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SYFY WIRE Comics Wire

Comics Wire: Marvel & DC plot new 'event' comics, while Black Lives Matter fundraiser surpasses $200,000

By Matthew Jackson
X-Men Free Comic Book Day 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.

It may have happened nearly a week ago now, but the biggest news in the comics industry this week is still DC Comics' announcement that it is ending its relationship with Diamond Comics Distributors. The news arrived Friday, and while there's certainly a great many other things going on in the world beyond comics, it was nevertheless a major shake-up within the industry. The ripple effects of this decision, which ends Diamond's effective monopoly on comics' Direct Market and takes away about 30 percent of its sales, are still being felt.

Diamond itself responded late Friday with a statement from owner Steve Geppi which indicated that, while Diamond was certainly aware that DC was exploring other options (incuding the distribution agreements it set up during Diamond's COVID-19 shutdown), the company did not expect DC to announce on Friday that the two companies would be severing ties altogether. While communications between DC and retailers seemed to indicate a longer decision-making process, according to Diamond the final call was an abrupt one.

Regardless of how quickly the decision was made, of course, the big issue now is how retailers will adjust to the new normal of their industry at a time when many of them are already struggling due to pandemic-related closures and reduced foot traffic. Perhaps not surprisingly, the initial retailer response to the DC news was not happy. Numerous local comic store owners weighed in with statements to Newsarama over the weekend, and the response was often scathing.

While some retailers responded with simple "screw you" statements and claimed a lack of transparency, others noted concerns over higher shipping costs and lower discounts through the new distribution system, and some noted they'll be ordering fewer DC books each month in an attempt to offset the higher costs. Still others noted what happened the last time a major publisher decided to do something like this when Marvel tried to launch their own distributor in the 1990s. For more on the historical context of all of this, read John Jackson Miller's excellent report over at Comichron.

For its part, DC is still hoping this decision — however unfortunate the timing might be for the overall industry — will ultimately prove to be a positive force in growing their audience. Making this leap after 25 years was never going to be an easy thing, particularly when you're talking about retailers who are already having to make major adjustments to their businesses due to other outside factors. Whether it or not it all pays off is something we'll only know with time. For now, though, DC distributor UCS has announced that no new DC Comics periodicals will ship the week of June 30 in an effort to give retailers more of an adjustment window. If you're concerned about what this means for your local shop and your books, reach out to your retailer.

Fundraising success

Now, on to some more fun news. Last week, we reported on comics writer Gail Simone's efforts to create a kind of impromptu fundraiser for the Black Lives Matter movement after protests against police brutality erupted in cities around the United States and the world. Simone's chosen vehicle for this, inspired by one of her precious pieces of comics memorabilia, was a hashtagged Twitter auction which she dubbed #ComicWritersChallenge. At the time this column was completed last week, only Simone and a handful of her peers were participating in the auctions, but several more comics pros had already promised they'd been participating soon. A week later, and it seems Simone's appeals to her colleagues for help paid off in a big way.

Yes, in the week since Simone launched the fundraiser, the challenge has raised more than $200,000 for Black Lives Matter-related funds and charities through direct donations from bidders on social media, and it's not over yet. Among the comics pros who've stepped up since we covered it last week are Tim Sale, Tom King, Terry Dodson, Jim Lee (who's fresh off his own fundraiser for the Book Industry Charitable Foundation), Paul Jenkins, Becky Cloonan, Walt Simonson and more.

Simone and her comics pro pals are part of a broader effort within the comics community — including publishers like Black Mask and Archie donating profits and creators conducting individual fundraisers and signal-boosting campaigns — to do the same thing for Black Lives Matter that they did for comics retailers amid COVID-19-related hardship, and it's wonderful to see. Here's hoping that total fundraising number keeps climbing.

DC and Marvel gear up for the return of event comics

X-Men Free Comic Book Day cover

It's only been a couple of weeks since all the major publishers began releasing new single-issue comics again, but the Big Two are already looking ahead to the big event books they were planning for 2020 before the pandemic threw off everyone's schedule. Traditionally, the first day of May is Free Comic Book Day in retailers around North America, and while that couldn't happen this year for obvious reasons, Marvel has announced that its own version of Free Comic Book Day will still happen this year, in July.

The publisher revealed Monday that it will be releasing two Free Comic Book Day titles foreshadowing some of its biggest upcoming storylines at participating retailers later this summer, including our first look at the still-mysterious X-Men crossover event X of Swords, the first major X-event since Dawn of X blew everyone away last year. The X-Men Free Comic Book Day offering will including two stories — an X of Swords prelude by Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz and another teaser for a future X-epic by Tom Taylor and Iban Coello — and will hit stores July 15. A week later, on July 22, Marvel will release a Spider-Man Free Comic Book Day issue that will set up major storylines in future issues of Amazing Spider-Man, Black Cat, and Venom. The creative team for that book includes the Venom duo of Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman, as well as Black Cat writer Jed MacKay and Amazing Spider-Man artist Patrick Gleason.

