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SYFY WIRE Comics Wire

Comics Wire: Marvel brings 'Alien' back to life. Plus DC's Multiverse holiday special, & new reads

By Matthew Jackson
Marvel Alien 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.

Earlier this year, after successful resurrections of both Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian within their publishing line, Marvel Comics announced they'd secured the rights to the Alien and Predator franchises and would be bringing new stories from those universes to us in 2021. Like Star Wars, the Alien license shifted to Marvel after years of expansive stories at Dark Horse Comics, and the announcement paved the way for a whole new world of talent to take on stories of the Xenomorph and its many victims and enemies. Now, we finally have a glimpse at what the Marvel era of Alien will look like at its launch.

Marvel Alien cover

The publisher announced Monday that March will bring the launch of Alien #1, the beginning of a new series by writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson (The Last God, Empyre: Captain America) and artist Salvador Larroca (Doctor Doom, Darth Vader) that will take us all to "never-before-seen corners" of the Alien mythos and, perhaps most interestingly, introduce "a deadly new breed of xenomorph" through the eyes of a Weyland-Yutani mercenary. Details beyond that are slim, but the fact that Marvel is confident enough to lead off its new incarnation of the franchise with a new twist on the creature is exciting.

"Just as a reader and fan, I was as excited as anyone when I heard the franchise was coming to Marvel, and when they asked me to write the launch, I was floored. I've been training my whole life for this gig without knowing it," Johnson said in a press release. "Ever since seeing Ridley Scott's Alien at way too young an age, I've been obsessed with the xenomorph, the single most iconic representation of terror on film."

So, beyond the idea of a new xenomorph incarnation, what can we expect from Alien? Will there be crossovers? Will the xenomorphs eventually bleed into the Marvel universe proper to battle the likes of Thor and Venom? Will Ellen Ripley return? And when's the Predator launching? We have no idea, but given the level of ambition Marvel's brought to Star Wars and Conan in the coming years, we'll definitely be excited to find out. Keep checking back at SYFY WIRE in the coming weeks for more peeks at Marvel's upcoming Alien launch.

D&D hits the real world in a new AfterShock series

I may have mentioned in this column one or two or...well, several dozen times that I am a huge fan of high-concept comics that are willing to take big, hook-laden ideas and hash them out over the course of a series. That sense of flexibility and ambition is a huge part of the reason I love the form, so whenever a creative team I dig decides to take a swing at something like that, I'm there. That's why I was very excited this week when AfterShock Comics (the publisher behind recent hits like We Live, The Kaiju Score, Undone by Blood and much more) announced Bequest, a comic that asks the question: What if a group of Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy adventurers had to sneak into our world to take what's theirs?

Bequest hails from the team of Tim Seeley (Hack/Slash) and Freddie E. Williams II (Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and will follow a group of heroes from the realm of Tangea, a fantasy world full of magic, dungeons, and adventures. Unfortunately, all that magic is bleeding over into world, as Tangea artifacts wind up on the black market and threaten to basically unravel everything. With that fate of their world on the line, a group of adventurers will have to sneak into modern-day Chicago and navigate a very different kind of quest, stealing back the artifacts before it's too late.

"I love fantasy (I spent a good portion of my career drawing The Dark Elf adaptations by R.A. Salvatore), and I wanted to smash together the tropes of that genre with the world we live in today," Seeley said in the announcement. "Our 'heroes' are essentially thieves, as they steal treasure. How does a character like that play in modern America, a place teetering between 'woke' liberalism and ignorant conservatism? Also, I get to work with Freddie and [colorist Jeremy Colwell] whose work I loved on my Injustice v Masters of the Universe comic from DC."

I can't wait to read this. Bequest arrives on St. Patrick's Day 2021 from AfterShock.

More news: DC post-Future State, Skybound kaiju series, David Lee Roth's comics project, and more!

Wonder Woman 770 cover

- So, if you follow comics news and also this column on a regular basis, you might be wondering why I didn't devote more time up top to DC Comics' announcements of new titles and teams on their post-Future State books over the weekend. Well, it's because my colleagues already covered it when it broke, and they covered it rather extensively so I didn't want to just rehash their hard work. It is definitely worth reminding you here, though, that DC is taking some pretty cool swings out of the Future State gate, with announcements like Becky Cloonan on Wonder Woman, Mariko Tamaki writing Detective Comics, Gene Luen Yang and Ivan Reis on a must-read Batman/Superman run, Ram V writing Swamp Thing and much, much more. The overall slate seems to be a pretty clear indication that Future State is not just going to be a two-month closed event with no lasting impact, because these titles seem to be paving the way not just for new stories, but for new voices who've earned their time with these classic characters. If you missed the announcements, go check out our coverage, and get ready for some cool stuff come March.

