Variant Coverage – June 19, 2019

There’s a high-pressure system of comics meeting a formation of low-pressure reviews. There’s a storm of snark predicted for much of the week.

No Ones 1 (Krueger/ Well-Be): Her collection of action figures is very nice, and the diorama she built for them works well, but she’s afraid to go to conventions and share her hobby. I suppose I’d be socially anxious to if everywhere I went, a murder of crows circled above me like something out of Alfred Hitchcock’s drunken nightmares.

Crucified 1 (Allen/ Ozdic): “Don’t worry, sir, we’ll get you down. We’ve gather as much lead as possible, and since lead’s so heavy, that should at least keep you from falling up any more. If that’s still not enough to bring you down, Jeb here’s batting average just dropped to .100 and little Tyler’s got a heartbreaking story about losing a spoon contest.” [7/10]

Things look bad in the USA. California’s ripping itself apart over racial issues that escalate every day, and it’s gotten to the point where police and the National Guard are powerless to stop the rioting. In desperation, the mayor asks a man known as “The Christ” – a peacemaker of supernatural ability to hear some of the stories – if he can help. He walks into town with a few buddies, reaches City Hall with a few thousand, and one word later no one’s itching for blood anymore. This should be the best thing that’s happened to the generation, so why isn’t it? For one thing, not everyone in the Christ’s camp is a true believer. For another, some powerful people truly enjoy watching riots.

So if the cover, title, and summary haven’t clued you in, what we’ve got here is a case of biblical messiah allegory. Some guy struts around audaciously practicing what he preaches, calming everyone down, and showing everyone that’s used to being in power that they’re not. This works great on paper, less in practice. This first chapter brings the reader up to speed on the status quo well enough, even casts some figures as complications to watch out for, but stops short of actually leading all these factors together and starting the story. Anyone that’s read the New Testament can predict where things will likely go from here.

Ozdic’s style resembles the Luna Brothers in several ways: both base themselves on realistic proportions, simplify those figures and poses as needed, and pace themselves meticulously. Every element in every panel carries a sense of deliberation, like Ozdic needed each line to show up just where he wants it. Also like the Luna Brothers, it’s not apparent what the purpose for this diligence is or if it contributes to the narrative at all. Still, it’s kind of pretty.

Crucified reads like a pinewood derby racer – slap all the paint and accessories you like on it, at the end of the day it’s one more block of wood with wheels.

Black Badge 11 (Kindt/ Jenkins): If you or a loved one is a victim of alcohol abuse, call 888-633-3239. If your beloved alcohol is being stuffed with cloth and fire, maybe stop letting your neighbor over to vent after her husband took the kids.

Deadpool 14 (Young/ Klien): <exasperated sigh> What’s the point anymore? Every time anyone says “Comics let stories go crazier than movies”, there’s a movie around the corner to up the ante. Maybe we can get Marvel, DC, and other comic publishers to bring MY idea to life: the ultimate crossover blockbuster called “Eh, Screw It” featuring every character in the same story. And when I say “every character”, I mean Deadpool picks up biblical Moses and the Tuskegee Airmen to ride against Hamlet and his army of hunks from Magic Mike in some race around the world that’s also a romance, only everyone learns to love themselves.

Howard the Duck 1 Facsimile Edition (Gerber/ Brunner): Oh and look: Howard and Red Sonja meet up with Groo the Barbarian while waiting for Doc Brown to drive up in KITT from Knight Rider. What is life?!?

Lab Raider 1 (Miner/ Lee): And now background characters from Kick-Ass hanging out on the Island of Doctor Moreau? Are they waiting for the Love Boat captained by Jean-Luc Picard? Someone help us! [8/10]

What starts as a random grab of memories between longtime friends Sarah and Jeanette coalesces into the story of how a couple of average teenagers decide to become radical animal rights activists from horrible events that occur ever day. Partly because they love animals, partly because they’re starting to hate people, these two have their sights set on a laboratory with some recent high-level military contracts. They find enough people with consciences to help with infiltration, and once they get in everything’s going like clockwork… until they find the basement. Kids, don’t be like Sarah and Jeanette: never look in the basement.

As painfully topical as this may be, it can be easy to write off radicalization as something that just happens when the idealistic and angry are taught the wrong things and behave at their worst. It’s not so easy when a system with centuries of development fails the same people too many times, encouraging them to abandon that system. It’s the latter category that our protagonists belong to, though they’re mistaken for the former often enough. Oddly enough, it’s kind of comforting when the crimes against nature pop up – discomforting as most of this issue is, introducing something monstrously impossible releases a lot of that tension.

Lee’s art may borrow its take on human bodies from traditional superhero books – standard proportions with smoothed-over imperfections – but that’s as close as it gets. The inking solidifies everything and adds a dirty, used feel, throwing out any possibility that something in this story is completely innocent. The colors are blocky, but they know where one block should stop and another one should start. It doesn’t make for the prettiest pages on the shelf this week, but it’s still very readable and expressive. It’s worth your time.

