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.
The Eisner Awards may have come and gone earlier this summer, but while they may be the most famous comics industry awards around, they’re far from the only game in town. Other prestigious awards named for other prestigious creators are a key part of the convention season, and while the conventions may be virtual this year, those awards show no signs of losing steam.
Over the past week nominations for the 2020 editions of the Harvey Awards (the New York Comic Con-hosted industry awards named for MAD Magazine legend Harvey Kurtzman) and the Ringo Awards (the Baltimore Comic-Con hosted industry awards named for legendary aritst Mike Wieringo) were revealed by their respective nominating commitees. While they may have a lower profile than the Eisner — which, let’s be honest, always has the advantage of being hosted at San Diego Comic-Con — and the Ringo Awards may still be a young event, both awards present a diverse, exciting group of nominees that help direct readers to the best comics achievements of the past year.
On the Harvey side of things, there are some familiar names carrying over from the Eisners, including Eisner winners like Invisible Kingdom (up for Book of the Year), Afterlift (up for Digital Book of the Year), and Raina Telgemeier’s Guts (up for Best Children of Young Adult Book), but you’ll also find some work that didn’t get as much Eisner love this time around. Among the other nominees are Gene Luen Yang for his books Dragon Hoops and Superman Smashes the Klan and DC Comics’ recently released Harley Quinn: Black White & Red anthology series.
On the Ringo side, 2020 Eisner winners and nominees like Mariko Tamaki, Raina Telgemeier, Stan Sakai, Jeff Lemire, and more are well-represented once again, and books like Bitter Root and Something Is Killing the Children are once again in contention for some major awards. Just like the Harveys, though, there are things here that we didn’t see at the 2020 Eisners, incuding Action Lab’s Banjax (up for Best Series), AHOY’s Second Coming (up for Best Single Issue or Story), and my beloved Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen (up for Best Humor Comic).
Yes, some of these differences are due to the calendars employed by each awards ceremony, but there’s a larger point I feel needs to be made here: The Eisners are great, and they have a high profile for a reason, but they’re not the sole arbiters of comic book greatness. The Harveys and the Ringos often have just as much, if not more, to say about what’s good in the medium right now, and if you care about catching up on the best comics achievements of the year they’re always worth following. To see the complete lists of nominees, head over to the Harvey and Ringo websites. The Harvey Awards will be awarded during New York Comic Con in early October, while the Ringo Awards will be given out later that same month, during Baltime Comic-Con.
Back in July, the legendary Keanu Reeves announced that he would make his comics writing debut this fall with BRZRKR, a brutal new action-fantasy series co-written by the great Matt Kindt and drawn by Ron Garney. Now, in an effort to expand the reach of this series, publisher BOOM! Studios is taking BRZRKR to Kickstarter…but not to raise money to make the book.
Traditionally, Kickstarter is a platform for independent creators to grow an audience and raise funds directly from readers to allow them to make their comics, from paying artists to finish pages to paying printers to produce the physical product. In recent years, though — particularly now, as the pandemic has seen various major creators and publishers seek alternative means of reaching readers — the platform has also become a place for major names both on the creating and publishing level to reach an audience on a bigger scale. With that in mind, BOOM! announced in a press release Tuesday that BRZRKR‘s Kickstarter campaign is not about raising funds to make the book, but rather a “New Reader Initiative” aimed at using Kickstarter’s platform to boost pre-orders, particularly among people who perhaps love Keanu Reeves but have never been into comics.
“Many companies use Kickstarter to fund their projects. We are not doing this,” BOOM! CEO Ross Richie said in a statement. “We are working with Kickstarter as a distribution platform to expand our reach. It’s our dream here at BOOM! Studios to introduce new readers to the medium of comic books and graphic novels. By combining the reach of Kickstarter with the interest in Keanu Reeves and the action-packed epic that is BRZRKR, we’re excited to introduce so many folks to their very first comic book.”
The BRZRKR Kickstarter campaign offers fans the chance to back the book in tiers that are essentially increasingly elaborate pre-orders, beginning with standard editions of the book and running all the way up to ultra-premium tiers that offer rewards like exclusive prints and having yourself drawn right into the comic. The Kickstarter versions are expected to ship at the same time as the regular book market editions, so you’re basically paying for bells and whistles here. You’re also, if BOOM! is right, perhaps finding the book on a crowdfunding platform and realizing you might want to give comics a try. It’s an interesting gambit, one that could have major implications for the way Kickstarter is wielded by the comics world if it all works. And so far, it definitely seems to be working out. By Tuesday afternoon the campaign had already raised more than three times its initial $50,000 goal.
