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SYFY WIRE Comics Wire

Comics Wire: One more round of virtual cons, new Captain America team-up, and this week's hot reads

By Matthew Jackson
United States of Captain America 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.

We're coming up on a year of running this column, and I know that because the week we started it turned out to be the week that Diamond Comics Distributor paused service amid the spreading COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that resulted. That all simultaneously feels like it happened five years and five minutes ago, but because everyone online has been musing about where they were and what they were doing when the lockdowns started last spring, I've also been thinking about where we are now in the world of comics, where we've been, and what's still left to do before we get back to "normal" again. 

Over the last few weeks, several major conventions have announced they'll once again be going virtual for 2021 after a nearly all-virtual con season in 2020. WonderCon's virtual sessions are coming up in just a couple of weeks, and later this summer we'll get the second edition of Comic-Con@Home, though San Diego Comic-Con organizers are still hoping to get an in-person event up and running this fall (much like Emerald City Comic Con and C2E2, which are both hoping to launch something in December). In May, the renowned Toronto Comic Arts Festival will also be going virtual, and while other major players like HeroesCon and DragonCon are still hoping to launch events later this year, that still remains dependent on the ever-evolving public health situation in this country. For a complete listing of cons still planned for this year in some form, you can check out this handy listing the fine folks at Newsarama put together.

However many in-person conventions are actually held this year, and at whatever scale they take place, the larger point worth making here is that we're still not back to normal, in the comics industry or anywhere else. Like my friend and colleague Mike Avila, I'm optimistic that will change soon, and that perhaps the 2022 convention season will be a behemoth of signings and panels and extravagant cosplay shows, just like I'm optimistic that I'll one day get to go shopping without a mask on again or sit comfortably in a movie theater. For the moment, though, no matter how bright things are getting, the world is still a little sideways, and one of the reasons I know that is that the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC) is still giving out small grants to local comics retailers in need of support, with the current deadline for applications coming up next week. 

All of this is to say that, while we may not be doing the same level of fundraising and art auctioning and impromptu virtual promotions that we were doing across the comics world this time last year, things are still shaky, and I'd like some of the optimism in the public health world right now to transfer over to comics as much as possible. So, even as we struggle to peer through the gloom to see normal again, keep supporting the comics you love, the shops you love, the creators you love, as much as you can.

That sense of enthusiasm and fire you felt to keep them safe and employed and appreciated during the pandemic? Try to hold on to a little of that even as the pandemic fades. Despite everything that's happened in the last year, comics as a community achieved some remarkable things, and we shouldn't lose sight of that just because a little normalcy is returning. 

Captain America turns 80 with a massive team-up

United States of Captain America cover

Thanks to the success of his runs on Doctor Doom and Iron Man, Christopher Cantwell has become one of the Marvel writers I always have to look in on when he launches something new, and later this year the publisher is handing him something particularly ambitious. To celebrate the 80th anniversary of Captain America, Cantwell and artist Dale Eaglesham will team up for The United States of Captain America, a new team-up that will unite Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes, and John Walker on one quest to retrieve Cap's legendary shield. 

Part road story, part chronicle of Cap's eight-decade legacy, the series will follow what happens when a mysterious thief takes the iconic vibranium shield, and Sam and Steve set out to find him. Along the way, they connect not just with other official Captains America, but with "the Captains," a group of people who've used the mantle of Captain America to change their communities in ways both big and small.

While Cantwell and Eaglesham navigate the main story, these new "shield-bearers" will get their own spotlight via backup stories by a rotating team of creators, beginning with writer Josh Trujillo and artist Jan Bazaldua for Issue #1. Featuring a stunning Alex Ross cover (because really, who else could do it?), The United States of Captain America arrives June 2, and I can't think of a better creative team to explore Cap's 80th birthday this way. 

More news: A Wonder Woman spectacular, Ant returns, Seven Swords, and more!

Wonder Woman 80th 100 Page Super Cover

- Cap's not the only superhero legend turning 80 this year. Over at DC, Wonder Woman is gearing up for an 80th-anniversary celebration of her own, and that will include some new comics. Earlier this week, the publisher announced that this October will see the release of the Wonder Woman 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular, giving Diana a chance for a showcase in the format DC's already used to pay tribute to other icons who arrived slightly sooner.

Sadly, we don't have creative teams for the stories yet, aside from Yanick Paquette and Nathan Fairbairn teaming up for an "art montage," but given the level of talent DC's put together for previous anniversary one-shots, we can expect it to be packed with all-stars. Plus, this week DC Universe Infinite made several key Wonder Woman first issues — including her first appearance in All-Star Comics #8, her first headline story in Sensation Comics #1, and her first solo book in Wonder Woman #1 — available to read for free. For more on the upcoming Wonder Woman 80th celebration, head over to DC's website.

