Variant Coverage – May 22, 2019

Ohhhoho, have we got comics for you??

The answer is yes. Sorry, that wasn’t supposed to be a question, my bad.

Star Wars Age of the Republic Jabba the Hutt 1 (Pak/ Laiso, Turini, Boschi): So Terry Dodson brands himself on delivering details and narratives in his covers, along with the generous helpings of cheesecake. The man built an empire on knowing just how close to the line he could render people before it became blatantly hypersexualized. Dodson kept pushing the limits, and now he has gone WAY too far!

Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls 1 (Eastman & Little, Bishop cover): Are we to understand that this is Rocket Raccoon’s family, and since he prefers ranged weapons against family tradition, he got tied to a tree and exiled from home? That sounds harsh, but keep in mind the tree they tied him to was really nice.

Detective Comics 1004 (Tomasi/ Walker & Hennessey): “Onward my people! Your lord and champion has delivered the broken husk of our shared nemesis. I say to you as the voice and sword of all loonies that we’re done running the madhouse, and shall conquer all new houses!” [6/10]

The new Arkham Knight has talent, power, charisma, and now a tragic origin story. The child of psycho-therapists was born and raised in the most infamous mental care facility on the planet, during a literal riot that would ultimately kill the mother. The father, between his work and his grief, earned “Bad Father of the Year” for decades while the child befriended and learned from mass murderers, all the while haunted by the black-cloaked man with pointy ears responsible for bringing them back home every time they left. That child’s grown up, mastered every lesson offered, and stands ready to banish the true monster from Gotham once and for all.

Plenty of neat twists and spins on lore serve to mix the standard Bat formula for rogues up fine, and you certainly don’t need to have played the game to follow what’s going on here. On the surface, it’s fun and freaky, but think about things for just a bit and it becomes faulty. Perhaps the most indigestible plot hole is asking us to accept that someone can be born and raised to adulthood in the time it took for Harley Quinn to grow out of Joker’s shadow. Arkham’s full of Batman’s victims from the day the Knight was born to the evening the asylum blows open, and most haven’t aged a bit. Slightly less believable is a practicing doctor comfortable with leaving their child unsupervised in the place where his wife died. It’s not an exaggeration to say things might’ve played out better if the Knight’d grown up an orphan.

This is a mainstay DC title, so the style of art fits snuggly in the seat reserved for basic action book looks. Exaggerated body types and builds everywhere, plenty of shadows for Batman to move around in, everyone tense with determination regardless if they’re the right things. The panel layout and sequencing are all perfectly functional and easy to follow, and the finer details show up when they can. This is competent art, though not challenging at all.

Detective Comics reads like display food for tv – flashy and attractive enough that maybe no one will notice the modifications that almost disqualify it from being called food.

Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls 1 (Eastman & Little, Eastman cover): “So let me get this straight… you meticulously strapped every sword you own – including the one you named ‘Buttercup’ – before leaving the house, but you forgot the umbrella? Stuff like this is why we don’t get team-ups.”

Washington Unbound GN (Jasen Lex): Thanks for the effort, but there’s already a book about the zombified remains of presidents dashing across America larger than life with small animals in tow. Naturally, it’s a Deadpool book and it is beautiful, so this better have something new and majestic.

Neon Future 3 (Various): Did… did the snap just take out Godzilla? That could hurt opening weekend.

Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls 1 (Eastman & Little, Williams cover): I love the guy in the background barely able to keep himself from collapsing with fear at the anthropomorphic bladed felines in front of him. He’s only got himself to blame, though – everyone warned him that furry conventions wouldn’t be as funny in real life as he imagined them to be, but some people just won’t listen until you shove a katana in their hands and force them to avenge sensei’s honor.

Amazing Nightcrawler 4 of 5 (McGuire/ Frigeri): I knew somebody was going to sneak in a tribute cover to Game of Thrones, and this is that perfect homage I truly did not see coming. Well played, Marvel!

Road of Bones 1 (Douek/ Cormack): This may just be an (Ant)Arctic metal album cover to you, but here’s a drop of history: before literacy campaigns, when maybe 10% of a population could read, they had to mark roads like this. City planners thought they were hilarious calling streets by certain names, but the construction crews definitely weren’t laughing. You try building a “Rump Road” that’s wagon-worthy, you’ll hate it too. [7/10]

Maybe it’s been a while since you studied up on Russian gulags back in the day, so here’s a summary: they sucked. Life sentences for political prisoners that paint death as a sweet release, they thrived on the crushed spirits of the “traitors” serving in them. Roman is one such prisoner, or zek – a former chef that told a joke to the wrong crowd – that isn’t as crushed as the others. He remembers his life before the gulag, his heart hasn’t calcified to the point where he can ignore a fellow in need, he even slips bread to his imaginary friend: a house monster of protection against invasion called a “domovik”. Thanks to his kitchen duties, he’s brought in on an escape plan two others have plotted to they have a chance to survive until they find civilization. It’s good fortune smiling, he believes, until he’s visited by someone else that’s gotten used to him as a meal ticket.

