Variant Coverage – August 14, 2019

Is this the real blog? It’s mostly fantasy. Caught in a shelf sort, no point in escaping. Open your eyes, look up the big words and see: I’m just a ranter, I need no sympathy, Because I’m weekly come, weekly go, click rate high, click rate low. Any way the page flows, yes it really matters to me. To me.

(CC Note: Crap, this is going to be one of those weeks, isn’t it?)

Wonder Woman 76 (Wilson/ Garbett): Diana of Thymescira faces down monsters, tyrants, even gods with the grace and dignity of a goddess. Such a tragedy she’s about to be taken down… by itchy scalp!

Age of Conan Valeria 1 of 5 (Finch/ Aneke): “Obviously it’s not done yet, but I should have it finished by winter.”
“Impressive construction. You said earlier that you’ve done all the work yourself?”
“Anything’s possible with the right tool!”
“…but the only tool I see is your sword.”
“In the right hands, a sword can do anything: measure, lay down mortar, draw lines, negotiate with zoning officials, and naturally, carving stone.”
“But how do you carve stone with a sword?”
“Quickly, assuming you and the sword’re strong enough.” [7/10]

So many steps Valeria’s taken were made of tragedy and challenge that she wouldn’t know an easy path from a diamond unicorn. Her family slaughtered one by one over just a few years, along with an obsession with becoming stronger than anyone else, has made her into a dangerous yet upbeat warrior. Confident in her training and experience, she finds herself ready to start hunting down the man that killed her brother (the only murder she witnessed) and carving them up to feed to dogs. The case may be cold, but she’s got at least one lead to follow, though approaching them may also count as walking into a trap.

This hits all the key parts needed for a decent first issue: it introduces the character’s strengths, mission, and personality; sets the environment and establishes what kinds of challenges Valeria’ll have to face, and presents a bad person she needs to take down. In combat, she casually takes down imposing people in training, and endearingly she also knows how to relax when the moment arrives. Her vendetta against someone she doesn’t know strains to pull a dark conspiracy with it, and rather than raising the stakes, it muddies the waters the story moves through.

The artwork manages well enough, it just falls out of synch with the narrative regularly, as if Aneke were giving herself a wide margin of error. Eyes don’t always meet what they’re supposed to be looking at. Arms fold in odd ways on occassion to meet their marks. It’s pretty clear that Aneke’s capable of powerful expressions with figures and faces, but here everything’s subdued – what should be surprise looks more like confusion, anger like annoyance. They’re not glaring mistakes, but they do hold the reader back from immersing themselves in the art.

Valeria reads like gas station coffee – could’ve been made with more care, but it’ll do the job.

Punisher Kill Krew 1 of 5 (Duggan/ Ferreyra): Wearing a viking helmet like it’s no big deal. Soloing dungeons of demonic hordes with wits and not-so-magic missiles. Get Frank here a set of dice and it’ll be middle school all over again, hopefully with less locker stuffing.

Amazing Spider-Man 27 (Spencer/ Walker): In New York, speed dating can be considered too slow.

Ghosted in LA 2 (Grace/ Keenan): It may look like they’re all trying to assure their living guest to use the facilities as she likes, and not to feel uncomfortable or judged. This is all a front. As soon as she pokes her head out of the water from her first dive, every one’ve them will hold up a score card. That grumpy dad-ghost in the cardigan possesses the glare of an Olympic French judge if I ever saw one.

Show’s End 1 (Cleveland/ Sadzinski): Before anyone gets too riled up over the conditions “circus freaks” worked under, consider something. They’re all looking off panel, in the same direction, most smiling, the rest composed. We’re missing the show – this is a shot of the audience!

Once & Future 1 of 6 (Gillen/ Mora): The pen may be mightier than the sword, but if comes to a generic disposable pen versus the Everything Shredder here, the safe bet’s on the sword for an upset victory. But this here’s a double-feature event, and if Granny’s shotgun’s loaded, it’ll be a whole new idiom. [8/10]

Duncan fits the profile of anxious British bachelor well enough – clumsy on dates, easily distracted, apologetic about the wind in Asia. His grandmother (and person who raised him) enjoys being his polar opposite – calm, collected, and counting the number of ways she could kill something at any given moment. What do they have to do with an archeological find in Cornwall, or an extremist group that kills teams of researchers for a really old scabbard? Before Grandma settled down in a home to knit and banter with nurses and patients, she hunted monsters. Grandma was amazing at hunting monsters, at at keeping Duncan oblivious to her night job, but the time has come to bring him into the family business.

