Welcome to Comics Wire, SYFY WIRE’s weekly comics column that gets at the pulse of what’s going on in comics right now. We’ve got what you need to know about huge crossovers, real-life issues facing the industry, cool first looks, the week’s hot new comics, and everything in between.
Last week, a major era of X-Men storytelling came to an end as X of Swords wrapped up, but as I discussed in my review of the finale, it was much more than a conclusion. It was also a massive stage-setter for what’s going to come next, and by the end of the day last Wednesday Marvel had already given it a name: Reign of X.
Some mild spoilers for X of Swords below.
Many fans, myself included, expected X of Swords to be something of a bloodbath, particularly when the story revealed that mutants who died in Otherworld couldn’t be resurrected back on Krakoa. Instead, we got a story that was more about emotional stakes than physical ones, and with those stakes came the potential for some major reorganization to come. Apocalypse is out of the picture for at least a bit, off to do some catching up with his wife and children, the Quiet Council is now struggling with the meaning behind Scott Summers and Jean Grey’s decision to place the personal over the national at the end of the fight, and oh yeah, the whole of Arakko and its many mutants (most of whom we haven’t even met yet) can now step up and be new players on the mutantdom board thanks to Apocalype’s little prisoner exchange gambit. If none of that made sense to you…well, X of Swords was a lot and you should maybe go read it.
So, what does all of that mean for Reign of X? There are still a lot of mysteries, but some of them can be teased out just by looking at this rather impressive piece of promo art from Mahmud Asrar.
Let’s see…well, we’ve got Logan back in his “Patch” persona, which means we’re probably going to Madripoor. We’ve got Storm in a position of prominence, as she always should be, and Nightcrawler reading a mutant tome that could point the way to a bigger role for him. Scott and Jean stand united, which seems like a nod to their efforts to reform some version of the X-Men as we once knew them, and below them we see both the resurgence of the Peak (we already have a new S.W.O.R.D. series inbound) and the return of the X-23 version of Wolverine from that mysterious Vault where time moved very differently. In terms of villains, there’s Arcade, Nimrod (maybe go back and re-read some of future Nimrod’s adventures in House of X/Powers of X), the Shadow King, and way over in the far left, it looks like Legion might be set for a return.
Again, this is just scratching the surface. There’s a lot going on in the X-Men titles worth following up on even without all of the X of Swords fallout. Whatever happens next, though, as Reign of X begins today, it’s clear that Marvel’s mutants have lost none of their narrative ambition even in the wake of a massive crossover.
Kickstarters to watch: Snow White and Zombies, Mermaid legends, and more!
The holiday season is upon us, which means you’re probably shopping already, and you might be looking for an unexpected gift. Well, why not back a Kickstarter so your loved one gets a new comic to read at some point in the new year? It’s a fun surprise, and it’ll support comics creators at the same time. Here are a few you can back right now that caught my eye.
Helm Greycastle: If you love big fantasy adventure comics and stories that take you in directions you perhaps don’t expect, Helm Greycastle feels like a book for you. Set in a world where Montezuma III repelled the Spanish Conquistadors with magic and declared himself dictator of “Mexica,” this epic from co-creators Henry Barajas and Bryan Valenza boasts an impressive team of collaborators, a cool premise, and some absolutely gorgeous art from Rahmat M. Handoko and Jen Vaughn. Plus, the first issue will include a one-shot tabletop RPG that’s compatible with fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and you can get all that in a digital edition for just six bucks.
Aquarius: The Book of Mer: Afua Richardson’s work is always worth paying attention to, and this time she’s up to something particularly ambitious. Aquarius: The Book of Mer is a Kickstarter campaign seeking funding for the first issue of a new fantasy comic created by Richardson — which retells mermaid myths through the eyes of a young girl plagued by dreams of water spirits — but it’s also seeking funding for an album of original music meant to accompany the story. That’s right, it’s a comic and a concept album featuring music from Richardson and various collaborators including Darryl McDaniels of Run DMC. The book reached its funding goal lightning fast, but you’ve still got more than a month to back it, and if you’re like me you’ll be very interested to see how this turns out. Five bucks gets you a download of both the comic and the audio accompaniment.
