NYCC primer, Champions reassemble, Swamp Thing Halloween, and more!

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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.

Well it’s October, and it’s still not safe to go hang out with a crowd of fellow nerds as everyone tries to navigate the narrow aisles of a convention center. But thanks to the magic of the internet, Con Season continues this weekend with NYCC Metaverse, a hybrid, virtual New York Comic Con experience packed with panels featuring film, TV, games, novels and, of course, comics.

Beginning Thursday and continuing all the way through Sunday, fans will have an opportunity to watch a variety of free programming through the Metaverse YouTube livestream, and most of the content will be made available to watch after the live broadcast as well, leaving you plenty of time to catch up on anything you missed. Of course, since this is a comics column, we’re particularly keen to see what various creators and publishers have to offer us over the course of the weekend. You can check out the full schedule and plan accordingly for yourself, but here’s what I’m most interested in catching and when it lands (all times Eastern) on YouTube.

Justice League: Endless Winter (Thursday, Noon): This December, DC Comics will plunge the Justice League into an endless winter, and while I’m excited to see where this series will go, we still don’t actually know that much about it. Hopefully that’ll change this weekend, as writers Ron Marz and Andy Lanning and editor Alex Carr break down what’s to come in this chilling story. 

X of Swords (Thursday, 1:10 p.m.): Marvel’s long-awaited X of Swords event is finally unfolding, with four chapters already released and more than a dozen to go. That means some secrets have been revealed, but there are many more to tease out. In this panel, creators including Tini Howard, Gerry Duggan, Vita Ayala, and Benjamin Percy will break down where we’ve been so far, and what’s on the horizon for this epic X-event.

The Adventure Zone: The Crystal Kingdom (Thursday, 3:45 p.m.): If you’re a fan of The McElroy Brothers and their podcasting empire already, you know that listening to them talk about anything for a half-hour is likely to be entertaining, but they’re not talking about just anything in this panel. Instead, brothers Justin, Travis, and Griffin will join their father and co-writer Clint McElroy and artist Carey Pietsch to talk about the ongoing comic adaptation of their hit podcast The Adventure Zone, how that process has unfolded so far, and what’s coming next.

Venom: King in Black (Friday, 11:45 a.m.): There are a lot of big Marvel Comics still to come before the end of 2020, but few are more hotly anticipated than King in Black, the massive event spinning out of the pages of Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman’s acclaimed Venom run. It’s all been building to this, and int his conversation Cates, Stegman, and editor Devin Lewis will break down how we got here and what to expect in that battle that’s coming. 

In Conversation with Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV (Friday, 2:55 p.m.): Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV are without question two of the most important writers to work at DC Comics over the course of the last decade, and in stories they’ve told both separately and together they’ve helped reshape the Batman mythos and much more. In this conversation, Snyder and Tynion will grill each other on their current major projects, including Dark Nights: Death Metal for Snyder and the current Batman run for Tynion. If you’re a fan of either writer or both, you won’t want to miss it.

BRZRKR (Friday, 7:15 p.m.):  This fall, the legendary Keanu Reeves is heading to comics for the first time with BRZRKR, a tale of an immortal warrior which Reeves collaborated on with superstar writer Matt Kindt and artist Ron Garney. We’ve been hearing about this book for a while, but this panel offers the first opportunity for Reeves, Kindt, and Garney to speak directly to fans about what they’re planning, and why Reeves might be just as excellent on the comics page as he is on the big screen.

Judge Dredd: Policing and Satire in 2020 (Sunday, 9:45 a.m.):Judge Dredd is one of the most potent and enduring sci-fi characters of the 20th century, an instantly recognizable icon that, in the right creative hands, has a lot to say about the nature of policing, violence, and justice in America and the wider world. Sadly, the participants for this panel have not been fully announced, but we’ve been promised “critics and creators” engaging in a debate about Dredd’s place in the landscape of 2020, and how the satirical sci-fi bent of his stories holds up now. It’s a worthy topic, and I’m intrigued to see how it plays out.

Reinventing Science Fiction with Humanoids (Sunday, 11:30 a.m.: If you love reading science fiction comics beyond the scope of familiar Big Two formulas, Humanoids is probably one of the publishers you’re most apt to turn to. In this panel, the legendary publishers brings together some of its most vital current creators, including Kelly Sue DeConnick, Jerry Frissen, Eric Peterson, and Alitha Martinez, for a conversation on the nature of speculative fiction and its place in our world right now.

