Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #220: Variable Changes

We remember 2019, right? The pre-plague era where I was only a few months into this series of articles? It was then I pointed out my reasoning behind not covering much of Marvel’s recent output, opting instead for the occasional older series. This was due to Ike Perlmutter, his connections to the Trump administration, and his running of the VA into the ground. I boycotted the publisher quietly since around 2018 and hadn’t let up since the final issue of Americain early 2019.

But guess who just got fired?

So I have a bit of catching up to do. And no better place to start catching up than with Gail Simone, Phil Noto, and Cory Petit’s The Variants.

The Variants is a Jessica Jones mystery that winds itself through Hell’s Kitchen and Jones’ life as she nears the ten year anniversary of being controlled by the Purple Man. After talking to Maria Snyder, another victim of the Purple Man’s mind control, she discovers that he left a time bomb inside her mind—one that caused Snyder to kill her family and one she fears will cause her to do the same. This coincides with the appearance of Jessica Jones, or, rather, a version of her from a different multiverse. And then another. And another. Before long there’s a team of five Jessica Jonses, each from a slightly more tragic universe than our current 616. But the mystery deepens as the facts of the case don’t quite fit together and while our Jessica Jones can feel the Purple Man’s bomb ticking closer and closer to its detonation.

But, like any good mystery, it’s subterfuge. Simone gives us just enough to follow the breadcrumbs to what we believe will be the climax before we realize we’ve been picking up suspiciously breadcrumb-shaped pebbles left by the real villain of the series. And this is only buttressed by Noto’s perfectly expressive art that paints every glance and raised eyebrow as another piece of the larger puzzle. The interplay between each creator’s specialty helps to ground us in the desperation of the Purple Man’s mental time bomb and Jessica Jones’ own fears about harming her new family while balancing the more fantastical superhero elements of the world. While it only takes place in Hell’s Kitchen, we still have this sense of something greater happening beyond this neighborhood—all rewarded in the opening of the final issue.

The Variants is what I would have liked to re-enter the Marvel canon with. The shortness of five issues, the mystery that holds it together, the smaller stakes of a character drama, all help to make it feel more self-contained than some of the larger inter-connected series that have been continuing for the past few years. Even for newer readers, The Variants is a stepping-stone into a larger universe with a larger history and can act as a reintroduction for all of us waiting for some new chairmen. 

Get excited. It’s Mahvel, baby


Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331, 485, & 510) resides in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida.

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