Maybe one day we’ll reach the end of the many, many ways the COVID-19 pandemic threw the comics world into disarray, but it hasn’t happened yet. Books that were supposed to come out earlier this year are still being reschedule, and I don’t know about you, but sometimes things get so jumbled in my head that I flat-out forget a book was announced in the first place until it pops up on the calendar again. The good news there, of course, is that I get to be excited about something all over again, and this week that means I get to be excited for a brand-new Spider-Man book from the team of Joe Kelly and Chris Bachalo.
Non-Stop Spider-Man, a Spidey book featuring scripts by Kelly and art by Bachalo, was originally announced back in February (wow, were we ever that young?) to be released in June. Then everything went haywire, June looked completely different for comics publishers, and now the book is, at long last, back on the schedule for a release early next year. Why am I excited? Well, Kelly and Bachalo are a team that seems destined to offer something fun, and it’s a book called Non-Stop Spider-Man specifically because the creative team is trying to deliver as much action as possible, even compared to other Spidey books.
“Joe Kelly’s a plate spinner—one of the best of all time. He has plate-spinning plots and sub-plots and just when you think you’ve figured it all out—you suddenly realise that you don’t. He’s smart. Where does he come up with those words? He’s “tough like Chuck Norris’ beard” funny — And he’s intense,” Bachalo said in a press release. “Working with his scripts is like being in the middle of an ocean of creativity and frantically treading water, reaching out, grasping for life — trying to keep up. It may be the last book I work on because putting every story detail down paper, I’m pretty sure, is going to kill me — and it’s all worth it. Hope you’re all there to see me to the end.“
That’s good enough to sell me. Non-Stop Spider-Man finally debuts this January.
That’s the news. Now let’s talk about the new comics that got me excited this week.
We Only Find Them When They’re Dead #1: I’ve written many times about how much I like it when creators take big swings, and honestly I might like it even more when creators I’ve come to expect big swings from manage to keep trotting out ambitious new work that doesn’t feel repetitive or built on the shaky foundation of reputation. Some people can just keep churning out Big Ideas even as the expectations get higher, and We Only Find Them When They’re Dead, from writer Al Ewing and artist Simone Di Meo, is an amazing example of that.
The “we” of the title is a crew of space scavengers whose job is to basically be a flying butcher shop traveling the galaxy, harvesting vital tissues and materials from the bodies of dead Gods. In the world of We Only Find Them When They’re Dead, the far reaches of space are populated by titanic, armored spice titans that, for whatever reason, only ever seem to land on the radar of civilization as corpses. Ewing’s script throws us into the deep end of this world, as we follow the crew and their haunted captain on a mission that morphs into something else by the time the issue ends.
It’s that deep end storytelling philosophy that really makes this debut work. We Only Find Them When They’re Dead flies like a hyperspace ride from first page to last, as Ewing and Di Meo throw us into what it’s like for these crews the moment they latch onto a dead God and lay claim to its spoils. The worldbuilding and the character moments come in the midst of this frantic, epic sci-fi struggle, and so much of the emotional core lies in the way our characters react to that environment. It’s a beautifully orchestrated first issue that absolutely speeds by on the strength of Ewing’s scripting finesse, but even with the excellent writing in mind the real star might be Di Meo. His pages somehow merge a sense of enormous scale with precise, compelling detail work, and the color assists from Mariasara Miotti plunge it all into a neon-tinged moonage daydream. If you love big sci-fi comics, do not miss this one.
Black Widow #1: One of the things I love about Big Two superhero comics is that every time you think you’ve seen every conceivable configuration of a character’s story, someone comes along to surprise you. The “take a superhero and remove all the superheroic stuff about them” subgenre has certainly been done before, of course, as has pulling a character like Black Widow out of her element for a new kind of Natasha Romanoff story. But it’s never been done quite like this new incarnation of Black Widow from writer Kelly Thompson and artist Elena Casagrande, and the result is something both instantly compelling and a ton of fun.
The series launches — with a gorgeously rendered spy action setpiece from Casagrande, I might add — on the premise that Natasha is a natural spy in no small part because she’s simply never had the chance to stop. It’s in her blood, it’s in her brain, and she couldn’t switch it off if she tried. From there, the series seeks to explore what happens when Natasha’s superhero life as she, and we, know it is suddenly and mysteriously disrupted. That’s tricky, because Thompson has to somehow continue to portray Natasha as the same person even as the circumstances of her life change dramatically, and she has to do it while keeping us engaged as readers. As is usual with Thompson, who’s become one of Marvel’s smartest and sharpest writers in recent years, she clears that bar with room to spare.
Then there’s Casagrande, who also has to walk that line between the super and the mundane alongside Thompson’s script, and also manages to nail it. Her art feels like Joelle Jones and David Aja had a gorgeous, impossibly cool baby, and her face work with Natasha alone is particularly impressive. It’s work that leaves an emotional impression and sense of real, playful character building on every page, which is essential for a book like this. I can’t wait to read the next issue.