- Mashing up a bunch of classic characters and showing us new ways of looking at them is a time-honored tradition in comics, whether we're talking about superheroes or characters from adventure literature. Later this year, AfterShock Comics will give us a bit of the latter with Seven Swords, a new book from writer Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the Huntsman) and artist Riccardo Latina that explores what happens when characters like D'Artagnan, Captain Blood, and Cyrano de Bergerac team up for an adventure that's part The Three Musketeers and part John Wick. I'm sold already. Seven Swords arrives this June, and you can check out a preview over at AfterShock's site right now. 

- Over at Marvel, while they're prepping for Captain America's big birthday, they're also preparing for the Hellfire Gala in the pages of the X-books, and on Tuesday the publisher revealed that the biggest X-Men event since X of Swords (which, yes, was just a few months ago, but who's counting?) will launch via a massive new on-shot this June. Titled Planet-Size X-Men, the issue features a script by Marauders writer Gerry Duggan and art by Dawn of X mainstay Pepe Larraz, and promises to explore the future of mutantkind beyond our Earth. The Hellfire Gala, as you may have heard, is the event where the first new Krakoan X-Men team will finally form, so if you've been keeping an eye out for the next major development in the X-line, you'll want to be on the lookout for more announcements as spring turns into summer.

- Well, it's taken more than a decade, but Erik Larsen is finally returning to Ant. Image Comics announce Monday that, after years of delays and a purchase of the character from original creator Mario Gully, Ant's first volume of Image adventures will finally conclude this June with an all-new story from Larsen that both completes the original story and serves as a new introduction to the character, setting the stage for more Ant adventures to come. For more details and a peek at the cover, head over to Image's website.

- Hey, if you're a comics creator with a great story with a bisexual character or characters at its core, here's an opportunity for you. Comics creator and journalist Kat Calamia (aka ComicUno on Twitter) is taking submissions for Bi Visibility, an upcoming 44-page anthology focused on telling stories in a wide variety of genres from a wide variety of creators about "individuals who identify as bisexual." The anthology is taking pitches until March 18, so you've got a little more than a week to get some samples together. For more information, check out Calamia's submission guidelines here.

Comics this week: Children of the Atom, a new Superman creative team, and more!

Children of the Atom cover

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

Children of the Atom #1: I've written before about how successfully the current era of X-books has made every title feel like part of a larger whole without ever making an individual creative team feel like a cog in a machine. Each book is part of a bigger picture of this new vision of mutant society, yes, but they're also each full of their own personalities even beyond the makeups of the various teams. Children of the Atom, the new series from writer Vita Ayala and artist Bernard Chang, comes out of the gate swinging with a personality that feels singular even by the standard of the current crop of X-books, then begins building out a new corner of the Krakoan era in surprising, thrilling ways. 

The book begins by following a brand-new mutant superteam, each with powers and looks inspired by a classic X-Men team member, as they take their act to the streets to tackle criminals as a new version of the X-Men they grew up loving. Of course, because this is the Krakoa era, their flashy powers mean the massive mutant nation has noticed them, and the team's love of all things X-Men means they're very well aware of Krakoa as an entity. So, what's stopping them from going to their new mutant home?

It's this central question that lingers over Ayala's script for Issue #1, and right away that makes the book stand out. By focusing on a team of new teenager heroes, Ayala is able to both root this story in a classic X-Men/New Mutants tone while also delving into the idea of these characters as people who exist between worlds, who'd like to belong in both but might belong in neither. It's a powerful thematic tool, and it's enriched by the depth of Chang's art, particularly when the new team gets out of their costumes and into their daily lives. Throw in some wonderful team banter, a romantic subplot (because X-Men), and a cameo appearance by the main team themselves, and you've got a must-read new piece of the Krakoan tapestry. 

Superman #29: Over at DC, the Infinite Frontier era continues with the first Superman issue from the new creative team of writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson and artist Phil Hester. Following the blockbuster Bendis run was never going to be easy for any team, but right away you can tell that the Johnson and Hester era is going to be just fine. This is a book that starts with big ideas, big emotions, and big setups, which means the big payoffs are definitely not far behind. 

The issue sets things up beautifully by lingering on an ongoing physical problem — a rift in space that keeps spitting out monsters — to shed more light on a lingering emotional problem: The distance between Clark Kent and his son, Jon. The years Jon lost out in space with his grandfather are still weighing on Clark, but for Jon his understanding of the passage of time is colored more by his adventures in the future. Because he's seen history that hasn't happened yet, Jon has the burden of believing he knows when his father dies, and that knowledge seems primed to change everything he (and by extension, we) thinks he knows about Superman. 

