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SYFY WIRE Comics Wire

Comics Wire: ComiXology heads to print, a landmark Legion story, and more of this week's new reads

By Matthew Jackson
Afterlift 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.

For more than a decade now, comiXology has been building itself into a massive digital comics giant, a one-stop shop for those of us who are looking to find portable, easy-to-navigate comics at the press of a button. Though I love physical copies of comics, and I love local comic book stores, I also value the ability to sit up late and read dozens of issues at a time on a single tablet, and the comiXology app is a great way to do that with newer books. Still, despite the company's ability to put all those digital comics at your fingertips, sometimes you'd like to flip that on its head and make digital-only books available in hard copy. Now, comiXology is doing just that.

The digital comics juggernaut announced this week that it's partnered with Dark Horse Comics to begin a print release program for comiXology Originals, the company's acclaimed line of digital comics that debuted in 2017 and has already produced numerous acclaimed series. Beginning in spring 2021, a select group of comiXology Originals books will hit print for the first time, and will be distributed via Dark Horse through local comic book stores and bookstores around the world. 

The four series available at the launch of the partnership will include newly minted Eisner-winner Afterlift, the first of Breaklands, the first volume of YOUTH, and the first volume of The Black Ghost. All four of those books are great, and they create a nice cross-section of the various kinds of stories that have come off the Originals line lately. Hopefully more titles will soon follow. 

While this may seem on the surface like a weird reversal of strategy for a company that prides itself on being a one-stop digital comics resource, I see the comiXology print initiative as further proof that what readers will want is not one format or another, but the choice to go in either direction. I still remember the rise of comiXology, at a time when everyone was convinced it would mean the end of physical comics.

That didn't happen, and while the market did shift somewhat, the market is also shifting toward trade paperbacks more than floppies these days, another choice consumers are making on their own. I love reading digital comics on my tablet before bed, but I also want to be able to go into a local shop and pick up a beautiful collection to either read on my own or give as a gift. ComiXology is embracing that, and that's nice to see. Hopefully it also means these books will get into the hands of other readers who wouldn't necessarily pick them up digitally. 

I Walk With Monsters Cover

Summer's not over yet, but given that time is increasingly meaningless in this very, very strange year, I'm already basically pretending like Halloween is right around the corner, which means I'm very pleased that the calendar is catching up to me. In the comics world, fall means creators start trotting out spooky new projects just in time for the shorter days and the falling leaves, and this week Vault Comics (a particularly great place to find horror books right now) announced one that sounds particularly intriguing. 

I Walk with Monsters, from writer Paul Cornell (Doctor Who), artist Sally Cantirino (Dead Beats) and colorist Dearbhla Kelly (Red Sonja) is a horror comic that promises to blend fiction and reality in an extremely compelling way, by juxtaposing the monsters of horror fiction with the real monsters that walk beside us. The story follows Jacey, a woman who has experience with human monsters, who has teamed up with David, who transforms into a monster like something out of a horror story. Together, they enact a very specific kind of revenge on the human monsters of the world, in a work Cornell describes as something very personal. 

I Walk with Monsters is my attempt to do what Stephen King does: to make a horror story that speaks of genuine horrors," Cornell said in a press release. "It’s about male violence and cycles of abuse. It’s also a nightmare that’s personal for me. It’s taken a lot of digging to finally get here. Though it’s a tough journey, I promise that if you get through it there’s light at the end. It’s a book I’m incredibly proud of.”

I Walk with Monsters arrives this November, just in time for that all-important post-Halloween scary story fix (and yes, that is absolutely a thing, do not argue with me). 

True War Stories cover

We feature a lot of Kickstarter campaigns in this column for a lot of different reasons, but sometimes I just happen to come across something and think to myself "Really, that's not fully funded yet? Huh." and realize I definitely want to latch onto it and give it more attention. This week that happened with True War Stories, a new 250-page anthology edited by Alex de Campi and Iraq War veteran Khai Krumbhaar that aims to tell all manner of true stories through the voices of the servicepeople who lived them. 

From Vietnam to Iraq and everywhere in between, these stories — told through lens of acclaimed artists including Peter Krause, Ryan Howe, Skylar Patridge, Tish Doolin, Paul Williams and many more — aim to paint a very human picture of life in military service, without ever wading into political battles or America's place on the world stage. Here's an excerpt from the campaign's mission statement, which comes through publisher Z2 Comics.

