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SYFY WIRE Comics Wire

Comics Wire: What's happening with comics at Comic-Con@Home? Plus this week's new reads

By Matthew Jackson
Batman 95 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 have, at last, arrived at San Diego Comic-Con week, and as with seemingly everything else that's happened over the past few months, it's far from a normal one. For the first time in its decades-long history, the biggest pop culture convention in the United States is shifting to a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The potentially good news is that this unexpected format change democratizes SDCC in a way that's never happened before.

Anyone can tune into any panel they want this weekend and watch their favorite creators from their very own homes, and that's fantastic for those of us who've had a hard time making it to the convention floor for whatever reason in years past. Unfortunately, of course, that sense of accessibility also brings with it a trade-off, namely that many creators who use events like SDCC for a large chunk of their income each year now find themselves in uncharted territory. 

I've preached about this before, and you probably already know it, but a great many creators, small presses, and other vendors rely on the convention circuit each year, to sell their wares and grow their audience and make connections they might not otherwise make. For some creators, selling books and sketches in-person by tabling at a con is the financial difference-maker in any given year, and while there are plenty of ways to sell your stuff online, it's not always the same as setting up a table and catching someone's eye in an exhibit hall. 

So, if you find yourself with your usual stash (or hey, more than your usual stash) of SDCC cash to burn this weekend, there is good news: The Exhibit Hall will still be open online, Artists' Alley and all, just waiting for you to find something you like. If you don't know what you like, you've got from today all the way through Sunday to browse the massive directory of exhibitors selling their wares through SDCC@Home to figure it out. Support these artists and vendors if you have the means and you like their work. For a full list of who's exhibiting and links to look at their work, you can check out both the official Comic-Con Exhibitors directory, and this handy list of links to social media channels and web stores that the Unofficial SDCC Blog has compiled.

Comic panels we're excited about!

Comic-Con Attendee Badge

Yes, you should definitely financially support creators you love this Comic-Con weekend, but the biggest silver lining of this whole SDCC@Home thing is that there's a lot of fun to be had without spending any money at all. All those panels you may have only been able to read recaps of in years past are going to be available to stream at your leisure, just a click away while you kick it in your pajamas. SYFY WIRE will have coverage for you from the biggest events of the con all weekend long, of course, but since this is a comics column, I thought it would be nice to highlight some of the big and small stuff I'm most excited about in that particular department that's on the SDCC schedule.   

This list is by no means complete (even this year it feels like more programming than any one person can consume), and you should definitely go and put your own schedule together if that's your thing, but here's what caught my eye in particular (all times Pacific):

Untold Tales of Todd McFarlane - Thursday at 2 p.m.: You may have heard that SYFY WIRE co-produced a new documentary on comics legend Todd McFarlane that airs this Saturday on SYFY. Before that happens, and in celebration of it, McFarlane himself will join fellow comics icons Marc Silvestri and J. Scott Campbell as they reminisce about McFarlane's legacy and have a little bit of fun at his expense. It should be a good time.

Image Comics Crossover Spotlight - Thursday at 5 p.m.: A couple of weeks ago Image Comics teased something only called "Crossover." This week, we finally get a little more insight into what that event will be, and we'll hear it directly from the creative team. 

DC@Home - Friday at 10 a.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m.: DC Comics is hosting not one, but two panels spotlighting their upcoming books, one on Friday morning and one on Saturday morning. If you're looking forward to the future of the DCU, it's definitely worth tuning. 

Marvel Comics: The Next Big Thing - Friday at 11 a.m.: Marvel Comics' usual panel highlighting all their big upcoming books is still on virtually, featuring creators like Dan Slott, Al Ewing, Tini Howard, Nick Spencer, and many more. 

Decoding the Kirby/Lee Dynamic - Friday at 11 a.m.: The creative partnership between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby is one of the most important and most-discussed in the history of comics. If, like me, you're a total nerd for that sort of thing, you'll want to check out this panel of Lee and Kirby biographers and experts discussing the often contentious topic of exactly what their dynamic was, and how we still feel its impact.

