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SYFY WIRE Comics Wire

Comics Wire: Creating a comic via livestream, new DC anthologies, and Bendis' Superman finale

By Matthew Jackson
Hell to Pay cover

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.

This long, strange year has meant that comics publishers and creators have been forced to adapt in a number of ways, from virtual convention appearances to increases in comics crowdfunding to working with nonprofits to help retailers and beyond. While the circumstances are unfortunate, some of that adaptation has meant that in many cases fans are getting closer to the comics themselves than ever before, whether it's through live Q&A experiences they haven't ever gotten to witness in-person, or live drawing demonstrations broadcast across the web. As 2020 turns into 2021, two of comics' top creators are harnessing that kind of energy to do something even bigger: Create an entire comic before our very eyes.

Image Comics announced last week that writer Charles Soule (Star Wars, Undiscovered Country) and aritist Will Sliney (Spider-Man) are set to launch Hell to Pay, a new fantasy series described as "Indiana Jones meets Hellboy," next summer. Before the comic hits stands, though, Soule, Sliney, and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg are going to bring the experience of creating the book directly to fans via Twitch. Viewers tuning into both Sliney and Rosenberg's Twitch streams will get a live look at the pages of Hell to Pay #1 as they're being drawn and colored, and also hear from Soule as he and his art team workshop various elements of the story.

"Will and Rachelle are fantastic — this will be like being in a band, performing live every night as we come up with new ideas and implement them right then and there," Soule explained in a press release. "I can't wait — especially to do it in front of an audience. Scary? Maybe a little — but I do love a challenge."

The first few streams from the Hell to Pay creation process are already recorded and up on Sliney's Twitch account, with more to follow on both his account and Rosenberg's. The comic itself will be available to all readers in the summer of 2021, but fans who tune into the livestreams will also get exclusive opportunities to order limited edition copies.

Hell to Pay cover

This certainly isn't the first time comics creators have attempted to build something new before our very eyes. In fact, King in Black creators Ryan Stegman and Donny Cates did a little freestyle experiment of their own back in May in an effort to design a brand-new comic book universe via livestream. This is, however, the first time an Image creative team is giving us all a front-row seat to the creation of a comic that we'll be able to read as a finished product in just a few months.

No matter how weird this year has gotten, that's exciting, and very much worth checking out.

DC's new Superman and Batman anthologies; the return of the Crime Syndicate

Superman Red and Blue cover

We already know that January and February will bring a ton of Future State books over at DC Comics, and now we're starting to get a better sense of what comes after, beginning with a pair of intriguing anthologies and the return of a Multiverse favorite.

- Wednesday morning, DC announced that Superman will get his own new anthology title next spring in the vein of Batman: Black & White, and just like that comic it looks both gorgeous and ambitious. Titled Superman: Red & Blue, the book will unite top talents to tell new tales of the Man of Tomorrow in each issue.

The book will kick off with an all-star lineup of talent led by writer John Ridley and artist Clayton Henry, who will tell a story DC describes as tale "that shows what Superman can mean to a whole country," but Ridley and Henry won't be alone in their new takes on the Man of Steel. In the first issue alone they'll also be joined by the likes of Wes Craig, Marguerite Bennett, Jill Thompson, Dan Watters, and Dani.

Superman: Red & Blue #1 arrives March 9.

- I know what you might be thinking: Do we really need another Batman anthology at this point? The answer, it turns out, is yes, when the talent is this good and the approach is this intriguing. Earlier this week DC Comics announced Batman: Urban Legends, a new prestige format monthly anthology which, despite the title, will aim to focus a little less on Batman himself and a little more on the wider scope of Gotham City, with the help of some very exciting creators.

The series will kick off with a six-part Jason Todd story from Chip Zdarsky and Eddy Barrows leading the way, while Matthew Rosenberg and Ryan Benjamin will pick up the thread of a Grifter story that launched back in Batman #101, Stephanie Phillips and Laura Braga will take on a Harley and Ivy tale, and Brandon Thomas and Max Dunbar will helm a three-parter centered on The Outsiders. That's a massive starting lineup, and it's perhaps most exciting because it's devoted to the characters in Batman's orbit who help shape the larger story of Gotham City, something I've been heartened to see DC focusing on more lately. I love Batman, but he's not the only game in town.

Batman: Urban Legends arrives March 16.

