As we make the move from June into July, we should each take time to reflect on what the month’s done for us, and what we’ve done in that month. Not now, obviously – there’re comics and their reviews to read, not to mention videos about hydraulic presses and/ or puppies to watch, opinions yet to be trashed on forums, and there’s got to be a shaved ice stand you haven’t been to yet. But you know, once you’re done with all that and you’ve got some real food in you and the kids are off to bed (hopefully they’re yours, otherwise what’re you doing with those kids?), and the countless other tasks and chores to get you through the day are behind you, then totally get some of that reflection stuff in.
Priorities! Comics! Smiles!
•Samurai Grandpa 1 (DeVerna/ Daley): “Feh. Kids today, they’re all about faux-leather and Twitter followers. Back in my day, children were raised to fear everything, fight tooth and nail for every minute to survive, and if we were lucky enough to find a clan, that was the only thing that made our torturous existences meaningful. And by Amaterasu, we liked it! Well… except for… and the… hrmm. Wonder if I can trade this is for a smartphone.”
•Canto 1 of 6 (Booher/ Zucker): “I’ve got me an axe, and it just so happens that all my problems are trees. Life (or the synthetic equivalent) just got a whole lot simpler!” [6/10]
Canto’s your average villager-turned-slave surviving under the lash of a cruel and repressive race of larger creatures with crueler instruments. Everything from when they get up, what they eat, what they wear, what they do, even who they speak to falls under their overseers’ jurisdiction, with zero deviation tolerated. Everyone’s assigned a number, which is but one of the tiny acts of rebellion Canto commits to assert his independence. When the special soul in his life is beaten to near death for giving him that name, he becomes desperate enough to cross a mountain and face forgotten dangers to find his companion a heart.
Trope-saturated and exaggerated and repetitive as the story is, the execution manages to hold the narrative together. Some components like the story of the knight and the princess or the origin of the slavers seem to pop out from nowhere appear irrelevant to the current plot, but in a larger sense they help to establish a tone and sense of history. Others, such as the authoritarian system Canto’s people live under, would appear to be constant and absolute, but instead are rarely either. Booher’s obviously poured over this narrative for a long time to get the finer details exactly as he wants them at the cost of the main structures fitting together.
Slavery has rarely looked this adorable. The tin-plated bodies of Cantos people could be intimidating were it not for the mammoth-sized brutes dwarfing them into armored Ewoks. The awkwardness in combining such varied designs never settles or balances on the page, and that keeps the reader from fully engaging. Technically, everything’s rendered well, and the color and shading jobs both add vitality, but the fundamental looks to the characters seem incomplete.
Canto reads like cookie dough – you may have a satisfying enough time ingesting it raw, yet a bit more baking would’ve made things better.
•Major X 6 of 6 (Rob Liefeld): Don’t get too excited for Christmas on the years Krampus calls in with a cold. When it comes to punishing the naughty children, Santa likes to let ‘em run a bit first. Not only does this marbleize their fear with a dash of hope, but it works wonders at keeping his belly from getting too round.
•Amped 1 (Augustyn/ Qualano): I could use your help, readers. We’ve got two groups of people, or maybe one group with two different identities each. One group’s been crippled past the point of casual interaction with the public, forced to take one of a limited number of roles to make ends meet, dependent on the tolerance of the local government. The other group’s in wheelchairs or on crutches. Which one’s the “super” group again?
•Steel Cage 1 (Various): I’m thrilled to see a wrestling match where they drop the pretense. We’ve all known that the referee had no function expect to suggest that the fights were regulated at all. Now that we’ve got the striped filler body out of the ring, let these guys perform like the professionals they are.
•At the End of Your Tether 1 of 3 (Smith/ Glass): We’re coming to a level of technology where the entire cycle of teenage angst – first love, isolation, yearning for freedom – will be available over the phone. Think of all the time that’ll save during puberty! Young teens’ll enjoy untold amounts of focus and concentration explaining to their parents exactly how they’re the cruelest monsters ever. [8/10]
Life as an armed forces brat has plenty of challenges. You never know how long you’re going to be at one spot before moving again, all the houses look the same, today’s best friends could be tomorrow’s distant memories. Add to that the regular hardships of dealing with growing up, and watching your dad do everything right and fail anyway, and getting bullied at school despite being smarter and stronger than anyone else, and you’ve got the life of Ludo. For him, returning to the Air Force base represents a huge loss for him and his family, but there is one silver lining: his first girlfriend Arlo’s still there, and they still like each other. Oh and there’s a forest fire that’s arson but also not anything to do with it but maybe it is?
