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SYFY WIRE Comics Wire

Comics Wire: Event comics finally return as 'Death Metal' rewrites DC's Crisis history

By Matthew Jackson
Dark Nights Death Metal 1 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.

It's been a weird year for entertainment. A lot of things were put on hold or outright canceled due to the pandemic, and we still haven't seen the end of that. Thankfully, though, this week saw the return of one my favorite things about the comic book world: Big Ol' Superhero Event Comics.

Yes, this week DC Comics dropped Dark Nights: Death Metal #1 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, the much-anticipated follow-up to Dark Nights: Metal, the first major event book to make its debut in the wake of comics' big pandemic pause, and a comic that sets out almost right away to completely reframe DC Comics' long history of event books.

Here's the funny thing about Crisis on Infinite Earths, the legendary event that basically set superhero event crossovers as we know them on the path to where they are now: The claim was always that it was created to simplify the DC Universe, but in the long run it's had the opposite effect. Sure, for a little while there the multiverse was gone and the characters were consolidated, but ask anyone who tried to follow what the deal with Supergirl was in the 1990s and they'll tell you that DC creators just found ways to make things complicated again.

Plus, the very existence of Crisis and its multiversal reshuffling created an opening for creators to come in and clean up the continuity yet again with yet another crisis, from Zero Hour to Flashpoint and everything in between. Eventually these events even landed a certain level of meta-commentary that acknowledged the publisher's own role in its perpetual crisis machine. There's a reason that the villain of Infinite Crisis is basically a guy who's been watching DC Comics unfold for 20 years and finally got so mad about the way things were going that he punched a hole in existence.

I've written before about the eternal struggle of event comics to find ways to feel like they "matter" even after the next event has come along and paved over whatever they did, and I feel like that's a game DC's been playing a bit longer than Marvel, in part because DC's been more direct in its efforts to literally rewrite its own reality over and over again. Even if you're someone who likes trying to keep it all straight in your head, that sense of trying to juggle continuity with breaking new ground can get exhausting to the reader. Unless, of course you're Scott Snyder, and you decide the thesis statement of Dark Nights: Death Metal #1 is going to be "It All Matters."

Over the course of this stunning, mind-melting debut issue, Snyder and Capullo (who's been topping himself ever since Batman #1 in 2011 and hasn't stopped yet) lay out a ruined vision of the DC Universe in which Perpetua and the Batman Who Laughs rule over the remaining DC heroes with an iron fist. In the midst of all of this, Wally West (newly imbued with Dr. Manhattan-level powers after the events of Doomsday Clock) comes in and does what Flashes have been known to do during times of Crisis: He tries to make sense of it all.

It's here that Snyder reveals that he's ambitious enough to try to distill nearly 40 years of event storytelling into a single cohesive mythology, and the crazy thing is he actually succeeds. Snyder sets up two opposing forces in the DC Comics sandbox: "Connective Energy" and "Crisis Energy." The former is there to hold everything together, to maintain the DC legacy, while the latter is there to insist upon the importance of single, isolated events. One is all about forever, while the other is all about now.

If that's not the perfect summation of the push-pull that is DC Comics Continuity since 1985, I really don't know what is.

If you haven't read the issue yet, I definitely recommend picking it up. Apart from being a monumental opening gambit in an attempt to revitalize and reclaim decades of event storytelling that often seemed to be going in circles, it's a hell of a good superhero story with top-notch art and some incredible design work. It's an effort to reckon with years of continuity altering and retrofitting in a very head-on way that could leave an incredible lasting impact if the rest of the story follows through. We don't yet know if Snyder's epic vision for the future of the DC Multiverse will be something that sticks, but reading an event comic that's willing to go this deep on the nature of event comic in the opening pages is enough to hook me for the duration.

Marvel gears up for its own comeback

Empyre 1 Back the Comeback

Marvel Comics will launch its own new event next month, when Empyre #1 finally lands, and the publisher is already gearing for that mid-July launch in a couple of very interesting ways. The series itself, which pits a Kree-Skrull alliance against Earth's heroes, is reason enough to get interested, but Marvel is also going all-out with reminders that comics publishers are back in a big way.

