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SYFY WIRE Comics Wire

Comics Wire: Deniz Camp exclusively reveals Chaos Agent; plus DC's 2021 plans & this week's hot reads

By Matthew Jackson

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.

Longtime readers of this column know that I'm a sucker for big concepts and stories that seem primed to go all-out from the jump, and Scout Comics is one of the publishers where you're most likely to find both of those things these days. So, Comics Wire is very pleased to exclusively reveal a brand-new series coming later this year that seems to fit that description very well: This is Chaos Agent.

Written by Deniz Camp (Maxwell's Demons, Quarantine Comix Special) with art by Filya Bratukhin (Cayrels Ring), colors by Jason Wordie (God Country) and letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou (First Knife), Chaos Agent is a four-issue sci-fi epic about a spy whose entire life is built around violence. But what happens when he starts to suspect he might be more of a problem than a solution? Here's the official synopsis, followed by preview pages from Bratukhin:

Philip Blank is the top agent for the scifi spy organization W.O.R.L.D.E., keeping capitalism safe from aliens, time travellers, and maladjusted geniuses off their meds. But lately he's been having doubts about his work, wondering if there might be more to life than missions and mega-violence. This starts Philip on a death-or-more-death journey through the weirdest W.O.R.L.D.E. has to offer; epicurean terrorist organizations, horny robots, alien origin stories, ex-spies with metal eyes, and a web of secrets and lies of Blank's own making.

A project years in the making, each of Chaos Agent's four issues will serve as a kind of standalone spy mission adventure, featuring hyper-detailed art and big concepts playing out on a grand artistic stage, all contributing to the overall narrative of a superspy who starts to feel less-than-super about his work.

"We wanted this to be a book in the tradition of Geof Darrow's Hard Boiled or Shaolin Cowboy," Camp said. "Big ideas strapped to an experimental-explosive jetpack; high-concept scifi & inventive action. It's taken years to get just right, but that effort has resulted in something incredibly special."

Camp continued, "I'm telling you, we put our whole hearts into this book. It's going to be one of the most beautiful comics of the year; Filya and Jason are doing things you've not seen before. Every page is an explosion, every issue is an event."

Chaos Agent arrives this June from Scout Comics, so if this bold exploration of sci-fi concepts sounds up your alley, be sure to let your local retailer know you want it.

DC's surprise 2021 expansion

Last year was a tumultous one for DC Comics, as they dealt with the same issues every other publisher faced (a global pandemic and those constant rumors that Comics Are Going Away) as well as other shifts like a change in distribution and a major round of layoffs that made some fans wonder what their future might look like in terms of single issue comics. Happily, though, DC seems to have emerged from the tribulations with a revitalized sense of invention, as the publisher continues to roll out everything from exciting new digital-first series to talent-showcasing anthologies to, now, a surprise roster of nearly a dozen more titles coming in 2021 that we hadn't heard about before.

Late last week, DC Vice President of Sales and Revenue Nancy Spears led a presentation at the virtual ComicsPRO retailer event (alongside Chief Creator Officer Jim Lee, Editor-in-Chief Marie Javins, and General Manager Daniel Cherry III) that served to reaffirm the publisher's commitment to direct market comics and roll out a new roster of still-mysterious titles with some very intriguing names. Here's what DC teased at ComicsPRO:

  • Deathstroke Inc.
  • Harley Quinn Animated Series sequel
  • A Wonder Woman 80th Anniversary title
  • Elseworld
  • "DC Vampires" (working title)
  • Robin and Batman
  • Joker: A Puzzle Box
  • The Legend of Batman
  • Crush and Lobo
  • Nubia and the Amazons
  • DC Middle Ages

Some of these titles are certainly not surprising. Wonder Woman's 80th anniversary was bound to get some celebratory stuff, Nubia is in the middle of a big new push (more on that further down in the column), Harley Quinn is a fan-favorite streaming series, and Elseworld is a word with a lot of buzz behind it thanks to the finale of Dark Nights: Death Metal late last year. But what about this other stuff? What will "DC Vampires" bring us? Another DCeased-style alternate universe or something even wilder? Is The Legend of Batman a riff on the Untold Legend of the Batman title? Where will DC Middle Ages take us?

All we have at the moment is speculation, but these announcements just reaffirm the feeling that 2021 is going to be a very special year for DC Comics, something we've already seen through stuff like Future State. I was expecting big things from the publisher this year, but if all of this stuff pans out, even I may have been underestimating them.