- Image Comics has already put out one amazing kaiju-inspired new series in the past few months with Jason Howard's excellent Big Girls, but if you love big stories featuring big creatures doing big damage, you should also be looking ahead to next March. Image's Skybound imprint announced Tuesday that it's set to launch Ultramega, a massive new series from writer/artist James Harren (Rumble) which promises to dwarf all other debuts next year with a massive 68-page first issue launch. To find out more, and get a peek at some teaser art, head over to the Image website.

- Hey, speaking of cool stuff coming in 2021, the fine folks at Fantagraphics have unveiled their publishing slate for next year, and it includes everything from a decades-in-the-making Barry Windsor-Smith graphic novel to the great Jaime Hernandez doing wrestling art. Head over to The Beat to see the full, rather impressive slate.

- Do you like Deadpool? Statistically, if you're reading this on the internet, the answer to that question is yes, which means you've got some new Merc with a Mouth fun to look forward to next year when the character celebrates his 30th anniversary. So, what can you expect apart from the usual mayhem? How about the return of Deadpool co-creator Rob Liefeld, who's joining an all-star group of talent (including co-creator Fabian Nicieza) for the character's upcoming Nerdy 30 one-shot celebration. To check out Liefeld's cover for that much-anticipated issue, head over to Comic Book.

- I have five words for you, and then I just want you to go over to Variety and read more for yourself, OK? Just five words: David Lee Roth graphic novel.

New comics this week: DC's Merry Multiverse, Marvel's S.W.O.R.D., Home Sick Pilots, and more!

very merry multiverse cover

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

DC's Very Merry Multiverse #1: As someone who's been known to read old issues of Christmas with the Super Heroes just to relax before bed on random evenings, I appreciate the hell out of major comics publishers still putting out holiday specials, particularly when they're willing to go as big and broad as DC's Very Merry Multiverse. This isn't just a holiday special, but 80 pages worth of holiday special from all-star talent, weaving tales ranging from the hilarious to the profound, from the adventurous to the contemplative, and on some level it all works.

Despite a wide range of stories covering a wide range of characters from various DC Comics Earths, the centerpiece of Very Merry Multiverse is, as you may have heard, the debut of Teen Justice, the budding superteam from Earth-11 featuring the much-hyped non-binary speedster known as Jess Chambers. Chambers in particular is set to have a bigger impact in DC's upcoming Future State line, so all eyes were always going to be on this story. It works, but not just because Jess is there. Instead of making this story all about a single spotlight, writer Ivan Cohen and artist Eleonora Carlini shine bright beams across the entire Young Justice team, which serves to give us a better look at both Jess' dynamic and the dynamic of the whole group, all of whom feel worthy of bigger upcoming stories. It's a phenomenally fun showcase that drips potential.

But of course, that's far from the only reason to pick up this special. Steve Lieber draws the hell out of an It's a Wonderful Life riff starring Harley Quinn, written by Paul Scheer and Nick Giovanetti. John Layman and Dani return to the realm of Gotham by Gaslight for a gorgeous seasonal story. Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen tell a heartwarming and sometimes surprising Batman Beyond tale about Terry seeking out a very particular Christmas gift for Bruce, Tom King delivers a Lobo Hanukkah (as wild as it sounds) with help from artist Scott Koblish, Brittany Holzherr and Todd Nauck deliver a bittersweet look at Booster Gold, and so much more. It's a massive, endlessly entertaining collection of stories perfect for reading by the tree.

S.W.O.R.D. #1: We're now in a new era of Marvel's revamped X-Men line, operating under the banner "Reign of X," but that doesn't just mean the same series we've been reading for months will deal with a new status quo in the wake of X of Swords. It also means new mutant-driven series, and the first of those launched this week with a revitalized S.W.O.R.D. by the triumphant Empyre creative team of writer Al Ewing and artist Valerio Schiti.

The first issue reads, in some ways, like a tour of the old Peak space station as Abigail Brand and her new team of mutants get their mission underway, showing it off to the Quiet Council of Krakoa as we meet the mutants onboard, learn what their roles are, and getting a sense of what exactly S.W.O.R.D. will be up to going forward as essentially the intergalactic arm of the Krakoan government. It's a solid formula for a first issue, but its also one that runs the risk of being a dry recitation of plot goals and character introductions, with little in the way of actual stakes.