Lonely Receiver #1: Sometimes you hear the concept of a book and realize you’d love to read it even if it follows every possible familiar beat and every predictable visual convention to the letter, because it just sounds like your kind of thing. Then you read it, and you realize the creators did more than a paint-by-numbers execution of a good idea, and interest evolves into passion. That was, for me, the experience of Lonely Receiver #1, the new sci-fi horror series from writer Zac Thompson and artist Jen Hickman.
The story follows Catrin, a lonely woman living in a future world where she can buy and basically print herself a companion, which she does in the form of her new wife, Rhion. What begins as an inseparable, idyllic romance ultimately crumbles, though, and Catrin finds herself falling apart in the wake of a breakup she never saw coming. It’s here, in the strange space between romance and somewhat dark sci-fi, that the book settles in to explore the implications of the ideas at its core. From purchasing love to living with someone operating on a literal different level than you to the simple pain of feeling your world imploding, it’s all there, and it’s all explored with poetic, often searing honesty in Thompson’s script.
Hickman’s art rises to meet and even surpass the level of aesthetic ambition Thompson lays out with his words through a pastel-draped, bright depiction of a future where muscle tissue can knit itself together before your eyes and reality can suddenly dissolve into something else with a simple coded phrase. The obvious immediate visual and thematic connection here is Spike Jonze’s film HER, but as Thompson and Hickman develop their themes and motifs over the first issue it becomes something almost Cronenbergian both visually and in terms of the complexity of its bittersweet narrative. It’s dark and unexpected and honest in a way that’s emblematic of both good sci-fi and good horror. This feels like the start of something very special.
Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1: DC’s Black Label imprint has a lot of uses, but one of the most overlooked in my mind is the ability for a great creative team to simply grab a character and tell a story that fits right into everything we know about said character without having to get mired in continuity. Sure, you can throw more adult content in there along the way, but sometimes the simple act of taking advantage of a blank slate is all you need to do something great.
It’s in that spirit that Hellblazer: Rise and Fall — the new Black Label from writer Tom Taylor and artist Darick Robertson — seems to come to us. Billed as a great entry point for new readers as well as longtime John Constantine fans, it seeks to simply tell a great Hellblazer story without restriction or concern for what’s going on in the main DC Universe, and the result is a wonderfully atmospheric debut.
This version of Constantine, expertly rendered by Robertson (when it comes to drawing sarcastic antiheroes, there’s no one better), is much the same as the one we’ve all fallen in love with at one point or another, so there’s no barrier to entry here. Instead, Taylor and Robertson use the visual and thematic shorthand the character has built up over decades to dive right into a story tied to Constantine’s own strange childhood, a story of billionaires with wings grafted onto them suddenly falling from the sky, a story that speaks to Constantine’s own deeply ingrained sense of guilt.
There’s a purity to Rise and Fall, a sense of raw, uncut Hellblazer fun to it, that makes it work from the very first page. Taylor knows how he should sound, Robertson know how he should look, and they’re both working at the top of their game. If you love John Constantine, you’ll love this, and if you’re looking for a way in, there’s a good chance this is the book for you.
Doctor Who: Time Lord Victorious #1: Time Lord Victorious is The BBC’s new, and massive, “multiplatform” Doctor Who epic set to unfold across comics, magazines, audio dramas, novels, and more over the course of the next four months, and it kicks off with this Titan Comics story from writer Jody Houser and artist Roberta Ingranata. As a Doctor Who fan who will always gravitate toward David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor over the rest of the pack, I have to say it felt a little like coming home.
This story, set in the lead-up to the Time Lord Victorious story proper, features the Tenth Doctor waking in a strange time paradox, in a reality that seems weirdly removed from the one he’s used to. As he investigates, the Doctor finds his old enemies the Daleks are somehow involved, but perhaps not in the way he thinks. There’s something very strange about this timeline, so strange that it might even mean The Doctor and his most-hated foes have to find a way to work together.
The most impressive thing about this issue, from the very first page, is the way Houser perfectly captures Ten in all his frantic, brilliant glory. Every Doctor is clever in their way, and the most recent incarnations of the Doctor can in some respects bleed together in the minds of viewers because they all tend to talk fast and spew sci-fi gobbledygook while doing it, but there is actually a trick to making them stand apart, and Houser’s found it. Her Ten sounds like Tennant in your head when you read him. The cadence is all there, as is the humor and the concern and the sense of being haunted by sins you’d rather not discuss. Ingranata’s gorgeous art, complete with a compelling rendering of Ten that nonetheless never looks like she’s just trying to trace Tennant’s face, does the rest. It’s a book that feels like a lost Tenth Doctor special in a very good way.
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.”