Valiant Heads to Hollywood (Sunday, 12:40 p.m.): With the release of Bloodshot earlier this year, Valiant Comics began making its mark on the Hollywood landscape, and it plans to do much more in the future, but that doesn’t mean the superhero publisher has lost sight of its ambitious comics projects. In this panel, editors Heather Antos and Lysa Hawkins will be joined by writers Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum and Jeff Parker, plus a few surprise guests, for a look at the future of Valiant Comics as the company plots an ambitious new course forward.

Skybound’s Tenth Birthday (Sunday, 1:15 p.m.): A decade ago, Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman launched his own Image Comics imprint with Skybound, and since then the studio has expanded to include numerous acclaimed comics series, TV and film properties, and more. In this half-hour panel, Kirkman himself, one of the most reliably entertaining con panelists out there, will take us through what Skybound has achieved so far and where it’s heading next.


Marvel’s Thunderous Artists

For more than a decade now, Marvel Comics has periodically highlighted up-and-coming artists working within the company to give them an extra boost, and for a very long time these creators were dubbed Marvel’s “Young Guns.” Earlier this week, Marvel announced the next evolution of that initiative, keeping the spirit of the original idea alive with a new name and a renewed push to spotlight rising stars.  On Monday Marvel announced the first class of “Stormbreakers” as part of a new artists program designed to give rising star artists a higher profile, as well more exclusive work at Marvel. Though you’ve already seen each of these artists’ work at Marvel before in some form, their designation as the first Stormbreakers means you’ll likely see a lot more of them, as Marvel announced in a press release that each class of Stormbreakers will get that designation for two years, and it will include “exclusive new opportunities across Marvel’s publishing line.”

The first-ever Stormbreakers class includes Carmen Carnero (Hellions), R.B. Silva (Powers of X), Natacha Bustos (Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur), Patrick Gleason (Amazing Spider-Man), Iban Coello (Venom), Peach Momoko (whose covers have become hot items not just at Marvel but around the industry), Joshua Cassara (X-Force), and Juann Cabal (Guardians of the Galaxy).

“There’s a special skill set you need to have in order to draw comics at the highest level,” Marvel Creative Director Joe Quesada said. “Like the finest illustrators, you must be able to draw anything and everything at any given moment, have the keen storytelling eye of a master film director, the ability to convey emotion in characters like the world’s greatest performers, and the imagination of the greatest storytellers in history. But to be a Marvel comic artist, you need all of that as well as the ability to make your characters and stories jump off the page. They need to be larger than life, yet grounded enough that we all see ourselves within them. We’re thrilled to bring together Marvel’s Stormbreakers, a team of super up-and-coming talents who will continue that legacy.” Look out for more from Marvel’s Stormbreakers, including an upcoming “special art series,” very soon. It’s an impressive group of talent, and hopefully we’re going to see this initiative pay off in big ways even beyond the marketing hype attached to it.


The Harbinger Rises Again

Ever since Valiant Comics relaunched its superhero line in 2012, the publisher has survived and thrived by continuously finding ways to remind us of the ways it isn’t like its competitors. That often means big, bold creative statements from dynamic talent who are willing to both play in superhero spaces and stretch the limits of what superhero stories can be, mashing up and crossing genres to deliver something distinct. Valiant’s publishing slate has been a little scaled back in 2020, but as the company gears up for a film based on its Harbinger title, that’s about to change.

Earlier this week, Valiant revealed that 2021 will bring the launch of The Harbinger, a new series from writers Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly and artist Robbi Rodriguez that picks up in the wake of stories like Harbinger: Renegades to create a “rebirth” of sorts for the central character of the Harbinger franchise, Peter Stanchek. 

“THE HARBINGER is the next big step forward in the Valiant Universe and Peter Stanchek’s promised rebirth as a hero, a leader, and a revolutionary,” Lanzing said in a press release. “It’s unapologetic in its politics, diverse in its cast, and intimate in its drama. Collin and I love to tell stories that balance character deconstruction and social analysis, and there’s no one in comics who needs a little deconstruction and social awareness more than Peter.”

Though the series is rooted in an understanding of Peter that readers might have gained from reading Valiant’s line for the last eight years, the publishers also promises the series is a new-reader-friendly attempt to “trace Peter’s path from the most feared man in the world to one of its greatest protectors.” Beyond that storytelling edict, the book also looks like nothing else Valiant’s put out recently, as you can see from the preview pages over at the publisher’s website. It’s a bold, exciting play for eyeballs ahead of a Harbinger feature film, and if we’ve learned anything from Valiant over the last few years, it’s that this will definitely be worth paying attention to. 

The Harbinger #1 arrives summer 2021.


New comics this week: Champions, Swamp Thing, and more!

