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SYFY WIRE Comics Wire

Comics Wire: 2020 sold more comics than ever; Grant Morrison's DC departure; Extreme Carnage; and more!

By Matthew Jackson
Comic Retailer Record Sales

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 year was an interesting and tough year for every industry, and comics didn't escape that turmoil. The global pandemic not only forced lockdowns that meant brick and mortar comics and bookstores couldn't serve their customers in the usual way, but also led to the complete temporary shutdown of Diamond Comics Distributors, essentially pausing service on just about every major publisher shipping single-issue comics. Even when service started up again, after some upheaval that included DC Comics launching its own new distribution agreement, publishers were forced to cut back on just about everything. We got fewer comics in less time, and while everyone seemed to do what they could, it was nerve-wracking to watch.

Somehow, though, despite all of that and the many other complications and setbacks the industry faced in 2020, from a sales standpoint comics and graphic novels had their best year ever amid a global pandemic. That's according to the recently released joint report from ICv2 and Comichron analyzing total comics and graphic novel sales last year across the online, bookstore, comics shop, and digital markets. Overall, 2020 brought in a combined $1.28 billion in comics sales, up 6 percent from 2019's record-setting $1.21 billion.

How did that happen? Well, unsurprisingly, a lot of it is thanks to a booming graphic novel market. Sales of comics periodicals (single issues) were down by almost 20 percent last year, thanks in part to publishers simply shipping few of them, while graphic novel sales increased by 9.1 percent to a whopping $835 million, increasing a share of the market that's been growing year by year as more and more readers turn to collections to catch up on reading, the young readers market continues to grow, and increased anime streaming drives higher manga sales numbers.

Graphic novel dominance is also reflected in the industry sales when broken down by channel, as the bookstore market claimed $645 million of the total, with comic book shops taking in $440 million, and digital comics rising after years of flat numbers to take $160 million, which is less surprising in a year when people were stuck at home and looking for things to read. It all sounds good for the industry as a whole, but if you're worried about comic book stores and lowering periodical sales as a subset of these trends, Comichron's John Jackson Miller points out that, all things considered, comic book shops seemed to do OK.

"The comic periodical market was ahead for the year before the pandemic struck, and the result of production cutbacks was that 30 percent fewer new comic books were released by the major publishers in 2020," Miller said. "The fact that new comics sales were down by only 20 percent suggests that retailers did well with what they were able to get."

So, after a tough year full of setbacks for us all that, what do we take away from this? That giving people as many avenues as possible to read comics, and that making comics for every possible age group, is a very good thing. There's undoubtedly still work to do, but it's great to be able to look at these numbers and breathe a sigh of relief. Comics as a whole, in spite of everything, are thriving.

Grant Morrison's DC departure (for now)

Superman The Authority

Grant Morrison is one of the most influential writers in modern superhero comics, and while their work at Marvel forever changed certain corners of that universe like the X-Men, their legacy as an architect of the DC Multiverse as we now know it is arguably unparalleled in terms of daring yet satisfying storytelling. From a landmark run on JLA to Final Crisis to All-Star Superman and what's probably one of the five greatest Batman runs in the history of the title, Morrison is a cornerstone of DC Comics in the 21st century, inspiring multiple generations of fellow DC writers along the way. Now, at least for a while, the Morrison era at the publisher is coming to an end.

In a recent interview with Newsarama, Morrison revealed that their upcoming work on the miniseries Superman and the Authority will be the last DC work we see for "quite a while," as the writer heads off to do more work in television. The miniseries pairing the Man of Tomorrow with the Wildstorm superhero team was actually three years ago and kept off the calendar until now because of various delays, which means Morrison's The Green Lantern and Wonder Woman: Earth One were actually the last major works they wrote for DC. Regardless of the release schedule, though, Morrison called it "a milestone" moment in their career.

"I've been doing a lot of work in television, so one of the things that I'm looking at now are novels to adapt or stuff like that," Morrison said. "That's kind of like doing a comic, because you're trying to understand why someone initially came up with the idea. You know, 'What was their motivation? What was their way of thinking? And how do you bring that into the future?' And that's what we do in comics."