Earlier this week, Diamond Comics Distributors announced that Marvel has positioned Empyre as part of the distributors' "Back the Comeback" initiative to drive sales at comic book stores over the course of the next few months in the wake of the pandemic. As a result, Empyre #1, releasing July 15, will bear the stylized "Our Comeback will be Bigger than our Setback!" sticker design created by Diamond as part of the initiative. But that's not all.

Marvel also announced last week (via The Beat) that July 15 will also include a series of variant covers that feature the logo of each series and the text "On Sale Wednesday" in large print in lieu of a cover illustration. According to Marvel, the variant covers are "ideal for reminding customers that while other entertainment industries such as music, movies and video games may dominate on Tuesdays and Fridays, comics own Wednesdays." The books will also come with digital codes so you can take a peek at the regular cover for each issue if you like.

While the first piece of news is a show of solidarity with Diamond, the second piece of news taken with the first also reads as Marvel having a little bit of fun with DC Comics' decision to both break with Diamond and move their regular on-sale date for comics to Tuesdays. It may be nothing more than a simple promotional effort that won't spawn anything else, but personally I kinda like the little bit of ribbing happening here. It reminds me ever-so-slightly of Stan Lee's old "Brand Ecch" letters pages, and a little more open competition and having fun at each other's expense among the Big Two could spur some interesting things from both sides.

A stunning new comics Kickstarter

The Bone Herder art

We love highlighting fun new comics Kickstarters around here, particularly when they're aiming to do something outside the realm of what we often see at major publishers. The Bone Herder, an ambitious new Afropunk fantasy project set in a fictional country with a rich mythology all its own, has already blown past its initial fundraising goal in a matter of days. But hey, that's what Stretch Goals are for, and if you haven't had a chance to check this book out, you should head over and consider backing it right now, because it looks stunning. The project grew out of Gail Simone's Comics School, and writer Zaire Lanier and artists Tumo Mere, Morgan Madeline, and Sam Willoughby are already well on their way to producing a hit book as they approach $45,000 in backing. Here's the synopsis:

"Every generation, a child is chosen to travel from village to village punishing wrong doers, by flaying their bones and burying them. Cass is the first to break the tradition, but in doing so breaks an ancient pact with the Flesh Folk."

Apart from simply telling a great story, The Bone Herder is also on a mission to create more representation for Black characters in fantasy. It's set up as the story these creators have always wished they could see out in the world that they're now giving life to, and that's usually a recipe for something special. Head over to Kickstarter and check it out. Fifteen bucks gets you a digital copy.

Comics this week: WYND #1, Army of Darkness time travel, and more!

Wynd #1 cover

Dark Nights: Death Metal #1 was a massive release this week that's definitely worth your time, but it's not the only one. Let's take a look at what else I got excited about this week.

Wynd #1: Back in May, BOOM! Studios announced Wynd as its major "comics are back" effort, a story that was supposed to be a graphic novel that would instead be split into a limited series in an effort to give readers a top-quality, epic story by a high-level creative team. Because of that, Wynd went from being a comic we were looking forward to in the fall to one of the most-anticipated books of the summer in a heartbeat. Now it's here, and it turns out it's a book that lives up to the hype.

With Wynd, writer James Tynion IV and artist Michael Dialynas (the team behind The Woods) envision a fantasy landscape in which the title character, a young man with a heritage he must hide in a world determined to control and exclude his kind, is forced to reckon with what happens when secrets can no longer be concealed. The first issue — uplifted by Dialynas' vibrant, expressive art that's perfect for the young adult target audience — sets the board for the game the creative team is about to play with us. We meet Wynd, his sister, his somewhat skeptical employers, his crush who works the grounds at the place, and of course a Prince in a castle harboring a secret of his own. The issue packs in 40 pages of story but ends right at the moment when we can't wait to learn what's really going on, which provides a perfect platform from which to launch issue #2. Clever, energetic, and full of heart, Wynd just might end up being the summer adventure comic you needed more than you knew this year.

Tartarus #3: I love a series that knows what genre fans want and exactly how to give it to them, but also knows that it can give us those things while looking and feeling like nothing else out there. Tartarus, from writer Johnnie Christmas and artist Jack Cole, is that kind of comic, and I'm thrilled I caught up with it in time for the third issue this week.