For all the death and suffering in this book, the ironic central theme is the value of life. To some it’s worthless, for others it’s priceless, and others have double-checked calculations to get the most out of every one available. Roman shows and talks about his inability to read a room, so he’s consistent, but that doesn’t tip the scales as far as his charisma. It’s not clear if he’s the sort that can handle carrying a whole series. Not helping this lack of clarity is the moral ambiguity every single character exhibits. The zeks know they’re all suffering for no good reason, yet hardly anyone’s even thinking of changing things. The guards know they could be the next on work detail if a superior officer gets in a mood, but that doesn’t stop them from mugging a helpless soul every chance they get. Maybe you’re not supposed to get invested in anyone or anything, but if that’s the case then why read it at all?

Visually, the artwork’s grim, gritty, and unforgiving. There are no graceful saints, no diamonds in the rough, everyone’s caked in dirt and fatigue and anger. Even the maybe-real-maybe-not beast has too many human characteristics to be considered truly monstrous. Scars, burns and other forms of damage carry over as they’re collected, giving each figure a complicated patchwork of design elements that must be a nightmare to keep track of, and shoot home the feeling of history and consequence to the environment.

Road of Bones reads like a bagpipe dirge – it’s carefully arranged noise that somewhere between harmony and scratching a chalkboard, but it will end, so it’s not all bad.

Lorna TP (Benji Nate): “Young lady, we’ve told you time and again: do not bring daggers into the house! Now you go right back outside and don’t even try to come back in until you’ve put them safely into one of your enemies. Compassionate kids don’t get dessert!”

Clue Candlestick 1 (Dash Shaw): This is one of those multidimensional seas from Yellow Submarine that got taken out before release. I guess postmodern kaiju, unblockable intruding thoughts, and the countless permutations of time are all easy to render, but a murder mystery played as “too heavy” for the film.

Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls 1 (Eastman & Little, Eastman & Little cover): I know the saying goes “dress for the job you want”, buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut you’ve kinda painted yourselves into a VERY narrow corner, haven’t you?

Midnight Radio GN (Iolanda Zanfardino): Buddy, you’ve clearly gone to a lot of time and effort for this shot, and maybe some self-burdened anxiety too. But if you’re going for that instagram contest where you take a selfie with the most friends behind you, I don’t know that this is gonna cut it. I could buy maybe a floor or two’s worth of people, but a city block? But then I only count people I’ve met and know as friends, maybe your criteria are “share the same basic GPS coordinates and don’t actively try to kill me,” and if so, fine, just don’t quit your day job.

Drawing Blood 1 (Eastman & Avallone/ Bishop & Little): There are so many artist mistakes here that I can’t tell which of my eyes is twitching. First of all, you don’t use blood as ink! You sell blood to get a ticket for the aquarium, sneak a squid or octopus out, and boom you’ve got yourself an endless supply. Second, if you MUST paint in your own blood, try to get most of it on the canvas – no one buys the stains on your floor. And if you can afford to leave empty bottles lying around like that, take those in for recycling so you can save up for your weekly helping of instant ramen. Maybe Kevin Eastman got too famous and lost touch with what it’s like to draw for a living. [7/10]

This 100% fictionally true accounting of the life and times Shane Bookman – co-creator of the the Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls – opens with Shane and his buddy snorting cocaine off the dashboard before entering negotiations with some Lithuanian mobsters, which is the standard kind of evening to expect after making it big. Shane developed a worldwide sensation, cashed out, and has been trying to produce Broadway musicals ever since. It was rough work BEFORE Shane found out his business partner embezzled a few million before committing suicide. It was a life-sized disaster BEFORE a team of loan sharks beat Shane up in an alley and explained he was responsible for his partner’s other multi-million dollar binge.

There’s no clear sign as to which parts of this story aren’t real, but they all come together to paint a sad picture of what fame can do to a person. So many get fired up on the idea of coming up with the next big thing, making obscene amounts of money, and spending the rest of their lives doing whatever they want, but too often when the stars align and that miracle happens, the winner can’t get their feet under them after flying. Shane aches to prove himself a creative institution, and finds instead the stars are re-aligning to plant him back into obscurity. It’s the How behind this downfall that supplies most of the entertainment, from the recurring hints behind the partner’s suicide to the variety of creatures waiting for their chance to kick Shane while he’s down. It’s more quirky than funny, but self-aware enough to keep a light tone.

Three different artists contribute to the book’s visuals: one for regular story, one for flashbacks, one for hallucinations or something. It’d be nice to believe they were chosen for their style’s unique strengths as they relate to the different parts of the story – they line up and achieve their different goals well enough to believe it – but there’s every possibility that they drew from a hat. Each focuses on the aspects that need focus, be they the rubber-meets-the-road demands of life, or the rough and low-res pictures from history, or the silly slapstick of a frustrated imagination.

Drawing Blood reads like an artisanal rice krispie treat – the main ingredients are basic and common, but little twists add to the flavor.

Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls 1 (Eastman & Little, Sakai cover): Oh I give right the crap up! The faceless hordes have numbers, but also literal sticks to fight against swords, so they’re clearly the underdogs here. How come no one on the other side’s got tails or extreme body parts? Is that a race thing? And wait, just a… ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This whole scene takes place on a life-sized Q*Bert tower? I mean… are you… wha?

That’s it, I can’t even, I’m out. See you next week!

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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