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Comics Wire: Farewell to Sex Criminals, Local Comics Shop Day, Ringo winners, hot reads & more
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 Eisners and the Harveys have come and gone, but we're not done with major comics industry awards in the year of virtual conventions just yet. Over the weekend at the virtual edition of Baltimore Comic-Con, the 2020 Mike Wieringo Comic Book Industry Awards, or Ringos, were handed out, and a few trends from earlier in the season held up. It was another big night for comics legend Stan Sakai, who won Best Cartoonist, Best Single Issue for Usagi Yojimbo #6, and Best Presentation in Design or IDW's The Complete Grasscutter Artist Select edition.
Any awards night that features a lot of acclaim for Sakai is bound to show good taste in other areas, and that rang true for the rest of this year's Ringos as well. Among the other major winners that I was particularly excited about, Mariko Tamaki took another Best Writer award home after winning the same honor at the Eisners this year, Raina Telgemeier collected another honor (Best Kids Comic or Graphic Novel) for Guts, Image Comics' Bitter Root claimed a Best Series win (also alongside an Eisner this year) and helped Sanford Greene to a Best Artist award, and my beloved Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen took home Best Humor Comic. Plus, fresh off a big win at the Harveys, Superman Smashes The Klan by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru took home this year's Mike Wieringo Spirit Award.
Farewell, Sex Criminals (Yes I know how that sounds, shut up.)
This week, one of the most important creator-owned comics of the last decade, Sex Criminals, ends its run with issue #69 (nice), and that feels like something worth pausing to commemorate. When it began, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's unlikely sex-robbery-sci-fi-romance-joke comic rose to some of the highest highs of critical love that a comic book can reach, and it would have perhaps been easy and even commercially sound for the creative team to ride that wave to a safer, more predictable place in the issues that followed those first couple of volumes. But the story of Jon and Suzie never felt like something meant to take the easy road, and I'm pleased to say that Sex Criminals went out with the same energy, vulnerability, and raw emotional power that it had when it came in (insert joke here, and then insert another joke because I said "insert").
I know that Sex Criminals never lost its magic because I felt it, and I felt it because my life has gone through a lot of tribulations alongside these characters. When the book started I was in a very different place, in a different relationship, a different house, and a different set of psychological circumstances to such an extent that I don't think I fully grasped the heart of the book at first. For a while, because I'd been reading it with my ex, I had to put the book down entirely, and I let a couple of years go by before I felt safing picking up that particular emotional hand grenade again. By the time I did pick it back up, Jon and Suzie were on the rocks, Jon was reeling in the way I'd been reeling for a long time, and things got a whole lot weirder with the mythology surrounding The Quiet.
Now we've come to the end, and what started as a brutally honest and honestly hilarious book about the strange alchemy of love and the often unbearable strangeness of sex has remained all of those things, but with an extra layer of messiness that I was perhaps not expecting. I don't mean messiness in terms of craft, of course. Fraction, Zdarsky and pals kept up the same level of comic storytelling excellent throughout no matter what level of sexual shenanigans the characters were getting up to. I mean messiness in the sense that this comic was never afraid to go through it. It would have been so easy for Sex Criminals to stop growing, to stop evolving, to fall back on the jokes and tropes that got it all that good press to begin with.
Instead, along with remaining relentlessly funny, the book was relentlessly devoted to its own emotional fruition, ambitious in a narrative way and in a human way at a level that many comics can only ever hope to be. It's a book so honest with its characters and its emotions that at times it feels like plucking at a raw nerve to read it, but it's also a book about how all stuff, the good and the bad and the ridiculous, is worth it in the end. There will never be another comic quite like this one. Cheers to the Sex Criminals team on an incredible, improbable, beautiful run.
More news: Runaways returns, Local Comic Shop Day 2020, and more!
- The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, and it continues to impact every industry on the planet, including comics and the people who love them. Supporting local comic book shops has been a worthwhile thing all year, but as we head into the holiday season it's even more important. If you buy local when you're on the hunt for comics gifts, you can help a local shop get through the rest of the year, and Local Comic Shop Day is a good reminder of that.
In an effort to drive the point home, this year's Local Comic Shop Day is going to be a bit different. Organizer ComicsPRO announced last week that the annual event will move to the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, November 25, this year instead of maintaining its usual slot on the weekend before Thanksgiving. After all, Wednesday is New Comics Day for most publishers, so it makes sense. And as with past years, various publishers are rolling out new comics and incentive variant covers to help make the day special. We'll have more on what those offers will be in the-lead up to the event. For now, mark your calendars, and check the Local Comic Shop Day website for more information.
