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SYFY WIRE Comics Wire

Comics Wire: Indie projects from James Tynion IV and Cullen Bunn. Plus the next chapter of The Dreaming!

By Matthew Jackson
The Dreaming Waking Hours Variant Cover

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.

The joy of the kind of free-for-all that is getting comics out into the world now — whether through indie publishers or Kickstarters or self-published endeavors — is twofold for me. On the one hand, there is of course the advantage that anyone capable of making a comic can conceivably find some way to get it in front of eyeballs, and on the other there's the sense that certain creators are willing to use their clout and fan followings to take some risks and put out things that just might not have been possible in a different era.

With that in mind, this week I want to put the spotlight on three projects by three prominent creators that demonstrate the limitless potential of comics, particularly if you're willing and able to leverage the reputation you've already built. 

Late last week, Batman and Something Is Killing the Children writer James Tynion IV surprise dropped the first issue of a new horror comics anthology via his Tiny Onion Studios webstore. Razorblades, created by Tynion and Steve Foxe and published by Tynion, is billed as "a modern horror anthology, with a focus on the most exciting young voices in the comics and horror art communities" in Tynion's newsletter, and the first issue boasts an impressive roster of talent and an impressive array of creepy stories.

Razorblades Cover

Tynion's plan, according to an essay in the first issue, is to publish Razorblades quarterly for at least one year, hopefully more if the demand is there, and it's a good sign that the limited first print run of issue #1 sold out almost immediately. Razorblades #1 boasts nearly 80 pages of stories from talents like Andy Belanger, Ricardo Lopez Ortiz, Ram V, John J. Pearson, Trung Nguyen, Marguerite Bennett, Werther Dell'Edera, Michael Walsh, Sam Johns, Dani, Michael Dialynas, and more.

In addition to the comics content, the issue boasts a short prose story by Danny Lore and a conversation between Tynion and fellow superstar Scott Snyder about the craft of horror comics writing. If that sounds like something you're into — and if you like horror comics, believe me when I tell you it should be — you can pick up a digital copy of the first issue by naming your price in the Tiny Onion Studios store.

Deepest Catacombs

Cullen Bunn is one of those creators who loves to leap across genres and embrace all manner of storytelling challenges while he's doing it, and this week he announced what might be his most fascinating project yet. Deepest Catacombs is a new serialized comic that will be told in one-page installments released for free on Bunn's Patreon page. The series is inspired by Bunn's love of Dungeons & Dragons adventures, but not just any Dungeons & Dragons adventures.

This story is very specifically inspired by the short comic strip D&D ads that used to run in comic books. As such, each page of Deepest Catacombs will be structured like one of those comic strip advertisements you'd find in a single issue of your favorite superhero book back in the day, but with a larger story that will gradually be revealed as the series goes on. 

"Yes, it was my love of the game I played so much in my youth that inspired the project, but gaming has changed a lot over the years. And so has storytelling," Bunn said in a newsletter announcing the project. "The comics are written as advertisements, which presented a delightful challenge, and they feature plenty of action and traps and bizarre monsters, but I also wanted the characters to be fun and engaging. They have a deep backstory that will be revealed over time. I wanted the readers to care about them.”

To add even more depth to the project, each installment of Deepest Catacombs will be drawn by a different artist, ranging from established talent to newcomers. The first two pages were created by A.C. Zamudio and Nick Zamudio, and more artists will be announced soon in what is planned as a 24-part "first wave" of the story. 

Deepest Catacombs will begin releasing story installments next week. For more info, including behind-the-scenes peeks you can get if you become a patron, check out Bunn's Patreon page.

The Mighty World of McCrea

John McCrea is a legend in the comics world thanks in no small part to his work on major titles like HitmanThe Demon2000 AD, and more. Those titles, including the incredible collaboration he shared with writer Garth Ennis, are certainly enough to make him a fan-favorite, but they're in some ways only scratching the surface of McCrea's career. Now, John McCrea superfans and admirers who want to dig deeper into his decades of work have something to look forward to. 

