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SYFY WIRE Comics Wire

Comics Wire: Exclusive - Meet Heavy Metal's 'Female Indiana Jones in space,' Milestone returns, new Aquaman & more

By Matthew Jackson
Adrienne James Heavy Metal

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.

Sometimes all you need to get excited about a story is a very short, but very compelling hook, and for his new book The Adventures of Adrienne James, Matthew Medney came up with an especially good one: "Female Indiana Jones in space."

That's the seed that Medney, co-writer Bruce Edwards, and artist Geraldo Borges eventually grew into the latest ambitious sci-fi adventure to land in the pages of Heavy Metal magazine. Beginning today with Heavy Metal #307 and continuing every two months, Adrienne James' story of factions of treasure hunters battling for the same cosmic prize will launch readers into a world that's equal parts Indiana Jones, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Medney's own other ongoing Heavy Metal sci-fi adventure, Dark Wing. In the gallery below, we are pleased to reveal an exclusive look at Borges' sweeping sci-fi vistas within the first chapter, which you can pick up right now.

Though "female Indiana Jones in space" is certainly eye-catching, Medney and his co-creators also wanted to push the storytelling deeper, something that emerged as the worldbuilding for the series was fleshed out.

"It takes place in Andromeda, our sister galaxy," Medney told SYFY WIRE. "We wanted to make the setting relatable but its own. The world is based off the simple premise of ‘what if art was the currency of trade?’ We used this idea to spawn off an entire world based off the emotional value of art. We think it’s an important parable for society today. Art is what built our culture, and the commoditization of art has its benefits and its darkness. We see The Adventures of Adrienne James as a vehicle to ignite conversation around this topic."

In that spirit, Adrienne James shows us a galaxy obsessed with exotic treasure, and particularly obsessed with one specific artifact that could grant its bearer control over the whole cosmos. For the title character, who's just ascended to leadership of her own faction of hunters, trying to find it will be the greatest adventure of her life. What follows is a story packed with quips, intrigue, spaceships, and alien species, which jump off the page through Borges' art.

"Geraldo has a way of weaving in angles and moments that draw you in and do not let you go. He has a sensibility of importance that draws your eyes to pivotal places on the page without any effort. It’s magical," Medney said. "Felipe [Sobreiro], our colorist, is also incredible. His gradient adds a sense of wonder to the pages. Both of these fine artists are Brasilian like me, and I thought that was a pretty cool part of this story — 3 Brasilians coming together for an intergalactic space adventure published in America. What a time to be alive."

The other key ingredient to the Adrienne James creative team? Edwards, who also worked with Medney on Dark Wing and brought his own storytelling instincts to bear on this world as well.

"I love his perspective on storytelling. The adventure dynamics we’ve created together for Adrienne James are just incredible," Medney said of his co-writer. "He and I are so complementary. His ability to really think outside of the box and uniquely, while still leaning mainstream, is a gift."

The Adventures of Adrienne James arrives at a particularly busy time for Medney. The fifth installment of Dark Wing is out in the world right now, and the first five chapters will be collected into an oversized single-issue under Heavy Metal's new "Unstable Elements" banner at the end of this month. Next month his sci-fi novel Beyond Kuiper: The Galactic Edition, co-written with John Connelly, arrives in stores, and on top of all of that, he's still finding time to serve as CEO of Heavy Metal, shepherding the stories of other creators as well as his own.

"I always say, I am a writer and creative first, and a CEO second," Medney said. "It is so important to me to nurture my characters and breathe life into them to share them with the world, and since I am so entrenched in my love for characters and worlds, I find it to be a great joy of my life to be able to collaborate, inspire and work every day with the incredible creatives we publish at Heavy Metal."

The first chapter of The Adventures of Adrienne James is available now, and will be released as a standalone single-issue in Heavy Metal's "Elements" line on August 11.

