Variant Coverage – April 24, 2019

Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival

Can Wednesday be New Comic Day? Oh that’s right, it is and forever shall be. Let’s crack open some floppies!

I Think Our Friend Dan Might be a Dolphin One-Shot (James Stanton): Signs your friend is secretly a dolphin:
-starts a tab at a fish market,
-counts the number of times they hear the word “blowhole”,
-a high-pitched laugh,
-gets their nose in everyone’s business,
-spends all their time submerged in a giant saltwater tank,
-humiliates others during basketball games with their jump shot.

Achilles Inc. 1 (Schmidt/ Maine): These customized playing card decks are getting just a bit out of hand. [6/10]

Celestial fireworks shone in the sky one day, and the next day “lucky” people developed superpowers. Instead of a constant cycle of epic battles between right and wrong, they each went straight into figuring out how to monetize their abilities, up to the point where a hundred-man construction crew is laid off because one Booster’s willing to do it themselves at half the cost. And then there’s Ransom Yeong, himself a cop that lost his job to a Booster, and took the opportunity (after a bout with alcoholism) to start his own business: study and formulate take-down strategies for Boosters. From his viewpoint, the true threat behind Boosters is the company that’s gathered as many together as possible to get the most they can out of their abilities, regardless of the multitudes they put out of work, and he’ll rip it down one client at a time if he has to.

There’s plenty to enjoy from the premise alone – underdogs out to prove that humans are humans whether they have special abilities or not is a theme that may never grow old. The featured power sets aren’t tame or boring, and the tactics to fight around them employ some applied cleverness. The characters meet their expectations, but they read more like someone filled in a survey to create them and put them in roles rather than actually write people. Where the story shows the most weakness is it’s corporate aspect – it asks us to believe that a superbusiness stayed completely ignorant of another business whose model is literally to break them down that’s been operating for years. Which is more believable: random light gives random people superpowers, or a business only a decade old is already bloated and blind? Trick question: you’ve got to deal with both!

The art takes great pains to keep everything rooted in what someone could find downtown – the most outlandish designs are reserved for hairstyles, while the rest bases itself on reality. The inking’s a little rough, but the colors and shading carefully add depth and texture to every element (if at times too heavily). If we’re going by a certain grading scale, I’d call the visuals good, not fine.

Achilles, Inc. reads like a kitbashed gadget – the pieces fit in relation to each other, but there’re a few too many substitutions that didn’t quite do the job.

Electric Black 1 (Schmalke/ Woodall): Some places serve pumpkin spice wares only during Fall, even though the ingredients are available pretty much all year around. Other places never stop selling them, but hide them in a secret menu, but there’re also places that’ll brag about selling them. But you have never had pumpkin spice so intense that it stains light.

Ascender 1 (Lemire/ Nguyen): *BLEEP* “No, I’m not going to hunt birds for you to fetch.” *BLEEP* “Because we have all the food we need back at home.” *BLEEP* “I don’t want a dead bird in my room, either.” *BLEEP* “You couldn’t fetch it either way because, for the five billionth time, you don’t have a jaw!”

Ghost Tree 1 (Curnow/ Gane): It can be hard for cyclopses in today’s world. They can wear all the clothes they want, but by the time they get the eyehole in the mask set to accommodate their defining feature, the whole point’s pretty much gone to waste.

Dark Red 2 (Seeley/ Howell): Okay, I do think the government needs to base more of their policies on science and evidence than they do. Sacrificing someone and cutting out their entrails to see the future is NOT a science, people, not even if you call it an “organ forecast”!

Star Bastard 2 (Clemson/ Morales): “Drop it! DROP IT! I saw you pick up my key dongle aaaand you swallowed it, didn’t you? And it takes you days to pass what you eat… I’m just going to have to reach in there and yank it out. And don’t you whine at ME later, you brought this on yourself!”

Little Girls TP (Afllege/ DeLaine): Kids, listen to your uncle Ryan: when you see a pair of glowing eyes coming out of the woods, just walk away. Don’t investigate to see if they’re just flashlights, or a couple of giant fireflies, or shiny things reflecting light. Either someone put them there recently for a purpose, or there’s a new insect species, or you found a dead drop for treasure and/ or classified material, OR they belong to a creature waiting for someone to walk up to it so that they don’t have to get up to feed that day – no matter what, it doesn’t end well. [6/10]

Moving between towns is tough – you leave all your friends behind, don’t know where you’re going, and have to put up with a whole new set of hazing rituals. Sam’s dad’s work makes them move between countries, so on top of all that, she’s got language barriers and culture shock to deal with, oh and also racism. Some gestures are universal, though, like noticing someone being bullied, and also like stepping in to stop the bullying. That’s how Sam made friends with Lielet, her first kind acquaintance in Ethiopia. In the span of an afternoon, they discover that they share languages, love of scary movies, and hopelessly distant family members. It’s the love of scary movies that gets them outdoors at night to see if they can track down whatever’s been devouring livestock brains-first. That’s how the two became “friends” with Kerit, a giant and sentient predator stepped out of myth and just itching for a good hunt.