Last week McCrea launched his first-ever Kickstarter for The Mighty World of McCrea, an anthology collecting his creator-owned work from across three decades of comics storytelling. The first volume is just the beginning of a planned four-part journey, and will include The Atheist (with Phil Hester), The Tosspot Four (with Garth Ennis), Dinosaurs Rool (with Nick Abadzis), an all-new story written by Gerry Duggan titled Rocket Station Charlie, and more. Plus, McCrea has promised to throw in a lot of bells and whistles other collections might not feature, as a nod to the comics that made him fall in love with the medium in the first place. 

"As a kid, one of my favourite things at Christmas was getting the British annuals, be it Marvel, the Beano or the Six Million Dollar Man! These annuals had comic strips, sure, but loads of other things too- puzzle pages, interviews, articles, prose stories and more," McCrea explained on the Kickstarter page. "And that is what the Mighty World of McCrea is going to have, too... volume 1 has an article on Belfast's first comic shop, Dark Horizons, which I helped start and it's connection to Belfast's punk scene in the late 70s / early 80s. There will be an interview with Gerry Duggan and an all-new Dead Eyes prose story written by Gerry, with all-new illustrations by me. There will also be short comics by some of my fantastically talented friends, like Hunt Emerson, Laura Howell and Martin Hand! Plus the aforementioned puzzle pages and more!"

So, if you're interested in 200 pages of stories and fun features from the great John McCrea, head over and back the Kickstarter. You can get a digital copy of The Might World of McCrea for about 14 bucks, and a little more gets you a signed paperback. 

The Dreaming Waking Hours Main Cover

Now that we've talked about some cool new projects you can support, let's take a look at the new comics that got me excited this week. 

The Dreaming: Waking Hours #1 - The Sandman Universe is a fantastic idea for a series of comics, because Neil Gaiman, Karen Berger, and the massive roster of artists who worked on the original series made sure that the "stories about stories" heart of the whole piece really rang true. It really does feel like a corner of comics storytelling where just about anything is possible, provided the right storytellers come along and strike the right balance between magic and humanity. Writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Nick Robles have struck that balance perfectly in The Dreaming: Waking Hours by starting with an intriguing prompt: What happens when a nightmare is just a little too good at its job?

That's how we meet Ruin, the breakout character of Waking Hours, as his presence as a nightmare created to represent catastrophic failure sets off a chain reaction he can't seem to stop. Through precise, spellbinding scripting, Wilson introduces us first to Lindy -- a new mother and scholar whose head is so full of Shakespeare that his house fills her dreams at night -- and then to Ruin, who's eager to break out of the Dreaming for his own reasons. Their meeting sets off exactly the kind of spellbinding tonal dance that I love in a Sandman story. Everything feels rooted in an emotional reality that means when the magic kicks in, you follow where it leads, because the magic has a kind of reality to it too. Robles' art, including the gorgeous design for Ruin himself, only bolsters that sense of dynamic, lucid dreaming. This is a worthy new addition to The Sandman Universe, and I can't wait to read what happens next. 

Giant-Size X-Men: Fantomex #1 - Anyone who's ever seen me tweet about the X-Men knows that I love Fantomex. I've loved him ever since I first met him in the pages of New X-Men, so I was thrilled to see that X-Men mastermind Jonathan Hickman and artist Rod Reis were teaming up for a Giant-Size issue focusing on Weapon XIII himself. What I got when I actually read it was perhaps not what I expected, but as has often been the case in the Hickman era of X-books, I got what I need instead of what I wanted. 

This particular Giant-Size story focuses on Fantomex's frequent return visits to The World, the artificial environment where he was genetically engineered. Why does he keep going back? What's in it for him when he offers to help other mutants get in there? Why would he bother when he's so clearly found his own identity over the years away from that place? Hickman and Reis answer that question in a time-hopping story that's essentially several different visits to The World -- including on that nods directly at New X-Men -- with a very specific emotional thru-line that I won't spoil here. The result -- driven by Reis' perfectly paced and stylistically chameleonic art -- is a surprisingly heart-filled X-Men story. I read Fantomex comics because I want to see him doing cool Gentleman Thief stuff, but there's always been something hidden beneath that slick exterior. With this book, Hickman and Reis found it, and I was hooked immediately. 