You can read more about the ComicsPRO presentation, including DC's commitment to Free Comic Book Day this year, over at the publisher's website.

More news: Marvel's Reptil series, Vault's The Blue Flame, and more!

Reptil cover

- Though it's perhaps not the highest-profile thing going on at the publisher right now, Marvel's been making a concerted new push for prominence among various teen heroes lately, even beyond the major players like Kamala Khan and Miles Morales. This May, that push moves forward again with Reptil, a new miniseries from writer Terry Blas and artist Enid Balám that will follow the young Mexican-American Avengers Academy alum Humberto Lopez as his efforts to focus more on his family and less on heroism will be shaken to their core when a mysterious new threat shows up. It's the first ever solo series for Reptil, and according to Marvel's press release, represents an exciting step toward a bigger future for the character. Look for Reptil #1 on May 26.

- Speaking of exciting May releases, Vault Comics announced quite an acquisition earlier this week when it revealed to The Hollywood Reporter that Christopher Cantwell, best known for his TV work on shows like Halt and Catch Fire and his acclaimed Marvel books like Doctor Doom and Iron Man, has joined the publisher for a new project. The Blue Flame, written by Cantwell with art by Adam Gorham, is a superhero story that hopes to merge cosmic stakes with everyday human concerns, as a hero who wears many hats is forced to advocate for his entire planet in front of a universal court. For more on this intriguing project, including a few preview pages and some quotes on the very real 21st century concerns that helped Cantwell shape the story, head over to THR.

- The news that Image co-founder Todd McFarlane is launching a new Spawn shared universe wasn't the only intriguing announcement to come from Image Comics last week. The publisher also announced Time Before Time, a new sci-fi series from writers Declan Shalvey and Rory McConville and artist Joe Palmer that's billed as Criminal meets Back to the Future. Set in a world where time travel is an underground commodity used to smuggle people back in time so they can start their lives over, the series will follow what happens when two time smugglers decide to take the tech into their own hands, even as they threat of their boss finding out hangs over them. For more on what sounds like a brilliant blend of crime drama and high-concept sci-fi, check out the preview reveal over at IGN.

The House of Lost Horizons cover

- I'm always down for a knew Mignolaverse story, and this week Dark Horse announced a particularly intriguing one. The House of Lost Horizons, co-written by Chris Roberson with art by Leila Del Duca, will reteam the paranormal detective Sarah Jewell with her cohort Marie Therése for a very special kind of mystery. The four-issue series promises to merge the paranormal with a classic mystery story format, as Sarah and Marie attempt to gather the suspects and solved a locked room murder on a private island where a group of mysterious people have gathered to buy and sell various occult objects. I'm sold, and I'm eagerly awaiting the first issue when it arrives May 12.

New comics: Nubia OGN, Marvel's Voices: Legacy, Stray Dogs, and more!

Nubia Real One cover

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

Nubia: Real One - DC Comics' ever-growing streak of vibrant young adult graphic novels that offer compelling re-imaginings of its heroes and antiheroes continues this week with a book about Wonder Woman's twin sister. In Nubia: Real One, writer L.L. McKinney and artist Robyn Smith insert the title character — Amazon strength and all — into an modern urban landscape where she must navigate everything from police brutality to rape culture to trying to get her crush to notice her, all while trying to hide a power she's been assured will mean danger should she ever let it out.

McKinney's script, beautifully paced and rich with sharp dialogue, ensures that you fall in love with these characters long before any trace of superpowers actually kicks in, whether you're following Nubia herself, her best friend Quisha, or her two Mothers who are determined to protect. There's a lived-in, warm quality to the dialogue, something only enhanced by Smith's emotive faces and physicality, that means an immediate emotional investment. Then, as the story ramps up, both McKinney and Smith push themselves artistically and emotionally to weave a story that's rich in superhero lore and the concerns of the real world Nubia hopes she can one day save. It's the perfect melding of comic book storytelling and young adult urgency, and one of the must read graphic novels of 2021.

Marvel's Voices: Legacy #1 - At this point, Marvel's semi-regular Voices series of anthology issues is making a strong case for becoming a monthly series. The latest volume, Legacy, has arrived to celebrate Black History Month through stories starring Black characters and crafted by Black creators, and it's a fitting commemoration. But reading these stories, from epic fight scenes to small moments of human comedy and love, I couldn't help but wish for more, because each of the creators in this anthology finds their own way to shine well beyond a short comics story.