Lab Raider reads like a sour-covered strawberry – work through the cringing gummy shell, and you’ll find a twist at the end most find pleasant.

Milo’s World Book 1 (Marazano/ Ferriera): It’s funny because it looks like the two are being chased by a giant bog monster, but really they’re all running away from the boy’s endless supply of pebbles being thrown into their river. I meant wrong. Throwing stones is never funny, ever.

Walk Through Hell 11 (Ennis/ Sudzuka): A scene of various bones from scores of human bodies would disturb just about anybody. Witnessing as the various flesh-eating beetles crawl through those bones would cause all flavors of trauma. Those beetles swarmed together to form a faceless upper-half of one of the people they ate would signal that something otherworldly is at work. The arms of this beetle collective picking up a couple of femurs and playing a drum solo that teaches you everything about life worth knowing would be… something, wouldn’t it?

Militia 1 (Dixon/ Morales): You thought a crack team of highly-trained specialists in black turtlenecks with high-powered weapons was scary? That’s nothing: here’s a crack team in black turtlenecks with high-powered weapons, and one of the specialists is a Parselmouth. They don’t teach how to survive venom-tipped bullets in DADA.

Psi-Lords 1 (Van Lente/ Guedes): Do you think they’ll still have reality shows in the future? Will big-budget studios set up a solar system for four unique and zany nebulae to coexist in and record the shenanigans? If so I hope there’s a follow-up where the producers vote to which one of them will be ejected into a black hole.

After Houdini Volume 1 (Holt/ Lucas & Crossa): Escaping from a straight jacket and locked chains while upside-down in a booth of water’s no easy task under the best of circumstances. In front of an audience that’s perhaps indifferent to the escapist’s success – since either way they get a show – squeezes the tension so much more. But the absolute worst is when Death itself skinny-dips and just points at their face, their blushed bones never more than an inch away, all the while muttering “Is this bugging you? Is this bugging you? I’m not touching you…”

Superman Year One 1 (Miller/ Romita Jr.): I don’t think any argument about the messaging differences between Frank Miller and JRJR could put it better than these two pieces of art side-by-side. To Miller (on the right), Superman is a leaking container of destructive power constantly restraining itself in an effort to be constructive instead. To Romita (on your left), Supes started out a gangly kid always one sandwich short of being beefy. [7/10]

We all know the story: Krypton blows, one survivor, Kansas, super deeds. This iteration follows the baby space alien with passing privilege on his journey to find parents that he wouldn’t need years of therapy to get over, finding balance between presenting as human and being himself, and coming to terms with just how fragile the people around him truly are. Clark believes he’s being careful fitting his behaviors and actions into a narrow window of acceptance, and avoids or deflects any time he’s caught doing something that should be impossible. Clark collects those iconic American moments – running in a winning touchdown, kissing the best girl – before grabbing the bus to join the Armed Forces.

Before I go too deep, I want to give Frank Miller some credit. He had opportunities to work child killers and worse into this story. Under the Black Label imprint of DC, Miller could’ve gotten away with it. He chose not to, instead taking a stab at idyllic small town life. He didn’t do it perfectly, but he also didn’t use the word “whore” once, and that deserves recognition.

This is told from Kal-El’s perspective in real time, with his raw infantile thoughts translated into phrases and sentences, and his later teenage angst manifesting as a mantra of “Don’t play rough with the paper people.” Remember the Christopher Reeves Superman movies where he kept revealing his identity to Lois Lane only to wipe her memory afterwards, and how contemporary thinking’s not cool with that? Oh summer child, the book opens that can of worms supersized in its first act. Flabbergasted that Ma and Pa Kent weren’t constantly scared out of their minds by their own kid? Wait’ll you see the cycle of fear and violence in America’s schools! It’s clunky presentation, but it makes its statement.

John Romita Jr. makes things look good. Not perfect or transcendent or anything, just whole and complete without treating anatomy and structure like sacred principles never to be violated. Clark spends all his time keeping his impulses in check and trying to live up to high standards, but Romita renders all of this in such a way that, rather than pity a boy who mustn’t challenge the boundaries around him, you’re allowed to smile at a boy overdosed on self-discipline who finds little ways to have fun.

Superman Year One reads like a teen drama – shenanigans around a teen stumbling as he figures himself out, and generous helpings of things blown out of proportion.

Aquaman 49 (DeConnick/ Bogdanovic & Glapion): I think its painfully clear which one of them dieted the hardest to fit into their wedding clothes.

(CC Note: Could you be any more of a wiseass?) Sure could!
You think sex ed in schools is bad? Arthur here learned everything he knows from a trout.

Leaving on the worst possible note. 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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