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SYFY WIRE Comics Wire

Comics Wire: A host of horror comics, Marvel's Alien hatches, WonderCon @Home and 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.

This weekend, WonderCon arrives in virtual form to mark what we hope is the final wave of online-only comics conventions of this era, a wave that will continue at least through the summer as venues like San Diego Comic-Con prepare for virtual celebrations of their own. It's a new normal that we've all adjusted to in one or another at this point, and while in-person conventions will certainly be welcomed back with enthusiasm, something about being able to watch all of these panels live from our living rooms has also been nice.

So, while virtual cons are still around, let's make the best of them. With that in mind, here are my picks for the best comics-focused panels to check out this weekend at WonderCon@Home.

The Jack Kirby Tribute Panel (Friday, 1 p.m. EST): Kirby expert Mark Evanier leads this year's WonderCon edition of a regular convention fixture: A panel celebrating the life and work of the King of Comics. Most of these tributes are worth paying attention to, but this one might be particularly exciting, as Evanier's fellow panelists will be Sandman co-creator Neil Gaiman and comics superfan Jonathan Ross.

Kickstarter Secrets Revealed (Friday, 2 p.m. EST): Kickstarter has become an even bigger part of the comics world over the course of the last year, and in this panel several of the most successful comics creator on the platform -- including Jimmy Palmiotti, Elsa Charretier, Henry Barajas, and Afua Richardson -- will break down their keys to succeed on this ever-growing funding vehicle for creators of all experience levels.

The Todd McFarlane Panel (Friday, 3 p.m. EST): Any Todd McFarlane panel is usually worth tuning into, but this marks one of the biggest events McFarlane has done since he announced that he's prepping the launch of a new Spawn shared universe. Expect to hear more about that, as well as the usual toy and comics talk that comes whenever the legendary creator holds court.

Image Comics: Bestselling Writers (Friday, 5 p.m. EST): Image Comics is bringing together some of the best writers producing work at the publisher right now for a discussion of craft, process, and upcoming work. Panelists including Killadelphia's Rodney Barnes, Dracula, Motherf***er's Alex de Campi, DIE's Kieron Gillen, Nocterra's Scott Snyder, and The Good Asian's Pornsak Pichetshote.

Creators, Assemble! (Friday, 6 p.m. EST): It's been a challenging year for the comics industry, to say the least, but we've learned a lot, and this panel is all about that journey. Creators Emma Kubert (Inkblot) and Henry Barajas (Helm Greycastle) join publisher retail lead Morgan Perry (BOOM! Studios) and retailer Mathias Lewis (Knowhere Games and Comics) as they discuss how their work has evolved over the last year, and what they've learned from it.

The Groo Crew (Friday, 8 p.m. EST): Legends including Sergio Aragones, Stan Sakai, Mark Evanier, and Tom Luth talk about Groo and their wider comics careers. What's not to love?

AHOY Comics: Expect More (Saturday, 1 p.m. EST): AHOY Comics is one of the most exciting small publishers in the game right now, and this panel will be your portal to what's next from their line of books. Join editor Tom Peyer and various AHOY creators as they tease upcoming projects and more.

Image Comics: Critically Acclaimed Artists (Saturday, 3 p.m.): The counterpart to Friday's Image writers panel assembles a dream team of talent that includes The Old Guard's Leandro Fernandez, Aquarius: The Book of Mer's Afua Richardson, Stray Dogs' Trish Forstner, and Crossover's Geoff Shaw as they discuss their process and upcoming projects.

You can find the full schedule of WonderCon@Home events over at their website.

A Host of New Horror Comics

Basilisk cover

It's a very good time to be a fan of horror comics, and not just because there's a new scary James Tynion IV book on the way soon. In fact, in the past week alone I've heard about so many new horror comics spread across several publishers that I got excited enough to devote a whole section of the column to them this week. Here's a taste of just a few of the spooky new comics headed our way in the coming year.

- Cullen Bunn, perhaps horror comics' most prolific creator at the moment, announced not one, but two new series in the past week. Over at BOOM! Studios, Bunn and artist Jonas Scharf announced Basilisk, a supernatural story about a "cult-like hivemind" known as the Chimera, ravaging the countryside with their dark gifts. That one arrives in June, and later that some month Bunn and artist Andrea Mutti will launch the horror miniseries Parasomnia at Dark Horse Comics. That one, the story of a man who must journey into a "nightmarish dreamscape" to find his lost son, will run for four issues beginning June 30.

- Speaking of Andrea Mutti, who's already crushing it with the horror series Maniac of New York, he announced yet another horror project this week alongside writer Paul Tobin (Colder) over at AfterShock Comics. Bunny Mask will follow a man's journey to understand the title character, a millennia-old avatar of darkness who emerges from her sealed prison to walk the world again. This one sounds absolutely wild, and I can't wait to read it this June.