"If you (or your family or friends) are serving, you'll probably enjoy this book. If you have no association with the military but you get a kick out of things like Humans of New York or The Moth, you'll also probably enjoy this book. It very much focuses on the individual experience of people on deployment: the stories they wanted to tell."

Though the Kickstarter campaign itself is raising funds to get the book produced and into readers' hands by Veterans Day, all profits from the eventual retail release of True War Stories will go to charities chosen by the contributors, including Objective Zero Foundation, Air Force Assistance Fund, the USO, Armed Services Arts Partnership, Paws & Effect, and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

So, if this sounds like something you'd like to be a part of, head over to Kickstarter now so True War Stories can meet its goal and add some stretch goals along the way.

Legion of Super-Heroes 8 cover

Now that we've talked about the news, let's talk about some new comics! Here's what I got excited about this week. 

Legion of Super-Heroes #8: I delight in watching creators who could probably just coast through their time on a major superhero book taking big swings instead, and I especially delight in watching them connect on those swings. With his Legion of Super-Heroes run, writer Brian Michael Bendis has consistently delivered on the ambition of his storytelling. There's a sense of huge-ness running through the whole book, a sense that this really is an overwhelming experience for our point-of-view hero, young Jon Kent, but that overwhelming feeling never comes off as exhausting. Instead, it's exuberant, and Bendis keeps pushing the joy of that. 

For most of the run, Bendis has achieved this with the help of artist Ryan Sook, but for this issue and the one that will follow, he opted to do something different, something that could have derailed the story with a gimmick. For the "Trial of the Legion" story that's been building for months now, Bendis opted to team up with 44 different artists across two issues, splitting up the pages so that essentially every time you're looking at a new page, you're looking at the work of a different artist. It's an interesting, headline-grabbing idea that could prove to be a disjointed mess, but happily, Bendis and the superstars drawing this issue have made sure that doesn't happen. 

Legion #8 is structured in such a way that Bendis is able to consistently shift the point-of-view of the story, from archival footage of Legion team member auditions to the hallowed halls of the United Planets to the climactic sequence of the issue, and because of some clever structural quirks every artists gets a chance to soar in a way that feels appropriate to them. Doc Shaner gets to draw an earnest close-up of Superboy, for example, while Mike Allred gets some glorious fight scene work, Joelle Jones gets to draw an enchanting space princess, Fabio Moon gets to dive into Brainiac 5's lab, Sook gets a massive splash page, and so much more. The result is an issue that works perfectly because the grandness of the narrative and the overall strange-ness of the Legion has set it up for success. This is a triumph, one that surpassed even my high-expectations after reading the rest of the series.

Iron Man 2020 #6: Though we've already dove into Empyre and are looking ahead to things like X of Swords, there's another Marvel event out there that packed a fairly heft dose of ambition into its story, but unfortunately got delayed by COVID-19 to the point that, if you weren't paying attention, you might have lost track a little bit. That's a shame, because as it heads into its final issue this week, Iron Man 2020 proves once again that it's a story absolutely worth your time if you're an Iron Man fan. 

The whole conceit of the series hinged on Tony's brother Arno Stark waging a war spurred on by his fear that some cosmic extinction event was coming to destroy the Earth. Now, with the final issue upon us, it seems Arno was absolutely right. An extinction-level event has come to Earth, and it's up to everyone — human and robot alike — to stop it. 

On some level, the overall course plotted by this series has always read like an attempt to get Tony Stark back to some version of his status quo after spending a few years as an AI simply pretending to be the "real" Tony Stark, and writers Dan Slott and Christos Gage have certainly achieved that on a logistical level. There's an art to these kinds of resets, though, one that goes beyond simply moving pieces back into place to set up the next creative team, and it comes from fundamentally understanding what we want to see in these characters, and why we love them in the first place. In this blockbuster of a final issue — which reads like the climax of a great Iron Man movie we never got to see — Slott and Gage prove that they really get Tony Stark, flaws and all. More than that, though, they get why we want the "old" Tony back, what he means to the Marvel Universe, and why readers keep coming back to him. And if that's not enough to sell you on it, the issue is also just Pete Woods drawing the hell out of robots and armored heroes of all shapes and sizes for 24 glorious pages, so pick it up just for that if you like. 

