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SYFY WIRE Comics Wire

Comics Wire: Exclusive - The Literary Tarot expands, Death of Doctor Strange, DC's Pride special, and more!

By Matthew Jackson
The Literary Tarot Tower Preview Single

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.

We tend to keep the focus pretty tight here at Comics Wire, writing very specifically about comics projects in both short and long form and shying away from a lot of talk about tie-in merchandise and adaptations. But sometimes a group of amazing comics creators gets together to do something great that, while not a comic book, still manages to be an incredible merging of art, story, and meaning, and it's just too cool to pass up.

Which brings us to The Literary Tarot, the blockbuster new Kickstarter campaign from the Brink Literacy Project. Launched last week, this pairing of legendary stories from throughout literature with stunning art and guidebook entries from some of the best writers in comics, prose, and beyond has already blown past its initial fundraising goal of $80,000, with nearly $400,000 in backing as of this writing. Now, as the project continues to expand its reach, we're pleased to exclusively reveal five more stunning cards from the 78-card tarot deck at the heart of the project.

For those who haven't been following the project's rise on social media over the last week, The Literary Tarot is exactly what it sounds like: A tarot deck inspired by classic works of literature in which each card is paired with a different story. Each specific pairing was chosen by a different creator, including comics icons like Mark Waid, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Brian Michael Bendis, Kieron Gillen and Benjamin Percy, and titans of genre fiction like Leigh Bardugo, Stephen Graham Jones, Charlie Jane Anders, Patrick Rothfuss, Jeff VanderMeer, and many more. To complete the scope of the project, each deck also comes with a guidebook, in which each writer explains the significance of their particular pairing choice for the deck. All proceeds from the project will go to furthering Brink's mission of increasing literacy rates, helping underserved communities through storytelling, and more.

“Books have always been magical portals to other worlds,” Brink Literacy Project CEO Dani Hedlund said about The Literary Tarot. “In their pages, we unearth countless insights and secrets, inspiration and cautionary tales. Like us, these characters face uncertain futures, Towers rising up in their path or the Wheel of Fortune pushing them toward greater fates. As any great tarot reader knows, we can always change the trajectory of our choices. As we delve into how these classic heroes and villains handle life’s trials and temptations, so too can we divine our own futures.”

In the gallery below, we're pleased to reveal the pairings selected by writers Marjorie Liu (Monstress), Vita Ayala (Children of the Atom), Carmen Maria Machado (The Low, Low Woods), Victor LaValle (Eve), and H.E. Edgmon (The Witch King).

More cards from The Literary Tarot deck will be revealed in the coming weeks as the Kickstarter campaign continues. To find out more about the already-announced cards, rewards, and more, head over the project's Kickstarter page. You can pick up the deck and guidebook for $50, or pick up a digital edition for just $10.

Doctor Strange faces his death at Marvel

The Death of Doctor Strange cover

On some level, I understand the disillusion that fans develop when superhero publishers announce "We're going to kill this extremely popular character" well in advance of actually doing it. After all, no one stays dead but Uncle Ben in this world, so we all know there's an eventual resurrection coming no matter how brutal and devastating the death ultimately is, and telegraphing it further with an announcement almost feels like an extra layer of padding to deaden any impact a sudden death might have given. What's the point, right?

Well, as anyone who's read a good death scene (farewell, Nightcrawler) or a good return scene (welcome back, Bucky Barnes) knows, the impact isn't necessarily about the shock value, at least not in the long run. With the right creative team in the driver's seat, the most pre-emptively announced death moment in comics history can still hit you hard, and that's what Marvel seems to be counting on with their new event, The Death of Doctor Strange.

As you probably guessed, the five-issue series from writer Jed MacKay (Black Cat) and artist Lee Garbett (Captain Marvel) is going to chronicle the last Stephen Strange story, as a still mysterious threat manages to take him off the board at the time the Marvel Universe needs him more than ever. But as Marvel describes it in their announcement, the event isn't just about killing Stephen Strange. It's about the power vacuum such a death might create, as MacKay explained.

