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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.
We've talked a lot over the past few months about the many, many ways the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the various routines of the comics industry, and unfortunately that disruption also extended to the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards handed out to celebrate the best comic book achievements of the past year at San Diego Comic-Con every summer. No in-person convention this year means no in-person Eisner Awards ceremony, but the awards themselves are still supposed to be handed out with the help of judges working remotely to determine nominees. Unfortunately, despite the effort to make the awards happen even in these strange times, the voting process for the 2020 Eisners has been marred by major concerns that have led some creators to call for the awards to be postponed or even cancelled entirely.
First, some context: Because judging for the Eisner nominations is typically done through an intensive in-person session which, for obvious reasons, couldn't happen this year, the judging process took a little longer in 2020 than it did in previous years. And, because Eisner Awards organizers would still like to hand out the awards in July as they always do, the longer judging period meant a shorter voting period. The nominees were announced on June 4, along with a voting deadline of June 18. Then, something happened.
Shortly before the June 18 deadline, organizers closed down Eisner voting after numerous voters raised concerns about the security level of the online voting system they were using. Eisner voters found themselves unexpectedly accessing accounts that weren't their own, and finding that the votes they'd already submitted in their own accounts had been altered. To make this all more concerning, anyone who could somehow access the account of their fellow Eisner voters also suddenly gained access to personal information that presented a major security risk. For more context, check out these explainers at io9 and Fleen.
In light of the security issues, Eisner organizers kept voting closed until they could put a new system in place, and on June 24 Comic-Con International's chief communications and strategy officer David Glanzer told Newsarama that they did not believe the problem was a "malicious attempt but an error in the platform itself."
"While our examination of the records leads us to believe the problem is small and we have no direct evidence that any votes have been altered, out of an abundance of caution and care we have decided to re-run the vote with a current and secure voting platform," Glanzer said.
With that in mind, Eisner voting resumed on a new platform, invitations to re-vote were sent out to those who'd already cast ballots, and a new deadline of June 30 was set. But the concerns did not end there. According to Eisner-winning cartoonist and editor Steenz, the organizers' attempts to allow people to re-vote left out people who had withheld their votes while they waited for the security issues to be resolved.
Several other creators echoed this concern across social media Tuesday as Eisner voting was set to close again Tuesday night, with some calling for the voting window to be extended to further sort through the voting issues, or even cancelled altogether amid issues of both security and fairness.
As of this writing, Eisner voting for 2020 has closed and the plan still seems to be to hand out the awards later in July. We have reached out to Comic-Con International for comment on these creators' concerns and will update this story if we receive a comment from them.
Explore the Metalverse and more
Two weeks ago, Dark Nights: Death Metal exploded the DC Universe as we know it with a raucous, relentless first issue setting up a story that isn't just reshaping the present of DC Comics, but the past as well. We still have a long way to go before we learn all of the secrets Death Metal has to offer in the coming months, but while we're waiting for the next issue to drop, DC has given us a little present to tide us over: a detailed map of the Metalverse.
Yes, the first issue of Death Metal revealed that The Batman Who Laughs has remade the DCU in his own nightmarish image, and while we're waiting to see more of exactly how that world works, we can pore over Jared Blando's gorgeous map of what's left of the DC Comics Earth we once knew. The image itself is absolutely gorgeous, but what you really want to dig into if you're obsessed with Death Metal (like I am) are all the annotations available over on DC's Metal homepage. Just hover over the map to learn about everything from the origins of Castle Bat to Harley Quinn's mutated hyenas to the super-prison many DC heroes now call home.
Dark Nights: Death Metal returns with its second issue July 14. The Metalverse will be further explored in August when DC drops the Dark Nights: Death Metal Guidebook.
The folks over at Vault Comics have a very good eye for horror comics (more on that later in this very column), and they do their best to prove it each year with their Nightfall imprint, which rises from the grave every fall to deliver new horror stories to readers just in time for Halloween fun. This year's Nightfall titles are leading off with The Autumnal, a spooky new tale from bestselling author Daniel Kraus (Scowler, The Shape of Water, Trollhunters), artist Chris Shehan, colorist Jason Wordie, and letterer Jim Campbell.
Set in the small town of Comfort Notch, New Hampshire, The Autumnal follows a mother and daughter as they leave Chicago after a death in the family. While they may be looking for a fresh start, what they find is something much more disturbing.