While some characterization takes places, this is at its core a plot-driven story. There’s a monster looking to make their home his, two oddball kids are the only ones that know it, and they’re going to fix it or die trying. The story knows this. The story also wants to be an allegory for the civilian victims of wars they’re not involved with, and also wants to remind readers of the importance of respecting history or losing the future, but when it comes down to it, it’s a monster story. And every page, every panel, every line of dialogue works toward building a monster story. The monster story ends by speaking aloud many of the things that monster stories leave unsaid, and it feels more awkward for that effort.

The artwork has all the tools to effectively show everything that needs to be seen, but not the comprehension to use those tools effectively. What am I talking about? There are wide angle shots missing various points of perspective. Faces and their expressions are forced onto heads, setting every element of the body just noticeable out of place. Panel transitions break an event up into component shots, but when action gets heated, those breaks leave out too much context.

Little Girls reads like the MCU’s Iron Man Mk 1 armor – a crude first effort perhaps, but also an effective one.

Punk Mambo 1 of 5 (Bunn/ Gorham): So either a lawyer wrote hundreds of pages to make it not only clear, but legally permissible, for a deceased person to have their head removed upon their death, reduced to a skull, and then bequeathed to this girl, or this girl just really likes desecrating human remains. (CC Note: Couldn’t that just be a fake skull?) They make those?

Avant-Guards 4 of 12 (Usdin/ Hayes): “I can see the future with this thing!”
“That’s a crystal ball, and even if you had one in front of you, I still wouldn’t believe you.”
“Can it tell us how we do at the next game?”
“Don’t encourage this!”
“I see us… one of us… they’re buying a new air pump.”

Wonder Woman 69 (Wilson/ Nord & Gray): DC Culture Shock Moment! Between being born from clay (assuming that hasn’t been retconned) and spending her early centuries on a women-only island, Diana of Themyscira hasn’t had one day of sex ed in her life. Most of the times that’s fine, since most of the time it’s both awkward and incomplete, but this isn’t one of those times.

Black Widow 4 (Soska & Soska/ Flaviano): “Pardon me, I was wondering if you had some time to spare so I could share my witness of Thor with you.”

Dick Tracy Forever 1 (Oeming & Soma): “Get some coffee, Hat. You don’t need to be here to see what I’ll do if Foot doesn’t answer my questions real fast.” [7/10]

Dick Tracy’s a comic strip police detective, first hitting newsstands in 1931. He’s in a platonic love affair with the law, and so long as he can enforce it justly (with violence, gunfire, and multiple arrests, but they’re all done justly, one assumes), he’ll book anyone from the lowest thug to the most connected tycoon. He’s earned so much trust that the chief takes orders from him, and he’s even found a lady that puts up with his odd priorities – Tess – who’s something of an adventurer herself. This issue features three busy days in the life of the most committed cop on the force.

Dick Tracy has never been a source for bold storytelling innovation, or hidden twists that turn everything upside down. Someone starts doing villainy, Tracy stops them for the sake of the law, donuts – repeat as desired. Some of the packaging changed to reflect more modern sensibilities – for instance, Tess revels in more agency, and someone a thief only steals because they’re hungry – but the root formula still works. With all the anti-heroes and tragic pasts and conspiracies within machinations unfolding for centuries, it’s refreshing to read about a guy making his city safer because he likes safe cities.

Oeming works with Brian Michael Bendis on their joint project Powers, about cops that are on the job because they enjoy being heroes once in a while, so this material sits comfortably in his wheelhouse. Everyone looks more like a caricature of their personas – Tracy’s got a chiseled jaw, a self-obsessed crime lieutenant looks like a radish put on a suit, etc. – which takes an already simplified premise and makes it simpler. All these templates date back to the series’ earliest days, so it’d only look more unnatural if people appeared more natural.

Dick Tracy Forever reads like cake from a cake mix – follow the recipe and you get a predictable result, but it’s also sweet and fluffy.

See you next week (by which time I hope I’ve mentally recovered from Avengers Endgame)!

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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