Not to be outdone, DC Comics also announced this week that it's beefing up its own upcoming event publishing, namely the tie-in books surrounding the much-anticipated released of Dark Nights: Death Metal. Last month the publisher announced two one-shots set to arrive in August on either side of Death Metal #3, and on Monday they revealed that September will also be packed with Death Metal spinoff action in the form of three more one-shots.

While the main Death Metal miniseries by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo will be taking September off, fans can now look forward to three 48-page spinoff issues that month by some of DC's top creators. The effort kicks of September 8 with Trinity Crisis #1, from Scott Snyder and Francis Manapul, which will follow the classic DC Trinity as they face off against Dark Multiverse counterparts to some of their most dangerous foes. Then on September 22 Joshua Williamson, Eddy Barrows, and Eber Ferreira will bring us Speed Metal #1, in which the various Flashes of DC history will face off against the Darkest Knight in a race to preserve Wally West's powers.

The month of spinoffs wraps up on September 29 with Multiverse's End by James Tynion IV and Juan Gedeon, which will follow a group of heroes from across the Multiverse as they try to stop Perpetua from wiping out all of existence. If you're excited about Death Metal, prepare to make some room on your pull list for these one-shots too.

Upcoming projects from Al Ewing, Emma Kubert, and more

Inkblot cover

Now that comics are coming out with some regularity once again, we're also seeing more fun announcements from publishers beyond the Big Two, including two very exciting ones over the last couple of days. Image Comics announced Monday that it will be releasing Inkblot, a new fantasy comic from artist Emma Kubert and writer Rusty Gladd, later this fall. Described as a blend of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Amulet, the series follows a sorceress as she attempts to curtail the chaotic nature of a magical, time-traveling cat she created who now won't listen to reason even as it threatens all of existence. Kubert, the granddaughter of comics legend Joe Kubert, is a third-generation comics professional whose work has appeared in DC Super Hero Girls, the graphic novel Raven, and more. Now, she and Gladd have brought a project she's been working to realize for years outside the realm of superhero stories to life. Inkblot arrives this September.

We Only Find Them When They're Dead cover

Meanwhile, over at BOOM! Studios, they're brewing another major genre series of their own in the form of We Only Find Them When They're Dead, a new ongoing comic from writer Al Ewing (Immortal Hulk) and artist Simone Di Meo (Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers). Ewing's knack for high-concept genre work looks to be on full display here, as this book sets out to tell the story of a starship captain who, after years of salvaging the body parts of giant cosmic god corpses out in space, decides it's time to go in search of a living god for the first time. I don't know about you, but to me that sounds a little bit like Preacher in Space, and I am here for Preacher in Space. We Only Find Them When They're Dead will also hit comics shops this September.

This week's comics: Joker turns 80, Miles Morales, and more!

It's a big week for new comics, whether you're looking for long-awaited returns or brand-new stories. Here's what got me excited this week.

Adventureman Cover

Adventureman #1: As you may have guessed if you read last week's column, I'm a Matt Fraction devotee. I like the way he plays with genre and subgenre, mashing up styles and subtexts and years of history, reclaiming and remixing as he goes in an effort to make something new. There's a delicacy to his writing that's only gotten better with time, through his work on Hawkeye and Sex Criminals and most recently November. Now, his much-anticipated new collaboration with Terry and Rachel Dodson, Aventureman, is finally here. And it was worth the wait.

Adventureman is named for a legendary pulp hero (think Doc Savage with a better shirt) whose adventures ended on a devastating cliffhanger years earlier. In the present day, the story focuses on Claire, a single mother and bookstore owner who long for quiet in a world dominated by the noise of the city she lives in and her massive, energetic extended family. Then she comes across a mysterious book, and Claire's placid life suddenly gets a lot more exciting as she realizes that Adventureman was much more than a story.

The first thing that struck me was just how vast the world feels even over the course of this one oversized issue. From the prologue pages that takes us back to Adventureman's glory days to the scenes around Claire's family table, there's a sense of worldbuilding that's thanks in no small part to the years Fraction and the Dodsons spent developing the story. First issues often struggle to create that sense of a fully realized world, and if they land it they can risk doing it at the expense of a gripping, page-turning story. It's an extremely delicate balance to strike, but Fraction nails it with grace, and I can't wait to see what this world delivers next. And as for the art...well, it's Terry and Rachel Dodson. It looks as spectacular as you'd expect, and then some.

