Variant Coverage – August 28, 2019

Let us say farewell to the month of August the same way we welcomed it – bloated with beginnings and endings, desperately in need of a holiday, and with comics in hand!

Batman Superman 1 (Williamson/ Marquez): As on the fence as I am about combiner covers, this is a great chance to show of the key thinking differences between two of DC’s giants. On your left: Batman, his stance practiced to perfection, a weapon in one hand, his tricked-out cape in the other, ready to take on any threat in the blink of an eye. On the right: Superman, just as battle-ready, only he’s looking like he’s stretching in bed.


Mall 1 (Moreci & Dauberman/ Hartong): Swords? Check? Guns? Loaded. Face gear? Intimidating. Clothes? Held together by duct tape and sweet dreams. Be it a zombie apocalypse or Black Friday, they’re ready! [6/10]

Nobody’s worried about the end of the world anymore, because three world-ending events made a bet to see which of them could render the planet uninhabitable first. The last remnants of humanity seal themselves in concrete enclaves made for very different times. The dignity of working together’s counted among the first victims, because since the sky turned to poison, this mall’s been feudal with no one enlightened or stupid enough to suggest otherwise. Which brings us to Andre Walker, heir apparent to the Gacy’s Fiefdom and suspect #1 in the murder of Delmond Gold, another lord who’s daughter’s taking the whole thing manically well. All that’s left to do is figure out the slow, excruciating manner of Andre’s demise. Not that Andre killed him, but who cares about that?

For a locale known as a walking spot for the elderly, this moves fast and sharp. The opening sequences follow a couple of truly horrible scenes, and refuses to slow down from there. Andre’s run through the Mall connects him with politics, loyalty, and more just waiting their turn to make his life worse. Andre portrays himself as idealistic, capable, and just a little too sheltered to get how the world works. Matriarch Tess has never loved a living creature so much as she loves being evil, but instead of inspiring fear, she just sends her band of crazies against the crazies no one else wants. Whether she’ll unleash them on the last remnants of humanity or weave a formal dress out of human hair is up to chance.

Visually, the book hasn’t decided what it is. Sometimes it presents perspectives and backgrounds right off a professional’s drafting table, other times the images look like someone dumped a bucket full of shapes for someone to build a comic page with. The style changes so erratically, it might as well depend on what part of the mall Andre’s in. The visuals are wild, at times it’s fun and scary, but not up to holding so many abstract concepts together.

Mall reads like the sports page of your home town on a losing streak – beaten from one end to the other, mediocre performance, but determined enough to get on the field.

Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur 46 (Montclare/ Martinez): I know there’s something else going on with this cover, but that line right through Devil Dinosaur’s head prevents me from thinking of anything else besides Terry Gilliam’s animation. Whoever can make this happen and post it online will win the internet… and my heart. (CC Note: So you’ve reinvented the No-Prize, huh?)


She-Hulk Annual 4 (Petri/ MacDonald): “I brought two modified Desert Eagles and the best hand-eye coordination of all time. You’re all dead!”
“We brought a Hulk.”
*crunch* “Hi, there.”
“Umm,  you see…”
“My personal best is fourteen different lawsuits on a single person. Let’s see if you can smash that for me.”


Doctor Mirage 1 (Visaggio/ Robles): I suppose if you’re fireproof, you could save money on disinfectant by just burning everything off you, but that creates a whole new set of problems. How do you clean up the ash? Do you need custom tools and supplies to stand up to the temperature? How is security supposed to let you pass when you’re letting a flaming apparition ride you piggyback that – by the way – doesn’t show up in photographs.


Mountainhead 1 (Lees/ Lee): “…and now on Paris Fashion Week, we see the latest in urban chic from Boxcar Carmichael. The matching crowbar and ski mask speak to rebellion and frustration, as the backpack and utility belt assert a sense that where there’s will, there’s possibility for change. I’m scanning through the crowd and it sadly looks like they’re not happy with this look.” [7/10]

The Rocky Mountains are a fine place to visit, but living there’ll cost you more than convenient shopping. Folks say it does things to your brain. We don’t know how long Abraham’s dad was up there, but it was long enough for him to figure that stealing a baby and raising it in his own delusional way, then stealing from people’s houses for money, felt like a great plan. That didn’t last, and within 24 hours Abraham became James, son of a loving father and mother settled just at the foot of another patch of the Rockies. It’s a definitive upgrade from being a homeless thief, but this kid’s spent his life thinking monsters controlled the institutions to pacify and enslave people, and letting go of something like that proves to be its own kind of monster.

