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SYFY WIRE Comics Wire

Comics Wire: Vote to choose the next DC comic; Zdarsky's Spider-Man returns; this week's reads & more!

By Matthew Jackson
Spider-Man: Life Story annual 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.

March Madness may be over in terms of basketball, but in the comics world the bracket fun is continuing for several more weeks courtesy of DC Comics. We've already seen a couple of major fan vote initiatives from comics publishers this year, from Marvel's bid to let fans pick the next member of the new X-Men team to DC's request that fans name Nightwing's new dog, but this particular fan vote is geared toward something especially consequential: A whole new comics series.

Last week, DC Comics launched DC Round Robin, a bracket matchup that pits 16 different comic book concepts from across the DC Universe against each other, with each matchup coming down to a fan vote. The concept left standing at the end of this tournament, which is set to run all the way through April and most of May, will becoming a full-fledged DC Comics series, so it really is your chance to vote on what might be the DC Comic of your dreams.

DC Round Robin bracket

So, what are the concepts in contention for the honor of full series status? Well, some of the books above — including a series focusing on new non-binary speedster Jesse Quick and the enticingly titled Zatanna and the King of Nightmares — feel pretty self-explanatory, but the ideas also run the gamut from major to minor DC characters and from straightforward concepts to more out-of-the-box ideas. We've got everything here from an all-queer Justice League team (JLQ) to a Swamp Thing story set in 1905, a Jimmy Olsen/Super Pets team-up (Paws Off the Justice League) to an Etta Candy story where she gets super powers of her very own. It's a very wide, very exciting variety, but only one can win.

To make sure your voice is heard, you can vote on the DC Comics Twitter page and on DC's Instagram Stories (though only three match-ups are posted there each day). Round 1 of voting wraps up today (Wednesday, April 7) at Noon Eastern, and voting for the stories that advance to Round 2 will pick up tomorrow and continue through April 15, all building up to the final Round 4 vote on DC's Community pages beginning May 20. For more information on how it all works and more details on each individual series, head over to DC's handy voting guide. However you participate, don't miss out on your chance to read about Jimmy Olsen saving the world with nothing but a team of good dogs by his side. I know I won't.

Spider-Man: Life Story Returns!

Spider-Man: Life Story annual cover

In 2019, Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley embarked on one of the most intriguing narrative challenges in recent superhero comics with Spider-Man: Life Story. The series' aim was to tell the story of Peter Parker in "real time," devoting one issue each to every decade of Spider-Man's history so far and progressing Peter's life realistically through those decades, rather than using the typical slide continuity scale of Marvel Comics. That meant real events unfolded in the background of Spider-Man's story, and it meant all the things you read about in Spidey comics in the '70s, '80s, '90s and beyond got a whole new context. That it all made sense was an achievement in itself, but then Zdarsky and Bagley went further and made it one of the best superhero books of that year. Now, they're back for one more chapter.

Last Friday, Marvel announced that Zdarsky and Bagley will team up once again this summer for Spider-Man: Life Story Annual #1, an all-new story set in the Life Story continuity that will go back through the events of the series from the point-of-view of one of Spider-Man's most enduring supporting characters: J. Jonah Jameson. As always, Jonah is out to prove that Spider-Man is a fraud, a menace posing as a hero to deceive the public and secretly continue his evil ways.

Now, we get to see how that obsession unfolds across the decades of Peter Parker's life, all from Jameson's point of view. It's an intriguing idea, and it leaves open the possibility that still more Spider-Man characters will get the Life Story spinoff treatment, particularly now that Marvel's also launching a Fantastic Four series with the same narrative hook.

Spider-Man: Life Story Annual #1 arrives August 1.

More news: AfterShock's Beyond the Breach, Invader Zim's final issue, and more!

Beyond the Breach cover

- Whether we're talking about his Marvel work or his crime series Murder Book, Ed Brisson is one of those writers who's always worth paying attention to, and this week he announced a collaboration with AfterShock Comics that sounds right up my alley. Beyond the Breach, written by Brisson with art with Damian Couceiro, is a new sci-fi adventure series that seeks to echo the vibes of classic '80s films like The NeverEnding Story and Time Bandits through the story of Vanessa, a woman who's just trying to escape her problems with a road trip through California. Everything changes when extradimensional creatures rip a whole in reality and invade our world, leaving Vanessa to team up with an oprhan boy and a furry alien in an effort to survive in a rapidly shifting fantasy landscape. Sounds like an absolute blast. Beyond the Breach #1 arrives this July, and you can check out a very impressive preview over at AfterShock's website.