That’s the news. Now let’s talk about some of the comics I got excited about this week.

Champions #1: Marvel Comics did not invent the young superhero, but with Spider-Man they did give us the gold standard, and in the decades since they’ve been constantly pushing their teen heroes into new territory through both new characters, familiar legacies, and paradigm shifts that emphasize the power of the central metaphor that merges growing up with learning to manage superpowers. It’s a wonderful sandbox to play in, particularly when a creative team comes along to shake up the dynamic in really promising ways. 

In that spirit, teen superteam The Champions are back with this for a new ongoing series from writer Eve Ewing and artist Simone Di Meo, spinning out of the Outlawed story that emerged earlier this year. Long story short: A while back the Champions had something go horribly wrong, lost one of their own, and now the government is cracking down on underage superheroes all in the name of the critically injured Kamala Khan, who lies in a hospital bed and secretely communicates to her teammates as Ms. Marvel on the side. Setting this all up as something being done in the name of Innocent Teenage Bystander Kamala Khan turns out to be the perfect catalyst for what’s about to unfold in this series, because it gives Ewing and Di Meo a platform from which to launch an intriguing opening chapter that hinges on a key question: What happens when the most prominent member of The Champions decides she suddenly speaks for all of them?

It’s with that dynamic in mind that Ewing’s script, which relies on Miles Morales for much of its narrative flair and does a nice job balancing action with inter-team drama, develops the new dynamic of this struggling superteam, and it pays off right away. One of the great challenges of teen superheroes is, of course, imbuing them with a certain teen-ness that carries through their behavior both in and out of costume, which is often trickier than it looks. Ewing not only gets that part right, but she gets it right on a character-by-character level, which leaves the whole issue crackling with life. The rest of that life explodes out of Di Meo’s gorgeous pencils, which we’ve come to expect from him at this point. Through tricks like diagonal panel layouts and close-ups cut together with widescreen-style shots of the team both in action and in the middle of arguments, he makes this issue absolutely fly, until by the last-page reveal you’re itching for #2. Which, of course, is exactly the point. 

Legend of the Swamp Thing Halloween SpectacularIt should come as no surprise to any student of DC Comics that Swamp Thing is a character perfectly suited to a Halloween anthology. Even at its most intellectually adventurous, the legendary run on the character that Alan Moore produced in the 1980s still managed to deliver fantastic, precise, and perfectly honed little standalone scary stories, and plenty of writers have followed in those footsteps since to ensure that the legendary avatar of the Green keeps getting imbued with new life. 

In fact, that’s the entire thesis statement at the heart of the Legend of the Swamp Thing Halloween Spectacular, a new 48-page anthology that brings five different creative teams together for six stories that all say one thing very clearly: Like the plant life he represents, Swamp Thing is enduring, adaptable, and capable of thriving in myriad environments. 

While the frame story of the issue from writer Ram V and artist Mike Perkins roots (Get it? I promise I won’t use too many plant puns here.) itself in a rural swamp setting familiar to Swamp Thing fans, the anthology as a whole seeks to showcase just how many different times and places the character can be placed in. Writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson and artist Dominike Stanton show us a version from ancient Britain, while Vita Ayala and Emma Rios take us to Puerto Rico for perhaps the most emotionally arresting installment, James Tynion IV and Christian Ward (Who deserves to be the main artist on a Swamp Thing book, like, yesterday.) head to Central America in the age of Conquistadors, and Julian Lytle and John Timms explore post-World War II Japan.

There is no weak branch on this tree (OK, no more plant puns after that one, I swear.), each story feeds into the next with a beautiful sense of, if not narrative unity, then emotional continuity, and the result is a wonderfully earnest exploration of what Swamp Thing is and does in the DC Universe. He’s a character who can go anywhere and do anything, and this anthology is further proof that however much he’s grown since his creation, he’s still got room to flourish. 

Transformers/Back to the Future #1: Eventually, every popular ’80s media franchise will have crossed over with every other popular ’80s media franchise. It’s just inevitable, but while it might become tiresome at some point in the future, it hasn’t yet. There are still some wonderful ideas lurking out there for those of us who can’t get enough of such things, and this week another one comes streaking in thanks to writer Cavan Scott and artist Juan Samu. 

On some level, Transformers/Back to the Future #1 is exactly what you think it is even when all you’ve heard is the title, but that’s a feature not a bug. Scott and Samu are leaning into the recognizability of their premise, the sense of familiarity of their characters, and the comfort level that comes with playing in these two franchises simultaneously. It means they can leap into their story with only a certain level of shorthand to guide the reader in the early pages, and that means there’s not a moment wasted. In terms of the actual plot, all you really need to know is that it picks up right around the mall sequence in Back to the Future, and tracks various Decepticons and Autobots as they realize the humans who still don’t know they’re there may have discovered time travel. 