"'What happens to the world if Doctor Strange isn't in it?' It's a question that I'm excited to show people the answer to in Death of Doctor Strange,” MacKay said. “Strange has been a Marvel fixture from the early days, but now, his time has run out and as a Strange fan, it's been my bittersweet privilege to shepherd him through his last day and the effects that snowball out of it. We've cooked up a whale of a story to send Strange off with, and I can't wait for people to join us on it!"

There's still a lot unknown about this story, but I definitely trust the creative team involved to come up with something compelling, and I like the idea of a story that reaches beyond milking the emotional impact of such a death and really seeks to explore a particular character's place in a fictional universe. It has the potential to be something really special.

The Death of Doctor Strange begins in September.

More news: AfterShock's Search for Hu, Marvel shake-ups, Skybound meets LEGO, and more!

Search for Hu cover

- Any time AfterShock Comics announces a new book, I pay attention, and I lean forward even more when I find out it's a new Steve Orlando project, so I was especially excited to hear about Search for Hu, a new AfterShock revenge thriller co-written by Orlando and Jon Tsuei (Sera and the Royal Stars) with art by Rubine. The story follows Aaron, a young man devoted to his family who finds himself plunged into a web of violent ancestral secrets when the two sides of his mother's family -- one Chinese, one Jewish -- rekindle an old feud that spills over into the family business. Billed as a "cross-cultural action thriller," Search for Hu looks like a blend of John Woo and John Wick, and I can't wait to check it out. The first issue drops in September, and you can check out a preview over on AfterShock's website.

- Last week Marvel made a trio of major announcements primed to shake up their characters and some of their top creators this fall. The publisher revealed that Venom writer Donny Cates and Immortal Hulk writer Al Ewing are swapping heroes with Cates moving over to a new Hulk book alongside artist Ryan Ottley and Ewing co-helming a relaunch of Venom with co-writer Ram V (someone I've been longing for more Marvel work from) and the legendary Bryan Hitch on art. Oh, and that mysterious Inferno event coming to the X-line from Jonathan Hickman? Turns out everyone theorizing that it would feature Mystique declaring war on Krakoa were pretty much right, and we're getting it an epic four-issue series billed as the follow-up to the House of X/Powers of X launch event of the Hickman era, with art by Valerio Schiti, R.B. Silva and Stefano Caselli. So, strap in.

- TKO Studios has proven itself a publisher to watch over the last couple of years, so any time they announce a fresh wave of books, it's worth paying attention. Late last week the publisher unveiled its lineup for Summer 2021, and it's a robust blend of long and short-form stories, and one perhaps unexpected revamp of a pre-existing comics property. The publisher's summer will include three brand-new TKO Shorts from the likes of Kelly Williams, Michael Moreci, Alex Paknadel, and more, as well as a brand-new fantasy graphic novel titled Djeliya from rising star cartoonist Juni Ba. Plus, Sebastian Girner and Galaad will launch an updated version of their fantasy comic Scales & Scoundrels with a new single volume printing of the story so far and more than 200 pages of brand-new story in Volume 2. For more info on each of the titles, head over to TKO's website

- If you're looking for insights into how comics are made, and how you can make your own comics better, Shelly Bond is someone very much worth listening to. With more than two decades of experience working on everything from Fables to The Sandman: Overture to Bitter Root (are you reading Bitter Root yet?), she's one of the most successful and celebrated comics editors around, and she's going to tell you all about how and why with Filth & Grammar, a new book billed as her "secret handbook" to making better comics. Featuring everything from new mini-comics to tips and tricks from some of Bond's top collaborators, it sounds like a must-read for anyone hoping to make comics, and you can pick up a digital edition for just 10 bucks over on Kickstarter.

- And finally this week, in licensed comic news, Skybound Entertainment (the Image imprint behind everything from The Walking Dead to Stillwater) announced last week that they've partnered with children's punisher AMEET to launch a new line of LEGO-themed comics beginning in 2022. Exactly what those LEGO titles will be and who will create them hasn't been revealed yet, but Skybound's always a publisher to watch when it comes to exciting storytelling, so if you've got LEGO fans in your life who want those bricks and minifigs in as many forms as they can get 'em, stay tuned.