Some stories want to be instant masterpieces. They have elements of mysteries and romance and sports and the human condition, and they speak to readers on a dozen levels but never in a boring or condescending way. At the End of Your Tether wants to be one of those masterpieces, and it’s starting off right. Each character’s unique, with their own goals and histories and problems, set in a few places that each provide drama and isolation. The fundamental issue is that this is only part of that story that may or may not be a masterpiece, leaving the rest of us to guess whether or not it’ll be worth investing in.
The linework and basic composition plays everything safe and sticks to the classic formula: simplified figures following standard proportions and arrangement. It’s not incredible in any aspect, but it gets the job done well. What gives the art its flavor and charisma is the coloring, which either was done in watercolor, or digitally to look like watercolor. The gentle textures, shading changes, and variance demonstrates that the artists didn’t want something that looked perfect or processed, instead they used a method that appeared natural, tested, and yet not seen in comics in a long time.
At the End of Your Tether reads like the best kind of tragedy – emotional, distressing, a little hopeful, and someone else’s.
•Marilyn Manor 1 (Visaggio/ Zarcone): You know, because the best escapism is looking at a world where the White House residents are self-interested, fashion-obsessed drama addicts whose idea of ultimate suffering is running out of hair spray.
•Box Book 1 TP (Wirbeleit/ Heidschotter): Kids, do yourselves a favor. If you’re so lonely that you make friends with a box, and that box tells you to board up the doors and windows before you burn a place down so no one can escape, stop listening to the box. The box isn’t actually your friend.
•Crow-Hack/ Slash 1 (Seeley & Jerry): Don’t you hate showing up at the sickest cemetery in town only to find someone there’s already rocking YOUR look. One of them’s going to have to go back to their crypt and change.
•Star Wars Age of Rebellion Darth Vader 1 (Pak/ Bachs): After getting half his body burned off, part of Darth Vader’s recovery included learning to write with paper and ink – a talent so antiquated it predates the Old Republic. Some say Vader did this to restore his precise hand control and better wield his signature red lightsaber. The truth is that in the cutthroat world of intergalactic politics, with so much pain that might be turned into vulnerability, there’s only one way to be sure the volumes of terribly blues lyrics and sad poetry Vader wrote wouldn’t be hacked.
•Spider-Ham Annual (Latour & Lord/ LaToru & Lafuente): “Hey, villains, check out my new suit! Though you’ve all caused me intense pain over the years, nothing’s hurt me more than chaffing, but not anymore! I finally enjoy the protection and comfort of swine living.”
Spider-Guin: “And if you think that’s impressive, what’ll you what it does for Amoorica’s ass!” [8/10]
Peter Porker’s got himself some problems, and with great problems come wacky hijinks. Out-thought by the bad guys? Throw a pie in your own face and throw them off balance! Awkward conversations at a bar? Materialize a wooden mallet and turn your skull into an accordion! Interdimensional vampires feasting on anyone with spider-powers? Imprint on the marketable side-character and become her spirit guide when she gets her own series! I haven’t even gotten to the weird stuff yet, and who knows? Maybe that’ll seem normal to you.
If you came to the comic shop craving something deep, challenging, and insightful into the human condition, I promise it’s somewhere in the shop but it isn’t Spider-Ham. Spider-Ham’s silly fun if you’ve never seen anything Marvel-related before. If you have, the one-off gags and Easter egg cameos are gonna rain joy down upon you.
Seeing as a few different short stories inhabit this book, there are different artists for each narrative, but since everything revolves around a pig in a spider costume there’s only so much variation to be done. I’d love to see Sienkiewicz or Brereton’s take on the character, but the animation-styles are pleasing to the eyes, even if they are the easy way to win.
Spider-Ham Annual reads like your first kid’s dance recital – you’re going to love it because otherwise you’re a monster, but turning off your brain’ll help a lot.
Stay cool, and see you next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues