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SYFY WIRE The Pull List

The Pull List: How the pandemic changed comics. Plus new projects, Avengers & Suicide Squad

By Matthew Jackson
Avengers 33 cover

Welcome to The Pull List, SYFY WIRE's weekly comics column that gets at the pulse of what's going on in comics right now. Everything from huge crossovers to real-life issues facing the industry, a cool first look, the week's hot new comics, and everything in between. Basically, we're here to help you with your pull list.

This week, after a brief interlude in which they embraced digital publishing as a stopgap, Marvel Comics will roll out new single issue comics for the first time since Diamond shut down shipping operations two months ago and effectively put a halt on the comics direct market as we know it amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Basically, for the first time in two months, the gang's all here at your local comics shop, albeit with somewhat smaller offerings and amid public health concerns that mean you'll still have to pick up your books in a socially distant way. Since comics are back, though, it's worth taking a moment to consider what we may have learned about the market amid the pandemic, and what lasting effects the shutdown might have on the way we buy, sell, and read comics.

Last week, DC Comics announced DC Connect, a new digital catalog available free on the publisher's website that promises solicitation information for all of their upcoming books and, in the months to come, things like "talent interviews, preview pages from upcoming stories, behind-the-scenes looks at projects in development, multimedia content, and more." The catalog will replace a previous iteration titled DC Previews, and arrives in the weeks after DC embraced an alternative distribution model that saw them entering into agreements with two new distributors while Diamond was closed. When those alternative distributors worked well enough for the company on Tuesdays amid the pandemic, DC also announced that it would allow retailers to begin selling all of its books on Tuesday, effectively creating a second New Comic Book Day.

So far, none of the other major publishers have followed DC's lead on this, either in terms of alternative distributors (other than the publishers who were already partnering with book producers to distribute trade paperbacks and hardcovers) or in terms of the new Tuesday release date option for retailers. That said, DC's continued shifts in their model even as Diamond begins to ramp its business back up are worth paying attention to. When Diamond put shipping on pause, most publishers shied away from alternative distribution, as well as efforts to ramp up digital releases out of a sense of solidarity with retailers, who were also often resistant to the idea of setting up accounts with other distributors. Much of the industry hit the pause button rather than trying something which might have confused and even riled retailers and readers alike, while DC took some small steps in the direction of trying something different.

Now, Diamond's back up and running and publishers are ramping up their releases again, but DC's not abandoning its different approach. Will they lean in harder to their alternative models in the coming weeks? Will they be phased out? It'll no doubt depend a great deal on the response from the market at large, particularly now that all of the competing publishers are putting out new product again. I certainly don't have the answers, nor do I have the direct market expertise to predict with any degree of certainty how this will shake out in the months to come. What I do know, though, is that even as comics get back to something approaching "normal," we should be paying attention to what sticks around after this strange collective pause, and what we learn from it.

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund-raising

CBLDF Fundraiser banner

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has been a valuable resource for the comic book community for more than 30 years, and they're one of many organizations that's stepped up to help in a big way amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to keeping up their vital work on the legal front to preserve free expression in the medium, they've expanded their resources in this time of crisis to include resources for retailers seeking financial aid due to economic hardship and offering virtual education for teachers and librarians. Now, they need your help to continue their work.

Last week, CBLDF launched a new fundraising drive that features some very exciting rewards if you're able to pay the fee to become a member of the Fund. Beginning later this week and continuing all through June, CBLDF will host a variety of virtual experiences for members with some of the most celebrated creators in comics. Want to be part of a Q&A with Dave Gibbons or Alex Segura? How about a live art session with Colleen Doran or Tim Seeley? How about a series of talks with industry legends led by former DC Comics president Paul Levitz? All of these events and more are available at various CBLDF membership levels, which start at $30 and move up through $50 and $100 tiers. Head over to the CBLDF's website for more information.

Cool new projects: 'Big Girls' and 'Blacking Out'

Big Girls cover

I love comics and I love monster movies. Put them together with an intriguing high concept and I am all the way in, which is why I was very excited to see Image's announcement late last week that Jason Howard (the artist on Trees, another great high concept book) is taking the reins as writer and artist on his very own creator-owned project titled Big Girls. What's Big Girls? Well, it takes place in a world in which men have transformed into giant, city-destroying monsters, and the only thing standing in their way are the Big Girls, equally giant women who've become monster fighters for the good of the planet. What I love about comics is the subtlety!

"The heart of the story really came from me sometimes feeling overwhelmed by the size of the world's problems, it can seem like the only fix is an equally big solution," Howard said in an interview with THR. "Exploring that feeling became the story's setting, where their problems are literal giant monster men who are destroying the world (science you crazy!). Fortunately they have an equally giant solution, Big Girls who kick monster butt."

Big Girls arrives this August from Image, and you can go check out an amazing four-page preview at the publisher's website right now.

Blacking Out Cover

It's become something of a minor tradition here at The Pull List to highlight cool comics Kickstarters, and another intriguing one came roaring out of the gate this week. Blacking Out is a new crime comic from writer Chip Mosher (who you might know best as the head of ComiXology Originals) and artist Peter Krause (Irredeemable), with colors by Giulia Brusco, letters by Ed Dukeshire, and design work by Tom Muller.