New comics: DC PrideTrigger Keaton, and more!

DC PRIDE_Cv1_Jim_Lee_Scott_Williams_Tamra_Bonvillain

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

DC PrideI've written before about how solid DC's anthology one-shots tend to be, but I think just saying that sometimes undersells the achievement of them both as collections of individual stories and as overall works. With both last month's Festival of Heroes and this month's DC Pride, DC's editorial team has had to pull off something especially tricky. Rather than celebrating the versatility of a single hero or family of heroes, they have to deliver a wide range of experiences through a wide range of characters while also adhering to a larger thematic sense of connectivity. DC Pride, like Festival of Heroes before it, does this with grace, wisdom, and a deeply rooted sense of joy that makes its 80-plus page length absolutely fly by.

After a welcome introduction by Marc Andreyko, the anthology dives right into a wonderfully diverse range of tales about heroes, villains, and characters who sometimes walk the line between both, incorporating a broad range of artistic styles, themes, and tones. Whether we're talking about a poetic and gorgeous Batwoman/Alice story from James Tynion IV and Trung Le Nguyen, a witty and pulpy Midnighter/Extrano adventure from Steve Orlando and Stephen Byrne, or a hilarious and heartfelt Harley Quinn/Poison Ivy team-up from Mariko Tamaki and Amy Reeder, it all works to serve the broader sense of celebration at work in this issue.

I use the word "celebration" in part because everyone working on this book is clearly having a blast, but also because the wide range of stories present in DC Pride is a celebration not just of the LGBTQ+ background of these characters and creators, but of their ability to be themselves without necessarily making it the core battle of the story. Sometimes it is, as Andrew Wheeler and Luciano Vecchio illustrate with the wonderful Aqualad-centric closing story about literal rain on a Pride parade. But this is also an anthology where characters are just living their very superheroic lives, trying to make date night work, as is the case with a Renee Montoya story from Vita Ayala and Skylar Patridge (please give us more of this team on that character), a Jess Chambers/Andy Curry story from Danny Lore and Lisa Sterle, and a Dreamer story from Nicole Maines (who makes the leap to comics with ease) and Rachael Stott. Whether they're just trying to get through a day of saving the world or trying to come to terms with who they've always hoped they were, these heroes all shine in DC Pride, as do the creators who brought them to life in these pages.

The Six Sidekicks of Trigger Keaton #1: I am always down for a new Kyle Starks comic, particularly when he does a version of that Sexcastle magic all over again and tells a story that simultaneously celebrates and picks apart the hyper-macho-ness of a certain era of action storytelling. This time around, Starks and Chris Schweizer aim to do that in a very particular way with The Six Sidekicks of Trigger Keaton, a book that should be able to sell you based on the title alone. Even if the title doesn't grab you, though, I'm here to tell you: The book beyond the title is pretty damn great.

As the book opens, Trigger Keaton -- action star extraordinaire -- has just been found dead. It might have been a suicide, or it might have been murder. Either way, cops don't seem to keen on finding out exactly what brought Trigger down after years of being the toughest man in front of a TV camera, so it's up to a half-dozen of Keaton's old sidekicks to figure it out on his behalf. There's just one problem: No one actually liked Trigger Keaton, and that makes this murder investigation...complicated.

If you've read a Kyle Starks comic in the past, you know to expect a lot of inventive, witty, often absolutely unhinged invention right up front, and Six Sidekicks absolutely delivers on that front. Starks and Schweizer build a whole world with deft, kung-fu-fast hands in the span of just a few pages, letting you know exactly what the stakes are and what the title characters want...only to pivot things spectacularly by the end of the issue. It's a blast of a comic, full of belly laughs and solid action pacing, but there's also something more lurking at the heart of it. From its opening scene to its last page, Six Sidekicks is also extremely interested in interrogating the presence of a certain kind of machismo-soaked persona on sets and in pop culture, and that means there's a depth to this first issue that's poised to run through the whole series, setting The Six Sidekicks of Trigger Keaton up as a truly must-read action-comedy book.

