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SYFY WIRE Comics Wire

Comics Wire: Exclusive peek at Celestia; new DC 'Black Label' titles; Death of Doctor Strange; and Ninjak returns

By Matthew Jackson
Catwoman Lonely City 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.

Next week, the fine folks at Fantagraphics Press will publish Celestia, the new graphic novel from Manuele Fior (Angouleme Best Album winner for 5,000 km Per Second) that delivers a beautifully imagined view of humanity's future through the lens of architecture, science fiction, and deep human connection. Previously published in Fior's native Italy, the book's finally about to be in the hands of English-language readers, and today at Comics Wire we're pleased to offer an exclusive preview of this gorgeous new work.

Celestia is named for the title city, modeled after both Venice and Fior's own interest in various architectural themes and designs. Built as a refuge for humanity thousands of years ago, Celestia has become an island refuge for misfits, ruffians, and a strange group of young telepaths. The book follows two of these telepaths, Pierrot and Dora, as they set out from Celestia in search of the mainland, and find what could be humanity's future waiting. In the gallery below, you'll see the beginnings of this adventure, as Pierrot walks through the title city in the book's opening pages, which are a phenomenal showcase of Fior's style.

Check it out:

Here's what Fior himself had to say about the book and its relevance as it reaches American audiences this month:

"Celestia represents a kind of reboot of the origins of Venice, where a small community of young telepaths finds refuge from a great invasion that ravaged the Italian peninsula," he said. "The two heroes, Dora and Pierrot, wander around a landscape in full metamorphosis to figure out their changing nature, towards a new evolutionary step where people learn to share their own minds.

"The almost deserted city and surroundings depicted in the comic book (published in Italy before the pandemic) strangely resonates with what happened just a couple of months after its release, and it gives a sort of prophetical aura to the story, at least this is what I feel reading it now. Sometimes art finds threads that have been lying underground, and brings them to light."

I was among the people fortunate enough to read Celestia early a few weeks ago, in preparation to speak to Fior about the project as part of a Comic-Con@Home panel on Fantagraphics' upcoming science fiction comics, and I was blown away by the book. It's a work of stunning imagination, craft, and empathy, and if you like what you see above, you'll definitely want to check it out.

Celestia arrives July 20 from Fantagraphics. Fior will discuss the book, alongside fellow cartoonists Lane Milburn and Joshua W. Cotter, as part of Fantagraphics' contemporary science fiction panel during Comic-Con@Home next week. The panel starts streaming at 2 p.m. Pacific, 5 p.m. Eastern on July 24.

Four new DC titles for fall

Catwoman Lonely City Cover

It's been a busy week for new DC Comics announcements, as the publisher starts to firm up its late fall schedule of new books with a quartet of new series from top talent, including a pair of very intriguing DC Black Label books arriving in the coming months.

First up, the great Cliff Chiang is returning to DC to write and draw Catwoman: Lonely City, a new four-issue series that imagines a future Gotham in which Batman and The Joker are dead, costumed crime and costumed crimefighting are things of the past, and Selina Kyle has just gotten out of prison. With many of her old allies and enemies gone, it's up to her to solve the mysteries of the past. It's a great premise, and Chiang's art is a draw all its own. Check out a preview at DC's site, and look out for the first issue October 19.

A few weeks after Lonely City, Black Label will release another prestige series from writer Tom King, who's been responsible for acclaimed reinventions of characters like Mister Miracle and Adam Strange for more mature readers in recent years. This time around, King and artist Greg Smallwood will team up for a new vision of Christopher Chance, the bodyguard known as The Human Target, as he races against the clock to discover who wants Lex Luthor dead. And if that's not enough to draw you in, the promise that the book will also deliver the classic Justice League International lineup just might. You can check out some of Smallwood's incredible preview art on DC's site, and look out for the first issue of The Human Target on November 2.

If horror's more your thing, DC also just announced a pair of intriguing series from two of its best writers. Matthew Rosenberg (The Joker Presents: A Puzzlebox) will team up with artist Eddy Barrows this fall for Task Force Z, a new series set in the wake of the Gotham City tragedy known as "A-Day" in which Red Hood will have to team up with several recently deceased characters, including Bane and Mr. Bloom, to form a mysterious task force funded by a secret benefactor. That's a nice little bit of Gotham City worldbuilding, but it's not the only horror-themed project Rosenberg's got cooking.