Marvel's Voices: Legacy #1 features six new stories from establishing and emerging writers and artists, ranging from short, almost dialogue-free meditations to bits of pure comedy to the kind of after-hours superhero fun we so often miss out on when stories are unfolding on a grand scale with little time to slow down. In "Panic at the Supermarket," by Stephanie Williams and Natacha Bustos, we get to see what happens when Monica Rambeau and her mother are helped along on a shopping trip by Thor and She-Hulk, while "Decompression" by Mohale Mashigo and Chris Allen examines a night of relaxation shared by Riri Williams, Shuri, and Kamala Khan. Then there's "Nighttime Bodega Run" by Danny Lore and Valentine De Landro, which takes exactly what the title tells you and throws in a dash of chaos courtesy of Blade. These stories, and the others within Legacy #1, all combine to give us not just a dazzling showcase of great talent, but a solid case for more of these kinds of tales, the tales that allow us a moment to take a breath, focus in on these characters, and examine what makes them endure.

Stray Dogs #1: When Stray Dogs, the new Image series from writer Tony Fleecs and artist Trish Forstner, first appeared on my radar, it was billed as a "Don Bluth-style suspense thriller" and a combination of Lady and the Tramp and The Silence of the Lambs. Needless to say I had to know what that was all about, and I'm pleased to report that after reading the first issue, I remain just as intrigued and excited by this premise as I was when I first read the book's announcement.

The setup is fairly simple: A scared new dog named Sophie arrives at a house where a whole host of other dogs live, some eager to welcome her in and others... less so. But Sophie's not just scared because she's in a new home surrounded by a few hostile canines. Something else is at work in this story, somethting in Sophie's past that she can't quite shake loose, but when she finally does, it will change everything the other dogs think they know about where they live.

What's immediately compelling about Stray Dogs is just how well Forstner's art lives up to the billing without ever feeling like just an imitation of a certain style. Yes, there's clearly Don Bluth and Disney influence layered through the whole thing, but as the art zeroes in on the personality of each dog, and as Fleecs' script builds in level after level of suspense, it becomes clear that the creative team is after more than a riff on a well-known era of animation. There's a clever, unnerving, and deeply satisfying juxtaposition of light and dark at work in this book, and I can't wait to see where it's heading next.

Nuclear Family #1: Stephanie Phillips has a knack for pacing that makes for dynamite first issues, and Nuclear Family — with a script by Phillips and art by Tony Shasteen — is another example of Phillips' storytelling prowess delivering another fantastic story launch. Adapted from a Philip K. Dick short story, Nuclear Family follows a car salesman in 1950s America who lives in fear of atomic chaos... and then the chaos comes to his doorstep, almost literally.

Part alternate history, part comment on Cold War paranoia, Phillips' script lets the first issue linger a while before getting to the nuclear gut punch, and that sense of patience makes all the difference. We get to see all the angles of what seems like a relatively "normal" Midwest existence, the contrast between the picket fence perfect and the feeling that carnage is looming just outside of each panel. Shasteen's art only adds to that sense, building a slow-burn of dread and intrigue that pays off beautifully by the end of the first issue. What we're left with is the first chapter of something that feels both timely and timeless, and serves as a promising start for a thrilling new series.

By the Horns #1: If you were to just glance at the premise of By the Horns without digging any deeper, you might wonder how writer Markisan Naso and artist Jason Muhr could actually pull this particular fantasy concept off. "A woman on a mission of vengeance against unicorns" is a clever hook, sure, but how do you take a fantasy creature that's so often associated with light and good and turn it into something monstrous? The answer: You focus on the emotional stakes, and you build your own world around them.

That's what impressed me most as I dug into the first issue of this Scout Comcs series. Yes, the premise is intriguing and the worldbuilding is solid and Muhr's art and monster designs are top-notch, but what really spoke to me about this book is the level of care paid to the emotional core of the narrative. Whether we're talking about the layered implications of backstory and trauama in Naso's script or the emotive ferocity of Muhr's art or the way both script and art manage to blend a surprising degree of humor in with the darkness, this is a book with a firm and immediate grasp of its heart, and that makes all the difference. What starts with a clever idea becomes a gripping debut.