Variant Coverage – May 29, 2019

We’re looking June and the entirety of summer (or winter if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere) right in the eye. Grab your seasonal clothes out of the closet, stake out a nice spot in your favorite lazy place, and read yourselves some fresh comics!

Dog Days of Summer 1 (Various): Leaving a dog unleashed, bringing livestock to the beach, littering… Beast Boy’s a menace when he’s on vacation! Does this mean that when Lex Luthor or Bane go on vacation, they volunteer at food kitchens and clinics? I bet gastro-chef Lex and the butcher of Santa Prisca could work minor miracles on all that steak. (CC Note: What is wrong with you??)

SHAM Comics 1 (Fuller/ Various): Bozo the WonderBot here’s got a sizeable malfunction in his social logic circuits. It’s not that he thinks hats are inherently evil or that showing teeth means hostility (though really, who could blame him if that’s what Bozo believed, after all tons of species think that). One of Bozo’s most basic directives – so deep and integral to his operating system that trying to patch it would be akin to conducting an icepick lobotomy – is that he’s a hugger. On his targeting screen, EVERYONE – be they man or monster, guilty or not guilty – must be squeezed in an affectionate manner. SkyNet’s here, people, only this time he’s killing us with kindness. [8/10]

Who likes classic comics? Alright, now: who likes swapping out wholesome stories with cruel and unusual gags at the expense of all civility? Once upon a time, Smash Comics stood next to the likes of Amazing Fantasy or Tales from the Crypt as a home for stories too short and strange to fit anywhere else. No one can predict or control how their audience will read and remember their work, but thanks to fair use laws and CGI, everyone probably will read it in the most ridiculous way imaginable. No attempt has been made to filter anything through a modern social awareness filter, and so the easily-triggered or impressionable readers should consider themselves warned: this is the kind of humor delivered with a punch to the ribs.

The three main stories to this are about an alien robot suffering from space Alzheimer’s and very slowly wiping out humanity, the ghost of a husband mansplaining his wife’s measurements to her, a dynamic duo with dysfunctional duodenums, a rocketman so desperate for a port that any anchorage will do, and a time-traveller adopted by fascist furry folk. I felt euphoria wash over me while writing that last sentence, and I’ll never apologize for it. Rather than sugarcoat the visual tropes and stereotypes from a bygone era, the new narrative leans into them to push the cues into being too ludicrous to be anything but jokes. There’s no central theme or device unifying all the tales together, meaning you get five full stories complete with endings, which is great if you’re looking for sacrilicious closure.

The art has not been redone for any of these shorties, and they were originally made in the 40s and 50s. Before writing them off as hopeless artifacts, something to bear in mind is that contributors include Basil Wolverton and Jack Kirby, and are examples of their craft rarely seen outside an exhaustive collection before this. While definitely dated, everything’s been drawn by someone that’s been proven to know what they were doing.

SHAM Comics reads like the outtakes of a Twilight Zone episode – the original script may’ve been serious, but the gaffs are gold worth mining.

Horror Comics 1 (Golden/ Lunatik & Clausen): So they say customer service is important, and they say that efficient use of resources is important. Most of the time the two work together fine, but occasionally they’ll seem to contradict each other, like when a lady accidentally spills strawberry syrup everywhere. Technically, the customer’s costing the ice cream store money by wasting supplies, but you’d think there’d be a way to resolve this with less bondage and knife play. (Subscribe to their mailing list for today’s safe word!)

I’m Standing on a Million Lives GN (Yamakawa/ Nao): It’s still unnerving that if you stand on one life, it’s a violation of personal freedom and the concept that no one person is inherently superior to another, but if you stand on a mountain of bodies, it’s just a statistic.

Zorro Sacrilege 1 (Wolfer/ Melo): “Step up to the bar, partons! Only this isn’t so much of a bar as my trademark ‘Z’. And instead of carving it into something, I assembled it from living nightmares imported from Hell. And instead of drinks, I serve eternal damnation and stab wounds. And you can’t really step up anywhere because the floor’s actually the cascading locks of the interior decorator behind me who, if I may suggest, is who you should REALLY be scared of. I’ll go grab the tip jar.”

She Said Destroy 1 (Corallo/ Kangas): Imagine if you will… Word gets around that someone in body armor, spiked shoulders, a cape’s carrying a sword and hunting for you. When you finally confronting your challenger, you find out her armor’s just a padded vest, the spikes are attached to a child’s bedsheets, and the warrior’s drive is as intense as a parent’s while ordering a regular coffee. There’s nothing wrong with feeling disappointed, just don’t forget about the very real sword that can carve the wind like a roast turkey. She could be wearing teddy-bear footie pajamas, but so long as she’s wielding that blade, she deserves respect. [6/10]

In the very distant future, there are still religious wars, only in this case the gods are calling the shots. Once upon a time there was a sizable pantheon, with everyone receiving worship enough to thrive. Briget – goddess of the sun – started expanding her territory, eliminating her siblings one by one, which brings us down to two. Briget’s got her last sibling cornered, and all her acolytes with her. It should be easy – the numbers alone should guarantee the sun goddess’s victory – if it weren’t for her opponent’s specific nature. She faces Morrigan, the goddess of death, and while Morrigan may prefer being hidden and vague, but when she speaks, her people listen.