But this is Al Ewing we're talking about, and Al Ewing is a guy who's not going to take on something like this unless he can throw big ideas at it right away. I won't tell you exactly where this first issue is headed, but I will tell you that by the time it got there I was enormously entertained by what I was reading. Every bit of ambition that we saw in the "Dawn of X" stories is still at work here, but in a very different way, and it's all bolstered by Ewing's ability to do more with his script even beyond the big ideas. The little character moments are there too, and they make the whole thing work even when we are just getting a logistical sense of how this new status quo works. It doesn't hurt, of course, that those moments are also engineered by Schiti, who can do massive cosmic stuff and short bursts of character comedy with equal enthusiasm and skill. So far, the return of S.W.O.R.D. is every bit the wild mutant sci-fi book I was hoping it would be, and I'm eager to see what comes next.

Home Sick Pilots #1: It's pretty easy to get me to read your comic when you describe it in solicitation copy as "Power Rangers meets The Shining," but as much I love those kinds of ambitious hooks, boiling Home Sick Pilots down to something like that beyond just trying to sell you the book feels like selling it short. Yes, this is a book that's billing itself as the story of a haunted house being piloted by someone, but writer Dan Watters and artist Caspar Wijngaard have also engineered something much bigger in this fantastic debut issue.

The series follows Ami, a '90s teenager who leads a punk band eager to develop their reputation by playing gigs in the most rundown, unforgettable places possible. When the prospect of a local house with legends of hauntings surrounding it comes up, the band's eager to check it out, and that's when things start to get really, really weird.

Because I'm a fan of the excellent and dreamlike Coffin Bound, I know that Watters has a confident scripting style that allows him to dig deep into the thematic resonance of his stories, and because I'm a fan of the excellent Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt, I know that Wijngaard has the artist might to deliver this kind of story with a combination of elegance and raw emotional power. What I perhaps wasn't expecting was just how hard they were willing to go right out of the gate. Home Sick Pilots #1 doesn't blow its entire concept wide open right away, leaving plenty to be explored in subsequent issues, but it also doesn't hold back when it comes to the heart beating at the core of this whole piece. This is a high-concept horror book, yes, but it's also about trauma, searching, and what happens when we find kindred spirits in unexpected places. If you'll forgive the pun, there's really only one word for this incredible debut: Haunting.

Byte-Sized #1: Halloween is, of course, the spookiest holiday, but Christmas has always leant itself to stories of thinks that go bump in the night, particularly when those things arrive in contrast to the peace and joy we've come to expect from the season. That feeling, combined with the childlike qualities that come out in all of us this time of year, also means Christmas is a particularly good time to set a somewhat dark genre adventure that appeals to younger fans. There's a reason Gremlins holds up so well, after all.

Which brings us to Byte-Sized, the new sci-fi series from writer Cullen Bunn and artist Nelson Blake II that is specifically, thrillingly designed to appeal to that sense of childlike holiday wonder. The first issue follows a strange group of creatures as they sneak away from a secret lab and make their way towards a quiet family home one Christmas Eve. Bunn and Blake build the atmosphere slowly, with just enough simmering tension to keep us hooked without feeling awash with dread. What are these creatures? What do they want? How high are the odds that they'll ruin Christmas? We have to keep reading to find out.

Byte-Sized reads like something that's part Gremlins, part Stranger Things, and part Short Circuit, with perhaps a little bit of The Santa Clause thrown in for some Christmas Eve magic. It's a story that seems to wear its influences on its sleeve, but at no point does that feel like a bad thing. Bunn and Blake are obviously having blast with this story, building up the energy to a level that will have readers of all ages on the edge of their seats without ever pushing things into all-out terror. The result is a season delight that you can happily present to the kids in your life for a little thrilling holiday reading.

The Comic Book History of Animation #1: Nonfiction comics are, in the right hands, some of the most creative works in the entire medium, because even when you're presenting the most basic facts on any given subject the amount of playfulness that a few panels on the page can offer is vast. Writer Fred Van Lente and artist Ryan Dunlavey know this very well, because they've already proved it with their Comic Book History of Comics. Now, the duo is back, and this time they're taking on animation.

The Comic Book History of Animation #1 traces the earlies days of animation as an art form, from the very earliest explorations of moving, hand-drawn images to the rise of Winsor McCay, the Fleischer Brothers, and a guy you might have heard of called Walt Disney. It's all presented clearly, eloquently, and with a sense of chronological organization that makes it both easily digestible and easily re-readable if you're so inclined.

As with their previous efforts in the Comic Book History series, what makes the work really shine is the level of joy Van Lente and Dunlavey are injecting into every single page, whether it's Van Lente having a little fun with his artist in the narration, or Dunlavey going off on inspired little design flights that work as both homages to and commentaries on the legendary figures profiled in this installment. If you know someone who wants to know more about animation history, love nonfiction comics, or just want a beautifully orchestrated book, pick this one up.

And that's it for Comics Wire this week. Have a safe Thanksgiving, and 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."