who owes what even after twenty years or whatever, the cops’re haven’t gotten a solid lead on him, so that leaves who? Who or what would go to such lengths to stalk a man with multiple identities that’s been avoiding the law for years… of course, it’s so obvious: librarians! Project Mayhem turned the world into chaos, but there’s no anarchy disheveled enough to outwit the Dewey decimal system.

Journey into Unknown Worlds 1 (Bunn & Chapman/ Various): The Scouting Manual was printed for a reason: the question “Is this edible?” has been answered for just about everything you could find in the wild. Check it BEFORE you eat the space mushroom that causes hallucinations or aggressive metamorphoses, AFTER is too late.

Night Moves 3 of 5 (Boyd & Boyd/ McCormack): Tony Stark never turns down a chance to debate science vs. religion – not because of deeply-held principles, but because it gets under Thor’s skin. He’ll arrive in whatever suit might be appropriate (plenty request Iron Man) and bring his best points, comparisons, Powerpoint presentations, sock puppets, the whole works. The enthusiasm’s great, but at the end of the day the argument usually goes to the one that brings the biggest sacrificial knife.

Captain America 7 (Coates/ Kubert): Well, it looks like the time has come – America’s going on trial. [8/10]

It should be a relief to Bruce Banner, but instead it’s a chain around Steve Rogers’ neck: Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross is dead. Between the manner of death, his supposed connection to a shadow economy, and Cap’s notable lack of a solid alibi, Steve’s the primary suspect. While hiding out with his honey Sharon Carter and his lawyer Bernie, Hydra and recent clients the Power Elite deploy everything they have that might keep Rogers locked down for as long as possible. They’re villainous, they’re petty, but this time it’s not personal. They just need to separate the man from his shield.

While this is part 1 of a story arc, it demands more than a little background information going in, only some of which is provided by the catch-up page after the opening sequence. Cap vs. Hydra isn’t anything particularly new, but ever since Evil Cap (who didn’t even have the decency to wear a goatee) tried to impose a new world order for the very same Hydra, the public’s a lot less willing to give Stevie the benefit of the doubt. There’s not much characterization anywhere, but a whole lot of plot, and the two don’t get in each other’s way. One more thing: do you like cameos? Because this’s got cameos.

If you don’t know Adam Kubert by know, here’s what you need to know: he’s just about mastered tense expressions and kinetic imagery. Works great with bar fights and conversations about murder charges. Less great with fits of laughter and philosophical debates, but there aren’t any of those, so no need to worry. Like any proper murder mystery, there’s a distinct lack of strong light – in fact I think the strongest is in a seedy bar – so the colors are washed out either in darkness or unnatural brightness. Tonally, the visuals fit wonderfully with the story.

Captain America reads like dark chocolate – a little bitter, but good and good for you (but not the dog).

Amazing Spider-Man 14 (Spencer/ Bachalo): When your significant other fires up Netflix without you.


Thunderbolt 1 (Gillen/ Wijngaard): The hero stands ready, his posture perfect, his muscles toned, his war paint/ costume ready for whatever challenge may strike. But in truth, the hero means to strike first… against the first needley pendant to point out that thunder doesn’t have bolts.


Shadow Play 1 (Rivera/ Meath): I don’t care how amazing it looked in that video, if you stage a ritual involving a rose head, an ashtray, and the cloaking shade of an anguished giant, you have only yourself to blame when it goes to hell. No suing the maker of the video, no blaming the company streaming service for hosting it, that’s on you.


Wyrd 1 (Pires/ Fuso): “SWAT’s deployed and ready to breach, awaiting the order.”
“Hold on that, we’ve got a specialist to send in first.”
“We’re dealing with armed hostiles and possible bioweapons, this specialist wearing space armor or something?”
“No, argyle featured at a show in Paris.” [6/10]

Every now and then, all over the world, police reports are shuffled into dark corners to be lost and forgotten about. Most places would stop functioning if anyone looked too hard at these events, be they mysterious plague or abomination of science a child playing with something no mortal ever should. For every desperate cover-up, there’s a rich bastard ready to pay ridiculous amounts of money to read the final chapter. There’s a global industry built around connecting these affluent readers with one man: Mr. Wyrd. He’s the one that finishes what other detectives, criminal empires, secret research agencies, and other forms of life start. Wyrd accomplishes all these things with the help of grinding detective work, naked obedience to his addictions, and his body’s absolute refusal to die.

As a character, Wyrd has roughly two dimensions: he’s kind of an asshole, and kind of unbeatable. Wyrd chases down impossible threats more for the thrill than the generous compensation, but if you threw in charisma, anthropology, and any distinguishing characteristics he could begin to compare to Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder protagonist Jaeger. If this first issue is any indication, the series plans to be an event of the week, with the prescribed hints at mysterious past and shadowy organization thrown in. There’s tragedy and frustration and decent dialogue moments padding the space between the action sequences, but not much connective tissue to hold it all together.

The book’s visual style strike a balance somewhere between Ben Templesmith’s otherworldly atmosphere with Michael Avon Oeming’s anatomy and pacing. It builds an environment that’s supposed to be like modern-day reality, but off just enough to tell something’s up. It’s a good fit for the narrative, but where the art falls apart are the action sequences that the story’s built around. Aside from occasional x-rays of bones breaking a la Mortal Kombat, there’s little energy to be found.

Wyrd reads like a computer-finished paint-by-numbers page – it technically meets all the requirements of a comic, but treats any stroke outside the lines like a crashable offense.

Heroes in Crisis 5 of 9 (King/ Mann): How badly do you need to screw up to get called out by the Man of Steel? This is the superpowered Boy Scout, he flies criminals to their mothers and stages reconciliations that’d make Oprah cry. He’s let Lex Luthor live this long, and he stole 40 pies once. But YOU apparently are meeting him behind the bleachers after school for a fight. Bring an angry mob – they won’t improve your odds, but they’ll enjoy the show.


Thanks for your patience, everyone! See you soon!

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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