Variant Coverage – July 31, 2019

This weekend is GenCon, which among other things means half the store’s attending for business and/ or pleasure, and downtown Indianapolis will be a three square mile choke point. And how does this affect your weekly reviews? Not one tiny bit!

Boston Metaphysical Society 1 (Holly-Rosing/ Hu): “Make sure to catch my good side while documenting this experiment, would you?”
“Would you kindly explain what in Washington’s name this experiment is?”
“If it’s not completely obvious… fine. Technology-wise, the bow and arrow have gone fundamentally unchanged for centuries. To bring the whole process back up to spec, I’m testing different elongated fibers wrapped around an arrow to see which of them improves aim most noticeably. This initial test involves an extra-long pipe cleaner.”
“Thank you sir, now for the record is this a fresh cleaner, or did you use the one that’s for between your earholes? I only ask because I’ve known you long enough to know that you’ve never held a bow in your life.”

Death’s Head 1 (Howard/ Zama): “This next one’s for the couple in the back chucking loaded fries at me all night, a little number I like to call ‘Your Spines Are My Next Axe Handles!’” [6/10]

Death’s Head is not a rock band, or a bar with live music, or a microbrew. Death’s Head is a sentient machine built to hunt, kill, and cash in on bounties. He’s great at that. He also asks questions and – depending on the answers – has been known to change his mind. It’s that last talent that landed him on Earth where he spent two weeks unconscious and kitbashed into a stage amp. He hasn’t been on Earth for a while, so he doesn’t recognize much about the place, but he’s still got his guns and 5% battery. It takes some beatings, but eventually he shacks up with a couple of understanding roommates. Then the weird drama begins.

Table the question of whether Death’s Head’s a Cybertronian or not – this story ponders whether he’s a veteran or just old. He’s been slow on his own upkeep, newer and sleeker machine life forms want his position, and his boss’s fed up with him. The problem with this sort of existential crisis is that this is the wrong character for it. Death’s Head has two settings: Shoot, and ask about basic things to verify who/ what to shoot. He doesn’t question his own existence, he halts other people from existing. His furiously reluctant sidekicks would be a huge help, if it weren’t for that it’d be for terrible reasons. Step back from all the drama, and what you’re left with is crazy wacky hijinks reaching peak Stan Lee levels, which is one firm positive.

The art style revels in the chaos of everything from the trash-portation to the accidental violation of multiverse physics. The details appear fuzzy, more out of deliberate “I don’t want this looking clean or clear” efforts than “I can’t be bothered” mentality. The coloring confuses me – it’s washed out and toned down to the point that you might catch yourself thinking this is a vintage comic that’s aged well, and not a new release featuring a bunch of characters that might as well be vintage. The panel structure’s fine, enough information’s presented to assure the reader of what’s going on, and some sight gags find their way in, so while the narrative may leave your head itching, at least it’s a fun read.

Death’s Head reads like a stadium dog with all the trimmings – might be one of the most memorable experiences you ever have, but don’t expect to understand what’s in it.

Red Winter 1 (Gordon/ Munoz): “What happens to blood falling from the sky like rain when it is cold? You get snow the color of blood, piling atop itself, unmoving. My grandchildren build snowmen from blood. My son-in-law shovels blood out of the driveway. Blood traps me here, in this house, and I may never escape.”
“Dad, stop it! Every time we go see a doctor, I swear you get possessed by the mother of all drama queens, now we’ve pushed this appointment with the optometrist twice already. Let’s get in the car so you can see more colors.”
“Fix whatever you like, child. You cannot show me a world less broken that this.”
“Oh for- GET IN THE CAR NOW AND WE CAN STOP FOR A BLOODSHAKE LATER! (Oh no I said bloodshake, his weirdness’s catching!)”

The Love She Offered 1 (Moane/ Llaneta): “If you’re looking for love then you’re not going to find one better than this! I can see you looking at the cracks and pieces coming off, you’re thinking ‘Who would want THIS?’ but listen to these two words: Fixer Upper. You’ll save so much with this you can spend the rest of your budget on restorations, it’ll be like you built it yourself!”

Powers of X 1 (Hickman/ Silva): I was into these specialized Star Wars spin-offs for a while, but now they’re just adding on things that fly in the face of established lore.
Mini-lightsaber crossguards I found myself able to choke down, but now lightsaber half-scabbards? Give us a break, Lucas of House Disney!

