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SYFY WIRE Comics Wire

Comics Wire: Exclusive - Heavy Metal launches sci-fi tale Black Beacon; DC's Pride special; Trial of Magneto & more!

By Matthew Jackson

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.

Heavy Metal magazine has been a force for some of the most ambitious sci-fi storytelling in comics for decades, and this week they'll add one more saga in that long legacy. Today, Comics Wire is pleased to present an exclusive preview of Black Beacon, a new six-part miniseries from the reunited Headspace team of writer Ryan K. Lindsay and artist Sebastián Píriz, that will launch today in the pages of Heavy Metal #306.

A science fiction saga that feels simultaneously expansive and intimate, Black Beacon is set on a massive Dyson sphere packed with cosmic refugees from various alien races who all answered the call of a mysterious beacon that promised them a better life. But when a human historian named Niko lands on the massive station, she finds it overcrowded and overwhelming, and realizes she may have arrived far too late to find the refuge that was offered. Together with a space cop named Bar, Niko will have to navigate the various cultures, threats and secrets of this strange and vast cosmic outpost, all while harboring some secrets of her own.

According to Lindsay, the story began with Píriz, who approached him with the start of something that quickly grew in both of their minds into an ambitious sci-fi saga.

"The idea is fairly simple in conception: what if humans traveled across the universe because a message told them to come to find something more, to connect with other cultures?" Lindsay explained. "And then what if humans turned up only to find the meeting grounds were full of common crooks and the leftovers of other societies, and now these humans are stranded there?

"The whole thing is ripe for unpacking. We have so much scope with this meeting ground being a Dyson Sphere built around a star, and then we have every and any alien species we want to create living on plates in this location. The moment Seb pitched it to me, I knew we had something really special."

Once the story began taking shape, Píriz set to work on building Black Beacon's world, which in the first issue alone covers everything from strange new alien species to futuristic weapons to far flung space cults and flora and fauna, even as the story still revolves around the rather personal journeys of Niko and Bar.

"When it comes to the actual art coming in, I can’t count how many times I’ve had to respond to Seb with 'I love this page!' His overall design skills are awesome. There are a bunch of pages in this first chapter where I think Seb’s done something special. But then there are little beats where he excels, slight moments of connection between two characters, or foreign establishing shots where it’s a rectangular snapshot of narrative perfection. Seb is a true creative genius, and I’m just happy he’s taking me along for the ride."

In the gallery below, you'll see what Lindsay is referring to, as Píriz's panels cover everything from massive space-scapes to intimate interactions.

Píriz's art displays a wide range of sci-fi influences as he puts together the wild world of Black Beacon through creatures and landscapes, spaceships and fight scenes, and the influences are just as diverse on the writing side. Though there are certainly plenty of grand-scale sci-fi stories to choose from when you're talking about forebears, Lindsay also noted Black Beacon often owes just as much to crime dramas and hard-boiled detective yarns.

"There are those big tentpole ideas that went into the mix at first, Contact and Sunshine, but then I wanted to dig a little deeper for my own personal connection. I was thinking of a crime story, a kind of criminal empire cover-up story, so I thought about how the Coen Brothers weave plots and characters in their more serious films. I wondered how far one person would go to investigate a new world, and that led me to old P.I. stories from Chandler and Hammett and Keene."

This intriguing stew of influences and ideas and bold storytelling all combines to make Black Beacon an instantly engaging blend of sci-fi spectacle and human drama, even when only one of the characters in any given scene is human. The legacy of great sci-fi in Heavy Metal continues with this story, which you can pick up right now in the 306th issue of the magazine. Black Beacon will continue appearing in Heavy Metal up until issue #312 (skipping #311 for Heavy Metal's 2021 Halloween special, and will be released both as single issues through Heavy Metal's Elements line of comics and as a trade paperback in 2022.

A peek at DC Pride

Next month is Pride Month, which means various comics publishers are rolling out stories highlighting their LGBTQ+ characters and creators, and so far there's been an encouraging sense of new-ness emerging at both Marvel and DC comics. Earlier this week Marvel revealed that an all-new character called Somnus will launch in its Marvel's Voices: Pride special on June 23, and last week DC Comics rolled out a first-look at its own DC Pride special, which looks to highlight a number of emerging faces in the DC Universe, including a brand-new team of LGBTQ+ heroes and the comic book debut of a Supergirl favorite.

There are a lot of reasons to get excited about DC Pride, one reason being that DC has just generally done an excellent job of putting oversized anthologies together lately, but for me personally, I'm very eager to see more of Jess Chambers (the non-binary speedster introduced during Future State), to meet the JLQ (the all-queer Justice League team teased during DC Round Robin voting earlier this year), and to read Nicole Maines' DC Comics writing debut as she scripts her own character, Dreamer, who will be appearing on the comics page for the first time.

