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SYFY WIRE Comics Wire

Comics Wire: Horror comic renaissance; Emilia Clarke's superhero story; 'Miles Morales' and 'Robin' lead this week's releases

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.

I love horror comics. I love all horror stories, but as regular readers of this column will know, I especially enjoy the merging of the comics medium with the horror genre because it's always felt like such a perfect marriage of form and narrative. Everything you need in a scary story, from rising tension to intense close-up characterization to wild monster designs and sudden twists, you can do in a comic book, and you can often do it without the budgetary concerns of the film and television world.

We were already living in a great time for new horror books, and last week DC Comics took another big step in the direction of the horror comics boom with the announcement that this summer will bring the rise of DC Horror, a new adult-oriented imprint that will launch with a limited series tying into The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It titled The Conjuring: The Lover. We don't yet know what other titles will populate this line, but they'll begin rolling out this October, just two years after DC made another big push for horror books with Joe Hill's excellent Hill House Comics pop-up (If you still haven't read The Low Low Woods, do it now.).

The Conjuring The Lover Ryan Brown variant cover

The marriage of major comics publishers and horror stories is, of course, nothing new, and DC in particular has embraced the darker sides of its characters through titles like Swamp Thing and Hellblazer for decades, not to mention recent more direct forays into horror like Hill House's titles and James Tynvion IV's upcoming The Nice House on the Lake. Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, BOOM!, and virtually every other major publisher has had some horror or horror-adjacent publishing success in recent years, and smaller publishers like AfterShock and Vault have devoted whole subsets of their release years to things that go bump in the night. It's not a new trend.

In fact, it's something we can trace all the way back to the notorious days of EC Comics and the Seduction of the Innocent fallout they helped spur. Still, even with the long history in mind, I'm here to say that it feels like DC's devotion of an entire imprint to the genre should be a call to action for other major publishers.

It's time for more horror imprints in comics, for a focused push to keep the genre thriving through curated selections of stories by both comics creators eager to explore scary stories they wouldn't get a chance to tell anywhere and newcomers to comics who've made horror work in the prose and film worlds. There's all manner of intellectual property to mine for tie-ins, of course, as The Conjuring announcement proves, but there's also a tremendous opportunity to tell visually focused stories in the comics form that might not get to make it to the film and TV world, or perhaps might work even better on the comics page.

There are few greater feelings in the world for a horror fan like me than reading a scary comic and seeing that perfect terrifying image leap out at you with the turn of the page. Those kinds of page-turning reveals, along with other comics conventions like last-page cliffhangers, serialized thrills, and of course the anthology format, all mean that horror has always been right at home here. So let's make that home bigger. I admit it's a selfish plea as a fan, but it also feels at this point in time like a vey solid publishing decision.

Make more horror comics, and then make some more after that.

Emilia Clarke comes to comics

M.O.M.: Mother of Madness cover

It's pretty obvious to me why major film and TV stars want to come to comics to tell stories. There's the love of the medium, of course, but there's also a sense of freedom, particularly in the creator-owned world, that tells these stars they can work without budgetary or logistical concerns and just get the thing down on the page. That's exciting, which is why everyone from Keanu Reeves to Oscar Isaac to Thomas Jane has embraced it recently, and it's even more exciting when these stars are wise enough to pair their tales with the talents of people who really understand comics craft.

Last week, Image Comics revealed a first look at M.O.M.: Mother of Madness, a new three-issue series written by Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke and Marguerite Bennett with art by rising star Leila Leiz (Horde, The Last Book You'll Ever Read). The series will follow Maya, a scientist and single mom who, by night, just happens to be a superhero. For Clarke, the idea arose out of a very direct analogy, and grew from there.

“We're always calling mothers superheroes, and I'm like, what if they were? What if they legitimately were superheroes?" the Game of Thrones and Last Christmas star told Entertainment Weekly. “Maya has had a very hard life, and she finds herself in a place where everything that makes her unique, she hates and is ashamed about. It's only in the discovery of her powers that she finds her true acceptance of who she is."

It's pretty obvious from Clarke's resume so far that she has a broad interest in different types of genre stories, and she's proven herself with both good comedic and good dramatic instincts. It'll be very interesting to see how those instincts translate to comics, particular with powerhouses like Bennett and Leiz working in her corner. It'll also be interesting to see which film and TV stars follow her into comics next.

M.O.M.: Mother of Madness #1 is in stores this July. Head over to EW to see a preview from the series.

More news: Marvel's Hellfire Gala Guide, Dark Blood, Masters of the Universe comics, and more!

- Marvel's Hellfire Gala -- the next major event to run through the world of Krakoa and the X-Men line -- doesn't officially launch until June, but you don't have to wait until then to find out more. Today Marvel released the official Hellfire Gala Guide, a free issue available digitally and at participating stores that gives you the inside scoop on the event, complete with an interview with Emma Frost and more. And of course, as the official Marvel Twitter account continues to remind us, there will be Gala Looks, lots and lots of Gala Looks.