So, will this self-imposed departure stick? Morrison still has another series, Proctor Valley Road, running over at BOOM! Studios right now, so it's not necessarily a complete clean break from comics, nor is it in any way a retirement announcement. Comics have long been a place for Morrison to play with big, often experimental ideas, both in and out of the superhero subgenre, and it's hard to imagine they'll stay away for all that long. Still, Grant Morrison TV shows feel like something we need more of in the world, and I hope we get them. In the meantime, it feels important to mark the end of an important era in superhero comics, an era that spanned everything from Batman and Son to 52 to the reinvented Action Comics, one of the brightest spots of the New 52 era. Grant Morrison was, is, and always will be a titan of DC Comics.

Superman and the Authority #1 is out July 20. 

More news: Echo's next chapter, new Junji Ito, Vault's Pride promotion, and more!

Phoenix Song Echo Cover

- The recent Avengers arc "Enter The Phoenix" ended with a surprising new host for the Phoenix Force: The Cheyenne hero known as Echo. It's a shift that any Marvel character would take in their own way, and thankfully Echo gets to chart her course with this all-powerful cosmic entity in the form of a brand-new series from Hugo-winning writer Rebecca Roanhorse and artist Lucas Maresca. Titled Phoenix Song: Echo, the series will follow Maya Lopez as she returns home to the reservation in a search for answers, only to find that danger, and the pull of the Phoenix Force, follows her. After reading what Roanhorse did with the character in Marvel's Indigenous Voices anthology earlier this year, I can't imagine Echo in better hands for this new era, and I'm eager to see what she and Maresca do with the character when the series launches in October. For more details, head over to Marvel's website.

- Pride Month is over, but that doesn't mean the celebration of LGBTQ+ creators and characters has to be. Just ask Vault Comics, who late last week committed to continuing to promote their "Proud Comics" through an "Intro to Queer Comics" reading list, and a rotating sale that will spotlight a different comic on the list every month, with 50 percent of the proceeds going to The Trevor Project. For more details and to get in on the sale, head over to Vault's website. And if you still haven't read The Autumnal, what are you waiting for?

- Any time you can get in on a new comic from legends like Stuart and Kathryn Immonen, you should, and this fall the Immonens are giving us all a gift in the form of Grass of Parnassus, a newly expanded version of their sci-fi webcomic, collected in a massive hardcover with new material and a new format. The Immonens might still be best known for their contributions to various superhero stories, but when their creativity is able to take flight on an independent project like this, it's always a sight to behold. For more info, check out Newsarama's report on the collection.

Horror comics nerds tremble with anticipation and terror any time the great Junji Ito announces new work, and this summer we're getting the latest installment in an unparalleled career in frightening comics with Sensor. The book is out in August, and everything I've seen so far makes it, predictably, another must read. To find out more, check out the first look trailer over on Viz's website. Just, you know, leave the lights on while you do it.

- And finally this week, it seems Calvin and Hobbes (the greatest newspaper strip of all time, don't argue with me) is back...sort of. After years of April Fool's Day prank strips in which he used his friend Bill Watterson's iconic characters, Bloom County creator Berkeley Breathed has secured permission from the Calvin and Hobbes creator to use the iconic orange tiger Hobbes in an extended crossover story that's been running in the strip for the last month. It's unclear how long the story is meant to last at this point, but the plot line has recently turned to the possibility of Hobbes reuniting with Calvin, so who knows how big this could actually get? For more details, check out CBR's report on how it's all gone down.

New Comics: Extreme CarnageCrush & LoboBlack's Myth, and more!

Extreme Carnage Alpha promo art

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

Extreme Carnage Alpha #1: It's always tricky to follow what amounts to another creative team's mic drop, which King in Black definitely was for Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman. After reshaping Marvel's entire symbiote mythos with that event, it now falls to other writers and artists to figure out what to do with the new status quo, and first up to bat are writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson and artist Manuel Garcia with Extreme Carnage Alpha. So, how do they make it work? With fear, fury, and the charming chaos of Cletus Kasady.

Johnson's one of those writers who's an expert at luring you in with what feels like a few familiar beats, only to then flip it all on its ear once you're hooked, and he does that brilliantly here by playing on the politically stoked fear that arises in the aftermath of King in Black. There are clear parallels to certain X-Men comics, and it creates an expansiveness in the story that makes it feel like a universe-wide event right from the start. Then, of course, Carnage himself emerges, and the whole thing descends into all-out horror, something bolstered by Garcia's stunning art. It all feels appropriately big, leaning into the sci-fi action inherent in the Marvel Universe, but then he gets into the close-ups, and the creature feature aspect of it all, and you'll find yourself simultaneously squirming and cheering. Extreme Carnage Alpha is an ambitious, thoroughly entertaining start to Marvel's next symbiote story, and I'm eager to see just how wild it all gets.