In the gallery above, you can get a peek at all of this and more as part of DC's first look at the anthology. For more information on DC Pride and the other Pride Month festivities at DC (including the Crush and Lobo miniseries launch), head over to DC's websiteDC Pride is in stores June 8. 

More news: God of TremorsThe Trial of Magneto, and more.

God of Tremors cover

- I'm always paying attention when AfterShock Comics announces a new title, and Tuesday they dropped one that sounds right up my alley. God of Tremors hails from writer Peter Milligan and artist Piotr Kowalski, and tells the story of a young boy in Victorian England who is left isolated and terrified after experiencing his first epileptic seizure and being withdrawn to a manor house by his renowned vicar father. It sounds like a combination of folk horror and Victorian nightmare, and I already can't wait to read it when it drops in August. For more details, including Milligan's rather personal inspirations for the story, check out AfterShock's website.

- Marvel's spent a lot of time promoting the hell (pun intended) out of the upcoming Hellfire Gala in the X-line over the last few weeks, and now we have our first glimpse of what comes after that. The publisher revealed this week that X-Factor writer Leah Williams and Empyre: X-Men artist Lucas Werneck will team for The Trial of Magneto, a five-issue miniseries launching in August that will revolve around murder, secrets, and Magneto's ever-present sense of justice. It's yet another sign that the ambition in the X office hasn't let up yet, and you can find out more over at Marvel's website.

- Calling all Avatar: The Last Airbender fans. Dark Horse Comics announced this week that Wednesday, May 19, it will host a livestreaming event reuniting several stars from the original animated series for a live reading of selections from the Avatar graphic novel Toph Beifong's Metalbending Academy. The cast will also answer questions alongside the books' creators Faith Erin Hicks and Peter Wartman, give away copies of the book, and more. For details on how to tune in, check out Dark Horse's website.

Comics this week: DC Festival of Heroes, X-Corp, Time Before Time, and more!

DC Festival of Heroes #1: Good anthology one-shots have the power to remind you as you're reading them that, no matter how narrow you might think the focus of the anthology's theme is, between the covers there's a whole universe of possibilities. The editors at DC Comics have long known this about their various oversized one-shots, and they consistently put out great stuff, but even among those other successes DC Festival of Heroes feels like a special book. You might go in with a pre-set list of the Asian superheroes you think you're going to see, and you might think you understand the kinds of stories you might see them in, but with each and every tale this spectacular collection is capable of surprising, moving, and dazzling you with the sheer breadth of its talent and thematic explorations.

Featuring nearly a dozen stories and expanding to include pinups, character bios, and a moving introduction by Jeff Yang, Festival of Heroes treats us to a series of precisely told, beautifully rendered stories that center on heroes ranging from Cassandra Cain to Connor Hawke, Tai Pham to Katana, and perhaps the best thing about the anthology is you can never tell from one story to the next exactly what you're about to get. In one entry, Minh Lê and Trung Le Nguyen merge traditional Vietnamese clothing with the mythology of the Green Lantern Corps, and in another, Mariko Tamaki and Marcus To explore what happens when Cassandra Cain really starts to find her voice, while in the title story Amy Chu and Marcio Takara take a ripped from the headlines approach to tell a story of anti-Asian hate that morphs beautifully into a celebration of inclusion. Each story is special, each story is refined down to a clear emotional core, and each one represents a different facet not just of these characters, but of superhero storytelling as a whole.

Then, of course, there's Monkey Prince, the new Asian superhero created by Gene Luen Yang and Bernard Chang. In his debut story, this shapeshifting, wise-cracking teen hero immediately makes his presence felt in an adventure that feels simultaneously like a classic DC Comics tale and like something timeless, emerging out of myth to merge with the modern superhero landscape. It ends with the promise that we'll see more of this fresh-yet-ancient new character, and it's a promise that DC should absolutely keep, because Monkey Prince has the potential to be something truly captivating for a long time to come.

X-Corp #1: I've written before about how fascinated I am with the way mutant society continues to build itself out in the Krakoan age of X-Men comics, and all the various wrinkles the creators behind the line have found to mine the new mutant experience. What could have been an amusing gimmick has instead become a fully realized world dreamed up by some of the best creators in the game right now, and that continues this week with X-Corp, the new mutant book from Excalibur writer Tini Howard and artist Alberto Foche.

As the name suggests, this is a book about the corporate side of the Krakoan nation in the wake of the pharmaceutical breakthroughs that allowed them to set down roots (pun intended) with their own nation in the first place. With that victory now firmly in the past, it's time for the X-Corporation to launch the next phase of its life, and Warren Worthington III and Monet St. Croix are the high-powered corporate leaders on the front line, ready to make that happen.