- Hey, did you love Lovecraft Country? Then you might want to pay attention to Dark Blood, the new BOOM! Studios series from screewriter LaToya Morgan (Into the Badlands, The Walking Dead) and artist Walt Barna (The Osiris Path) that promises a genre-bending new story about a Black man in 1955 Alabama who awakens an ability that gives him power many never expected someone like him to have. The six-issue series "combines twisty sci-fi and historical action, incredible feats of bravery and deep familial love," according to Morgan, and Barna's art looks like a spectacular fit for it. Dark Blood launches in July, and you can check out a preview at BOOM!'s website right now.

- On the heels of another successful mash-ups of monsters and crime, The Kaiju Score writer James Patrick has lined up his next project with AfterShock Comics. Campisi: The Dragon Incident, announced Tuesday, will pair Patrick with artist Marco Locati for the story of Sonny Campisi, a mob fixer who has to deal with the unlikely and very pressing emergence of a dragon in the neighborhood he calls his territory. Of course, if a dragon's around, that means there are probably some neighborhood secrets that helped get it there, right? This sounds like an irresistible genre mash-up, and I can't wait to read the first issue when it lands in August. For a preview, head over to AfterShock's website.

- If you're pumped for the new Masters of the Universe Netflix series, you'll love this news. Dark Horse Comics announced last week that they've partnered with Mattel and the minds behind the show, including Kevin Smith and Tim Sheridan, for a new prequel comic series. Masters of the Universe: Revelation will follow in the longstanding tradition of He-Man comics stretching all the way back to the original action figures, and will follow He-Man as he attempts to get to the heart of an attack against his father, which at the same time reveals the origins of the Sword of Power. The series launches in July. For more details, check out Dark Horse's website.

- And finally this week, if you're looking for a promising Kickstarter to back, look no further than the latest project from Eric Powell, who's teamed with true crime writer Harold Schechter for Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?, a graphic novel exploring the life and family history of one of America's most notorious killers, Ed Gein. The project is aiming to launch a special edition hardcover of the book and has already raised well beyond its initial goal, which means you could be in for some stretch rewards if you head over and back it. You can get a copy of the book for $40.

New comics this week: Robin, Helm Greycastle, Miles Morales' Clone Saga, and more!

Robin 1 cover

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

Robin #1: Damian Wayne has, for me, always worked best as a foil for other characters. Whether we're talking about Bruce Wayne or Dick Grayson or Jon Kent, his abrupt, aggressive nature just fits better when there's a kinder, gentler person he can play with. That means that a Damian solo series was always going to be a questionable proposition for me, but with this action-packed debut writer Joshua Williamson and artist Gleb Melnikov pull it off through a combination of clever character work and dynamic set pieces.

The central conceit of this particular story is that, after all the recent fallout in Gotham City, Damian is sick of the Bat-Family grind, and heads out on his own with something to prove. There's a legendary fighting tournament unfolding out in the world, a place where the world's best warriors have come to prove themselves, and if you're Damian Wayne, there's no better venue for showcasing your combination of ego and raw power.

Putting Damian in the center of a stage filled with personas who are all trying to out-tough the others is a brilliant way to launch this book, and it carries Williamson's script through everything from the Son of the Bat's personal demons to his initial encounters with the other fighters at the tournament with humor, style, and a sense of real purpose. Placing Damian within an ensemble of people who are all trying to beat him at his own tough talking game makes for a wonderful showcase of his vulnerabilities, however well he might hide them, and Melnikov's art is the perfect complement to that dynamic.

He draws Damian as 90 pounds of furious, inhuman kicking, yes, but there's also a real sense of small-ness to the character, a feeling that he just might be overwhelmed this time, that adds a brilliant tension to the story. This book has set itself up to be one of the bright spots of the Infinite Frontier era, and if the last page is any indication, it's only just getting started.

Helm Greycastle #1: From the very first page of Helm Greycastle, the new fantasy series from writer Henry Barajas and artist Rahmat Handoko, you feel transported. There's a sense of something familiar, whether it's rooted in your own experience with Dungeons & Dragons or Masters of the Universe or Jason and the Argonauts, but there's something new too, something that emerges in the thrilling stew of influences that combine to form this story right away. It's a comic that just sweeps you away with the first swing of a blade, and never lets up.

Inspired by Mesoamerican history and mythology merged with the kind of sword and sorcery swashbuckling you might expect from your favorite tabletop sessions, Helm Greycastle launches as the title hero is given a job he doesn't want to do. Helm and his band of warriors, it turns out, have a personal stake in a recent abduction, and to get to the bottom of it they might have to go toe-to-toe with the tyrannical emperor Montezuma III in a world populated by magic, living skeletons, dragon princes, and other threats and allies.