Tribute to Dennis O'Neil: Beyond Batman - Saturday at 1 p.m.: Just a few weeks ago, superhero comics lost a luminary when the great Dennis "Denny" O'Neil passed away. This Saturday, creators, and friends including Paul Levitz, Michael Uslan, Jo Duffy, Larry Hama, Danny Fingeroth, and more gather together to discuss O'Neil's life, career, and impact.

Masters of Storytelling - Saturday at 1 p.m.: Some of the best and brightest Image Comics creators working right now — including Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, Emma Kubert, Chuck Brown, and Alex de Campi — gather to talk about creativity. I don't know where this conversation will go, but I know I want to hear it.

Comic Shops: Persevering Through Crisis - Saturday at 5 p.m.: We've talked a lot about what local comic book retailers have been facing over the last few months. This weekend, you'll have a chance to hear more about it directly from retailers in what should be a fascinating panel for people with an interest in the Direct Market.

Ahoy Comics: Expect More! - Saturday at 6 p.m.: Ahoy Comics is one of the most exciting smaller publishers operating at the moment (they put out the amazing Ash & Thorn, among other titles). If you've been waiting to get into what they have to offer, this panel featuring some of their top talent just might be your way in.

BOOM! Studios: Discover Yours - Sunday at 11 a.m.: BOOM! Studios has been churning out some very exciting stuff lately, and the future looks bright. Several of the publisher's top creators — including Sabaa Tahir, Matt Kindt, John Allison, and more — will join this panel to talk about what's next.

This week's comics: Joker War, more EmpyreCrema, and more!

Lords of Empyre Emperor Hulkling cover

And of course, amid all the SDCC craziness, there are also still new comics! Here's what I got into this week.

Batman #95: Here's why I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical going into an event like Joker War, because I sort of felt like I was done for a little while with both big Joker stories and big "supervillain's master plan to take over Gotham City" stories. I was prepared to shrug this one off, but I also knew that if anyone could get me invested, it was James Tynion IV. Now, Joker War is here, and my skepticism is gone. 

The core conceit of the event, written by Tynion and drawn by Jorge Jimenez, is that Joker has found a way to essentially strip Batman of all of his advantages in battle, from his allies to his many gadgets. It's there that this issue picks up, at a time when Batman is still scrambling to recapture any last vestiges of his arsenal, while Joker and Punchline seek to set their final battle plan in motion. Jimenez draws the hell out of it, which certainly helps to get me hooked, particularly because he favors a slimmer, more athletic Batman and a Joker whose features are exaggerated just enough to make him menacing. Tynion's masterful script does the rest, delivering an opening volley that is both gripping and surprisingly emotionally resonant thanks to some callbacks to the days when Bruce Wayne could still count on Alfred Pennyworth. This is a blockbuster event in the making, and I'm eager to see where it goes next.

Lords of Empyre: Emperor Hulkling #1: Now that Marvel's Empyre event is underway thanks to a very promising first issue, we're starting to get a glimpse at various tie-ins. Some of these take the form of one-shots exploring the various key personalities in the story, and this week that includes a book with a very specific and very entertaining focus. 

Emperor Hulkling follows the title character, former Young Avenger turned unlikely leader of a Kree-Skrull alliance Teddy Altman, as he first becomes aware of both the alliance itself and his place in it. Writers Anthony Oliveira and Chip Zdarsky and artist Manuel Garcia could have gone the more dramatic prequel route, I suppose, but the most endearing thing about this issue is the way it leans into romantic comedy. Before he's "Emperor Hulkling," Teddy is just bored at home while his fiancee Wiccan is off having adventures. That boredom leads to a night at a gay bar with his friends, which then leads to an encounter with some Skrull fanatics, which then leads to... well, read it and find out. 

This is a flawless tie-in issue, because it accomplishes two things simultaneously: It tells us a key piece of the story that is useful while not being so essential that the event is lost without it and it delivers the kind of story we wouldn't get in the main series without feeling disjointed. This is the kind of comic that reminds us, amid the bombast of Empyre, that there are very real people with hearts and minds behind all the cosmic battles. Plus, the relationship stuff between Teddy and Billy is perfect and I would read an entire ongoing series just about that.