This particular hook lands right between the eyes thanks to Hester's gorgeous, classic superhero art style (there are panels that remind me of Superman: The Animated Series, which is always a good thing) and Johnson's reliance on the emotional weight of the story to carry the action. Much of this issue is silent, with no dialogue to get in the way of the characters' thoughts as they deal with things either unsaid or unprocessed about each other, and while thought bubbles and captions can sometimes be a distraction, here it works to devastating effect. The previous Superman era dealt with fathers and sons quite a lot, but Johnson is immediately and powerfully putting his own spin on that theme, and it feels like we are once again in must-read territory for Superman

Proctor Valley Road #1: Any new Grant Morrison comic is an event for me, but I'm particularly intrigued whenever they decide to venture into horror, something I think Morrison's always been great at but that often gets lost among all the superhero success and high-concept stories that fit into other speculative categories. With Proctor Valley Road, Morrison's teamed up with co-writer Alex Child and artist Naomi Franquiz to deliver something that feels very classically spooky in the best way: A tale of a haunted road and the creatures that seem to lurk there. 

This period piece set in the late 1960s begins with a group of friends just trying to earn money any way they can to go and see Janis Joplin in concert, only to find that money is slow to come. After hearing about a brutal accident out on the title roadway, they decide to organize a ghost tour of sorts to earn some cash fast. Of course, the road has other plans...

Right away, this comic put me in that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark sweet spot, in part because Morrison and Child make their dialogue crackle with the youthful ambition of their characters, but even more so because of the expressive, clean work Franquiz is doing here to make this feel like pitch-perfect young adult horror. There's a balance this issue strikes, early and often, between fun and horrific, something we seen in the racism and sexism of 1960s rural kids as it creeps into the fun our heroes are having as they embark on their little money-making adventure. It's a bit of a highwire act, but it pays off in a wonderfully creepy climax, setting the stage for more terror to come. It's the perfect spooky comic to read under the covers with a flashlight, which I assure you is high praise. 

Blade Runner Origins #1: The Blade Runner comics universe over at Titan Publishing expands this week with a comic that aims to do pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: Tell us the story of the first Blade Runners and why they came to be in the first place. I understand a certain level of skepticism over this concept, because I feel like I've been a little trepidatious about every new expansion of Blade Runner for decades, but believe me when I tell you that this debut issue put any concerns I might have had going in to rest almost immediately thanks to slick art, thrilling pacing, and a clever setup that promises to deliver a lot in issues to come. 

Set in the year 2009, the story follows LAPD Detective Cal Moreau as he's called in to investigate a death at the always-secretive Tyrell Corporation. It's supposed to be an open-and-shut case, and Tyrell is eager for his discretion, but Cal sees more at work than a suicide. Tyrell is hiding something, and if the legacy of this franchise is any indication, it's something worth paying attention to. 

What I was struck by right away is how much artist Fernando Dagnino leans into the idea that this comic looks more like the original Blade Runner film than the sequel comics Titan has released, and the result is an entirely different feel than Blade Runner 2019 or Blade Runner 2029. It's a beautifully laid out, beautifully colored, and beautifully paced neon-noir vision of a dirty future, and it pulled me right in. The clever and immediately gripping script by writers Mellow Brown, K. Perkins, and Mike Johnson did the rest, and the result is a worthy new addition to Blade Runner lore. 

Nottingham #1: If this column has made anything clear so far, it's that I love it when a clever elevator pitch pays off when it expands into a full-blown story, and I was very eager to see if Nottingham would be able to deliver on its hook. What I found is a tremendously entertaining first issue packed with witty remixes of stories we think we know, some truly creepy design work, and a medieval noir feel that pulled me in immediately. 

The setup of Nottingham is, on the surface at least, quite simple: What if, rather than a noble band of wealth redistributors, Robin Hood's Merry Men were in fact terrorists rampaging through the English countryside, murdering tax collectors and other local officials with brutal abandon. It's within this flipped script from writer David Hazan and artist Shane Connery Volk that we meet the Sheriff of Nottingham, a man chasing a killer named "Hood" and desperate to find him before more people turn up dead. 

What's wonderful about reading this issue is that the intrigue of that concept never wears off, not for a single page, even as Hazan's script digs deeper into the nooks and crannies of the implications of this world. Volk's art, full of craggy medieval faces and seriously frightening mask designs, plunges you into a dark new vision of one of the most familiar stories in the English language, while Hazan's expansion on the central concept keeps growing and growing page after page, until by the end you're asking not one but several questions you'll want future issues to indulge for you. The result is a comic that feels like much more than a simple "What if?" question. It feels like a fully realized, brutal new world, and I'm eager to go back to 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."