Milestone is finally back at DC

This week, after nearly a year of anticipation and years of speculation before that, the Milestone Universe is finally back, for real, with a new line of comics from DC uniting some of the original voices behind Milestone with a group of newcomers to the characters. To say it's been a long time coming is, for a lot of fans, quite an understatement, but at last the "Milestone Returns" era is here with the launch of Static: Season One, and the promise of two more Milestone miniseries to follow later this summer.

We'll have more on Static and his rather successful revival further down in the column, but for the moment I just wanted to pause for a second and take stock of what this rollout means. That Milestone, one of the most vital comics movements of the past 30 years, has returned in any form is welcome news, but it's especially welcome in the context with which it's arriving right now. For one thing, there's the merging of old and new talent on the books, but for another there's the level of access and ease of reading DC is hoping to give these titles. The publisher announced back in the spring that each Milestone book will be available in comics shops, digitally, and through DC Universe Infinite on the same day, cutting out the waiting period for subscription service readers and hopefully boosting the profile of the books. It's a smart move, particularly with Icon and Rocket rolling out in July and Hardware arriving in August.

More than that, though, there's a real opportunity here for DC to continue to not just back up its talk of supporting Black voices in comics (something we've also seen through books like Represent!), but also to expand that support. There really is a whole universe lurking in the pages of these new Milestone books, waiting to be expanding and explored by both established and emerging voices in comics, and if DC keeps its foot on the gas there's no telling how far that universe might go. The Milestone Returns era is here, and my sincerest hope is that its publisher, and we as comics fans, won't let it end anytime soon.

More news: A Hero Initiative anthology, Ka-Zar, and more!

HELP Hero Initiative

- We've written many times in this column about the fundraising efforts behind The Hero Initiative, the incredible nonprofit set up to provide financial and other assistance to comics creators in need. It's a great cause, and it's bolstered by the continued contributions of some of the best creators working in comics today. This week, those contributions reached a new height with the launch of HELP: The Hero Initiative Anthology, a new collection of one-page comics stories the launched a Kickstarter campaign Tuesday and quickly blew past its initial fundraising goal. Featuring stories by everyone from Kieron Gillen to Magdalene Visaggio to Tim Seeley, the anthology created by Omar Spahi and Hannah Means-Shannon began during COVID-19 lockdowns last year as a potential way to help comics retailers in need, and has since expanded its mission through a Hero Initiative partnership. For more on the project, as well as a peek at some of the stories, head over to the Kickstarter page. You can grab a digital copy of the anthology for 10 bucks.

- I first discovered Joshua Hixson's astonishing work on the Vault Comics horror series The Plot (a must-read in my book) and this week his next project got me just as excited as that book did. Dark Horse Comics announced that Hixson and co-creator Joe Ciano have teamed up for Children of the Woods, a new horror-mystery with a years-in-the-making story of revenge, monsters, and magic lurking in the deep, dark woods. The creative team alone is enough to hook me, but the teaser art certainly helped. The book's out in January.

- Speaking of creators I dig moving on to exciting new work, Lonely Receiver and I Breathed a Body writer Zac Thompson also announced a new project this week, this one over at Marvel. The publisher revealed on Monday that Thompson and artist Germán Garcia will team up for Ka-Zar: Lord of the Savage Land, a new limited series that follows the evolution of the title character in the wake of the events of Empyre, and which Thompson himself compared to Immortal Hulk with an adventure pulp twist. If anyone can pull that off, it's him. The first issue arrives in September, and you can check out some creepy preview art on Marvel's website.

- We were promised more stories focusing on DC Comics' LGBTQ+ characters in the wake of DC Pride, and this week we got some exciting news on that front. As The Hollywood Reporter revealed, this September will see the launch of Aquaman: The Becoming, a new Jackson Hyde-focused series from Brandon Thomas and Diego Olortegui that will, as the title suggests, follow Jackson as he comes into his heroic own without necessarily holding onto the Aqualad mantle. Hopefully this means we're also one step closer to a JLQ series.