- Comics have been releasing regularly after the pandemic shutdown since May at this point, but certain scheduling quirks mean some books have taken longer breaks than others. It's been seven months, for example, since fans have gotten a new issue of Runaways, but that changes today. Marvel announced last week that the long-awaited Runaways #32, written by Rainbow Rowell with art by Stormbreakers artist Natacha Bustos, is hitting stores this week, and issue #33 is "coming soon" in the lead-up to a 100th issue event in the near future. Marvel's billing this as a perfect jumping-on point, so if you've been wondering what all the fuss is about, take a look.
- Titan Comics has had a lot of success so far with its Blade Runner publishing initative of canonical comics based on the world of the acclaimed sci-fi cinema classic, and they're far from done. Days after they announced a Blade Runner 2019 sequel series titled Blade Runner 2029, Titan revealed that a prequel comic is also on the way. Titled Blade Runner: Origins, a yearlong new series that will debut in February and chronicle "the events leading up to the creation of the Blade Runner division." Blade Runner 2019 writer Michael Green is returning for the series, and will be joined by K. Perkins and Mellow Brown to add yet another layer to this ever-expanding mythos.
New comics this week: Giga, Batgirl finale, X of Swords' midpoint, and more!
That's the news, now let's talk about some of the comics (other than my beloved Sex Criminals) that I got excited about this week.
Giga #1: I've written before about how much I enjoy stories with a strong sense of worldbuilding that somehow still manage to never get bogged down in it. There's a real joy to reading something and feeling that the creators behind it have a clear, beautifully imagined grasp of everything they're laying out before you, even if they're not ready to spill all the secrets just yet. Giga #1, the new Vault Comics series from writer Alex Paknadel and artist John Le, gave me that feeling from the very first page and absolutely never let up.
The Giga of the title are giant mechanical beings that, in their dormant state, have become home to the human race. The entirety of human culture in this strange, gorgeously rendered world is build around the Giga and the literal holy scriptures that have been built up around their history, purpose, and meaning to the human race. It is into this world that Paknadel and Le drop Evan Calhoun, a former engineer who didn't fit in with the holy order that governs his society, but now finds himself at the center of a mystery that will change everything.
I can honestly say that I've never come across a story quite like Giga before, both in terms of the high-concept at its core and in the way that Paknadel and Le go about imagining a world where the mechs we're so used to seeing engaged in epic battles have become a combination of shrine and skyscraper. It's a first issue absolutely packed with imagination, and Le executes it all perfect on the page in panels that shift effortlessly from expressive close-up to massive cityscapes. Paknadel's script strikes a similar balance, hitting all the right notes in the mythos of this universe while also immersing us immediately and deeply in Evan's character. There's so much at work here, and yet none of it feels rushed or forced or over-indulgent. This is a spectacular debut with the potential to be a blockbuster series for many issues to come.
Blue In Green: I'm almost tempted to tell you to read absolutely nothing about Blue in Green and just go pick it up, sight unseen, and sit down with it in a quiet corner somewhere. But of course, that would rob me of the ability to tell you just how special this graphic novel from writer Ram V and artist Anand Rk really is, so if you'll permit me: Blue in Green is a tremendous achievement that merges unexpected concepts and themes and riffs on them in unexpected ways until, by the end, you truly feel that you've just spent a little time in the glow of masters of their craft. It's that good.
Blue in Green is the story of Erik, a jazz musician who's never felt good enough to be one of the greats, and settles for teaching and writing about music instead. That all changes when he returns home after the death of his estranged mother, and finds that her house is haunted with memories that contain a certain power he didn't expect to find. Something awakens in Erik again, something poweful and dark and, if he's not careful, all-consuming.
What's immediately and endlessly striking about this book is, of course, Anand Rk's art, helped along with outstanding color work by John Pearson. Blue in Green has a look that simultaneously reminds me of the best storytelling instincts of Sienkiewicz and McKean and manages to burst into inspired flights all its own. There's a mesmeric quality to it, helped along by Ram V's script, which proves that the writer, like a good soloist, knows when to really lay it on and when to hang back a little and let the other pieces of the ensemble play. On top of that, it's a script with a deep, finely honed sense of emotional detail so precise that, if "jazz meets horror" isn't enough to grab you, the slow, visceral spiral that is Erik's confrontation with the true price of genius definitely will. This is one of 2020's essential graphic novels.
Batgirl #50: I think sometimes that we don't give writers credit often enough for writing individual superhero characters -- not just the heroes, but the people beneath the capes and cowls -- very well. There's a tendency, and I'll admit it's one that I've fallen back on myself a few times, to think of these characters as broad archetypes in well-defined costumes, and as long as a writer doesn't start coloring outside the lines of those archetypes, they're doing fine. Then you come across a story that reminds you that picking up these characters and running with them is about more than following the rules, that creative teams can make genuine emotional connections to these personalities even when dozens or even hundreds of other writers and artists have already taken them for a spin. Batgirl #50, the finale of writer Cecil Castellucci's run with the character and of the current volume of Barbara Gordon's solo title, is one of those comics.
