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Comics Wire: Exclusive look at Harley's Catwoman team-up; Avengers #750; Bendis' Dark Horse move; X-Men & more!
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.
Harley Quinn's in the midst of another big moment at the movies, but if you're keeping up with the world of DC Comics, you know she's never slowed down on the page. The current Harley Quinn series, anchored by writer Stephanie Phillips and artist Riley Rossmo, is among the most entertaining solo books in the publisher's line, chronicling Harley's efforts to rise up out of her past transgressions and become her own kind of hero... if, you know, she can figure out exactly what that means.
Next week, as the whole Gotham family of DC titles gears up for the Batman: Fear State event, Rossmo will take a step back and hand penciling duties over to Laura Braga for Harley Quinn #6, an issue that lays a lot of the groundwork for awaits Harley in the months ahead while also delivering an extremely entertaining team-up between Harley and Alleytown's resident costumed icon, Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. For Phillips, it's an opportunity to play with a dynamic that's been in the back of her mind since the days of Joker War, when the two characters had a brief but memorable interaction.
"Harley is extremely interested in Selina and actually quite admires her. Selina feels almost exactly the opposite," Phillips told SYFY WIRE. "She’s dealing with the Magistrate and has her own things going on, so she really doesn’t have the time or the mental bandwidth to deal with Harley Quinn essentially showing up on her doorstep unannounced. That dynamic was a ton of fun to write, and I think leads to some pretty comedic moments between the two."
In the exclusive preview pages below, you can see what it looks like when Harley and Selina meet again in Alleytown, where Catwoman takes down some Magistrate goons in the process of figuring out exactly why Harley has wandered onto her turf.
As you can see, there's a lot of comedy at work in these pages, in part because of Harley's natural narrative tone, but Phillips also teased a certain degree of tension. Catwoman left Gotham for Alleytown for a reason, after all, and her self-imposed isolation doesn't go unnoticed by Harley.
"There’s a kind of apathy that is actually self-defense for Selina – if you don’t care about anything, you can’t get hurt. This is another reason I was really excited to have Selina and Harley interact," Phillips explained. "They are at such different places following the Joker War, that I wanted to juxtapose that and watch them try to reconcile with the tension. At points, it definitely allows for comedic relief that they are coming from different places, but Harley also sees something sad about Selina’s pain. It really helps Harley define her own position to hear Selina’s."
In the weeks ahead, these two characters will join the rest of the extended Bat-family in the events of Fear State, as the Scarecrow attempts to coax Gotham City into a new evolution by driving the city into sheer terror. For Harley, that means a lot of plot payoff in the coming issues, whether we're talking about a long-awaited Poison Ivy reunion, a battle with new villain Keepsake, or something else entirely.
"Harley is balancing a lot at the moment – running a support group, helping Batman, trying to find her own legs as a hero against Hugo Strange, and looking for Ivy. At some point, that’s all a bit too much for any one former-psychologist-dressed-as-a-clown (no matter how well dressed!)," Phillips teased. "We’re going to see all these threads start to come to a head, as well as see how Keepsake plans to establish himself in Gotham. So, we’re introducing Keepsake further into Harley’s universe, while also celebrating a Gotham City Sirens reunion in the midst of what’s happening in Gotham. I think someone forgot to tell Harley she’s not supposed to be having this much fun in the middle of Fear State…"
Harley Quinn #6 is on sale August 24.
Marvel's next Avengers epic
Though it's often been positioned as the book at the center of the Marvel Universe, Avengers has rarely felt more like it actually is the center of the universe than it has during writer Jason Aaron's ambitious tenure on the title. If you haven't read this run, which has so far covered everything from a Celestial invasion to a vampire war to selecting a new host for the Phoenix Force, you're missing an epic full of big swings, big characters, and big arcs. This November, Marvel's driving that point home once again with a massive anniversary issue.
This year marks the release of Avengers #750, a major milestone for the book that first launched back in 1963 and has since run through all manner of reimaginings and team lineups. To commemorate it, Aaron is embarking on a whopping 96-page journey with several of the artists who've joined him on the run so far -- including Ed McGuinness, Javier Garron, Aaron Kuder, and Carlos Pacheco. Along the way, the giant-sized issue will cover everything from the conclusion of the "World War She-Hulk" arc to the most vital tale of the Prehistoric Avengers yet. Oh, and those new villains introduced in the Free Comic Book Day issue? They'll get a larger introduction as The Multiversal Masters of Evil.