Crema: I love stories that remind us of the infinite permutations that genre can take on, particularly when they're also packed with heart and a real sense of invention. Crema, the new ComiXology Originals graphic novel from writer Johnnie Christmas and artist Dante Luiz, is that kind of story — a rich, stimulating brew that you'll want to savor. 

The story follows Esme, a young woman who learned many years ago thanks to a strange fixation on coffee that whenever she gets caffeinated enough, she can see ghosts. In the present, Esme works as a barista at a local coffee shop, hangs out with her omnipresent former TV star ghost friend, and continues to struggle with her caffeine consumption. Then the coffee shop changes ownership and Esme is quickly confronted with two things: A new romance and a decades-old ghostly mystery tied to a South American coffee farm.

Luiz's breathtaking art for the book reminds me of Winsor McCay and Maurice Sendak in the way that it invokes a sense of magic even in depictions of ordinary things like coffee cups and messy bedrooms. There's a sense that each page has been infused with a certain caffeinated glow — the beautiful colors help with that — and everything feels lived in and bright with possibility. When the ghosts arrive, you're not surprised, because the art evokes a world where that's perfectly possible. Christmas' script — pulsing with very real and very evocative dialogue — is packed with heart and the same sense of wonder as the art. It's a dazzling collaboration, and a beautiful little ghost story that doesn't overstay its welcome and doesn't overexplain its magic. 

Bliss #1: I like fantasy stories that have the confidence to leap headlong into their world without taking a lot of time to explain what we're about to see. In a world where entire wikis exist to explain the worldbuilding of even short genre stories, it's nice to simply dive into a world and experience it like a newcomer, particularly when the creators of that world seem to know exactly what they're doing from the jump. Bliss, the new maxi-series from writer Sean Lewis and artist Caitlin Yarsky, has that feeling from the very first panel. It's a book that makes you feel like you're in good hands, even when strange reptilian creatures appear without explanation (at first) when you turn the page. 

The story is a compelling hybrid of fantasy and crime drama, and much of it takes place in flashback, as a son attempts to explain his father's dark deeds through a tale of poverty, desperation, dark dealmaking, and an unforgiving and uncaring city surround it all. Lewis doesn't give us any time to get to know these characters before sending them down these dark paths, but the issue is so well-scripted that we feel we know them through their choices, no matter how brief the interactions spawned by those choices might be. There's a very palpable sense of emotional weight that comes through and never gets lost in the worldbuilding. Yarsky's art also crackles with that sense of emotive heft, as she delivers everything from towering cityscapes to desperate faces in ragged hospital rooms with equal deftness. The result is a spellbinding start to what feels like a very powerful story.

The Man Who Effed Up Time #4: John Layman has a gift when it comes to wild, high-concept genre stories, but I honestly think he may have outdone himself with this series. The Man Who Effed Up Time, a collaboration between Layman and artist and co-creator Karl Mostert is a story that begins with a premise that's likely quite familiar to sci-fi fans. Then things start to shift, and before you know it you're someplace much stranger than you could have possibly expected.

The story follows Sean Bennett, a young lab assistant who walks into a time machine one day and, as the title suggests, manages to eff up time something fierce. The Future Police track Sean down, chastise him, and give him two days to set his wild changes to the timeline right, but one thing leads to another, and...well, Sean just keeps effing up in ways he couldn't possibly have forseen. 

Layman's script, driven by Sean's constant inner monologue as he tries to piece together everything from an empire led by descendants of Abraham Lincoln to samurai riding dinosaurs, moves like absolute lightning. This is one of those comics that will have you groaning each time an issue ends on a cliffhanger, because the pages just fly by. Mostert's art matches the wild energy at work in the scripting through vivid acting and some truly great design work. It reminds me of Frank Quitely when he was really going nuts with New X-Men stuff, in a very good way. This is one of those genre books that keeps throwing new hooks at you, until you have no choice but to gleefully read what comes next. If you're not on board yet, what are you waiting 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."