Bunny Mask #1: Paul Tobin's return to horror, Bunny Mask teams with Maniac of New York artist Andrea Mutti for a creepy, often dreamlike descent into primeval force for a story that's both intimate in its focus and massive in its implications. The result, unsurprisingly, is a must-read first issue for horror fans.

The titular character may prefer the name "Bunny Mask," or she may be something more akin to a nameless primal force unleashed on an unsuspecting group of humans by a madman with access to a cave that seems to send him strange visions. The first issue doesn't lay the whole mythology bare, so we can't know for sure, but what is clear right from the beginning is that Tobin has a vision. His script is rich with broader implications which make it both compelling and deeply creepy, something buoyed instantly by Mutti's gorgeous and gorgeously horrific art. It's a book that keeps its lens intensely focused on the lives of just a handful of characters while evoking the sense that something very old, very dark, and very dangerous is lurking behind everything. All that, plus a last page reveal that sets up a second issue that will only deepen and darken the mythology behind the story, makes Bunny Mask your next horror comics addiction.

Heroes Reborn: Night-Gwen #1: I've said it before, but if you see that a creator you enjoy is working on a tie-in book for a major Big Two event, do not skip it, even if you're someone who generally shies away from tie-ins for whatever reason. Yes, the main story of any given event is where a lot of the focus is directed, but the tie-ins often prove to be a space for some really striking, go-for-broke invention. A good tie-in has the power to make you wish you had a whole new ongoing series based on its premise, and that's exactly what Heroes Reborn: Night-Gwen #1 did for me.

Taking full advantage of the near-clean slate offered by the Heroes Reborn event as a whole, writer Vita Ayala and artist Farid Karami use this one-shot to reimagine Gwen Stacy as Ravencroft's most tireless psychiatrist by day, and one of the world's most dynamic vigilantes by night. With a story that transforms Gwen into a fascinating and fun blend of Harley Quinn and Batgirl (while still remaining, as ever, Gwen Stacy) and ropes in the likes of Misty Knight and Luke Cage along the way, Ayala has an absolute blast with the script for this one, delivering a noir-infused corner of the Heroes Reborn universe that I got happily lost in over the course of the issue. Karami's art, equally dynamic in conversations across a desk and in daring rooftop escapades, does the rest. I know the Heroes Reborn world is probably not built to last, and I know Gwen Stacy's already had more than one heroic reinvention in recent years, but I'd easily read a dozen more issues of this story right now.

The Secret Land #1: We all have certain story tropes we're just primed to be into no matter when and how they arrive at our feet, and for me "Nazi occult experiments" is one of them. Maybe it's the years of reading Mike Mignola comics, maybe it's Indiana Jones, maybe it's something else, but show me a story about some dark, undiscovered Nazi project that involves the supernatural and I'm in the bag for it.

So I was very pleased to learn about The Secret Land, the new cosmic horror release from writer Christofer Emgård and artist Tomás Aira. The series begins near the end of World War II with all the trappings of a period romance, as we're introduced to a man fighting in the Pacific in the final months of the war and the woman he loves doing covert missions in Europe in the wake of Hitler's death. Separated by distance, violence, and (for all they know) death, Ben and Katherine are each facing struggles of their own, but Katherine has arguably found the bigger battle: A secret, icebound Nazi base where what's left of the Third Reich is building something dangerous, something dark, something that's just waking up…

This is a deliciously pulpy setup for a period horror piece, and right away Emgård's script milks that vibe for all its worth, setting up the high stakes romance between these two war-torn characters and then pumping that heart full of dark, deadly venom at one of the most pivotal points in human history. It's an engrossing narrative from the start, and Aira's art just builds on that emotional weight as the issue goes on, building tension first through subtle design work and then through all-out horror as the consequences of the Nazis' final experiments begin to pulse out into the world. This book has all the makings of a cosmic horror delight, and I can't wait to come back for issue #2.

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."