Coffin Bound #5: Though I sometimes say it with regard to artwork, I'm often hesitant to call a comic "like nothing else out there," simply because "out there" is a big place and I don't want to presume things about stories I haven't read. In Coffin Bound's case, though, I'm willing to make an exception. I read the first collection of this Image Comics series in time to be ready for this, the first issue of the second arc, and I can honestly say that there is nothing else out there right now like this wonderfully strange comic. 

The second arc picks up sometime after the first and follows Taqa, a key supporting player from the first arc, as she sets out in search of the mythic Vulture character that so haunted the first few issues of the series. To find the Vulture -- and thus, she hopes, prove the existence of some kind of God -- Taqa ventures out to find death, and Coffin Bound readers know that if you court death, you tempt the presence of the Eartheater. 

If that all sounded like gibberish to you, I promise it makes more sense once you've actually read the comic...but only just enough, which is one of the things I love about Coffin Bound. Writer Dan Watters and artist Dani are telling a story that is rooted in very clear, plot-driven concepts but is nonetheless not too interested in always making perfect, clockwork logical sense. There's a dreamy quality to the violent world of this comic, one where painfully human characters can walk alongside monsters, and part of the magic comes when your own brain fills in certain gaps. Dani's beautifully grim art leans into that feeling, filling each page with compelling, visceral images, as Watters' script gives you just enough to keep the book alive with mystery even as it fills in its world. Coffin Bound is a wild, dark gem. 

Vampire The Masquerade: Winter's Teeth #1 - As someone who was once utterly obsessed with the World of Darkness tabletop role-playing games, I was honestly a little hesitant to dig into a new Vampire The Masquerade story, because I worried perhaps the veneer of nostalgia might get rubbed off. What I should've been counting on, of course, was that the creative team behind these stories would see that kind of skittishness coming, and deliver something that's both perfumed by nostalgia for those games and willing to blaze its own trail as a story all its own.

The first issue of Winter's Teeth offers not one, but two stories set in the world of VTM, both delving into different parts of vampire culture and setting different adventures in motion. In "Winter's Teeth" from writer Tim Seeley and artist Devmalya Pramanik, a ruthless vampire enforcer in the Twin Cities finds a strange vampire at her door and gets roped into a conspiracy, and in "Anarch Tales" from writers Blake and Tini Howard and artist Nathan Gooden, a group of Anarch vampires just looking for a little dinner find something else. 

If you're a longtime player of World of Darkness games or you've read past stories set in this world, Winter's Teeth #1 will reward you with little references to the wider lore. If you're just someone hoping to read a cool new vampire story, though, the book has that too, and it strikes a remarkable balance between playing up the worldbuilding of "The Masquerade" and telling very focused, character-driven stories following these vampires. The art only adds to this quality, building up a certain mystique around the more formal aspects of the vampire lore while also willing to dig down into the darker corners, where certain bloodsuckers are just trying to survive. It's a gripping first issue, and a sign that we're in for a fun new era of World of Darkness comics. 

Funny Creek #1: I love a high-concept miniseries that's going to dig deep into its core idea, luxuriate in it for a few issues, and then bug out having told a complete story, so I was naturally intrigued by the new ComiXology Original series Funny Creek. The core premise is one we've likely all dreamed of at one point: What if you got sucked into your favorite childhood cartoon? By taking such a common, childlike thought and transposing it into a comics story, writers Rafael Scavone and Rafael Albuquerque and artist Eduardo Medeiros are hoping to first capitalize on our expectations, then subvert them. The first issue achieves that, and then some. 

The story follows Lilly, a young girl who is rather inexplicably (for now, anyway) sucked into The Funny Creek Show, a cartoon starring a clown sheriff that she's obsessed with. At first, Lilly is thrilled to be meeting her favorite characters, but the deeper she sinks into the world of Funny Creek, the more she finds that her cartoon heroes aren't what the TV makes them seem to be. 

Scavone's script is a beautifully executed opening effort for a story like this, because it seems to know when to pull back and let Medeiros' art shine. In response, Medeiros offers something that's both satisfyingly cartoonish in way that evokes a certain era of animation, while also digging into certain little details that play up the depths the series plans to explore. It's a stylish, extremely well-orchestrated collaboration, and it gives away just enough in the first issue to get me excited about what's next without spoiling the whole game. I was delighted.

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."