Snow White Zombie Apocalypse: Look, for a lot of us, just the title “Snow White Zombie Apocalypse” is enough to get you hooked, but just in case it’s not: This book is already Ringo-nominated, and it’s only released two issues at this point. Now, writer Brenton Lengel and artist Luana Vecchio are seeking funding for the third chapter of their epic dark fantasy romance adventure that pairs fairy tale princesses and the undead. If you’re looking for proof of concept, there are already two issues of bloody fun to read, and if you’re looking for bonuses…well, the next stretch goal for the campaign includes free comics from a lot of other great talents, so go check it out. Seven bucks gets you a digital copy of the new issue, and 12 bucks gets you all three issues so far.
Like Father, Like Daughter #7: Kickstarter has long been a place where you can seek out intriguing new riffs on superhero concepts outside the scope of the Big Two, and Kat Calamia and Wayne Brown’s Like Father, Like Daughter certainly falls into that category. LFLD is the story of Casey Ryder, a teenage girl whose father skipped out on her and her mother so he could go become the only superhero in the world. What he perhaps didn’t count on is that Casey inherited his powers. This particular campaign is set to fund the seventh issue of this acclaimed indie superhero adventure, and if you haven’t had the time to read it yet, there’s a handy catch-up feature built right in. You can get a digital copy of the new issue for five bucks, or drop $25 for the whole story so far, plus a few bells and whistles.
Pop Kill #3-4: A few months back we told you about Pop Kill, Jimmy Palmiotti and Dave Johnson’s wild new comic about two soda companies, the brothers who run them, and the fierce and violent rivarly that ensues over the power of carbonated sugar water. Pop Kill is loads of fun, and now Palmiotti and Johnson are back to finish the story with third and fourth issues. Because it’s Jimmy Palmiotti going wild with indie work, this project is already well-funded, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t jump on board, particularly once you’ve gotten a look at the stretch goals. Ten bucks will get you digital copies of both issues, while 20 bucks will get you digital editions of the whole series.
More news: Spider-Ham returns, YA graphic novels, and more!
– We may have to wait a bit longer for Into the Spider-Verse 2, but that doesn’t mean Peter Porker isn’t up to something. The Internet’s Favorite Boy Comedian, John Mulaney, made his triumphant return to voice the character this week in a new motion comic tied to Marvel’s Contest of Champions mobile game. Sure, it’s not exactly a comic book and it’s not exactly a comic book movie, but we could all use this dose of joy in our lives.
– Speaking of intriguing Kickstarters, the new campaign for Top Cow’s second volume of Witchblade hardcover reprints included the news that original Witchblade star Sara Pezzini will make her return in a new series from Marguerite Bennett, Ariela Kristantina, and Bryan Valenza. Their stories will start with a Witchblade #1/2 issue exclusive to the hardcover, with ongoing issues to follow later. For more details, check out the Kickstarter campaign page.
– DC Comics’ young readers success continues. This week alone we’ve learned about two more promising young adult graphic novels arriving next year. On Monday we learned via a ComicBook.com announcement that Starfire’s goth daughter will star in I Am Not Starfire, a new story from Mariko Tamaki and Yoshi Yoshitani, and around the same time we found out that Kody Keplinger and Sara Kipin are launching a “gothic-horror” reimagining of Poison Ivy with Thorns. Thorns will land in June, followed by I Am Not Starfire in July, so update your reading lists.
– And hey, speaking of YA graphic novels, indie publisher A Wave Blue World also just announced a very intriguing one. The Orphan King from writer Tyler Chin-Tanner and artist James Boyle hopes to put a fresh spin on Arthurian-style storytelling with this story of a prince who returns home to find his kingdom in ruins, and what happens next. You can check out a preview over at Newsarama.
New Comics: King in Black begins, Tom King’s Batman returns, and more!
Thats the news! Now, let’s take a look at some of the comics I got excited about this week.
King in Black #1: As one Marvel Comics event closes with X of Swords, an even bigger one begins with King in Black. Billed as the culmination of everything Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman have been working towards with their Venom run thus far, the title promises to rope in just about every corner of the Marvel Universe, build on all the Symbiote lore we’ve seen so far in the Cates/Stegman era, and deliver it all in suitably epic fashion.