Broadly speaking, this issue is about Barbara Gordon reckoning with where she goes from here in the wake of Joker War, the death of her brother, and a battle she was forced into against Dick Grayson, among other things. It's an issue that has to cover a lot of narrative territory, and as such Castellucci and her art team, featuring penciler Emanuela Lupacchino in the lead story, might be forgiven for making it all about mopping up, putting the chairs on the tables, and switching out the lights. It could easily be a pleasant clean-up issue, but that's not how Barbara Gordon's mind works, and that's not how Castellucci and Lupacchino want to go out. Instead, through gorgeous art that's just as dynamic across a diner table as it on a Gotham City rooftop, the creative team charts a course for Barbara that allows her to come to a new understanding of what her job is as a kind of self-appointed caretaker of Gotham in ways that even Batman perhaps isn't. It's an ambitious, emotionally fulfilling, and often daring way to send off the character into her next adventures, and it's worth reading even if you haven't been following Castellucci's full run. Plus, one of two back-up stories in the extra-sized issue features the Birds of Prey playing D&D together, and that alone is worth the price of admission.
X of Swords: Stasis #1: So, here we are at the midpoint of Marvel's X of Swords event. How's everyone feeling? If you're me, you're still loving the level of ambition, patience, and sometimes flat-out wild storytelling coming out of this thing, but I know that's not a feeling shared by everyone. I've seen a lot of anecdotal frustration with the direction this event is taking, a lot of "this doesn't feel like the X-Men" creeping up on social media, and I'll even admit that I haven't always been able to counter those criticisms even in my own head, because it doesn't necessarily feel like X-Men as usual to me either, but that's a big part of why I like it. Thankfully, X of Swords: Stasis goes a long way to helping me articulate that exact thing.
This installment is another big team-up issue for the creative teams, featuring Tini Howard and Jonathan Hickman on scripting duties and Pepe Larraz and Mahmud Asrar on art. The art is, of course, spectacular, and it's particularly noteworthy because this is our first truly extended amount of time spent among the Swordbearers of Arakko throughout this event, which means that Larraz and Asrar get to play with a kind of mirroring effect in which we see the formation of a second set of champions in the wake of the X-Men assembling their own swordbearers. What I really want to focus in on here, though, is what the story is attempting to do.
Without giving too much away, this issue functions as a stage-setter of sorts after several chapters of various mutants gathering legendary blades in preparation for the contest to come. There are arrivals, meetings, truces, secrets, and no small number of pieces moving into place on the massive game board that Opal Luna Saturnyne has built for herself on Otherworld, but in among all that staging is something bigger. This is an issue that, for me, does two things extremely well. On one hand, it's adding new depths to the mythos of one of the most powerful mutants in Marvel Comics, which we won't get into here out of deference to spoilers. On the other hand, it's reminding us through some very clever scripting that the mutant champions we've seen fall into place over the past few weeks are familiar pillars of mutantdom that any longtime or even recent X-line reader feels they know inside and out. By placing them in this situation, and setting them across from a group of dark strangers who seem just as well-realized and fully formed, X of Swords promises that by the time the swords are sheathed we stand the chance to learn something truly new about all of them. Whether or not the event can do that remains to be seen, but if it can it just might become my favorite Marvel event in quite some time.
Legacy of Mandrake the Magician #1: Ever since it was announced at San Diego Comic-Con, I've been eager to see what the new Mandrake the Magician series would offer, and now after a #0 issue (free to read on ComiXology for the curious) the series proper is here, and it feels like there's some real magic to be had in these pages.
Legacy of Mandrake #1, from writer Erica Schultz and artist Diego Giribaldi, introduces us to Mandragora "Mandy" Paz, a high school student with a magic talking mirror in her bedroom who, thanks to her mother's ties to the legendary character, has inherited the mantle of Mandrake. Of course, she's not entirely comfortable with it, or the magic that comes with the name, just yet, and much of the first issue is devoted to that sense of learning the ropes.
There's a confidence and exuberance that comes through right away in Schultz's script, a sense that we don't necessarily need to hurry to get to the magical action (though it's there, and it's a lot of fun) and can instead spend a little time just getting to know Mandy. So we follow her from home to school and on through her day, and instead of forcing the action Schutlz and Giribaldi pepper the entire story with little fluorishes of it. It helps that the opening sequence is a real dazzler, but even with that in mind Legacy of Mandrake is a patient comic, and that patience feels like it pays off as we start to understand why we should care about this girl, and what her true dilemma really is. Giribaldi's art rises to meet that sense of patience, and his close-ups of Mandy's face are particularly expressive fun. It all comes together for a breezy, fun debut that feels like it's building to something we'll want to stick around for.
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."