A starcrossed war between two factions of the same species over who’s got the better belief system rarely fails to deliver (*cough* StarWars *cough*); one where the gods involved are present and accounted for should up the tension and drama. While there are a few action scenes featuring magic and faith and rayguns, they’re cut and padded by talking and observation. Both the main character and the lore of this book suffer from “Told, Never Showed” – we’re told about dozens of worlds and cultures subjugated, but only see planned paradises; a young woman’s hailed as a prodigy, but never does anything more brilliant than win a sparring match with her best friend. There’s little for us to learn for ourselves when everything’s already charted out, and that makes even the most epic of concepts boring.

The visual style superficially like David Aja’s – realistic proportions without heroic exaggerations, not fretting the details so long as the tone’s right – but there’s a lack of depth that goes deeper than half-hearted shading. Seeing as this is a holy war in space, one would and should expect ornate… everything. Every bulkhead, turret, piece of station equipment, are supposed to be made to reflect the devotion to their spiritual power, but instead we’re presented with generic ships with giant statues slapped on, and cities where every building looks exactly the same.

She Said Destroy reads like cake mix, water, oil, and eggs – all the ingredients are there, but until mixed together and cooked right, it’s not cake.

Paradox Girl Vol 1 TP (Bourquin/ Li): So either the family reunion at the cloning lab got derailed with yardwork, or this is a modernized version of the Habsburgs. If it’s the latter and it follows history at all, we’re kinda screwed.

Killer Groove 1 (Masters/ Marron): “There was this horrible heckler in the audience last night, it’s like he paid the cover just to ruin my gig. First he’s reading the ingredients to steak sauce to this lady that wasn’t into him, but he’s talking over my set. Next, he actually yells between songs for me to “play something sexier” so he’ll have better luck with the next poor girl. So later that night I’m telling this guy what he can do with his requests next time he’s at a live performance, and before I can break any major bones the wanker just stops moving. So naturally I shove’m into my case for when he wakes up, and I just know he’ll leave stains in there that’ll never come out.”

Wailing Blade 1 of 4 (Douek/ Mulvey): Under the cape, behind the scenery and visual homages to complex themes, by analyzing the trigonomic patterns of the mud, I think we can all agree that one thing is absolutely true about this story: that guy’s not overcompensating for ANYTHING. Nothing but bona fide secure masculinity right there, yep.

Superman Leviathan Rising Special (Various): If this big crossover event they’ve been hyping for the past few months turns out to be some convoluted comedy of errors where it turns out the tailor was Lex Luthor all along, I… I’m gonna… you know what, I couldn’t be mad at that. That’d take guts most people/ publishers don’t have. Stage an adaptation of “Importance of Being Earnest” starring the world’s greatest detective, a bunch of aliens from outer space, and a plucky kid with a camera & crazy timing? Everyone else would riot in the streets, but I would take out a loan to buy the movie rights. [7/10]

Whether for a mental exercise or plot for world domination or desperate contingency plan, many in the DCU have pondered as to how to take Superman down, even if it’s just for a while. Legions of Doom tried and failed, and while they don’t always learn from their mistakes, others have studied intently. Put two diligent students in a room together, and in two days the entire Justice League panics, Lois Lane infiltrates an assassin organization’s hideout, Supergirl frantically patches together the past few weeks before her adopted mother’s life burned down around her, and Jimmy Olson wakes up naked in Gorilla City. Some might call this overreaction, others a failure to execute a plan properly, but for someone like Leviathan – with a new world order ready to roll out – it’s proof of concept.

Leviathan is either male or female, somewhere between cautious and zealous, has more resources than they know what to do with, is fine with delegating power but not great at it, and only wants what’s best for the world so much they’re willing to do the worst to accomplish it. If that sounds vague, that’s because it is. This set-up book wants to be mysterious and clever, but instead projects “We still haven’t figured out what we’re doing yet, but we want it to be big.” The ambiguously bad people speak in codes and implications to demonstrate that they’re thinkers, but then Batman realizes he’s never made a contingency plan for a friend’s kidnapping, followed by a wave of actions somewhere on the opposite of smart. If the idea of making this new villain look incredible by showing the heroes on a collective “off day”, mission accomplished.

While crossing the “I”s and dotting the “T”s as far as storytelling goes, I concede that the quorum of artists in this issue nailed their assignments out of the park. Everything from vintage book shops to concealed mountain lairs to trashed hotel rooms courtesy of visiting celebrities reveal levels of attention and focus many either can’t or won’t invest. All the artists practice your standard super-action format, but the nuances pop out and add their own character to each storyline.

Leviathan Rising reads like an office chair with a triple-reinforced base welded onto it – lots of effort went into preventing one problem, ignoring three brand new problems created by the overdone solution.

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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