- This week AfterShock also announced another terrifying new series in the form of Lycan, a partnership between the publisher and Renegade Entertainment that will feature a script by comics veteran Mike Carey and a story from actor Thomas Jane and screenwriter David James Kelly. Set in the year 1777, the story follows a group of big game hunters who are shipwrecked on their way back from a hunting trip, only to then be challenged with the task of hunting down a beast none of them have ever encountered before. That's enough to hook me. The series arrives in early 2022.

- Over at AHOY Comics this week, writer Eric Palicki and artist Wendell Cavalcanti announced Black's Myth, a new "punk rock black and white horror series" that focuses on a werewolf private investigator and her trusted djinn assistant as they work cases in Los Angeles. Honestly, that had me at "werewolf private investigator." Black's Myth arrives in July, and you can check out an exclusive first peek over at Daily Dead.

- And hey, if you're looking for a dark new story you can dip into without spending a dime, Mad Cave Studios has you covered. On Tuesday the publisher announced that their Free Comic Book Day offerings this year will feature Bountiful Garden, a new cosmic horror story from writer Ivy Noelle Weir and artist Kelly Williams which examines what happens when a group of teenage scientists head out on a terraforming mission in cryostasis, only to awaken in the wrong place, the wrong time, and with the wrong threat stalking them. The first issue of the series will be available for free on August 14, followed by the full launch of the series in September.

More news: Archie's The Shield, Matt Kindt's NFT, and more!

The Shield one-shot cover

- Last year, Archie Comics announced that Image Comics co-founder, Deadpool creator, and all-around legend Rob Liefeld would be helming a relaunch of its Mighty Crusaders line of superhero characters, and now we finally have the first release details for those titles. A series of four one-shot issues focusing on different Mighty Crusaders members will launch this June with The Shield, the patriotic superhero who famously pre-dated Captain America. So, if you've been eager to see Liefeld get his hands on a totally different superhero universe, you don't have much longer to wait.

- Matt Kindt, bestselling comics creator behind everything from indie hits to superhero adventures, announced a few days ago that he will release a new story in his acclaimed Mind MGMT series in the form of an NFT (non-fungible token) that will be sold to the highest-bidder in an auction that launched Monday. Kindt, who called the new one-shot an exploration of the "intangible nature" of ideas, made it clear that the winner of the auction (which ends March 31) will be able to do whatever they like with the comic, including hide it away or share it with the world. It's an interesting move by one of the most daring creators in the industry, but it also hasn't been without controversy. For more on that, including environmental group concerns over NFTs in general and Kindt's efforts to mitigate that, read this excellent summary at Multiversity.

- Over at Black Mask Studios, Beautiful Canvas creators Ryan K. Lindsay and Sami Kivela announced that they're reuniting on a new genre project titled Everfrost, which will follow the adventures of a warrior-scientist who'd hoped to leave the planet she's been stuck on, only to find a mystery and mounting war tied to her long-dead son keeps pulling her back. For more on this intrigue new series, including a look at Kivela's gorgeous art for the project, head over to the Black Mask website.

- And finally this week, because I'm a My Brother, My Brother, and Me fan, I have to mention that The Adventure Zone creators and War of the Realms tie-in writers Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy are heading back to comics, teaming with artist Gale Galligan for a story in IDW's upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog 30th anniversary special. For more on that issue, including details on all the stories in the special, head to IDW's website.

New Comics This Week: Harley Quinn #1, Alien, Firefly, and more!

Harley Quinn 1 cover 2021

Harley Quinn #1: The key to a good Harley story is the voice, and nailing that voice down is harder than it might initially appear because the best Harley writers make it feel easy. A lot of sass, a little chaos, and a layer of emotional vulnerability beneath, and you've got one of DC Comics' most bankable characters, right? Thinking that is one thing. Pulling it off is something else, which is why when a creative team comes along and really nails it, it's so rewarding.

Which brings us to the new Harley Quinn series from writer Stephanie Phillips and artist Riley Rossmo, a comic that absolutely gets it from page one. In this post-Joker War adventure, Harley is doing her best to pick up the pieces and heal, and not just within her own delicate psyche. No, this is a Harley who's setting out to make amends, not just to those closest to her but to pretty much all of Gotham, with Batman's blessing. That's easier said than done, of course, and what starts with a supervillain brawl builds to a final page reveal setting up a truly wild conflict to come for everyone's favorite mallet-wielding antihero.

"Harley tries to set things right," is not a new story, but the way Phillips' script approaches it this time around truly feels like something fresh. There's an authenticity to the messy way Harley goes about her amends, and the various wrinkles that form in her plan along the way, that makes the comic both a breezy read and the kind of deep dive that rewards rereading. The closer you look, the more depth and precision you see, which is thanks to both Phillips' careful scripting and Rossmo's fantastic art. His style -- funny and strange with a hint of menace and raw power lurking beneath -- is perfectly suited to this story, and the result is a creative team that truly makes it look easier than it is to tell a great Harley Quinn story. I'm excited for the rest of this run.