- Oh, and in case you missed it, the Eisner Award nominations were announced last week. There are a lot of comics I admire on the list, but I'm not-so-secretly pulling for a Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen clean sweep.

New comics: StaticPlanet-Size X-Men, and more!

Static Season 1 Cover

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

Static: Season One #1: Relaunching the Milestone Universe (after a prologue one-shot) with Static as the first major character to get an ongoing series out of the gate has felt like an obvious choice ever since the Milestone founders announced last year that their characters would be returning via DC Comics. And honestly, the obvious could have continued from there. Take the most recognizable character in your arsenal, pick some recognizable creators to take him on, and push out a book that feels exactly like the comics fans remember, or even exactly like the animated series even more fans remember. It could have all simply been a big dose of obvious, and it might have worked.

Instead, by choosing writer Vita Ayala and artists Nikolas Draper-Ivey and ChrisCross to relaunch Virgil Hawkins' adventures, and by rooting Milestone in a distinctly 2021 place, Static: Season One #1 becomes an invigorating blend of old and new. Virgil's still front and center, as are several key members of his supporting cast, and he's still got his recognizable powers and surroundings. Ayala and Draper-Ivey, both newcomers to the Milestone world, celebrate the original adventures of the character, and it shows through this story of Virgil coming to grips with his powers and his new status quo through the lens of an encounter with a super-powered bully.

But what really makes Static: Season One's debut shine is the less obvious touches, the things that sing with Ayala and Draper-Ivey's personal passions for both the character and for superhero storytelling in general. Ayala's script manages to pull off an astonishing balance of comedy and tragedy, capturing the lightness we remember from the Static Shock days while also never shying from the darkness clinging to Virgil's powers and how he came to have them.

Draper-Ivey and Cross's action sequences likewise carry a celebratory tone, bringing both vibrance and even nerdy, character-driven invention to Virgil's first superhero battles, but then the book goes deeper. We see not just Virgil the conflicted teen or Virgil the budding superhero, but Virgil the scared kid, Virgil the anxious son, Virgil the troubled brother, Virgil the loyal friend, and the art conveys it all with grace and style. Static: Season One #1 is a thrilling superhero adventure, but its true breakthrough as a comic for this moment heralding a new Milestone era lies in these honest, enthusiastic character touches. It feels like the start of something powerful and, if you'll pardon the pun, electrifying.

Adora and the DistanceListen to Marc Bernardin talk or read his writing about story structure, character, and tonal balance even for a few minutes and you understand that the man has a deep reserve of wisdom when it comes to narrative. Whether it's through his podcasting, his screenwriting, or his journalism (Full disclosure: Marc and I used to work together), Bernardin is one of those guys who's able to see the gears in the clock, reach inside, and set the squeaky bits to working better, even if it's not a story he's working on directly.

That's an amazing talent to have, but it can come off as cold calculation, as storytelling algebra, without the emotion to back it up. Adora and the Distance, the new graphic novel written by Bernardin with art by Ariela Kristantina, proves once and for all that there's nothing cold about Bernardin's storytelling wisdom. Warm, jubilant, and packed with jaw-droppingly gorgeous art, this fantasy graphic novel is a must-read for both kids and adults, particularly those who may sometimes feel like their children might be off somewhere else, fighting a battle they can't see.

The story follows the adventures of the title character, a young girl in a faraway land, who realizes that some mysterious force known as "The Distance" is calling to her, threatening to consume all she knows unless she confronts it. So, Adora teams up with a merry band of warriors from across surrounding kingdoms, and they set off on an epic quest.

The high stakes of the quest, the diverse cast, and the fantasy landscape all give Kristantina room to absolutely lay bare her extraordinary talent for both close-up character work and gorgeous fairy tale vistas. There are echoes of Colleen Doran's work here, and Charles Vess's triumphant work on Sandman, and of course plenty that is entirely Kristantina's own vibrance shining through it all. The script is equally impressive, blending Bernardin's knack for narrative and structure with a deeply rooted sense of meaning and emotion, never sacrificing one for the other. It's heartfelt without being overly saccharine, deep without being pretentious, meaningful without being obvious. It's everything you could want from this kind of story and more, and an absolute triumph from this creative team.