- But there's more new DC Comics news on the horizon, and I'm not just talking about the launch of the new Joker series. In the wake of both Dark Nights: Death Metal and Future State DC seems devoted to exploring more concerns of its Multiverse, and in this case that means a return to Earth-3 and everyone's favorite evil Justice League. The publisher also announced this week writer that Andy Schmidt and artist Kieran McKeown will launch a new Crime Syndicate miniseries this spring, focusing on providing a new origin story for Ultraman, Super Woman, Owlman, Johnny Quick, Emerald Knight and Atomica.

That six-issue adventure kicks of March 2.

More news: Happy Birthday Captain America, a Christmas Kickstarter, and more!

Captain America Anniversary Tribute cover

- Next year Captain America turns 80 years old — in terms of publication, anyway; Steve Rogers has a few more years on the comics that bear his name — and Marvel is celebrating the Sentinel of Liberty's birthday in style. While there are probably more celebratory publications still to be announced, Marvel unveiled a big one on Monday in the form of an extraordinarily ambitious recreation of some of The First Avenger's first adventures.

This March the Captain America Anniversary Tribute special will reimagine both Cap's first appearance in 1941's Captain America Comics #1 and his first Marvel Universe appearance in Avengers #3, and it'll do it through the lens of some of comics' top artists. The stories will still be by Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, and Stan Lee, but the pages will be reimagined by an all-star list of talent hoping to offer their own spin on the classic Simon and Kirby pages. You can head over to Marvel's website to see the full list, but among the biggest names are John Cassaday, Leinil Francis Yu, Sara Pichelli, Adam Kubert, Jim Cheung, Alex Ross, Steve Epting, Stephanie Hans, Chris Samnee, Mark Bagley, and dozens more. The issue drops this March, 80 years to the month after Cap's first appearance.

- Hey, Christmas is fast approaching, which means you might fit one of two categories: One, you might be looking for some last-minute gift ideas, and two, you might be in need of a little extra holiday cheer. Either way, if you or someone you love is into irreverent stories that mix the tone of Guy Ritchie with the magic of Christmas, you need to check out Ruining Christmas, the new Kickstarter from the fine folks at Stranger Comics

Ruining Christmas - Unusual Suspects by Eli Hix

This is a story about some elves who set out to save the holiday season, but it's definitely not for kids, because these elves aren't here to mess around. The story follows Gimble and Kuz, two elves who get beaten up by a kid who's definitely on the naughty list and manage to lose Santa's hat in the process. Since the hat happens to be the source of all Christmas magic, our jolly friends do what any self-respecting elves might: They put together a crew and get ready to run a job with the future of Christmas hanging in the balance.

Ruining Christmas has already gained plenty of Kickstarter traction. It was funded in three hours, and backer have already unlocked several key stretch goals. Now, as the campaign heads into the final week with even more potential rewards for backers, it might just be time for you to stuff someone's stocking with the promise of a new comic come January, when those rewards start to go out. You can get a pdf of Ruining Christmas #1 (and more) for $15, and if you're still not convinced you can read a free six-page preview right now.

- Any time Rob Liefeld decides to get behind the controls of a big chunk of pop culture, you know it's going to be interesting, and that's why I'm very intrigued by Archie's announcement that Liefeld is helping the publisher to reimagine its various superhero characters for a new generation. Next year, Liefeld will launch a new Mighty Crusaders four-issue series at the publisher, bringing characters like the Shield, the Comet, the Jaguar, Fly-Girl, and more to a new audience as part of a new Archie initiative to make its superhero properties just as prominent and ripe for adaptation as Sabrina Spellman and Archie Andrews himself. You can check out a preview of Liefeld's work on the upcoming series over at Archie's website now. 

- Grant Morrison is, of course, a master of superhero stories, but any time they decide to work in other genres it's a treat, and horror comics feel like specifically fertile ground. Which is why I was very excited this week to learn that Morrison has teamed with Alex Child, Naomi Franquiz, and Tamra Bonvillain for Proctor Valley Road, a new comic about four misfit teens who arrange a tour of a purportedly haunted local road in the 1970s, only to find the monsters that legend says lurk there are very, very real. Local legends, monsters, period horror, and Grant Morrison? That's a book for me. Learn more over at the BOOM! Studios website.

- And hey, speaking of new supernatural comics that sound right up my alley, the folks over at Vault Comics announced a new series this week as well. Titled Witchblood, the series hails from creators Matthew Erman and Lisa Sterle (who previously teamed up on Long Lost) and is described as a "Wild West road trip" that follows a 1,000-year-old witch pitted against a vampire biker gang in the American Southwest.