“It's such an honor to be a part of issue #750 of Avengers, and I'm looking to celebrate the rich history of the title and its iconic characters by using this issue as the gargantuan-sized kick-off for a story that'll be as wildly sweeping and swing-for-the-fences epic as it can possibly be,” Aaron said in a statement. “It's not just that everything I've been doing in the last 50 issues of Avengers has been leading to this, but there are threads feeding into the next year's worth of stories that stretch back to most every major series I've ever written in my 15 years at Marvel Comics.”
So, I know that every Marvel press release features a member of the creative team talking about why they're excited and why the book is important, but here's the thing: When Jason Aaron tells you that he's going to pay off things he's been seeding at Marvel for a decade and a half, you damn well better listen. Aaron's work on everything from Wolverine and the X-Men to Thor to Doctor Strange has made him one of the most consequential creators in recent Marvel history, and he hasn't taken being given the keys to the publisher's biggest team lightly. His Avengers run is on track to be an all-timer, and this might just end up being the cornerstone of it.
If you're one of those people who's interested in charting the larger trajectory of the Marvel Universe as it unfolds, don't miss this book when it lands in November.
More news: Bendis at Dark Horse, Hickman's X-Men departure, and more!
- It's a time of big creators making big moves in the creator-owned space, and this week we learned about another one. Dark Horse Comics announced that Brian Michael Bendis is taking his creator-owned imprint Jinxworld over to them this year after a brief stay at DC Comics, where Bendis has been busy for the last few years on major superhero work. The move will see the launch of the brand-new sci-fi series Joy Operations with artist Stephen Byrne this November, and will also include new chapters of creator-owned titles like Pearl, Cover, and Murder Inc., along with new collections of previous Jinxworld releases like Powers. At a time when creator-owned comics are arguably as hot (or hotter) as they've ever been, one of the biggest names in the game saw an opportunity, and it's worth paying attention as these new titles roll out. For more on Bendis' Jinxworld plans, you can check out Dark Horse's official launch video.
- Speaking of big moves by big creators, another key departure was revealed over at Marvel this week when "Head of X" Jonathan Hickman announced that the upcoming Inferno event will be his last major work as the mastermind of Marvel's X-line. After that event, which launches next month, Hickman will leave Krakoa in the capable hands of his many co-creators -- including names like Gerry Duggan, Tini Howard, Si Spurrier, and more -- while moving on to creator-owned work like his new Substack imprint, as well as still-undisclosed "bigger books that have a wider reach" at Marvel. For more on what that means, and what the future of the X-line will look like in Hickman's absence, check out EW's exclusive report.
- Over at DC Comics this week, the publisher announced a move into yet another publishing space via a new partnership with Webtoon, which will create new original webcomics set in the DC Universe, designed for fans at any knowledge level. For DC, who's seen a lot of success in recent years adapting its characters to the young readers market, putting out digital first books, and releasing easily digestible new series through retailers like Walmart, it feels like a logical step in the direction of finding a new audience where it's most comfortable. Webtoon readers will be able to access these stories instantly on their phones, and if they get hooked, they'll hopefully head to their local ship to grab a trade or two. It'll be interesting to see where DC characters go in this format as the partnership rolls out.
- On to new series reveals. This week Vault Comics announced a comic I can't possibly pass up: Lunar Room from writer Danny Lore and artist Gio Sposito. A genre mash-up following a former mob enforcer who also happens to be a werewolf, the book will combine Lore's well-known love of werewolves (seriously, they love werewolves) with Sposito's killer art for a "wonderfully unsubtle" story. It has all the right ingredients for me to fall in love, and it's out in November. For more, check out Newsarama's exclusive reveal.
- Over at AfterShock Comics this week, the publisher unveiled Croak, a new dark fantasy series with an incredible hook. Written by Paul Tobin (Bunny Mask) and drawn by Andy MacDonald (I Breathed a Body), the book is set in a world where an attempt to weaponize dreams led to rifts forming between our world and the dream world. So, there are nightmarish creatures just.... walking around in the real world, and the only way to fight them is to make dreams come true. Which means for one unlucky monster hunter, it's time to save the world and find true love at the same. I can't wait to see how that plays out. The book launches in November, and you can read more at AfterShock's website.
New comics: Kang, Eat the Rich, Killer Queens, and more!
That's the news. Now let's talk about some of the comics I got excited about this week.