- Since 2015, the cult classic sci-fi animated series Invader ZIM has enjoyed a wild continuation over at Oni Press, but now that run is coming to an end. The publisher announced on Tuesday that, just in time for the 20th anniversary of the series, it will publish the "final installment of the original Invader ZIM single issue comics," with an all-star creative team back for the ride. This August, ZIM creator Jhonen Vasquez, co-writer Eric Trueheart, and artist Aaron Alexovich will reunite for Invader ZIM: The Dookie Loop Horror, a story that realizes Vasquez's vision to end the comics run "as stupidly as possible." There's a time loop, there's dookie, and the world's only hope might be GIR, so you know this isn't going to go well. If you're an Invader ZIM fan, get ready for a wild sendoff.

- In comics legends news, Marvel announced last week that the great John Romita Jr. who got his start at Marvel decades ago and spent a few recent years drawing titles like Superman over at DC, is headed back to the House of Ideas this summer. Details are scarce on what exactly he's working on, but Marvel did release a big teaser image featuring Romita's take on various character, and teased that he'll be back on some of the publisher's "most iconic series" beginning this July. I hope there's lots and lots of rain for him to draw.

- Moving from comics legends to rising artists to watch, we have Elsa Charretier, who's proven she can do it all through stuff like The Infinite Loop, Unstoppable Wasp, and most recently the ambitious quartet of crime graphic novels November, alongside writer Matt Fraction. One of the reasons Charretier is so gifted is her precise and versatile approach to comics craft, and thankfully for all of us she's offering a bit of an inside look at just how she does it via a new YouTube channel. The first video, a panel deconstruction focusing on a specific scene from Fraction and Aja's Hawkeye run, dropped on Friday, and it's both beautifully shot and incredibly insightful. Head over there and subscribe for some very smart comics craft chat.

- Anyone who knows me knows that one of my non-comics obsessions includes Prince, and next week my love for His Royal Badness and my love for comics merge when MPLS Sound, a new graphic novel tribute to the Purple One, arrives from Humanoids. I must confess that I hadn't heard much about this book -- from writers Joseph Illidge and Hannibal Tabu, artist Meredith Laxton, colorist Tan Shu and cover artist Jen Bartel -- until now, but this stunning preview over at IGN got me extremely excited to read it, and I hope it does the same for you. The book drops April 13.

New Comics this Week: The Silver Coin, Project Patron, and more!

The Silver Coin cover

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

The Silver Coin #1: Regular readers know I'm always down for a new horror comic, and the ambitious nature of The Silver Coin intrigued me the moment I heard about it. The horror anthology is a tried and true comics staple, of course, and the idea that co-creator and artist Michael Walsh would do his version with both a shared universe and a roster of writers that includes Chip Zdarsky, Kelly Thompson, and Jeff Lemire made it seem all the more promising. Now, The Silver Coin #1 is here, and I'm pleased to say that this series debut has lived up to all the promise of its concept, and then some.

The first story in this miniseries of horror revolving around the cursed object of the title, "The Ticket," is drawn by Walsh and scripted by Zdarsky, and centers on a rock band struggling to scrape together an audience in the age of disco. Things change when their frustrated lead guitarist stumbles upon a coin that turns out to be the best guitar pick he could ever asked for, and suddenly the band's sound is evolving and they're packing local clubs. But fame has a cost, and the band's ticket to the big time is more than it seems.

Yes, if you're well-versed in horror, you can probably see some of where this is going, but that doesn't tarnish the truly unnerving experience of this comic at all. Zdarsky, as he's proven with books like Stillwater, has a knack for timing that makes him great at both the comic and the horrific, and he strikes a stunning balance of both in this issue through the banter of the band and the slow ratcheting of tension as the coin does its things. Walsh's art, rough-edged and vibrant like a Keith Richards guitar solo, does the rest, building a world that's rooted in desperation sprouting into all-out terror. By the end, I was itching to see the rest of the coin's adventures in this dark world, and ready to call this book one of the must-read horror comics of the year.

Project Patron #1: I said it when Commanders in Crisis debuted last year, and I'll say it again: There are few writers working in comics right now who grasp the central metaphors of the superhero genre better than Steve Orlando. He just gets it, and because he gets it, he's able to stretch and morph and question the central tenets of the genre in surprising and entertaining ways. Which brings us to Project Patron, Orlando's new series with artist Patrick Piazzalunga, which delivers yet another powerful and intriguing new take on what superheroes are and how they work.

The project of the title is a secret installation where a group of scientists and soldiers use a Reploid body to make the rest of the world think that the greatest superhero who ever lived, the Patron, didn't die years earlier after a fight with an ancient monster. In the public eye the Patron is still very much alive, still smiling for the cameras and saving the world every day, while behind-the-scenes regular human begins give years of their life to the physically exhausting process of piloting the fake Patron around the world, keeping their dark secret so that ordinary citizens will believe their protector is still out there.