The book debuts March 31, but with a logline like that it can't possibly get here fast enough. For more on Witchblood, check out the exclusive announcement over at The Hollywood Reporter.

Comics this week: Brubaker and Phillips return, a Superman arc finale, a new Blade Runner era, and more!

reckless cover

Reckless: We've come to expect great comics from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, whether they're working in straight-ahead crime fiction or taking things to a more fantastical place. They just known how to work together, and they use that connection to make some of the most consistently great books on the market. Earlier this year, Brubaker and Phillips released Pulp, a strong contender for my personal favorite thing they've done together, and one of the best graphic novels of the year. It was so good that, despite knowing to expect great stuff from them, I really didn't think there was a chance they'd top it.

Then came Reckless, and it turns out I have a new favorite, a new title to add to the best new graphic novels of the year.

Reckless is the first of a new three-part graphic novel saga from Brubaker and Phillips which tell varioius stories from the life of Ethan Reckless, a fixer living in 1980s Los Angeles who just might take your case if you give him a call and explain your story. Ethan's reasons for doing this work are either very complicated or blissfully simple, depending on who's asking, but even he can't manage to downplay the trouble when an old flame comes looking for him. Ethan's most brutal case might lie ahead, and his personal connection to it might mean he's not coming back.

Even when he's working from a clear set of influences and playing in subgenres his readers might know quite well, Brubaker is a master of imbuing his work with a sense of texture and perspective that sets it apart and keeps anyone from labeling it "just another crime story." He loves the genre and knows it well, which of course allows him to play with our expectations constantly, but the defining characteristic of Reckless, the thing that makes it great, lies beyond good plotting. Like Pulp before it, this is a book of tremendous heart and emotional complexity, and that makes it absolutely soar. Then there's the art. Sean Phillips seems to somehow get better with each passing book, and he's right at home in 1980s Los Angeles, delivering scenes that look like they'd be right at home in a Robert Altman movie or a Michael Mann movie, depending on the scene. Throw in some incredible color work from Jacob Phillips, who adds soulful pinks and oranges to the L.A. sunsets, and you've got another triumph across the board. Reckless is, simply put, a phenomenal piece of comics craft that I couldn't put down.

Superman #28: It's kind of hard to believe now that there was a time when people were worried that Brian Michael Bendis might not be able to get Superman right. I remember when Bendis' big move to DC was announced, and the sheer number of times that even he admitted how often people had assumed he'd be writing Batman, as if Superman just wasn't a good fit for a guy who'd proven so versatile with his character roster over at Marvel. Now, more than two years later, it's almost hard to remember a time when Bendis wasn't doing great Superman comics, because he's proven so consistently gifted at it that we almost take it for granted.

But of course, you know what they say about not knowing what you've got until it's gone.

This week's Superman #28 is the penultimate chapter in Bendis' time on the core Superman titles (his Action Comics finale will arrive next week), concluding his tenure on Superman alongside artist Ivan Reis with a story that also concludes the Synmar saga that began a few issues back. Over the course of this particular story, Bendis has managed to set up a kind of corrupted alternate Superman with Synmar, a perverse alteration of the dream of a world savior that's become a world destroyer. Now, as that corrupted savior squares off with Kal-El, Bendis has to simultaneously wrap the story up and say his goodbyes.

Fortunately, Bendis has had practice at this by now, so the issue walks the tonal line between curtain call and actual story beautifully, as Lana Lang reflects on her own experience of Superman and Clark Kent in an extended monologue even as Superman himself fights a battle out amid the stars. Reis, of course, is predictably brilliant with his panels, but the thing I was most struck by even amid all the cosmic struggle was the way the famously wordy Bendis made every sentence count. There are quite a few words in this single issue of comics, but none of them feel needless or wasted or even crowded amid Reis' action, and that's because Bendis knows exactly what he wants to say and how he needs to say it.

This issue is his thesis statement on a core concern of the Superman mythos, and while I won't spoil it here, for me he nails it, somehow simultaneously sweeping me away with the prose even as Reis swept me away with the art. Bendis doesn't just write a good Superman. He understands Superman. If he hadn't proven it to you by now, he does with this you, and if he proved it to you already, you owe it to yourself to read this and be reminded of just how much he gets it, and just how lucky we were to have these great Man of Tomorrow stories for the last two years.

New Mutants #14: I've written before about how one of my favorite things in the current X-Men era of storytelling is the way different creators come in and inject their own ideas about the concerns of mutant society into the proceedings. We've seen it very recently with the launch of series like X-Factor and earlier this month with the debut of S.W.O.R.D., and now we're seeing it again in an extremely engaging way with the arrival of a new creative team on The New Mutants.