As “passing the torch” stories go, this one’s goal is to keep you guessing. Duality’s a central theme, to the point where the bad guys, the good guys, the dead, and the terrifying each have more to them than what’s on the surface. Duncan and his grandma are the buddy cop duo we never knew we needed – Duncan’s known the job for four seconds before facing a house-sized monster, and Grandma will casually trick or shoot Duncan to keep her innocent lamb on task. Between that and random semantic debates on myths and legends, this should prove amusing and exciting all the way through.

Dan Mora doesn’t “draw” so much as he plays out other people’s imaginations on paper. Need a monster, he’ll design a ferocious one and show off how it smiles while hunting a snack down. Grandma needs to have a real talk with her sonny boy, and you can tell she’s serious because of the loaded firearm steady in her hand. There’s an undeniable quality to the illustrations, not in the sense that everything looks natural, rather X objects or entities are in the same room, there’s no context or excuse, you’ve just got to deal with it.

Once & Future reads like a movie trailer – it’s very possible this bit’s loaded with the best material, but if there’s more and the pacing keeps up, this’ll be a blockbuster.

Batman Universe 2 (Bendis/ Derington): “Put yourself together, Green Arrow! I’ve got an antidote if you could stay still for one second!”
“No! You’Re sNeakIng pennIES into mah Ar-ar-ar-arrow CaVe, I knOw it! Imma mAke cHange outta yur FaCe!”

Conan the Barbarian Exodus 1 (Esad Ribic): “Snakes?! What did you eat that made you vomit live snakes? Is that cilantro I smell with the bile? A thousand barrels of water and a dozen bathing attendants won’t be able to get me clean!”

Omni 1 (Grayson/ Martinez): A real zinger of a cover here. Just a lady with hiking gear. She’s standing in front of a lot of boxes, maybe one of them contains something curious. Oh look, she’s standing on a map of Africa. You don’t see many people stand on maps. Maybe if we read the book, we’ll find out where she got the map… look, just don’t look at this cover while operating heavy machinery, and everything’ll be fine.

Prodigal Sun Silver Surfer 1 (David/ Manna): Everyone seeing this: Such power forces colliding, and Galactus stands watching, maybe even directing this epic clash! It’s majestic!
Galactus: Galactus must catch them ALL.

White Trees 1 of 2 (Zdarsky/ Anka): “We’ve been waiting for you for two weeks, what happened?”
“You could’ve been more specific when you said ‘Meet by the white tree.’ I went to the wrong one.”
“‘Wrong one’? How many white trees do you think there are?!?”
“At least two, and the first one I stopped at was planted at the top of a castle built into a mountain. Would’ve left right away, but they were celebrating a coronation, and you know I can’t resist cake.” [8/10]

Old soldiers that’re still combat-ready are hard to find in any field, much less among the “cooperating” kingdoms in Blacksand. But back in the day, three veteran warriors – each from different places & races – tore a gaping hole into their shared enemy’s lines, after which they retired as heroes. Two found love and revelation with each other, while one simply returned to farming, raising his son, and mourning his wife. A decade or so later, these three heroes answer a royal summons with chilling consequences: the shared enemy kidnapped their kids and (assuming they’re not already dead) taken them into enemy territory. They don’t have time to process all the implications before they hit the road, knowing that the road’s going to hit back.

While the plot’s your standard fantasy adventure stuff – children in danger, merciless enemies, one last quest – the characters bring a lot of newer ideas into the story and provide the narrative with needed freshness. Scotiar and Dahvlan came out of the war realizing they were very different people than they thought they were, and Krylos lost more during his tours than a wife and sense of compassion. Their time off took them on diverging paths, but getting these three back together leads to inside jokes, nostalgia, and mountains of bickering, all of which keep the story flowing smoothly. There are as many layers to this narrative as a bag of onions, and it’s only got one more issue to resolve enough of them.

Anka’s art style could be described as evocative and precise minimalism – he uses lines efficiently to render sadness, alarm, and other emotions straight on target. Anka also had much and more to design (architecture, new spins on D&D races, etc.), all of which turning out so well that even the hallucinatory apparitions looked solid. The story keeps many plates spinning at the same time, making illustrating this a demanding challenge, but Anka’s got this.

WARNING: There is surprise full frontal nudity in these pages. Take that however you want, but if you’re under 18, maybe don’t take it at all.

White Trees reads like a traversing a mountain range – there’s nothing wrong with peaking early so long as you peak often.

Welp, time for the next stop on my tour. 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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