But Project Patron is not a well-oiled machine, and this compelling first issue digs into why, as Orlando and Piazzalunga probe the inner lives of people whose job is to pretend to be superheroes all day. There's a very direct metaphor to be drawn here, as you can view the people within the Patron base, piloting the Reploid, as both actors who play a superhero and comics creators who brings superheroic characters to life, but as always Orlando's script isn't just interested in the surface analogies. This is a first issue that digs deeper with every page, building out a world that's packed with storytelling opportunities and meta-textual insights into the nature of superhero fiction and what it does for humanity. Piazzalunga's art is the perfect complement to this brand of storytelling, delivering classic superhero looks and deep, dark military base paranoia with equal power. It all combines to create one hell of a first issue, and the start of something new and intriguing in superhero comics.

The Swamp Thing #2: Any time Ram V sets his sights on another DC Comics property, I'm paying attention, and The Swamp Thing is no exception. I devoured the first issue of the new horror series scripted by Ram with art by Mike Perkins, and now that the second issue is here I have to tell all of you about it. If you have ever liked a Swamp Thing book, or a DC Comics horror book, or horror book in general, you are missing out if you're not reading this.

The Swamp Thing follows Levi Kamei, an Indian man who's transforming into the new avatar of the Green in a predictably unsettling way. While making the journey from New Delhi to New York City in the first issue, he was plagued by visions of a dark and mythic figure stalking the desert in the American southwest, leaving a trail of bodies in its wake. Now, as Levi comes closer to understanding what he's becoming, he must face this pale wanderer, and learn more about his true nature.

The word "mythic" comes to mind a lot when I read this incarnation of Swamp Thing, because Ram's scripts really do grasp and grapple with what it's like for someone like Levi to come to terms with the strange transformation into a figure of legend that he's undergoing. There's a sense of gravity to the whole thing, a weight of almost cosmic dread that you can feel in the scripting, and yet it never feels ponderous and bogged down. It feels epic and terrifying in the best way, and Perkins' are only adds to that sense of scope. His pages, whether he's dealing in monstrous close-ups or broad splashes of horror-laden landscape, call to mind the most daring highs of the Bissette/Totleben era with the character. It's a gorgeous, spellbinding, truly great horror comic, and I really hope this team gets to continue it into the second season they've been teasing.

Magic the Gathering #1: Licensed comics are tricky even with the most straightforward of adaptations, but Magic the Gathering, like Dungeons & Dragons before it, is especially tricky because there are just so many places to go with it. In the years since the iconic card game began a vast mythology has sprung up in its decks, creating a seemingly endless assortment of possible combinations of characters, powers, settings, and more for players to choose from. That's great if you're sitting across a table from an opponent ready to show your stuff, but if you're trying to put together a cohesive story that will appeal to both longtime fans and incoming readers alike, where do you begin?

I'm not sure exactly how writer Jed MacKay and artist Ig Guara went about assembling the pieces for their debut Magic the Gathering issue, but as someone who's only ever been a casual observer of the game, I can say that it somehow all fits, and all works as a thrilling kickstart to a new fantasy saga. It all begins in Ravnica, where assassins stage a series of coordinated attacks on Guildmasters who also happen to be Planeswalkers, setting the stage for an intruging mystery that might destroy the whole realm. If that sounds like gibberish to you, I assure you that I wasn't clear on it either when I started reading, but perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay to MacKay's script is just how quickly I was swept up in the narrative anyway.

It's not easy to pack that level of lore — including places, characters, a system of government and a series of magical powers — into a first volume, let alone a first issue, but somehow MacKay makes it look easy. His script is breezy, ambitious, and just dense enough with the Magic mythology to make you want to go back and read it again without feeling overwhelmed. Guara's art rises to meet that sense of dense-yet-light storytelling, playing out dazzling fantasy sequences and building elaborate characters and worlds in a way that evokes the classic art on the cards themselves while also adding a degree of vibrancy that makes it all pop on the comics page. This casual Magic observer is well on his way to becoming a fan.

King in Black #5: Over the past few months, with King in Black, Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman have proven that they can bring the same kind of thrilling darkness that defined their Venom run to a line-wide Marvel Universe crossover event without ever losing either the emotional core of the Eddie Brock story or the epic scope that comes from having virtually every Marvel superhero at their fingertips. The event kicked off with an all-killer, no-filler rampage and basically never let up, delivering issue after issue of last-page reveals, major twists, and swift but impactful changes to the status quo.

This week, it all comes to an end, and I'm pleased to say that Cates and Stegman didn't let up even in the final pages, where so many superhero events would have drifted away into epilogue territory. There's no sense of coasting to King in Black #5, no feeling of empty resolution where all the characters just sit around and explain what just happened to each other. There is, instead, a powerful summation of who this version of Eddie Brock is and why he's risen so high during the Cates/Stegman era, all capped off by a reveal that sets the stage for something even bigger in months and years to come. It's not the final word the duo has on the character -- that arrives in a few weeks in Venom #200 -- but it is a powerful climax to one of the most compelling major Marvel runs in recent years, and further proof that, no matter where he's been before, Eddie Brock deserves to be here now, at the forefront.

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."