Variant Coverage By Ryan Walsh For Comic Carnival
Another tax season come and gone. If that means something to you, buy a comic to celebrate. If it doesn’t, buy a comic because comics are neat.
•Houdini Master Detective One-Shot (Various): There’s so much going on here, like the ancient Egyptian bikini outfit that never was, and the red hooded guy’s disproportionately massive right hand, and Houdini pulling off that dramatic look with the scarf that I’ve consistently failed to accomplish. I don’t even care if there’s a murder involved – if Harry Houdini finds his keys while everything’s looking this suave, I’m sold!
•Mary Shelley Monster Hunter 1 (Glass & Cuartero-Briggs/ Sherman): Read the wikipedia entry for Mary Shelley here, then tell me seeing her walk down the middle of the street wouldn’t send chills down your spine. The lady invented sci-fi. Before Mary came along, goth was a genre of architecture. Chuck Norris asked her to prom and she turned the guy down. She fell in love with her husband literally over her mother’s grave, now here she comes strolling up Main St. alone because no one’s brave enough to share the road with her. Heck, she could’ve come up with “giving a crap” just so she could brag about her never doing it. [7/10]
While Percy and Mary muddled over the details to ensure their upcoming child wouldn’t be a bastard, strange goings-on were afoot in the secluded village they’d occupied for the season. People were dying, bodies went missing, and as the outsiders with disgustingly unorthodox ways (“Women? With income?!?”), their landlord felt compelled by civic duty to kick them into the cold. One local, someone of learning and themselves having little use for traditional methods, offered the party to stay with them. 90% of an elaborate mansion, complete with walking gardens and robust libraries and spectacular views, was theirs to enjoy. All they had to do was stay out of the master’s private quarters. Oh, and if they could just not worry about the random screams and occasional lightning strikes, their host – one Dr. Frankenstein – would really appreciate it.
The set-up borrows from Lovecraft and Conan lore in that the story is discovered years or centuries after it happened, and begin with warnings of disbelief and horror. Once engaged, the story follows Mary and her group mostly according to history, and careful to throw in interpersonal nuggets to fill out scenes as moments between friends versus a staged retelling. Mary and Percy both delight in seeing how far they can bend the rules of decorum, and at the same time pragmatically measure how far they’re will to go before the consequences become unbearable. Mary herself views her pregnancy as a tool, even a shield, to navigate tense situations when no one else can. There’s plenty left to unpack and explore before the action truly kicks in, but the foundation’s solid.
The art consistently presents everything dirty and sketchy, which would be a fine way to picture a unverified manuscript, except the modern-era setting looks just the same. The beginning celebrates vibrant color in the face of a rough winter, only to hide when the scene shifts to the mysterious and foreboding castle. Figures, perspectives, and fine details play it safe where possible and appear awkward when they can’t. The glances characters give each other, the way they try to hide uncomfortable feelings or share four things while saying nothing, all click naturally, if you like that sort of thing.
Mary Shelley Monster Hunter reads like a passionate anecdote – too respectful and fascinated by the narrative to let dry and boring details like facts get in the way.
•Camp GN (Kayla Miller): Inspired by the urban legend of the Two Termite Children, witches of the woods got clever with their facilities. A gingerbread camp turned out to be the most effective set-up: everyone expects drafty buildings, and so long as the kids distract each other, they never say a word when one goes missing.
•Mage Volume 6 Hero Denied Book 3 (Matt Wagner): “T-t-t-t-t-t-this is whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy you should nev-ev-ev-ev-ev-ever touch downed p-p-p-p-p-power lines, kidszszszszss!”
•Teen Titans 29 (Glass & Priest/ Chang): Deathstroke is one of the most intimidating men in the DC Universe. It’s not because he can lift a car or melt into shadow or anything super like that, it’s because he can plan any job, any heist, any hit to allow for the most opportunities for success and the fewest for failure. Everyone thinks it’s because of brain implants that give him epic focus and sensory processing, but he just acts everything out beforehand with his action-figure collection. (He actually doesn’t mind anyone calling them “dolls”, but the first one that did reflexively shot himself in the head out of fear, and no one’s done it since.)
•Ditko Monsters (Gill/ Ditko): So I’m just waiting for confirmation that this is the next stage of Mystery Science Theater 3000 comics. There was a Gorgo episode, and the Mad’s name is almost Konga, how much more obvious could it be?
•Planet of the Nerds 1 (Constant/ Robinson & Elliot): I’m having flashbacks to those 80s college movies so cheesy they had a surgeon general’s warning on them. And you know what? I can think of worse things to remember about the 80s. [6/10]
You’ve got Jocks A, B, and C, you’ve got your victim (Alvin, a walking collection of nerd stereotypes and social helplessness), and you’ve got the arena: Generic mid-size town in California circa 1980-ish. Jock A – your athletic pretty boy that skips brain day every day – doesn’t feel complete if he hasn’t broken a fresh piece of Alvin’s spirit. Jock C seriously worries that A’s fixation could wind up really hurting someone, and tries to curb A’s more aggressive impulses. Jock B just loves watching the show and otherwise plays lookout for the group. Today’s piece of Alvin’s spirit was a kitbashed tube of cold he built from scraps, and when A shattered it to pieces, today turned into 2018. They don’t even know how unprepared they are.