In the spirit of many of the very best event comics, Cates and Stegman waste absolutely no time in delivering the massive scale we were expecting from King in Black. The series starts right on the cusp of the conflict we’ve been promised, and then dives headlong into a massive, well-coordinated battle for the future of Earth. It’s in these pages, as the Avengers, the X-Men, and various other allies struggle against an army of Symbiotes while Eddie Brock fights a more intimate battle, that Cates and Stegman show just how symbiotic (pun definitely intended) their collaboration has become. Cates’ scripting shows not just an innate understanding of his artist’s strengths, but also a clear awareness of when to pile on the exposition and when to pull back and let Stegman really soar with massive splash pages of action, creatures, and destruction. Likewise, Stegman display his own innate knack for conveying exactly the kind of massive emotional swings we’ve come to expect from a Cates Venom story, and his panels are just as powerful when they’re showing us Eddie Brock’s tortured face as they are when they’re showing us an army of dragons blacking out the sky.
King in Black has been built up to be a blockbuster, and Cates and Stegman absolutely live up to that with a truly blockbuster first issue that leaves it all on the field and still somehow promises even more massive storytelling in the second issue. This is event comics storytelling the way it’s meant to be: Big, bold, and rooted in genuine emotional stakes that even new readers can understand.
Batman/Catwoman #1: Fans of Tom King’s intricate, emotional, often divisive run on Batman have been waiting a long time for his promised follow-up to the story, and this week it’s finally here with the launch of Batman/Catwoman, a DC Black Label series that allows King to pick up various story threads from his run on the main Batman title (the death of Alfred Pennyworth and the connections between Catwoman and The Joker among them) while not necessarily behind beholden to mainstream continuity the way he was before. The result is a story that reads like a very pure, very direct distillation of King’s particular interest in Gotham City and the intimate ties between its major players. If you’re into that sort of thing, as I often have been in the past, then this is very much going to be the comic for you.
What’s striking about this first issue — which also features the DC Comics debut of the DC Animated Universe character Andrea Beaumont/Phantasm — is just how much it leans on Selina Kyle’s emotional journey. Presumably we’ll see more of Bruce’s perspective in issues to come, but this debut is very much a Catwoman issue, unfolding across three different points in time as we see Selina learn who Andrea is in the “present,” develop her relationship with Batman in the past, and in the future, go and visit an old friend to settle some scores.
And when I say “emotional journey,” I mean it. King and Mann do pepper in some Gotham City rooftop action in this story, as well as a fun sequence in the Gotham sewers, but there’s very little in the way of Batman beat-em-ups, so much so that the book seems to shift focus and even time period right as a fight seems to be building. That means Mann has the challenge of maintaining emotional tension and expressiveness even as the script shies away from big setpieces, and he rises to meet that challenge with power, grace, and more than a few witty flourishes. It might take you a few pages to get the hang of the various transitions of the issue, but once you do you’ll get lost in Mann’s pencils. And as for the script…well, this is Tom King applying the same energy and sense of delight that I remember from the very beginning of his Batman run. He’s building something big and he’s only just begun to show it to us, and that makes this a thrilling series launch that left me craving more.
Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: Her Fatal Hour and The Sending: For my money, there is no character in mainstream comics better suited to standalone short stories than Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. It certainly helps that his whole deal is “Show up and hit the monster,” but that could be said about loads of other superheroes. What really makes Hellboy work in countless stories across countless eras isn’t simplicity, because I think a good Hellboy tale is harder to pull off than it looks. The secret, I think, is in surrounding him with instantly memorable visuals and scenarios while also remembering that he’s just a guy doing work. Like I said, it sounds easier than it actually is.
Fortunately for all of us, Mignola himself still knows how to do it, and the latest result is a new Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. one-shot that contains two stories from two different decades of Hellboy history, one in the 1970s and one in the 1990s. The first, “Her Fatal Hour,” sees Hellboy transported halfway across the world to settle an old score with character he first met back in “The Beast of Vargu,” while the second, “The Sending,” sees him called to investigate a mysterious creature tied to the discovery of an ancient book.
I suspect that, at this point, you could wake Mike Mignola up from a sound sleep and ask him “What should Hellboy do next week?” and his folklore-filled brain could dictate a story for you on the spot, but it’s still impressive to watch him wind up and deliver pitches right over the plate time after time like this. Both “Her Fatal Hour” and “The Sending,” are charming, funny, appropriately spooky stories that retain Hellboy’s classic workaday style of tackling some very non-workaday problems. Joining Mignola to provide art for these tales is Tiernen Trevallion, whose work retains the kind of Hellboy House Style developed by Mignola and Duncan Fegredo and yet manages to crackle with his own artistic personality. It still looks and feels like Hellboy, and he draws the hell out of the monsters, but there’s a clean beauty to the scrappiness of the stories that I really love. Plus, he makes Hellboy look great in a pink silk robe. If you love Hellboy and want to spent a quiet evening by the fire with him this December, don’t miss this book.