Mega Man: Fully Charged #1: I like looking in on licensed comics from time to time, because I like seeing how creators are growing a particular world in a different medium than the one in which I first encountered it. With Mega Man, I played the games when I was a kid like a lot of other people, but I'd never pursued a deeper understanding of that mythology or its characters. Mega Man: Fully Charged, the new comic from writers A.J. Marchisello and Marcus Rineheart and artist Stefano Simeone, seemed like a good place to revisit.

I'm inherently skeptical of certain stories that attempt to take a thing that I remember as bright and fun and inject the "hero has a dark secret that even he doesn't fully understand" angle into it, but I'm pleased to say that this particular series debut allowed me to overcome that very quickly. Yes, there is trouble in Silicon City, and yes, the title character doesn't fully understand it. By the end of the issue, there are perhaps more questions than answers, setting up a conflict to come that's perhaps just as much internal as it is external. But in the face of all of that worldbuilding and character work and setup, it still feels like Mega Man.

It still feels like a fun thing we remember from our childhoods, and that buys the creators a lot of goodwill to explore corners of this world that perhaps more casual franchise fans like myself haven't encountered before. Much of that comes through the scripting, which includes some wonderful glimpses of Mega Man's own voice, but to me the real star here is Simeone's art. There's obvious manga and anime influence here, infused with a Western superhero sensibility and an almost childlike, tactile sense of scale and wonder that we remember from the video games. It all combines to create a thoroughly entertaining first issue, one that left me eager to head back to Silicon City again.

That Texas Blood #3: I love a crime comic with a strong sense of what it is right out of the gate, and I don't just mean in terms of the crime being committed and the major players tied to it. What I'm trying to say is, if you're announcing yourself with a title like That Texas Blood, I expect you to deliver on a book that feels like it deserves that title. In that regard, this Image series from writer Chris Condon and artist Jacob Phillips absolutely doesn't disappoint. 

As we pick up in the third issue, the series is still tracing the fallout from a death in the first, as Randy — a guy who did everything he could to get out of the Texas town where he was raised and roughed up — comes to terms with the murder of his brother, and goes in search of answers even though he knows he might not want them. After launching the issue with the tale of an aging lawman just trying to get through his day, the pivot to Randy's journey — accompanied by Condon's contemplative narration — has been particularly rewarding, as we get closer to the emotional roots of what started out as a satisfyingly pulpy little crime drama. 

Right away, the sense of place is palpable, and as someone who grew up in a small central Texas town with people who talked exactly like this, I know what I'm talking about there. This book is so firmly rooted in a particular vibe that's equal parts aggressive and laid back, violent and poetic, that you start to feel like you might just want to ride along with these characters in a truck for hours, listening to their stories no matter how dark they got. It's something tactile and even a little intoxicating, so that when the really gruesome stuff kicks in we end up both invested and flat-out gripped. This is a book that understands exactly what we expect, delivers that, and then twists its blade in us just a little bit more until we've moved into unexpected and instantly compelling territory. 

40 Seconds #1: One of the great perks of comic book storytellling is, of course, that your visual effects budget is only constrained by your artist's imagination. That means this medium is a playground for creators who want to go as big as humanly possible, and that sense of possibility pays off when the right team steps up to do something massive. 40 Seconds, the new comiXology Originals series from writer Jeremy Haun and artist Christopher Mitten, sets a massive stage from the beginning and does not let up for the entirety of its thrilling first issue. 

The series begins with a simple sci-fi setup: A group of explorers are going through a gate that will take them across vast reaches of space, in search of what happened to the previous team who went in before them. We meet the crew, we get the setup, and then they're off on their voyage and...well, weird stuff starts to happen. It's a formula pretty much anyone who's seen a major sci-fi blockbuster at any point in the last 40 or so years probably gets. What makes it work is the way Haun and Mitten use that to create a kind of genre shorthand that allows them to get out of the blocks and off to the races at lightning speed. That's where the fun begins. 

Once this book takes off, keep your hands and feet inside the car, because it's not going to slow down. Haun and Mitten present a dazzling, dizzying, and spectacular sci-fi showcase that shows the scale of what comics can do that sometimes even the biggest movies can't, and this is just the opening chapter. The whole thing reads like an epic genre blockbuster driven by an intense desire to show us the next planet, the next threat, the next jump, and I was pulled along from the first page.

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."