He's also teaming up with Batman and The Nice House on the Lake writer James Tynion IV and artist Otto Schmidt for DC vs. Vampires, a 12-issue maxi-series that's about...well, exactly what it sounds like. It's the Justice League versus a vampire army, and that's all you need to sign me up.

Task Force Z and DC vs. Vampires both arrive October 26, just in time for your Halloween fix.

More news: Death of Doctor Strange expands, Millar's King of Spies, 100 AfterShock titles, and more!

Death of Dr. Strange Cover

- Last month, Marvel Comics announced a fall event titled The Death of Doctor Strange, which will explore not just the loss of Earth's Sorcerer Supreme, but what happens in the wake of Stephen Strange's death as new evil grips the universe. This week, we learned that the event is expanding. In addition to the core miniseries, the publisher has announced two new tie-ins for the series, including a battle against a new Juggernaut in Death of Doctor Strange: Avengers #1 and an encounter with Enchantress in Strange Academy Presents: Death of Doctor Strange #1. There's still a ton of mystery surrounding this series and how big its impact will be, but Marvel's already signalling that this is about more than just one little mystical corner of its universe. The event kicks off in September, with the tie-ins arriving alongside The Death of Doctor Strange #2 the following month.

- Mark Millar's universe-building efforts at Netflix may have been set back a little by the cancellation of Jupiter's Legacy, but the creator isn't slowing down. This week Netflix announced that Millar is now at work on King of Spies, a new concept that will begin life as a graphic novel before Netflix translates it to a streaming property. The story of the world's greatest spy and what he does when he realizes a brain tumor has given him six months to live, King of Spies is both an all-new story and a chance for Millar to return to the superspy territory he had such success with through Kingsman. So, the Millarworld story engine is humming once again. King of Spies does not yet have a release date or an announced artist, but we'll keep you posted as we learn more.

- Last week we reported on the heartening news that 2020 was a massively successful year for comics sales, and now we've got even more reporting to pore over on that front, bringing both good news and bad news. Over at Sktchd, David Harper has a wonderful longform piece about just how well a lot of comics shops are doing at this point as they emerge from pandemic lockdowns with higher demand than ever. And over at ICv2, Brigid Alverson has an unfortunate downside to that demand: A manga shortage driven by shipping issues and extremely high reader demand. Bottom line: If you want to read some of the most popular manga on the stands right now, you might have to go digital or just wait a bit.

- Last year, Top Cow Productions and Image Comics founder Marc Silvestri revived Witchblade via a special new story launched as part of a Kickstarter campaign collecting the original stories. Now, Silvestri and artist Christopher Mitten will do the same for The Darkness. In celebration of the character's 25th anniversary, Silvestri announced this week that the Kickstarter campaign for The Darkness Complete Collection Vol. 2 hardcover will also include a new story as part of a relaunch for the character in 2022. The Kickstarter, which launched this week, has already raised nearly three times its goal as of this writing, so the demand for more from the character is clearly there. For more details, head over and check out the campaign.

- Back in April, AfterShock Comics announced a new book from writer James Patrick and artist Marco Locati titled Campisi: The Dragon Incident, about a mob fixer who has to deal with the unexpected arrival of a dragon in his neighborhood. At the time it sounded like another exciting title from a publisher that's had a string of exciting titles, but this week AfterShock noted it will mark another milestone. The publisher revealed on Tuesday that Campisi will actually be its 100th comics title since the company's launch six years ago, a hell of a milestone for an independent publisher that's been cranking out hit after hit over the last half-decade. Congratulations to the AfterShock team, and here's to 100 more.

New comics: NinjakDouble WalkerJustice League: Last Ride, and more!

Ninjak #1 Covera

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

Ninjak #1: Jeff Parker is one of those writers with a knack for superhero reinvention that feels fresh and timeless all at once, and this month he begins applying those skills to a relaunch of Valiant's resident superspy ninja, Ninjak. The combination of Parker's writing and Javier Pulido's art was always going to be an intriguing draw no matter what this series turned out to be, but now that it's here I can safely that Ninjak #1 is not just intriguing. It's flat-out jaw-dropping.

The series launches with a play on a familiar spy story trope, exposing Colin King and many of his fellow covert operatives to the world and, therefore, placing a target on Ninjak's back. With that framework in place, Parker and Pulido dive headlong into what's basically an extended chase sequence, as Colin and an unlikely ally try to make a break for it.