Barajas' script uses that reluctant warrior setup, and the push-pull of Helm's ensemble of friends and comrades, to set up an immediately engaging story that begins to infuse, page-by-page, a sense of real wonder into something you might have mistaken for familiar at first. The familiar is certainly there, and Barajas and Handoko make no secret of their popular fantasy influences, but the more you read, the more you realize that Helm's world is unlike anything you've ever seen on a comics page before. It's vibrant, dangerous, diverse, and brimming with possibility in a way that makes every page exciting, and Handoko's art carries that sense of ambitious new-ness through each panel. I'm already eager to go back to this world.

Shadowman #1: Valiant Comics is hoping for a strong 2021, and one of the cornerstones of their plan to make that happen is rolling out a new take on Shadowman from horror comics maestro Cullen Bunn and The Wild Storm artist Jon Davis-Hunt. Now, the first issue is here, and it's pretty clear that betting on this particular team to deliver an exciting and new-reader friendly exploration of one of Valiant's characters has paid off.

The setup here is somewhat deceptively simple. Jack Boniface, aka Shadowman, comes across a new threat from the realm known as Deadside, one that he doesn't entirely understand. But with the help of an unlikely supernatural ally, he comes to realize that bigger threats lie ahead. Darkness is coming, and it's Shadowman's job to stand in the way of it, but will he be up to this particular task?

I've written before about the joy of watching masters of the craft deliver their own play on familiar comics formulas, and Shadowman #1 is very much Bunn and Davis-Hunt riffing on a very classic superhero story setup. You identify the problem, you have your main character investigate with the help of a prominent supporting character to fill in some exposition, and then you set up the larger narrative to come with a few juicy mysteries. It might sound predictable, but the sheer force of creative personality at work here -- from Bunn's playful narration to Davis-Hunt's mesmerizingly gruesome creature designs -- makes it all feel fresh and thrilling and teeming with intriguing darkness. Shadowman's back, and he's in good hands.

Miles Morales: Spider-Man #25: Naming a new story arc after a pre-existing piece of superhero mythology that carries a lot of baggage with it is always a calculated risk, but if there's anyone who can pull it off, it's Saladin Ahmed. The reigning Miles Morales: Spider-Man writer has been given us new spins on classic superhero tropes for quite a while now, and this month, alongside artist Carmen Carnero, he's hoping to do it again with a very Miles Morales spin on a classic Spider-Man arc: The Clone Saga.

Miles has known for a while that a villain known as the Assessor was at the very least capable of cloning him in some form, but he was never prepared for what's coming. At a time when Miles' life is already a struggle in the wake of exhausting fights and drama among his friends, it turns out there's also a Spider-Man imposter out there who's been giving his version of Spidey a bad name. Determined to put a stop to it, Miles ventures out to find one copycat, and instead finds much more.

I had a blast with this issue, in part because of the sheer comfort level present in Ahmed's scripting at this point. He knows Miles, he gets Miles, and that allows him to orient the entire confrontation with an all-new Clone Saga in a sense of emotional reality that a new writer on the book might have to struggle with. Carnero's art feels equally adept, particularly when the story veers into the appearance of the clones themselves and her ability to manipulate Miles' particular physicality in startling new ways comes into play. Throw in an appearance from Peter Parker, who knows a thing or two about clones, and you've got a blockbuster start to a saga that feels primed for a hell of a payoff.

20 Fists #1: There's a strong correlation between fight scenes and love scenes, a sense of rhythm built up around them that means that soap opera stories and superhero epics sometimes share quite a bit of the same story structure. When a creative team understands that link, they have wisdom. When they exploit it to do something fun and new, they have power.

20 Fists, the new series from writer Frankee White and artist Kat Baumann, has both wisdom and power, because it takes that often elusive link between fighting and loving and transforms it into something witty, fiery, immediately engaging and totally addictive. It's not a superhero story, but 20 Fists does share some DNA with superhero soap opera, as well as various shades of epic fantasy, anime action, and even Shakespeare by way of West Side Story. It's a tale of two rival fighting crews and two people within them who fall in love against the odds, and that's both a recipe for drama and humor that I was hooked on right away.

White's script is a wonderful example of a concept fully realized, an idea executed with such care that it never once feels like the delicate balance at work in 20 Fists -- a balance between funny and brutal, sweet and savage, romantic and raucous -- tips too far in one direction or the other. Baumann's art only adds to that sense of carefully considered balance, creating instantly memorable characters and an intimate world that makes us care about this star-crossed saga from the beginning. If you're looking for something outside of the usual genre mold that still delivers some genre fun, pick it up.

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."