"In 10 novels, I'd written about a lot of monsters, but most were humans, or lighthearted, or greatly sympathetic," Kraus said in a press release. "I still had a hankering to create an original, frightening, supernatural thing that had a shot at being iconic. While discussing horror with friends, I stumbled upon the concept of fallen leaves being like stepping stones for some kind of forest monster — a pathway it could use to follow you home and so forth. It was such a visual idea to me that I thought it'd be the perfect story to be my comic debut. I'm a gigantic fan of EC Comics, but I wanted to go in the opposite direction here, and make something sophisticated and sad."
A monster that uses fallen leaves to move around New England sounds like an incredible concept to lead off a book with, and I can't wait to see what creepy places Kraus and company take us with it. The Autumnal #1 arrives this September from Vault.
We've still got a lot of comics to read between now and the end of 2020, but it's never too early to start thinking about your 2021 pull list. In that spirit, Legendary Comics announced an intriguing new graphic novel late last week with a great creative team, an intruging premise, and the promise of a story that crosses genres.
The Hollywood Reporter revealed last week that writer Lilah Sturges (Lumberjanes) and artist Alitha E. Martinz (Black Panther: World of Wakanda) are at work on The Science of Ghosts, the story of transgender parapsychologist Joy Ravenna and an investigation into an heiress' estate that turns out to be much more than just a search for potential ghosts. Here's how Struges describes the project:
“The Science of Ghosts brings together so many things that fascinate me: psychology, dream logic, the symbolism of ghost narratives, and queer love stories,” Sturges said. “It is certainly a horror story: it's chock-a-block with dark basements, abandoned hotels and ghosts a plenty. And it's also a murder mystery: twists and turns and clues and secrets abound. But to my mind, it's the romance that makes it special, and it's of a kind that we rarely get to see in mainstream comics: two queer women who adore each other and whose existences are not a jumping-off point for tragedy. Getting to write a trans woman protagonist who loves and is loved, who is defined by what she strives for and how she loves rather than the fact of her transness, has been one of the great joys of my career. She is informed by being trans but she isn't defined by it. And did I mention the ghosts? And the murder? And the romance?”
The Science of Ghosts is set to arrive in the summer of 2021. In the meantime, we can't wait to learn more.
This week's comics: Robert Kirkman's new martial arts adventure, a pair of spooky books, and more!
Now it's time to talk about the comics that got me excited this week, starting with the hot (pun definitely intended) new release from the dream team of Robert Kirkman and Chris Samnee.
Fire Power Volume 1: Prelude: Robert Kirkman has managed to rise to a level in the world of creator-owned comics where he can try things other creators simply don't have the influence to do (having your own Image Comics imprint helps a lot), and Fire Power — his new collaboration with the great Chris Samnee — is an excellent example of that. Rather than simply launching the story with a single #1 issue, Kirkman and Samnee have dropped a full-sized graphic novel that serves as the prelude to the ongoing series now set to launch next month. It's an interesting way of starting a story that could have backfired by giving away too much too soon, but Fire Power Volume 1 manages to dodge that problem by delivering in thrilling, sometimes unexpected ways.
The Prelude graphic novel tells the story of Owen, a young martial artist who heads to China on a hunt for information about his birth parents and eventually winds up at a mysterious temple where the students and masters all attempt to practice the lost of art of throwing fireballs. What begins as a recognizable 36th Chamber of Shaolin-style story about a student impressing his masters and proving himself to his peers soon morphs into something bigger, as Owen realizes his parents are part of something he never could have imagined. Kirkman has proven time and time again that he can drive a story forward in ways readers don't expect, but even longtime fans of his might not be prepared for what he has in store for the ongoing Fire Power series based on the setups laid out in this book. It's funny, it's brisk, it's made with an enduring love for similar martial arts stories, and yet it's determined to do something new with the genre in a way that still delivers on what we all love about it. And then there's Chris Samnee, who is quite simply one of the best in the game right now. The splash pages he deploys in the climactic fight scenes in this book are some of the best of his career, and that's really saying something.
Devil's Highway #1: First issues are tricky things, always trying to strike the right balance between standing on their own as a piece of art and promising the reader "If you stick around, you'll be glad you did." Devil's Highway #1, the beginning of a new crime series from writer Benjamin Percy and artist Brent Schoonover, is a book that manages to land that balance in a very memorable way.
What begins with a scene that could've been lifted right out of a rural slasher movie nightmare soon morphs into something more personal, as we're introduced to Sharon, a young woman determined to solve her father's murder. As she digs deeper, exposing some of her own darkness along the way, Sharon finds herself sinking into a web of darkness and violence that spans the nation, crisscrossing the American heartland with blood.