The Joker 80th Anniversary 100 Page Super Spectacular: I have to admit there are days — weeks, even — when I get pretty tired of The Joker. Yes, he's arguably the most popular supervillain ever created, but while I fully understand the tendency to saturate pop culture with him because of that, there are times when I just feel like I've had enough of the guy. Still, when an all-star group of creators -- including some of the minds that made The Joker into the behemoth that he is today -- get together to celebrate the Clown Prince of Crime for the 80th anniversary of his first appearance, I'm going to be at least a little curious. Thankfully, my curiosity paid off, because the Joker 80th Anniversary anthology is a reminder of how the right creators can breathe new life into this character again and again.

Granted, not every one of the stories in the massive Joker 80th one-shot hit me with the same sense of creative energy, but the ones that did really landed, and their ability to jerk me out of my disillusionment with Mr. J made the journey through these pages worth it. In what is perhaps the best story of the bunch, Scott Snyder and Jock lay out what is essentially a compelling character treatise on why The Joker works so well while hardly featuring the man himself at all. Then there's a welcome return by DC Comics legends Denny O'Neil and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez that features The Joker both traveling to a distant land and wearing a hilarious outfit that makes me miss the Joker of the '70s just a little bit. Plus, current Batman writer James Tynion IV and artist Mikel Janin team up to deliver a compelling and still-mysterious origin story of sorts for Punchline, the Joker's new sidekick whose about to have a big role to play in the DC Universe.

Excellence #7: A few days ago SYFY WIRE's own Mike Avila recommended Excellence, the Image Comics series co-created by Brandon Thomas and Khary Randolph, on his list of books by Black creators we should all be checking out right now. Since Excellence was set to make its return this week after more than six months away, I took Mike's advice and dove into the series. I was blown away by what I read, and the series' return in Excellence #7 this week marks the glorious revival of one of the best fantasy comics I've read all year.

The series follows Spencer Dales, the heir to a powerful magical legacy that's used almost entirely for the benefit of other people, as he tries to bring the oppressive system he was raised into down from the inside. Spencer is supposed to be the next magical luminary to rise within the secretive group known as The Aegis, and his father has tried to groom him as such, but Spencer defies his legacy in an effort to break the old ways down and build something new. After the first six issues of the series set this struggle up, issue #7 sets Spencer on the path to executing his vision.

Excellence is marked by detailed, fascinating worldbuilding that both plays with potent and relevant genre metaphors and never indulges in too much audience handholding, as Thomas lays out the story through bold action and some of the most natural dialogue I've ever read on a comics page. Then there's Randolph's art, which along with the coloring work of Emilio Lopez seems to reach a new level of power with each passing each. The Randolph/Lopez team is doing next-level work once again with this issue, and I can assure you no matter how many fantasy stories you've indulged in you've never seen magic wands and spells deployed in quite the way Excellence does it.

Miles Morales: Spider-Man #17: Saladin Ahmed has a particular gift as a superhero storyteller that's so precise it reads almost like a magic trick. He can, through a few brief interactions on a comics page, get to the heart of what makes any given hero work as an aspirational and entertaining figure in the superhero landscape, and he can do it in a way that doesn't every feel overly saccharine or trite. It's a bit wild to be trucking along through a comic and then pause and realize someone just summed up a character perfectly without even really trumpeting that achievement, but he can do it, and he did it again in this issue of Miles Morales: Spider-Man.

Ahmed is joined this time out by new series artist Carmen Carnero for a story set in the aftermath of the Outlawed one-shot that saw The Champions falling under the thumb of a new government program meant to monitor teen superheroes, including Miles Morales. That means Miles is having to play the outlaw game a bit more than usual, even as he tries to get used to life as a big brother and continues to deal with whatever's going on with the multiversal villain Ultimatum. The issue, anchored by Carnero's vibrant art (including one particular splash page that very nearly moved me to tears), balances all of this for a thrilling ride that also doubles as a new jumping-on point for new readers. Be warned, though: If you start reading here, you're going to want to go back and read the other 16. That's just the magic of this series.

James Bond #5: James Bond has enjoyed several new takes in recent years via various stories put out by Dynamite Entertainment, and I've enjoyed reading several of them, but I'm particularly intrigued by what's going on in the book right now. Writers Vita Ayala and Danny Lore have had great success over the course of the first four issues of their take on the character with catapulting Bond into the world of art forgeries and the darker deeds that lurking beneath those crimes. The series is action-packed, laced with clever dialogue, and perhaps most importantly, very good at de-centering Bond and focusing on the characters around him, in this case insurance investigator and art forger Brandy Keys.

Issue #5 largely unfolds over the course of two different fight scenes, rendered with spectacular precision by Eric Gapstur, as Bond and Keys struggle in different rooms with different opponents. Old favorite villains appear, mysteries get closer to their solutions, and the whole things unfolds as a thrilling example of how to tell a story that's rich in character and motion at the same time. If you haven't dug into this particular incarnation of Bond yet, and you're interested in seeing a different side of 007, this ongoing series is very much worth a look.

And that's it for Comics 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."