Knock ‘Em Dead #1: Patton Oswalt once did a bit where he talked about various stand-up comedy slang terms being inherently rooted in violence and darkness — “You killed tonight,” “He’s dying up there,” “That joke bombed,” and so on — and that kind of connection would certainly make for a particularly potent narrative device in the hands of the right storyteller. So too would the link between comedy and horror and the way that both genres often work within the same set ’em up, knock ’em down sort of structures. These are fascinating intellectual links, but transposing them into an actual story is a much more difficult trick to pull off. Which brings us to Knock ‘Em Dead #1 from writer Eliot Rahal and artist Mattia Monaco, a book that merges comedy and supernatural horror into something fresh, ambitious, and instantly fun.
The book follows Pryor Brice, a young man testing out his stand-up comedy dreams by getting battered by bored audiences at open mic night after open mic night. Things change when a somewhat more experience comic tries to take him under his wing, show him the ropes, and offer up a little encouragement. Things change again when the unthinkable happens, and Pryor finds himself with bigger problems than hearing crickets after he delivers a punchline.
The most striking thing about Knock Em Dead #1 is the way that Rahal’s script immediately builds upon various comedy metaphors and bakes them right into the narrative without ever making that seem stiff or obvious. He weaves the sense that Pryor is dying onstage, the tragedy of a joke landing with a thud, and the elation of that one laugh that changes everything right into the script with deft, witty hands that show both his deep personal connection to the material and his careful sense of structure. It’s a slow-burn of an issue, but a rewarding one, and it’s made more rewarding by Monaco’s art, which weaves together the often seemingly disaprate elements of Rahal’s storytelling absolutely seamlessly. Blending horrific images into the ordinary world is challenging enough, but doing it while also trying to paint an expressive picture of comedy is even harder, and Monaco nails it. Bold, funny, and packed with promise, Knock Em Dead is an impressive debut that walks with confidence in two different genres.
Inkblot #4: It’s difficult for me to describe Inkblot, the fantasy series from writer/artists Emma Kubert and Rusty Gladd, in particularly concise terms, because it’s a book that’s already touched on so much in just four issues. It’s a fantasy, yes, but it’s also the story of a dimension-hopping cat, and because of all the dimension-hopping, it’s also the story of magical elves, sea monsters, and now, ancient Egypt. It’s all that and there’s a larger plot that’s slowly unfolding, so there’s a lot to take in. Reading the latest issue, though, I realized what it makes me think of: You know that weird, magical Saturday morning cartoon that you feel like only you watched? You know, the really strange one with all the odd characters and the theme song that none of your friends could recognize, but you knew that it was special and fantastical and full of unforgettable faces? This is that, but in comics form.
Or at least that’s what it is to me. Inkblot is, at its core, a story of the adventures of a magical, black-as-ink demon-cat who ventures through time and space, getting into trouble and basically threatening to unmake reality with the mischief it gets up to. Issue #4, for example, picks up on the cat as it ventures out into ancient Egypt, where a group of travelers encounter a monster and the cat gets in the way. As these seemingly random encounters occur, it might feel like we’re getting a little self-contained fantasy story every week, but it’s more complex than that. Kubert and Gladd are in the process of building something much bigger, something the cat will guide us through if we are patient.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Inkblot #1 when it debuted, in part because the issue seemed to end just as I was itching to know more, but of course that just meant I came back for #2. Then #3, and now we’re here at #4 and I can’t wait to see where this strange, convoluted (in a very good way) journey is taking us all. Gladd and Kubert build the book as a unit, both working on the story and art, and in the process they have woven something magical that’s greater than the sum of its parts even as its parts keep multiplying as if by magic. Like a ball of yarn tossed about by a cat, Inkblot just keeps unspooling in various directions through gorgeous issue after gorgeous issue, and it’s made me a believer. So, if you’re not on board yet, now’s the time to catch up.
And that’s it for Comics Wire this week. Until next time, remember what John Custer told his son Jesse in the pages of Preacher:
“You gotta be one of the good guys, son: ‘Cause there’s way too many of the bad.”