If gaslighting triggers you, Mountainhead’s a double-tap of anxiety. Abra-James was raised in a world of crippling mental dysfunction and finds himself pulled into the society he was programmed to fear. Now he’s surrounded by strangers telling him that everything he knew was wrong, and Ja-braham isn’t taking to the transition well.

The larger story follows the quest for truth, and how Abrahames will need to find his own version of it somewhere in a hellscape at too far young an age. It’s troubling to read 22 pages of a boy suffering, but it promises major emotional payoff. Now it’s just a matter of whether the following issues can deliver or not. Don’t read this expecting closure – there’s none to be found.

The art style leans into the theme of instability, with inconsistent figures and designs, proportions that don’t always synch up with each other. If this were the work of an unpracticed scribbler, I’d be tanking it worse than an Abrams, but this is intentional, and the reasoning’s sound. There’s enough information to pick up what’s going on, enough structure to follow the flow between panels, and the details are hard to make out – for many stories this would be a crippling drawback, but when the narrative slams so much emotional baggage on the reader, the visual buffer’s what makes it workable.

Mountainhead reads like a John Oliver main story – brutal, overwhelming, perhaps a bit too real, but with just enough decoration to stay engaging.

GI Joe 226 (Hama/ Atkins): “God may avoid playing dice with the universe, but I – Cobra Commander – have will and talent enough to go where God refuses! By putting all my armies and capital on this throw, I can simply buy the fealty of the planet. I can buy the Joes, disband them, hire them into COBRA, and fire them just before their benefits kick in. It’s the perfect plan! I can’t fail!”
“Snake Eyes!”
“Dammit!”


Traveller 1 (Gibson & Anastasniades): Science Lady to the left of me, Stormtroopers to the right, here I am: stuck in the middle of a blue gaseous whirlpool, wishing I hadn’t bought this gas mask used.

Batman Curse of the White Knight #3 (Sean Murphy): There are the crime bosses that never go anywhere without their whole team. There are the kind that will take on an entire squad alone. There are some who always enter a room with a woman at their side. And then you’ve got this jerkward who – take away the guns and add some up-tempo theme music – might as well be fighting for a slot at the pro-wrestling championship match.


Tommy Gun Wizards 1 of 4 (Christian Ward): “Tommy Tight-Lips, you set up the alarm barrier here – Maxie’s yer lookout, see? He’ll signal the rest of us when you’re ready. Troy and Bessie’ll head in first, cast Mass Sleep on the guards, and open the dock doors for us. We’ll have seven minutes to find the shards of Narsil before the ward falls, so any of you palooks walk in there without charged spheres, it’s Avada Kedavra for you. This is the kind of score that comes once in a lifetime, and after this our lead-to-gold days are done, see? Bwah! [8/10]

Eliot Ness (yeah, this guy) and his band of loyal-yet-eccentric posse are working to take Al Capone and his infrastructure of criminal smuggling empire down to nothing. The twist? It’s not alcohol that’s prohibited, but Lick, a potent liquid that gives the person who drinks it access to magic for a brief time. Bed Head won’t calm down? Poof: instant trim and styling. Shirt not fitting right? Sparkle: you’ve got muscles to fill it out and intimidate passing tailors. Ness’s raining down on Capone’s houses like they were made out of paper, and lacking any moral or legal defence, Capone’s floating the idea that the only way Ness and his men could be this effective is if they were Licking themselves, a possibility too ridiculous to be true. Right?

The timeless story of a group of valiant believers versus deep corruption is how Eliot Ness’s story still attracts attention today. Adding magic and special effects should cheapen it, but the narrative stays on track, careful to follow the reactions and schemes on the ground with all the tension of history, only in the context of hocus pocus. Due to all this focus on the events and movements, the characters don’t find a chance to show us who they are – if not for profile shots and short descriptions underneath, there’s nothing differentiating them from a well-dressed milk man. History and urban wizardry fans should get a big kick out of this.

Since we’re in the prohibition era, the art constantly expresses its love for long shadows and seedy spaces. Inks runs deep into every spot they can find, but refreshingly they don’t take up more space than they have to. In-between the bold lines are colors and shading custom-fit for the scene and situation, adding just enough weight to the images that they remind you of real things, but allowing for magic missiles.

Tommy Gun Wizards reads like pineapple on pizza – some people’ll see it as a union never meant to happen, others’ll see a relief to an ache they forgot they carried.

See you in September! Which is next week, I get that, I just wanted to mix it up a little.


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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