Percy's script is a tight little wonder that manages to seed a lot of different ideas — from Sharon's past to some freaky serial killer symbolism to the sense of a larger evil at work behind the scenes — in the span of just a few pages without ever losing the investigative thriller angle that hooked me from the beginning. There are shades of True Detective here, as well as the kind of grim investigative drama fans of Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka might be looking for, and then there's Schoonover's art. I don't know what it is about crime comics that makes me love a nine-panel grid, but it's there, and Schoonover nails it, from clautstrophic shots of crime scene photos to haunting wider images that reveal Sharon's loneliness and determination in equal measure. This is the start of something exciting.
The Plot #5: One of the great advantages of horror comics, aside from the obvious marriage of words and images on a page, is the sense that the horrific things dreamed up by the artist can linger, staring out at you for as long as you dare keep the book open to that particular page. It's like pausing a horror movie at a particularly ghastly moment, only the beautiful terror is right there in your hand, inches from your face, waiting to reach out and grab you.
The Plot, the Vault Comics horror series from writers Tim Daniel and Michael Moreci, artist Joshua Hixson, and colorist Kurt Michael Russell, is one of those comics full of moments that reach off the page to grab you and never let go. It's the story of the Blaine family and their haunted ancestral home in Cape Augusta, Maine, as they contend with the curse that's plagued them for centuries and a supernatural entity that seems to summon its own terrifying, swampy atmosphere every time it appears. In this particular issue, the action jumps from 1974 all the way back to 1674, where we learn more of the Blaine family history and how their curse first took hold. As with every issue, Daniel and Moreci's scripting is full of moments where they know exactly when to embellish and exactly when to pull back and let the art do the work. When that happens, Hixson and Russell (taking over from original series colorist Jordan Boyd) go to work with absolutely stunning images that are equally terrifying and beautiful. Whether you're a fan of horror films like The Witch, the novels of Stephen King, horror comics like Harrow County, or all of the above, you need to be reading this book.
On the Stump #3: I love alternate history stories that know how to have fun with a concept that is rooted in something deep enough to be explored in chapter after chapter. Balancing the weight of real history with the fun of imagining something much more genre-specific is hard, and the stories that do it right deserve attention. On the Stump, from writer Chuck Brown and artist Prenzy, gets it very, very right, and the result is one of the wildest books of the year.
The story is set in a world where, in 1868, history diverged after a political debate turned into a physical fight, and it turns out the American people liked it so much they decided all politics should be settled that way. Now, congressmen and senators duke it out on a massive stage in slugfests to determine the passage and failure of laws, even as an oppressive system persists beneath all of the bombasts. On the Stump is the story of a has-been senator and a disgraced FBI Agent who are hoping to undo that.
Brown's scripts are witty, layered, and rich with meaning that is further underlined by guest essayists who contribute back matter to each issue. If you just want to read a fun action story where a bunch of brawny dudes with names like "Thunder Bearer" beat the hell out of each other, you're going to get it, but lurking beneath that is the story of cyclical, systemic violence in America and how it informs every aspect of our lives. Prenzy's art only adds to that sense of depth. No one else in comics is drawing fist fights quite like he is, but there's an expressiveness beyond the most sensational scenes that reveals something more. On the Stump is a gem that has the potential to keep growing into something even more amazing.
Star #5: The Big Two are taking it easy this week as Marvel has a light release schedule and DC prepares for its big distribution shift, but that doesn't mean there aren't things worth checking out. I spent the last couple of days catching up on Star, the Captain Marvel spinoff series from writer Kelly Thompson and artist Javier Pina (with an assist from Filipe Andrade for some beautiful flashback sequences), and the fifth and final issue sealed the deal: This is a very intriguing miniseries with a lot of potential to grow into something more in the wider Marvel Universe.
The series follows Ripley Ryan, the reporter-turned-superhero who turned on Captain Marvel in the pages of Carol Danvers' main series, as she realizes she's got a frightening new power in the form of the Reality Stone embedded in her body. After breaking free of The Raft, she strikes out on her own in an attempt to control and understand her new, Infinity Stone-driven powers, and along the way...well, things get a little nuts.
Thompson's writing is as clever, brisk, and pleasing to the ear as ever, particularly when she's able to explore a new dynamic between Star and Captain Marvel via this series. Pina's art is rich and dynamic, particularly in the final issue when he gets to really pile on the fight scenes, but even amid the chaos his faces never lose their expressiveness. By the end, Star's five issues have all come together as an exciting first chapter for something new, driven by the title character's relatable and insistent voice. It'll be great to see where the character goes next, while looking back and having this miniseries for new fans to devour in the course of an evening.
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."