The series follows Tilde, a young cadet who learns that she's not who she thought she was. She is, in fact, the secret daughter of a ruthless warlord who was a deadly enemy to the very empire she's pledged to serve. The first issue sets the table for this concept, and the second plunges us headlong into a sci-fi chase unlike any you've ever seen in the genre before. With the third, Christmas and Cole both broaden their world and deepen our understanding of the characters in it, as Tilde makes even more strange discoveries about her real past and what's really at stake.

I can't say enough about Cole's art on this book, and how much it adds to the sense that we are reading a comic that wants to deliver the genre goods without necessarily playing by the same old genre rules. If you're a fan of Star Wars or Firefly, you'll probably love Tartarus, but Christmas and Cole aren't here to paint by numbers. They're here to play with all their favorite sci-fi toys while blowing up the toy box, and that makes this a particularly thrilling comic.

Ironheart 2020 #2: Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that while some event books took a while longer to get started, others were paused mid-release, as is the case with Marvel's Iron Man 2020 miniseries and its surrounding tie-ins. The main series picks up a gain next week. In the meantime, we get to spend a couple of issue with Riri Williams in Ironheart 2020.

Though some fans (myself included) sometimes stay away from them for financial reasons, I find it illuminating to pick up a tie-in book to a major event when I can, even if it's not essential to the overall story of said event. The right creative team can take the high-concept of the overarching story and bend it to their will in often surprising ways. In the case of Ironheart, writers Vita Ayala and Danny Lore and artist David Messina are actually caught between two major developments in Riri's life, and that makes for a hell of a two-issue sci-fi action tale.

On the one hand, Riri Williams has given up being Ironheart because of the events of the Outlawed one-shot that restricted the activities of teenage superheroes. On the other, she's also dealing with the A.I. war raging as part of the Iron Man 2020, which hits her and her friends in a very real way when some self-driving cars start to malfunction. What follows is Riri's effort to not just solve a scientific problem, but to surmount her own fear of becoming Ironheart again. That's a tough needle to thread, but Ayala and Lore absolutely nail the character, and Messina's ability to juggle all manner of high-tech presences dancing around each other in a single panel make this miniseries a little treat between big event beats.

A Man Among Ye #1: Sometimes a comic comes along that you didn't know you needed until you're reading it, and for me that turned out to be the pirate adventure A Man Among Ye from writer Stephanie Phillips, artist Craig Cermak, and colorist Brittany Pezzillo. The comic sets out to tell the stories of legendary pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, whose destines intertwine in this first issue after a raid by Bonny's partner Calico Jack Rackham. It's a story that I must say I never expected to see laid out in comics, but the fact that it's here and that it works so well is a testament to the versatility of the medium.

The creative team comes out of the gate with guns blazing, telling a straightforward swashbuckler that is nonetheless laying the groundwork for the ways in which the women at the heart of the tale will surprise and delight us going forward. We meet our heroes, spot a potential villain, and see several ways in which the tension could soon ratchet up, all in a wonderfully paced breeze of a read. I can't wait to see where it goes next.

Death to the Army of Darkness #3: Bruce Campbell may be done playing Ash Williams, but the character is still having plenty of adventures on the comics page thanks to Dynamite Entertainment's continued willing to put him through as much Deadite-induced torture as possible. This time around it's Death to the Army of Darkness, a series from writer Ryan Parrott and artist Jacob Edgar that picks up just months after Army of Darkness deposited Ash back at S-Mart.

Of course, no matter how much Ash might want them to, the Deadites haven't really gone away, and in his quest to rid himself of their curse he's actually managed to... well, inadvertently split his soul into several piece. So, this series isn't just about Ash. It's about Ash, and female Ash, and dog Ash (aka Dash), and skeleton Ash, and mini Ash. There's even a part of Ash that's made his chainsaw hand into a talking power tool with its own violent personality. It's as bonkers, and as fun, as it sounds.

Issue #3 sees the Ashes get transported back to Ancient Egypt, where they've got Deadite problems of their own, and where Parrott and Edgar prove once again that they have a very clear grasp of the tone of this kind of adventure. It's witty and violent and just a little bit wrong, which is exactly what you want from an Army of Darkness story.

And that's it for Comics Wire this week. Until next time, Believe Women, and 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."