Right away, Pulido's art sets this issue apart as one of the most visually dynamic new comics of the year. Parker's writing, which leaps nimbly between backstory and setup, payoff and cliffhanger, presents a challenge for his artist that allows Pulido to show the full range of his talents by not just breaking up perspectives, but sometimes even breaking up time periods, not just in the span of one page but in the span of one row of panels per page. It's a dazzling structural feat pulled off with precision and style, and the art contained in that structure is among the best of Pulido's career. Whether you're looking for a great superhero story, a great spy story, or a comic that's trying to push itself off into daring craft territory, Ninjak is what you need.

Double Walker: I'm always up for a good folk horror story, but even with that in mind I don't think I was fully prepared for how tightly Double Walker, from writer Michael Conrad and artist Noah Bailey, would end up gripping me as I read it. I've often sung the praises of comics as a horror medium thanks to its ability to let you linger with the images on the page, and this book is a perfect example of why I feel that way: A creepy, slow-burning, sleep-with-the-lights-on stunner.

The setup is elegant and simple: A couple vacationing in Scotland ahead of the birth of their first child has a frightening incident out on a hike, then discover that a string of local murders might be connected to it. To say more would compromise the way in which Conrad's script slowly puts the pieces together, revealing just enough on every page to keep you going while steeping the whole experience in Scottish fairy lore. It's a beautifully orchestrated exercise in gradually building terror, perfectly complemented by Baileys art, which somehow looks like it would be just as at home in a Medieval woodcut as it would in a volume of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. There are images in this book that will linger with me for weeks, and when it comes to horror, that's a very good thing.

Justice League: Last Ride #3: I'm not always drawn to stories of superheroes on the outs with each other, or stories of the twilight years of those same heroes, simply because I prefer to watch them in their prime most of the time, but if anyone can get me interested in a story of the Justice League falling to pieces over tragedy only to reunite again, it's Chip Zdarsky. He's got this gift for finding light amid the darkness of superhero stories, and somehow blending the celebratory and the deconstructive in ways that make it feel effortless. With Justice League: Last Ride, Zdarsky pulls that off for DC's premier super-team in a story that longtime fans and newcomers can relish, a story that feels like a blockbuster mapped out on the page.

Issue #3 puts us smack in the middle of the narrative, a Justice League story that involves a fallout between Batman and Superman, a captive Lobo, dead new gods, and a journey to Apokolips, and the series remains a showcase for both Zdarsky's scripting style and Miguel Mendonca's stunning, swagger-laden art. As he has with books like Daredevil, Zdarsky is careful to lay in plenty of character detail even as he's packing on the plot, and the balance he achieves is spectacular. The scope never outshines the character work, and the character work never subdues the high stakes of the adventure. Mendonca's art, including some of my favorite Batman work I've seen in a DC book in recent memory, does the rest. If you've been sleeping on this book, don't wait any longer.

Aliens: Aftermath #1: Marvel's new era of Alien comics is still in its early stages, but they've already managed to add some intriguing wrinkles to the mythos, and that's especially true of Aliens: Aftermath, a new one-shot sequel to the classic film from writer Benjamin Percy and artist Dave Wachter.

Picking up in the years following the events of Aliens, the book builds on the theme of distrust of the Weyland-Yutani corporation by following a group of activists and livestreamers as they attempt to locate the lost colony of Hadley's Hope, and get more than they bargained for along the way. Wachter's art, including an incredible Xenomorph that I won't spoil for you here, is both perfectly suited to the overall vibe of the franchise and full of wonderful characterization. Percy's script is spot-on, from the sci-fi-action lingo he lets fly between characters to the seamless way he establishes more connective tissue. If you love Aliens and you want to read something that enhances and expands that particular story, it's a must-read.

ParaNorthern: Sometimes you pick up a big that just reads like a big warm hug, and that's what I got from ParaNorthern, an ever so slightly spooky supernatural adventure from writer Stephanie Cooke and artist Mari Costa about found families, celebrating differences, understanding where you come from, and fighting a horde of vicious-yet-cute bunnies. Set in a town where it's not uncommon to run into a kid with a pumpkin head or a werewolf girl at the local coffee shop, the story follows a young witch and her friends as they discover a magical portal that's letting savage little chaos rabbits into their world, and work to find a way to close it. Costa's art is brimming with joy and character, so much so that even the kid with the pumpkin for a head comes across as fully realized, and Cooke's script -- packed with amusing asides about magic lore and laugh-out-loud character moments -- is a pitch-perfect blend of worldbuilding and humor. It's a gem for young readers and old alike.

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."