Writer Vita Ayala and artist Rod Reis take things over in the wake of X of Swords as some members of the team are still recovering from that struggle, and others are getting used to the new status quo (welcome to married life, Doug Ramsey). But this, refreshingly, is not an issue devoted entirely to picking up the pieces. The aftermath of X of Swords is there, but so is an intensely focused and deeply entertaining to desire to push the team forward into new territory, as the New Mutants founders push for new ways to stimulate and entertain the numerous young mutants lurking around Krakoa in need of guidance.

The result is an issue that absolutely flies with energy, humor, warmth, and a really firm sense of chemistry that almost makes it feel like this particular creative team has already been playing with these characters for years. Ayala's script beautifully walks the balance between character and plot, and reveals a deep understanding of what makes the New Mutants dynamic work in a way that's distinct from the other X-titles. Then there's Reis' art, which feels reminiscent of some of the best Sienkiewicz New Mutants work, while also offering a fresh sense of brightness and joy that radiates through the whole piece. If you haven't been picking up New Mutants, the new team is offering plenty of reasons for you to jump onboard right now and see what they're making in this particular corner of Krakoa.

Post Americana #1: Sometimes all it takes to really make me love a comic is the sense that the creators behind it are really going for it. I want craft and skill, yes, but I value ambition and sincerity just as much if not more. I love cracking open a new book and realizing from the very first page that the minds at work not only know exactly what they're doing, but are willing to leave the throttle wide open through every single panel.

Post Americana, the new post-apocalyptic miniseries from writer/artist Steve Skroce and colorist Dave Stewart, is exactly that kind of book, and its massive first issue is a total blast. Set in a time after the world has basically ended, Skroce's book shows us the two sides of surviving American society. On one side are the elites who managed to overtake the bunker in Cheyenne Mountain and built it into their own hyper-militaristic paradise, and on the other are the wastelanders who carved out an existence for themselves on the surface, resorting to everything from scavenging to all-out cannibalism along the way.

If those ideas seem a little predictable to you, believe me when I tell you that what Skroce has in store is something not just beyond your expectations, but above them. This book is dripping with ambition and bombast, from the advanced weaponry lining the mountain bunker to the costume design of a very unlikely wasteland leader nicknamed "F.F." (it stands for... well, just read it). Together with Stewart's masterful coloring, Skroce's art paints a truly bonkers picture of a world gone made in two very different ways, all while the script sets in motion a clash that's going to make the issues to come even wilder than this one. This is a face-melter of a comic that hit me right between the eyes.

Blade Runner 2029:The world of Blade Runner has continued for some time now beyond the scope of Blade Runner 2049 in the form of comics from Titan Publishing, which offer a canoncial expansion of the beloved sci-fi world through the eyes of new characters growing and enriching the lore behind the franchise. Perhaps the greatest success of these books so far, at least from my perspective as a longtime Blade Runner fan, is that they've managed to grow the story so much without ever diminishing the overall mystique of the world. Blade Runner felt for a long time like something that didn't need to be expanded on, and these comics not only prove that it's possible, but that it's possible without losing a bit of the dirty future magic of the original film.

That feeling continues with Blade Runner 2029, the new series launching this week from the Blade Runner 2019 team of writer Mike Johnson and artist Andres Guinaldo, both of whom know exactly how to tell these stories at this point and thus roll into this new era with a real sense of swagger and poise. The new series still follows the former Blade Runner known as Ash, but this time around in the wake of her 2019 adventures, she's out to protect Replicants rather than doom them. Of course, that's a problem, because in this particular era of the Blade Runner universe, Replicants are being hunted with particular savagery.

What I was most struck by reading this launch issue is just how much it feels like Blade Runner without ever turning into a carbon copy of it. Ash's human, relatable interactions with the Replicants, both the doomed and the free, are reminiscent of Deckard, and of course the world remains recognizable, but there's a newness that even now persists throughout these comics. Some of that is due to Guinaldo's art, which manages to both look accurate to the designs from the film world and blaze its own artistic trail, but it's also rooted in a deep understanding of what a good Blade Runner story is and does. As these comics enter a new era, they're still vibrant and fascinating and packed with intrigue, and they keep the Blade Runner spirit alive in often surprising ways.

And that's it for Comics Wire this week. Have a safe Thanksgiving, and 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."