Kang the Conqueror #1: It's safe to say that, thanks to the MCU, Kang the Conqueror is about to get very popular among a larger audience, so it's smart for Marvel to deliver a new series fans can pick up if they'd like to learn more about the legendary villain. But Kang the Conqueror, from writers Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing and artist Carlos Magno, is much more than a straightforward introduction to the character, or even a more predictable showdown between Kang and the Avengers. No, this is something altogether more ambitious, and it just might turn out to be one of the most fascinating new series Marvel drops this year.
Framed around the idea that an older Kang travels back to his young self to teach him a thing or two, Kang #1 offers plenty of opportunities for Kelly and Lanzing to send readers down memory line with the title character, but every time the book could make a less interesting, stiffer choice, it veers off into the new and exciting. Anchored by Magno's time-spanning, epic art, the book charts that is almost Biblical in scope, yet intimate in approach, a look inside the mind of one of Marvel's most enigmatic bad guys from not one perspective, but two. It's one of the most exciting first issues I've read all year, and promises a series that will offer a bold new vision of Kang for new and practiced readers alike.
Eat the Rich #1: I've written many times about the virtues of comics as a medium for effective horror storytelling, and if you want a particularly potent example of it this week, you should reach for Eat the Rich #1 from writer Sarah Gailey and artist Pius Bak. The setup is relatively simple: A young woman heads out to spend the summer with her boyfriend and his rich parents, only to find when she gets there that these particularly rich people live a little more strangely, and perhaps a little more violently, than she anticipated.
The less said about exactly where that goes, the better, but from the very beginning this comic establishes itself as a masterclass in horror craft. Gailey's dialogue is tailored for efficiency and vulnerability all at once, giving us rapid fire character insights even as it ratchets up the tension. That tension continues into the book's incredible pacing, as it builds perfectly from "something's not quite right" to "OK, that's unsettling" to "Oh my God!" over the course of a single issue, something established and enhanced repeatedly by Bak's art. His panels, both in terms of framing and expressiveness and in terms of perspective as he shifts from tight close-ups to wide angles, are horror comics done right. This is a book that reads as something immensely sure of itself, and the result is one of the most unnerving horror comics I've read this year.
God of Tremors: Speaking of great horror comics, AfterShock's also got a new one out this week, and it's also an excellent example of doing the genre right in the comics form. Written by Peter Milligan and drawn by Piotr Kowalski, God of Tremors sets out to a single nerve-shredding story over the course of one oversized issue, and succeeds spectacularly.
The tale of a boy caught between bouts of epilepsy and a brutally devout father, God of Tremors is a collision of faiths, whether we're talking about science vs. religion or Christianity vs. paganism. Right away, that sense of ideals, concerns, and fears colliding with one another makes the book into an all-out assault on the sense, as Milligan and Kowalski work in concert to make the reader feel as shaken and desperate for answers as their young hero. By the time those answers come, we're so primed for horror that we can't stop turning the pages. From Kowalski's brutal, deeply human art to Milligan's tight, emotional scripting, God of Tremors is another horror success from AfterShock.
Killer Queens #1: Killer Queens is one of those books you just want to dive into and live in, and sci-fi comedy adventure with instantly engaging characters, gorgeous design work, and the kind of storytelling that's at once comfortable and surprising. Written by David Booher with art by Claudia Balboni, the book follows a pair of former intergalactic assassins as they try to both duck their angry former boss and look for new, non-lethal jobs that'll keep them paid while they figure out the next phase of their lives. This is, of course, easier said than done, and there's a sense of seat-of-your-parents realism to that in-between life phases idea that Booher's script conveys effortlessly, and with layers of breezy character building. The real star, though, is Balboni's art, which takes Strange Adventures retrofuturism and dials it up to 11 through some thoroughly modern panel compositions and action sequences. This is The Jetsons meets Gunpowder Milkshake, and that's as much fun as it sounds.
Shazam! #2: The best Shazam comics are the ones that focus on the inherent kid-ness of the character and build those struggles right alongside the superhero ones, and the current Shazam! series from writer Tim Sheridan and artist Clayton Henry is one of those comics. Starring a version of Billy Batson who's been having trouble manifesting his powers lately, the book is a beautifully balanced narrative set in the world of DC's Teen Titans Academy, able to focus on the superhero stuff and the teenager stuff with ease and warmth. Henry's art is perfectly suited to that particular blend, especially here in the second issue as Billy and a new friend head down to the underworld on a mission, and Sheridan's script is full of the same deft marriage of youthful energy and superheroic scope. If you're looking for a contained, thrilling, grand-scale Shazam adventure that also has a great grasp on who Billy Batson is and what his struggles are, you need this four-issue mini your life.
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."