Variant Coverage – May 8, 2019

You animals! You vicious, wonderful animals helped make this year’s Free Comic Book Day epic, and we love you for it. Apparently some of you like reading comics, and it just so happens we found a few more – they’re not free, but they’re good.

Jungle Comics 1 (Dixon/ Shannon): Casting a white guy to play Mowgli is bad. Changing the ending so that instead of scaring Shere Khan away, he subjugates him into a servant is really bad. Wearing the skin of Khan’s distant cousins as underwear may be the worst, though.

Excellence 1 (Thomas/ Randolph): The pressure parents put on their kids gets more out of hand every year. Just because Percy Jackson smote a demigod before he could drive does not mean your child has to start studying for magic school before they’re born! And it’s absolutely not an excuse to drink that 50-proof ambrosia while pregnant. Let kids be kids! [9/10]

Spencer Raymond Dales was born into a wealthy and elite family, the envy of many, but if you asked him, his upbringing wasn’t all that great. Dad parked a dumptruck of expectations for Spencer to meet by his sixth birthday, and every year he failed to meet them, the less involved Dad behaved toward his son. Spencer came into his power late and violently, and control didn’t manifest until he’d accepted that was a crappy way to grow up. He worked hard, pressed every advantage, and got the Dad Hug he’d always wanted. Maybe two minutes passed before that moment died and a whole new set of intrafamily drama moved in.

(If you had personal experience with abusive parents, either physically or emotionally, consider this your Trigger Warning.)

This book opens with a heart-crushing montage of Spencer’s formative years, which starts him out as a pitiable character, and by his late teens he’s harnessed that abuse and anger into focused power, power he uses to help people in ways they’ll never know. By that point, you love him. There’s an argument to be made that his trauma was essential to making him powerful, but the oft-unsaid counter stands right next to it – if he didn’t have that trauma, there’d be fifty other ways he could flourish without the layers of anger issues. But with great drama must come great narrative material, so no use complaining about that. Spencer’s surrounded by people that’ve driven him one way or another, and perhaps his greatest quality is that he appreciates every bit. He may not have enjoyed every push, but he keeps track of who did what and gives as he gets.

The visuals play as much as they can, and I don’t mean that as in “they don’t take things seriously”, I mean that they push and stretch and borrow and throw wonderful stuff into a bowl and mix it up because it’s fun. The characters in uniform find ways to stand out, but in civvies each flourishes in a design that shows as much about their character as any action. Action scenes pull out enough stops and visual tricks that it qualifies as a dare to special effect studios. Though few, the emotionally powerful panels demonstrate emotional power.

Excellence reads like Hip-Hop Harry Potter – a tale of kid who’s pedigree didn’t save him any pain, who pushed himself twice as hard just to survive, and at one point there’s wands.

Battlestar Galactica Twilight Command 3 (Moreci/ Tamura): “These are Unit B24-G5379’s most treasured collectibles. These figures were released in 11559 (or -2 BDC*), but were pulled a week later because a weakling human choked on an accessory. If the Collective had left a market remaining, these would be incredibly rare. Other units may scan, but not interact with in a tactile manner.” (* BDC = Before Destruction of the Colonies)

Ghost Hog GN (Joey Weiser): So if the angry souls of all pigs suddenly rose up and went Blair Witch on anyone that’s eaten swine flesh, that’s most of humanity dead. Abstaining from pork might not even save you – if eating something prepared in the same space as ham or other pork products qualifies, anyone that’s ever eaten any take-out ever is a target. Don’t underestimate pigs, they don’t take on a project without going whole hog.

Spider-Man Deadpool 50 (Thompson/ Towe & Horak): I think most of us knew this series’s ultimate goal was to make some Spider-Man/ Deadpool slash fic canon, but I didn’t expect the turning point to be a three-way with Wade’s long-distance sweetie-cakes. Oh wait… no… you don’t think all the loved ones Peter’s buried over the years are going to be there watching, do you? (CC Note: Why are you pure evil?)

MetalShark Bro 1 (Frantz & Cuffe/ Ostlie): Spinal Tap meets Shark Week?
….Go on. [6/10]

Broseph and his man Brozilla stood on top of the world after their record released and the celebratory orgy was done, until an uncool wave wiped Broseph out into the open ocean and a passing shark’s jaws. Now I guess sharks eat souls or something, because Broseph’s soul was already sold to Hell, and the collection agent is gonna make quota even if he’s gotta humanize a shark to get it done. MetalShark Bro wants to go back to being a simple shark that eats and swims, and he totally can go back… after he’s collected every other soul on the agent’s list. Now Bro’s walking on land, coming to terms with self-awareness, and ripping jerks in half. Alright, sounds kinda tight, and Bro makes decent headway stretching names off before someone tries to get up in his business, someone his metal soul will not stop fanboying over.