Gutt Ghost 1 (Enzo Garza): “Doctor, it feels like there’s a blockage somewhere, could you take a look?”
“Let’s see what we have here… spent bullet, car keys, cheap watch. Wait, is this it? Can you feel me jiggling it?”
“Ayyy, that’s it, you’ve got to get it out of there!”
“No problem, it was bound to happen sooner or later anyway. You’ve been dead so long that your heart just shriveled up and kinda fell in there with the rest of your organs. How come they’re still juicy, incidentally?”
“Maybe because I still use those?” *sitcom laugh track* [5/10]

In a small town like this, you see people walking down the street all the time. You also see people floating, shambling, slithering… the place is full of the dead in various forms of the afterlife. There’re pizza ghouls, putrid corpses serving as incubators for eldritch nightmares, etc. There are living people, too, just don’t expect much from them. And then there’s the Gutt Ghost (technically Giest, but no one gets it right). There’s one (or more) in town that’s sort of a celebrity, if only because there’s a cult centered around them with effective management and their very own end-of-the-world plot. Gutt Ghost doesn’t fall into what they’re preaching, but so long as he keeps charging lunches to them, they’ll keep reminding him that the end is nigh.

In what’s got to be one of the most meta jokes in comics, this is a slice-of-life comedy from a ghost’s point of view. The pattern goes like this: Gutt Ghost wants something -> Gutt Ghost minds his own business to get the thing -> Gutt Ghost gets rolled by random entity -> Gutt Ghost doesn’t get the thing. It’s the action equivalent of two people talking over a table – there may be some substance processing in the scene, but you’ll need to slug through so much mundane crap to find it.

The main reason this book exists at all is for the visuals, specifically the various designs of grotesque proto-Cronenburgs repeating the basic patterns of life. Most characters already start in some stage of decomposition no loving god would allow to exist, while others put on appearances for mild shock value later. The full-on living don’t look much better off that the undead. If you took the sketchbook of a 14-year-old kid that needed some counselling, and handed it to a professional artist with 10 pounds of coffee and told them you wanted a full comic ready to go to press in a week, your book would look a lot like this.

Gutt Ghost reads like a serious dare – you can probably handle it, so long as you don’t think about it while doing it, and especially after it’s done.

Gears of War Pop One-Shot (Ball/ Pena): This would be where I’d normally say something like how much of a shame it is that they’re not taking their IP seriously, but this is Gears of War and I don’t know that they’ve ever been serious.

Leave on the Light 1 (Golden & Aguilar/ Sarabia): “I made it, sweetie! That bear you were telling me about, the one your friend Becky showed off to the class?”
“Dad? Why’re you covered in blood?”
“Well I made this myself. Out of other bears.”
“Daddy, did you remember the part about the shop at the mall?”
“Oh anyone can build a bear like that. I wanted to give you something special!”

Knights Temporal 1 (Bunn/ Galan): All those sharp edges, you’d think he’d put any effort at all into shaving that proto-beard off his face. But I shouldn’t make fun – for some it just takes longer than others.

Manor Black 1 of 4 (Bunn & Hurtt/ Crook): “GASP! Someone’s flashing the Millennial Signal! Now how to sneak away from my own soiree of the super-rich so’s to switch identities and subvert their schemes?” [8/10]

The Black family could be best described as stewards of magic and dark forces. They have power, loads of responsibility, and a treasure trove of knowledge in the form of an interactive tomb featuring the ghosts & corpses of every family head dating back to their establishment. Those folks are creepy, but rarely wrong. Roman Black, the current head of the family, finds himself challenged in his later years, and feels pressure from both living and dead to choose a successor, but he’s still clever enough to ignore both. Outside the Black estate, power plays twist and torture and end violently, some of these endings creeping closer to the estate than anyone sensible would prefer.

With the personal, political, holistic, and other flavors of drama, if anyone wanted to read Harry Potter fanfic by William Shakespeare, this is what you’ve been waiting for. Roman loves his kids, which may be why he doesn’t want to lock them into this particular side of the family business, or he might genuinely worry they’re not up to the task. The infighting between other magical factions may not have anything to do with the Blacks before, but whatever the stakes were, they shoot up upon approaching Black Manor. The narrative’s loaded with heavy spherical plots barely held steady by a plate balancing on a stick, and now that we’ve gotten a close look at them, things will start crashing.

Anyone that read Harrow County – the previous collaboration between these creators – should expect more of the same. For those who didn’t, that means slightly cartoonish approaches to form and anatomy, a frugal amount of detail, and sketchy yet lush backgrounds. The watercolor-like palette adds layers of definition and meaning to the characters, turning an otherwise average elderly fellow with a good beard into a man meant to be Santa Claus but forced into a role involving a lot less joy-spreading.

Manor Black reads like a generational soap opera – everyone’s hiding stuff from each other, and no one grows out of trying to rig the system.

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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