The first issue is mostly concerned with the often conflicting philosophies of Warren and Monet as the former heads off to settle a dispute with an old business partner and the latter begins staffing up the X-Corp board. The very nature of the conflicts here, and the corporate stakes that help form the foundation of the book, mean that Howard and Foche have to spend a lot of time with well-dressed people who are just standing around and talking to each other, which is always a risk in a superhero book. Thankfully, they both have the gifts to pull it off. Howard's dialogue crackles with wit and a lean sense of efficiency as she's able to convey both macro and micro conflicts all at once, while Foche's pencil work brings both the core characters and the supporting cast into sharp, dynamic focus. It all builds to a beautifully realized climax that helps set up the conflicts beyond the board room, and by the end of the issue I was absolutely hooked. It's a new frontier in a line of comics that somehow still hasn't run out of new frontiers, and I'm ready to follow where it leads.

Time Before Time #1: Some debut issues fill their entire page count with setup, building to a conclusion that essentially leads you into the premise that made you pick the book up in the first place while barely scraping the surface of the synopsis that helped sell you the book. Others dive right in to such a fierce extent that you realize halfway through reading it that the synopsis you read was just the beginning. Either approach works just fine, but the latter is often quite a bit riskier, and that increases the reward when it's done well. Which brings us to Time Before Time, a new Image Comics sci-fi series that dives headlong into its wild time-hopping premise and does it very, very well.

Written by Declan Shalvey and Rory McConville and drawn by Joe Palmer, the series follows two friends who work for the Syndicate, a future crime organization who will smuggle people back in time to live out their lives in the more placid past, for a price. Business is booming, but the grind of the job is getting to Tatsuo and Oscar, and they begin to feel like they could use a little of the Syndicate's time-smuggling tech for themselves. Of course, they'll have to steal it first.

The dynamic, fast-paced and expertly crafted first issue plays out like a thrilling hybrid of Looper and A Better Tomorrow, as two friends agonize over a plan that might get them a better life, only to find more than a few wrenches thrown into their scheme along the way. Palmer's art, heightened by some amazing color work from Chris O'Halloran, brings the constantly evolving nature of the story into sharper focus as we shift from time period to time period, season to season, danger to danger. By the end the story has become something entirely different from what it was when it started, and that means we get something truly thrilling out of this debut: A story in which we really don't know what happens next. It's a hell of a way to start a series, and I can't wait to read on.

Silver City #1: Silver City is one of those books that I've been eager to check out ever since AfterShock announced the premise, and now that I've read the first issue, I'm happy to say it didn't disappoint. In fact, this is one of those examples of a story that's willing and eager to grow well beyond the high-concept hook that draws you in, and it feels like the beginning of a much bigger, grander story.

Written by Olivia Cuartero-Briggs and drawn by Luca Merli, the city follows a newcomer to the title city, a sprawling and dingy representation of the afterlife where people try to carve out a new existence for themselves when life as they knew it is over. In this world of dark dealings and patchwork bodies, she finds herself in the midst of a number of seedy characters, and realizes that in this new plane of existence she might just have access to a power she never imagined.

The idea of an afterlife that's just one big dark city is a fun one, and Cuartero-Briggs and Merli dive into building Silver City with a sense of inventive glee that jumps right off the page, even as the story delves deeper into darkness. There's a joy to the creativity, particularly when the overarching mythology behind the city's existence comes into play, and that's infectious, particularly with Merli's deeply and immediately immersive art. What's even more impressive, though, is the way this book sets out to almost instantly grow beyond the hook that got us all in the door. Silver City is a vast place full of secrets, legends, and perhaps powers beyond life and death as we know them, and the groundwork that's laid in this debut issue points at something much bigger on the horizon that you're going to want to be a part of.

House of Lost Horizons #1: If there's a limit to the number of subgenres and spinoffs the Mignolaverse and its creators can develop, they haven't found it yet, and House of Lost Horizons is yet more proof of that. Spinning out of characters who appeared in books like Witchfinder, the new series from creator Mike Mignola, writer Chris Roberson, and artist Leila del Duca sets up a beautifully crafted cozy mystery with a supernatural backdrop, and the result is a pocket of Mignola's world I'm very happy to settle into. It all begins as Sarah Jewell and her companion Marie Therese arrive at a spooky mansion reachable only by boat, only to find that the phone lines are dead, a storm is blowing in...and there's been a murder on the eve of an auction of various supernatural curios.

With those pieces in place, Roberson and Del Duca launch into a story that delivers absolutely everything you want from a murder mystery in an isolated spooky house, and then some. There's the list of eccentric suspects, the strange circumstances, the possibly supernatural underpinnings, and of course the gorgeous backdrop of the house itself, which Del Duca uses to the fullest possible extent in absolutely stunning pages that show off its scale and take advantage of its structure to create a whole world within its walls. By the end of the issue I was happily lost in this manor house whodunit, and I'm already ready to go back.

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."