This is cheese, all the way from the processed puns to the ultrasharp teeth. It’s shamelessly cheesy, going so far as to be proud of its cheese. This Dairy Mountain stands tall and not as solid as safety codes should allow, with a grin on its face wider than a train drifting on two tracks. It knows exactly what it is and revels in it. It won’t win awards or open people’s minds to new realms of possibility, but it’s silly, vicious, chunky fun, and when it’s all said and done isn’t that what we’re looking for?

The art evokes spray-paint murals and graffiti, not interested in reasons to throw extra gags in so long as they’re usable space, less concerned with consistency and flow but passionate about rendering every panel as over-the-top as possible. It’s similar to some of Jim Mahfood’s earlier work, only less bouncing from one idea to another. The color picks up most of the strain to tell the reader who’s who and what’s what at any given time (MS Bro’s the blue guy), and everything else comes out as shapes in a rough approximation of people and places.

MetalShark Bro reads like sketch comedy – good luck trying to make sense out of it, but finding something worth laughing at should be easy.

Red Sonja & Vampirella Meet Betty & Veronica 1 (Chu/ Sanapo): I’m done. Can I be done now? I want to be done. Let’s forget the things like Vampirella being seventeen-hundred, or Red Sonja demolishing the building as soon as someone tried telling her she had to wait until lunch period to eat – are Betty and Veronica so excited because they’d heard about the headhunters coming to Riverdale the next game? I hadn’t thought college recruitment achieved this level of viciousness.

Afterburn Crossfire 1 (Chitwood/ Thornton): In the Church of John Woo, they pray to the Father, the Son, and the Holey Target.

Savage Dragon As Seen on TV TP (Erik Larsen): Look Your Best → Regardless of Fashion → To Catch Eyeballs → With the Latest Collection → Savage Dragon
(CC Note: Will you stop this? No one’s heard of Burma Shave for years!) (Of course I’ll stop… fifteen minutes after I’m done laughing.)

Eve Stranger 1 (Barnett/ Bond): This is a TSA poster with updated guidelines on where potential terrorists may hide devices to either board or takeover a plane. A dozen were shipped to every airport in the nation before someone pointed out that these hiding places were medically impossible AND you had to board a plane before you could take it over, so that either/ or condition just wouldn’t work. Proofread BEFORE you print, this cannot be stressed enough.

Nobody is in Control 1 (Kindlon/ Tucker): How many chickens does it take to change a light bulb? TRICK QUESTION! After the Incandescent Purge of 2007, there are no more light bulbs. (CC Note: I thought you weren’t going to read those alternate history stories anymore.) [7/10]

Richard lives out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by miles of forest, contemplating his life and wondering if society’s got a place for guys like him anymore. He WAS a radio journalist, and a pretty good one, who retired before he was fired, made obsolete, or otherwise “let go”. If there’s a honeymoon period to retiring, he’s living it, but along comes a stranger. The stranger’s hopelessly lost, chained up to a briefcase, and has been walking for what looks like days. Richard grabs his rifle – because who the hell wanders through the forest in a suit – and checks to see if this unicorn of a guy is alright. He’s not, and if you want to know anymore than that, you’ll need to strap in.

The characters are the main draw to this book, largely because watching the two bicker is genuinely funny. Both have their own reasons for not talking about themselves more than they do, the stranger because he’s either a spy or unhinged, and Richard because he misses screwing with people. There’s not much to the plot aside from “two dudes strolling through the woods”, the theme sits snuggly in the position of “rich people are jerks, but everyone else is dumb”. There’s a cornucopia of clues, leads, and suggestions for a larger, more actiony story to develop, but by the end of the book there’s still no real indicator that one of them’s not leading the other on just to have someone to talk to. It wants to be interesting, but never gets past frustrating.

Black Mask’s artists largely fall under the same umbrella: realistic in some aspects, cartoonish and silly in others, and Tucker fits right in. His basic style relies on correct proportions and precision linework – not clean linework, just carefully orchestrated. He’ll throw in clips from articles or pictures out of botanical dictionaries which might as well be photos or scans, and at other times he’ll turn a character into a snake or something to sell a visual metaphor. It saves the forest stroll from becoming monotonous, but also adds to the sense that what we see maybe shouldn’t be believed.

Nobody is in Control reads like a poli-sci major’s student film – it’s loaded with trivia and metamyths, but doesn’t have an answer to the question “What’s this about?”

See you next week, you sexy beasts!

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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