Crush & Lobo #2: Mariko Tamaki's proven over and over again that she can tell great young adult superhero stories that also grab the attention of adult readers, and perhaps nowhere in her career is that better encapsulated than what she's doing with Crush & Lobo. Written by Tomaki and drawn by Amancay Nahuelpan, the series follows Lobo's daughter, Crush, as relationship troubles and general messiness on Earth put her on a collision course with her space outlaw father, who's been trying to better himself in a cosmic prison.

From the very first page of the very first issue, Tamaki's knack for voice shines through, as Crush takes on a metatextual, verbose, self-deprecating tone that walks us through each beat of the story, whether we're flashing back to happier times or looking ahead at the space road trip that leads to Lobo. Nahuelpan's art is the perfect complement to this firm, endlessly entertaining grasp of character, as his close-ups of Crush's face make us feel every smirk, grimace, and grin. If you want a teen hero book that breaks from some of the more familiar formulas and goes its own way proudly and with panache, you need Crush & Lobo. It's one of the most joyously bonkers books on the stands right now.

Black's Myth #1: Black's Myth, from writer Eric Palicki and artist Wendell Cavalcanti, hooked me right away thanks to two things: A lead character with a name inspired by The Clash, and the premise "private investigator who's also a werewolf." That was an easy sell from the jump, but once I dove into the first issue of the series I found not just a clever horror hook, but a vastly intriguing exercise in worldbuilding, character development, and the careful layering of suspense and humor.

The series follows Janie "Strummer" Jones, a PI who works cases with her assistant Ben (who also happens to be a djinn) and has just stumbled on something potentially deadly that just might be her biggest case yet. Palicki's script lays the stakes out for us with a bit of slow-burn, letting us get to know Strummer and her particular style of problem solving just a bit before unfolding the bigger plot elements and digging deep into the horror elements of the story. There's a hard-boiled element, bolstered by Cavalcanti's striking black-and-white panels, but by the end of the issue it's clear that we're dealing with something bigger than a supernatural detective story. It's a striking balance, but what's especially thrilling about it is just how well Palicki and Cavalcanti pace the whole thing. You truly don't see the rising suspense coming until it does, and that means I was both sad when the issue ended and hungry for the next installment.

Ordinary Gods #1: I'm fascinated by the delicate line writer Kyle Higgins and artist Felipe Watanabe walk in the first issue of Ordinary Gods, a new fantasy series that introduces itself by constructing a first issue that's a hybrid of modern action cinema and classic high fantasy. This is in part just to set up the premise of the series, which follows a group of rebellious gods cursed to live in mortal shells in an endless cycle of reincarnation, but look closer and you realize that Higgins and Watanabe are after more than just setup. There's an extremely clever blending of genres happening here, and it feels like the start of something very cool.

Higgins' script dances nimbly between the fantasy setup of the overall premise and the more immediate, action-driven present day sequences, something Watanabe highlights with precise and evocative art that feels both grounded and mythic. There's a little bit of The Wicked + The Divine flavor in the book, as it too is a story of gods living in mortal bodies, trapped in a system they didn't choose, but as the title suggests, Higgins is digging deeper in the "ordinary" aspect of it all, asking what it means to be a god in a world that barely seems to see you. After a first issue full of big ideas, executed with deft attention to craft, I'm eager to follow where this book leads.

DjeliyaSometimes a comic comes along that truly reads like nothing else you've encountered in ages, and writer/artist Juni Ba's debut graphic novel Djeliya is that kind of comic. Inspired by West African folklore, the book sets out to tell the story of a fallen prince and the royal storyteller accompanying him on his adventures in a broken world ruled over by a powerful sorcerer. In the process, it digs deep into various layers of lore, exploring culture, music, art, myth, family, and so much more through the lens of a story that feels simultaneously like a tale from a distant land and like something that could happen in the neighborhood around the corner. I know that sounds like a lot, but just trust me on this. Through his character designs, worldbuilding, incredible use of color and structure and other gifts, Ba has crafted a stunningly original work that's a triumph of imagination and expressiveness.

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."