Anyone expecting a cheap 80’s romp with a dash of contemporary self-reflection will miss the dash – the story goes out of its way to show just how obsessive and cruel your average jock can be and also how self-absorbed and creepy a stereotypical nerd can be. Aside from Man That’s Kinda Cool Once You Get Him Away From His Jerk Friends, there’s a gaping hole where someone to root for’s supposed to be. There’s little plot, almost no character development, just a hasty premise and a load of promises for future shenanigans. The problem with people beyond redemption is that if you put a path to redemption in front of them, they won’t go anywhere.
The artwork makes room for ways to signify the time changes thoughtfully and creatively – easiest to point out is the four-color dot matrix style for the 80’s and a smoother, higher-resolution method for the present. Everyone has their own visual trick that’s unique to them and blown out of proportion, so there’s no chance that you’ll get confused as to who’s who. The scenery recreates the look of Back to the Future: entire blocks of average town staged and blocked, nothing out of place for the time.
Planet of the Nerds reads like life-accurate revenge porn – a scheme to ruin the lives of abusers so complete, it includes the schemers as well.
•Daredevil 4 (Zdarsky/ Checchetto): “Did your skull put on a little weight, Frank?”
“What, this? Had a run-in with a crime family at a paint warehouse, even I’d never seen so much red. Anyway, this is the cleanest I could get it before tonight. Should have a vest with a fresh skull on it by the end of the week. Oh hey, this thing looks like you, doesn’t it?”
“You wear a skull on your chest?”
•Star Wars TIE Fighter 1 of 5 (Houser/ Various): The reason those helmets completely hide their faces is so that no one can tell how traumatized they are at all times. They ride particle engines wrapped in tin foil and just about any way you look at them, they look like targets. They’re like Bomb Squad veterans, only they have to bring their own explosives.
•Young Mozart HC (William Augel): If he could write all those symphonies while running marathons just to play them on the piano, forget it, he deserves all the hype. Take some from Avengers Endgame and give it to this kid, let’s be real!
•Credo the Rose Wilder Lane Story HC (Peter Bagge): This is the most straightforward Choose Your Own Adventure story I’ve ever encountered.
•War of the Realms The Punisher 1 of 3 (Duggan/ Ferriera): “Eat lead!”
“But my New Year’s resolutio – actually, I don’t think this counts since you’re force-feeding me. Been craving some hot slag for months. Right, uhh, ‘Please, don’t reload with another magazine full of .45 deliciousness!”
“…Why do monsters always gotta make this weird?” [7/10]
Off in another Marvel event, the heavens themselves have opened up and nightmares run rampant through New York. This is the kind of thing mad geniuses, divine beings, radioactive insect people, thawed super soldiers, and other impossibly powerful individuals handle. Frank Castle has guns, explosives, grit, and a wave of dark elves and frost giants to cope with. He can put down grunts and tick off monsters just fine, but as far as the conflict itself, Frank’s aiming to do what he’s telling every civilian he sees to do: stay inside and lay low until the capes deal with it. Standard protocol and good, common sense advice, except there’s a hospital that’s lost all power and needs to evac through the Jersey tunnel, which just so happens to be a war front all its own. What’s a Punisher to do?
The issue opens with one of the silliest sight gags that’s ever come out of a Punisher book. It sets a tone, and then sets the range by killing a family in a monster’s unthinking assault. This book’s going to have fun, but it’ll be anything but clean. Readers will probably enjoy sneaking a peek into Frank Castle’s insights on the ridiculousness of having a bunch of heroes around but civilians go unprotected. In fact, this situation forces Frank to wear a few hats he doesn’t normally: grief counselor, safety coordinator, leader of a rag-tag team so crazy they might just get the job done. Whichever side you think he’s on, the Punisher’s going above and beyond executing the guilty.
This vision of the Punisher isn’t your grizzled, mussy-headed, five-layers-of-kevlar street soldier, he’s more your muscle T-shirt, 2% body fat, meticulously groomed male model variety. He’s as brutal and explosive and blood-stained as ever, but it can throw you if you’re not prepared. Most of the figures are drawn slightly exaggerated, either to sell the work as a fun diversion or so that when the otherworldly giants start walking around, they don’t look completely out of place.
War of the Realms Punisher reads like that one urban legend – there’s no way any of it can happen, except it’s all true.
See YOU next week!
Looking for earlier blogs by Ryan Walsh for Comic Carnival? They’re here: Variant Coverage Blog Back Issues