Alien #1: How do you launch a new foray into the Alien universe? This week Marvel Comics' new era of stories in the classic sci-fi horror franchise begins after years of Alien tales over at Dark Horse Comics, and that means writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson and artist Salvador Larroca have a unique challenge on their hands. They have to kickstart a new iteration of the franchise, within the existing movie continuity, without retreating previous comic book territory or simply leaning entirely on the films themselves. So, what form does that take?

These are the questions I asked myself as I went into Johnson and Larroca's Alien #1, and the answer is a surprisingly intimate, personal look at the cost of greed and the horrors of fighting an enemy you don't understand. Though there are connections to the mythos established in the films, clearly laid out and easy to grasp, Johnson's script is much more interested in exploring the emotional state of new characters in the debut issue than he is in digging deeper into, say, Ripley's story and its impact.

That gives the story a sense of new freedom, yes, but leaving that particular canonical baggage behind also means that the issue can present the terror of the Xenomorph in a whole new way, through a lens of PTSD that even the Alien sequel films never fully got to explore. All of that, plus a focus on the corporate power of Weyland-Yutani and, of course, Larocca's art and its fine-tuned focus on the pop culture iconography of the franchise, makes for a fascinating first issue with big implications for what's to come.

Firefly: Brand New 'Verse #1: As with the reboot of Buffy, BOOM! Studios is taking something of a calculate risk with Firefly: Brand New 'Verse, and as with the reboot of Buffy the risk pays off immediately in thrilling, often surprising ways. Written by Josh Lee Gordon and drawn by Fabiana Mascolo, Brand New 'Verse is the 20 years later sequel of your Firefly revival dreams, a story smart enough to know when to play the hits and when to branch out into unexplored, vibrant new territory.

This new territory begins, of course, with the new crew of Serenity, led by Zoe's daughter Emma. Zoe's still around, but Emma is very much aiming to make her mark as part of the tradition of memorable leaders onboard the ship, alongside a diverse new crew that's not afraid of getting in a little trouble. These cast members may be brand new, but they fit into the fast-paced world of the ship immediately, and the way their dialogue fires on all cylinders from the very first page is a perfect hook for fans looking for more of that Firefly banter.

But even as the book moves past the banter and into the realm of real storytelling, it's remarkable how well Gordon's script works as an exercise in fleshing out character through action. It just moves, something Mascolo's art conveys whether characters are sitting in a cockpit or running a job, so much so that by the end of the issue you'll be flipping pages back and forth, wishing you had more. It all amounts to an instantly entertaining introduction to a new chapter in Firefly that you perhaps didn't know you needed, but definitely won't want to miss.

Lady Baltimore: The Witch Queens #1: You'd really think at some point Mike Mignola would run out of ways to thrill us with tales of monster-hunting, but it hasn't happened yet. This week Mignola, co-writer Cristopher Golden and artist Bridgit Connell launch a spinoff of Baltimore with Lady Baltimore: The Witch Queens, and if you were on the hunt for a book about a cool lady with a sword fighting Nazi witches, this is the title for you. And let's be honest, even if you weren't looking for need it. Trust me.

The debut issue follows the title character, fighting her late husband's battles across Europe, as she attempts to both stem the tide of the rising darkness around and live up to the mantle bestowed on her by Lord Baltimore. Allies are hard to come by, and the fight seems endless, but Lady Baltimore presses on.

What's striking about Mignola and Golden's script this time out is not just how thrilling it is right out of the gate, but how well the issue balances the difficulty of the Baltimore legacy with the fun of monster hunting. There are a lot of plot implications to juggle here, but somehow the issue feels like a breeze even if you're a newcomer to this particular subset of the Mignolaverse, and that's quite an achievement. The real star, though, is Connell's art. She soars through the monster sequences with an eye for truly fascinating design flourishes, then turns around in the very next panel and delivers charming, often hilarious character close-ups. It's a blast of a first issue, and I'm eager to read what's next.

Shadow Doctor #2: I somehow missed the first issue of AfterShock's new period crime series Shadow Doctor, and I'm very glad I took the time to catch up for issue two, because there's something special at work here. Written by Peter Calloway (based on the true life story of his own grandfather) and drawn by Georges Jeanty, the series follows a young Black man who resolves to fighting his way out of a hard live of crime and become a doctor...only to find that no one in 1930s Chicago is willing to work with a Black doctor. So, naturally, he turns to Al Capone.

That alone is the kind of thing that makes me do a double take to make sure I read the synopsis correctly, but digging into the book itself is an entirely different experience than the initial hook. Calloway's script is both reverent in terms of his grandfather's story and absolutely crackling with life, while Jeanty's art is beautifully expressive and evocative of the period. It's a comic that could so easily lean on recognizable names and the true story factor and deliver something stiff in every other respects, but it never takes the easy way. Shadow Doctor brings craft, heart, and raw emotional power together to tell a decades-old story that feels new, alive, and vital right now, and I'm glad I took the time to catch up with it.

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."