From there…well, things get weird, which is the other great strength that comes from the familiarity a book with a title like this breeds. Scott and Samu are clearly interested in keeping all the things we love about both of these franchises intact in some way, but the real fun comes when they’re willing to break with what we think we know. The familiarity, it turns out, is only the hook. Samu draws Marty McFly and Bumblebee in a way that we recognize them instantly, but also understand that we’re seeing a rather playful reinterpretation. Scott’s script is laced with the understanding that we get both the implications and the consequences of time travel in the Back to the Future universe, but it’s also interested in pushing that understanding as far it will go in the context of this particular crossover. The result is a clever, lightning fast first issue packed with fun, which proves that IDW got the right creative team for the job.

Penultiman #1: I love a story that’s willing to take the baseline expectation for what we think a superhero is — a handsome man in tights who flies around and saves people — and twist it in some way, in part because I just love that such a shorthand exists in the first place. There’s a certain archetype that begins with Superman in all of our heads which the right creative team can use to tremendous advantage just by shifting certain elements around, and the results are tremendously entertaining when those creators have a clear grasp of what a superhero is and does. In the case of Penultiman #1, writer Tom Peyer and artist Alan Robinson prove that they absolutely understand this, and they’re absolutely willing to take that understanding and fly off into something new, clever, and intriguing from the first page. 

Penultiman is, as the name suggests, the “next to last” stage of human evolution, a man sent to the past by his advance parental figures because he didn’t measure up to their standards of evolutionary superiority. This means that, while he’s an incredible superhero to present-day humans, he also has an eternal inferiority complex because he’ll never feel good enough in the eyes of the people who matter most to him. Basically, he’s every time Superman has felt like he’s let Jor-El and Pa Kent down, exploded into an entire story with the help of an amusingly different alter ego, a robot friend, a wonderfully wacky supervillan, and a bit of time travel that drives the point home. 

By starting with a baseline understanding of superheroics that we can all get behind, and then throwing the rulebook out the window almost immediately, Peyer and Robinson allow themselves to skip all the predictable bits of worldbuilding we might expect from another new superhero book. Instead they aim for unpredictable worldbuilding, propelling us headling through the story with Peyer’s lean and witty script and Robinson’s delightful, classic-yet-singular art. The sense of the familiar, of being tied to certain cultural hallmarks we can all relate to, is always present in Penultiman, but it’s only ever there as a tool that allows the creators to fly off into strange new territory that’s both funny and compelling. I can’t wait to see where this playful new series goes next.

Getting It Together #1: It bears repeating as often as possible that comics is a medium, not a genre, and for every superhero book you love there’s another story out there that takes advantage of the storytelling potential of panels of pages to do something far removed from cape comics. That’s why, though we mostly cover superheroes and sci-fi around here, I also like to take time now and then to highlight a piece of more realistic comics storytelling that left an impression on me. This week, that honor goes to the first issue of the new Image miniseres Getting It Together, from writers Sina Grace and Omar Spahi and artist Jenny D. Fine.

Broadly speaking, Getting It Together is the story of a group of friends navigating various personal and professional tribulations while living out their 20s in San Francisco. More precisely, the first issue revolves around the fallout from a breakup, the different narratives that emerge from the two parties, and the various entanglements that come to shape the ensuing days. If you’ve ever enjoyed a show like Insecure or Looking, you have a certain idea of the atmosphere the book is going for. 

The key to any such story, particularly one with a certain narrative looseness that allows it to focus more on character, is specificity. If you’re telling us a story about people just going through life, free of any high-concept hang-ups, the most important thing is letting us know why we should care about your perspective on this very broad topic. Right away, Grace, Spahi, and Fine prove that we should absolutely be paying attention. The script is witty, vulnerable, emotionally precise, and laced with the kind of dialogue that tells you Grace and Spahi had a clear idea not just for their story, but for each individual character. No two people in this book sound or act alike.

They’re not all just “twentysomethings.” They’re fully realized from the first page, and that’s something only further underlined by Fine’s beautifully orchestrated art. Together with the incredible color work of Mx. Struble, she finds a way to make even the most static of conversations unfold with dynamic, engaging grace, and realizes each character with precision and emotional vitality. It’s a comic that could have just been a showcase for some great dialogue. Instead it’s the total package, proof that any genre is welcome, and a must-read for fans of messy romantic sagas. 

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.”

 



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