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This Week's Hot Comics: Marvel's 'Dark Ages' begin, new Batman, The Many Deaths of Laila Starr finale & more
Every week, your local comics shop (or digital hub, if that's how you roll) is filled to the brim with new releases, from the latest major event books at the Big Two to intriguing new indie projects at smaller presses. It's a lot to take in, especially if you're not someone plugged into the comics world all day every day — and even moreso if you're not packing a hefty comics budget going in the door.
So, we're here to help. Every Wednesday at SYFY WIRE, on the same day new comics hit shelves, we aim to tell you which comics will give you the most bang for your buck, from superhero epics, to cool Marvel and DC solo 'books, to creator-owned genre hits.
This week, Marvel launches a major new event that plunges its heroes like Spider-Man and Black Panther into the dark, while DC Comics gets fearful with a terrifying new Batman 'book, BOOM! drops the final issue of one of the year's best series, and more. These are the comics we're most excited about this week. Happy reading.
Dark Ages #1
Dark Ages #1: After making himself DC Comics' go-to guy for dark alternate history journeys like Injustice and DCeased, writer Tom Taylor leaps over to Marvel this week with artist Iban Coello to tell a new tale of what happens when everything goes horribly wrong for your favorite superheroes. Propelled by Coello's expressive, widescreen-style action and one truly phenomenal new villain design, Dark Ages plunges Marvel's heroes right into the thick of a crisis unlike anything they've faced before, and Taylor knows exactly how to structure the story so that both characters and readers are thrown immediately off balance. There's a true sense of cataclysm running through the story, accentuated by Coello's ability to hit you hard with a big splash of action and then a dramatic insert panel that breaks your heart. You really do feel like everyone is in over their heads from the beginning, and Taylor never lets up on that feeling.
It's an impressive display, but what's more impressive is the subtle ways in which he plants seeds for what happens next. Dark Ages isn't just a story about everything falling apart, but a story about what happens when the fallen who can still get back up start moving again, and by the end of the first issue that sense of high drama and emotional stakes has given it all the ingredients to be one of the must-read events of the year.
Batman: Fear State Alpha #1
Batman: Fear State Alpha #1: A few weeks ago, we found out that we're at the beginning of the end of James Tynion IV's work on Batman, and that Fear State will be his last major event on the title before moving on to creator-owned projects and leaving the Caped Crusader in the capable hands of writer Joshua Williamson. With that in mind, kickoff one-shot Fear State Alpha feels like even more of an essential volume, as Tynion lives up to the moment. Joined this time around by artist Riccardo Federici -- whose art feels to me like a pleasant blend of Steve Epting and James Jean in places -- Tynion sets to work setting the stage for Fear State by hitting many of the major character beats he's been building out in Batman in recent months.
As he often does, Tynion somehow manages to fill his pages with layered, evocative monologues for his characters while magically never overwhelming the art and never slowing down the story, but it's even more impressive in a book like this one. What's supposed to be a stage-setter of an issue manages to both put more than half a dozen characters on the path to bigger things and feel like a payoff to the "Cowardly Lot" arc in Batman. It's a very solid introduction to what's to come if you haven't been reading Batman, but if you have, it doubles as a major exercise in narrative cohesion, and a reminder of why we're going to miss Tynion when he's gone.
Deadbox #1: Mark Russell is incredibly good at throwing out a high concept hook, executing it, and then peeling it back to show what he's really writing about in the span of a single issue, and he's done it again with Deadbox. Written by Russell and drawn with beautiful tension by Benjamin Tiesma, Deadbox is set in a small town where there's no wi-fi and no movie theater, but there is a video rental box that gives out DVDs that don't seem to exist anywhere, DVDs that seem to reveal some dark truths about the townsfolk.
Yes, that's a great hook for a horror series, and the title is a wonderful pun, but the moment you think you know where this concept is going, Russell and Tiesma dive deeper into a character study, an exploration of the ways in which small towns can eat you up inside, and the anger and angst that comes with that feeling of being slowly consumed. It's a striking, skin-crawlingly effective first issue, and I can't wait to read on.
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr #5
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr #5: When The Many Deaths of Laila Starr from writer Ram V and artist Filipe Andrade launched earlier this year, I heaped praise on the first issue, and called it something with the potential to be a new fantasy classic. But of course, particularly with finite stories like this, you have to wait and see. You have to see not just if the creators can end things well, but can hit every emotional benchmark along the way to that ending. Now, we've arrived at the end, and I can say with joy and confidence that The Many Deaths of Laila Starr is one of the year's best comics, full stop.
The story of a god of death who's fired when her superiors discover a man who will one day invent immortality on Earth, Laila Starr spends each of its five issues exploring one of the title characters different encounters with the man who put her out of work, and each time it finds poetic, heart-wrenching new ways to write about the value not just of life, but of mortality. Here, as it all comes to an end in ways I won't spoil, it does one more time through Ram's extraordinary scripting and Andrade's spectacular art. The eventual collection of this series deserves to be shelved alongside Sandman and Fables as an essential piece of mythic comics storytelling. It's that good.
Telepaths #1: Over at AWA Studios this week, J. Michael Straczynski and Steve Epting have teamed up for Telepaths, a sci-fi book that explores what happens when a strange solar event starts giving a percentage of the population new mental powers. That's the big hook, but we don't start there. Instead, in a beautifully paced piece of table-setting, Straczynski and Epting spent much of their first issue giving us a sense of the key figures who we'll be navigating this strange new world with, then letting the hammer fall just in time to give us a solid taste of what's next.
It's a tricky thing to do with first issues, but these two veteran storytellers pull it off. The incisive economy of Straczysnki's writing is such that it feels like we know who all of these people are in the span of just a few panels, and Epting's art brings the scope you're hoping for even in the smaller, human moments. It reads like the opening minutes of a big-screen blockbuster, and I'm ready for the next chapter.
Lucky Devil #2
Lucky Devil #2: We love Cullen Bunn around these parts thanks to his capacity for delivering the horror goods in a variety of subgenres while also subverting those subgenres and taking them in new directions. In the case of Lucky Devil, written by Bunn with art by Fran Galán, we're talking about demon possession, specifically what happens if you get all the horror flash and none of the consequences.
The book follows Stanley, a man who hires an exorcist to get rid of a demon possessing him, then finds that the exorcist went a little haywire. The demon's not in him anymore, but all of the demon's powers are. For Stanley, who's felt for years like the world has been pressing him down into nothing, it's a new lease on life, and a chance to build a movement around his startling gifts. From the opening pages, and particularly as things heat up here in issue #2, Bunn plays with this concept beautifully, giving us an antihero tale that's both relatable and horrifying, while Galán's art deftly depicts Stanley's evolution into someone who might be a savior or might be a monster. It's a meaty, fascinating, very satisfying new entry in the Bunn horror canon, and if you didn't pick it up with the first issue, you might want to catch up.