Planet-Size X-Men #1: I've written at length in previous columns about how impressed I've been with the continued level of ambition and attention to detail coming out of Marvel's X-books in the Krakoa era, and while I don't feel the need to rehash too much of that praise here, you should know that it's still very much going strong. The X-line isn't just maintaining something consistent in the post-Dawn of X age. It's actively reaching for more with each passing event, building on itself like a sturdy tower that seems destined to reach the stars.

Planet-Size X-Men, the new one-shot from X-line mainstays writer Gerry Guggan and artist Pepe Larraz, is the latest piece of that massive, massive superstructural plan. I'm hesitant to tell you too much about what's actually going on in this book, other than to say it involves the Hellfire Gala and what the mutants of Krakoa have been hoping to achieve during that event. It really is something that has to be read to be believed, in part because of the sheer scope of the story and in part because of the level of craft applied. Duggan, who broke through at Marvel with stuff like Deadpool, just keeps upping his game as a grand-scale storyteller, and it's clear reading this why he's going from Marauders to leading the flagship X-Men title later this year.

And as for Larraz... well, I can't imagine anyone better to draw something of this scope. He's consistently delivered some of the best X-Men art of this or any era over the past two years, and even with all of that past work in mind he's on another level here. Even if you haven't been paying as much attention to the X-Men line lately, this might be the book that jolts you back into interest. And if you have been paying attention, well... get ready for the next level.

Compass #1: There's a healthy crop of historical comics out in the world right now, but a part of me is always a little bummed there aren't more of them. After all, you can take your comic pretty much anywhere and your visual budget is only as small as your art team's imagination and dedication, so why not dig deep and tell us tales of far away places and times that don't necessarily have a lot of superpowers in them? Which brings me to Compass, a new series from writers Robert Mackenzie and Dave Walker and artist Justin Greenwood that packs a ton of history you might have not known into a thrilling, action-laden first issue that'll win over everyone from fans of Kingdom of Heaven to fans of Indiana Jones.

The book follows Shahidah, a scholar and adventurer from Baghdad, as she journeys to Medieval Britain from her native land's House of Wisdom in search of a legendary artifact. As we meet her, she's already deep into the journey, but everything's about to get a lot more complicated, because it turns out she's definitely not the only person on the hunt.

Mackenzie and Walker pack a ton of historical and character detail into the space of a single first-issue script, but none of it ever seems to weigh the story down. It's all carefully placed, built with care and precision like an ancient house of worship that's still standing today, that you can't help but feel like you're in the hands of supremely confident storytellers. Greenwood's art is rich with that same level of detail, and in his hands the book's adventure elements shine through to create a pure page-turner. I loved this book and I can't wait to see what the second issue holds. I might even do a little research reading on the side while I wait.

Save Yourself #1: What if Sailor Moon was real but she was maybe only pretending to be on your side? That's the hook at the root of Save Yourself, a new series from writer Bones Leopard and artist Kelly and Nichole Matthews that immediately establishes an intriguing and playful sense of mythology, then shifts into a compelling character piece.

In a world captivated by the heroes known as The Lovely Trio, Gigi is drifting through existence, trying to pretend she's handling tragedy well when really she's mostly just playing video games. Everything changes, though, when a close encounter with The Lovely Trio reveals things are not necessarily as they seem, and the real fight the world is facing might be much more complicated.

From Leopard's script to the Matthews' art, everything about Save Yourself evokes a very particular kind of magical girl storytelling aesthetic, then twists it immediately in ways both playful and wise. Leopard's characters are richly textured with vulnerability, and the art stuns through both wonderful design work and character acting that has a light, witty touch but somehow still conveys every emotion you'd like it to. This is a superb debut that marks the start of a new riff on a very well-trodden subgenre.

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."