Blacking Out has that intoxicating mix of a classic crime story framework and an unforgettable backdrop that I find hard to resist. It's the story of Conrad, a drunken and disgraced ex-cop trying to solve the murder of a women whose body was found in the wake of a massive California wildfire. As he fights both external and internal battles, Conrad races to solve the crime and find a measure of redemption along the way.

The book's Kickstarter goal of $500 was met in less than 10 minutes after it launched this week, and was really only there to cover final printing costs. If you want to chip in enough to get a beautiful deluxe hardcover edition of this story, you'll have a beautiful object on your hands by the end. If you just want a digital copy for $10, you'll get it in a matter of weeks.

This week's hot new comics: Avengers, Suicide Squad

Bog Bodies cover

It's the biggest week for new comics in two months, so here's what we're excited about this New Comic Book Day.

Avengers #33: There's no one working in superhero comics right now who can take beloved canonical concepts and mash them up into something entirely new quite like Jason Aaron, and he's proven that time and time again with his Avengers run. Issue #33 features the launch of a new arc for the book, and the arrival of artist Javier Garron to take over for Ed McGuiness, which makes this a nice jumping-on point if you've only been peripherally aware of the book so far (though you should definitely go back and catch up for more context).

The new arc is titled "The Age of Khonshu," which means Moon Knight is here to bring his particular brand of chaos to the adventures of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, but not necessarily as an ally. No, after the interstellar insanity of the Starbrand saga, the Avengers now find themselves facing Moon Knight at the peak of his powers, and it's one of the most exciting arc launches of the run so far. Garron is a welcome addition to this particular part of the book, because his style seems particularly suited to Moon Knight's fighting style. The issue opens with a spectacular martial arts sequence in which the panels themselves seem to be shaking with the fury of the punches, and from there the story takes some spectacular fantasy turns that allow Garron to draw everything from epic landscapes to crowds of monsters. It's a hell of a new direction for the book, and it's clear by the end of the issue that we're heading for something big even by Avengers standards.

Suicide Squad #5: Maybe it's because I've read a lot of press releases in my time, but I must confess to carrying a healthy dose of skepticism whenever a new creative team promises they're going to show us something unprecedented when they take over a popular title. I've been burned before, and I'm betting you have too. You go in expecting some kind of thrilling shift in the status quo and you get...well, not that. But I should have known better than to count this creative team out, because writer Tom Taylor and artist Bruno Redondo are absolutely crushing their Suicide Squad run so far. What started with a shakeup of the team dynamic has since evolved into a deadly game of shifting agendas and secret plots, and it all comes to a head in a big way with #5 thanks to the presence of that perpetual chaos agent known as Captain Boomerang.

The legendary Squad member is back, and this time he's serving as the centerpiece of a standoff between the Squad's new handler, Lok, Osita's group of reluctant new recruits, and Deadshot and Harley, who find themselves ready to make a change. Redondo's beautifully expressive art — he draws one of the best Boomerang faces I've ever seen — dials the tension in perfectly as the issue picks up steam, and Taylor's knack for pacing with this series just keeps sharpening. By the time it's all over, we've been treated to a game-changing issue of a tremendously entertaining book, and I can't wait to see what's next.

King of Nowhere #2: If you're looking for a book outside of the realm of superheroes but you still want a genre fix, check out BOOM!'s King of Nowhere from writer W. Maxwell Prince and artist Tyler Jenkins. The series followed a drunken drifter named Denis as he stumbles into Nowhere — a "private town" full of strange citizens and even stranger threats — and meets everyone from a fish man to a bartender with an upside-down face. Once he's sure he's no longer dreaming, Denis finds himself roped into the town's strange goings-on, even as a violent figure from his past closes in.

The framework for the story has all the elements of a crime drama with a "drifter with a dark past" hook, while also carrying all the allure and spellbinding possibility of a fantasy story, and Prince's scripts and their poetic narration manage to deliver the goods on both sides of that genre divide. Then there's Jenkins' art, which reminds me of Jill Thompson and Dave McKean working on some of the dreamier parts of Sandman. It's instantly evocative of a certain kind of story, one in which magical things are apt to sprout out of every nook and cranny even as regular occurrences like bar fights and hangovers proceed as usual. It's a beautifully realized story, and it's just getting started.

Bog Bodies: Of course, it's possible you're looking for something even further departed from the world of fantasy this week, and for that there's Bog Bodies, the Image Comics graphic novel from writer Declan Shalvey and artist Gavin Fullerton. Set in the darkness of the mountains outside of Dublin, Bog Bodies is an instantly haunting, compelling crime story about a gangster who's fleeing retribution from a couple of of his collaborators after a job gone wrong. As he runs deeper into the dark, he stumbles upon a missing woman who's been lost in the woods for days. Together, they must evade a determined pair of killers who are trying to tie up loose ends no matter what.

Ongoing series can take a little time to find their tonal balance, particularly if they star a popular character, but graphic novels have to come in with the perfect marriage of art and story right away or they risk losing the reader in the opening pages. Shalvey and Fullerton are in perfect sync here, as the darkly beautiful art provides the shadows while the often surprisingly funny script blends in a bit of light, and it all builds toward a deep and compelling story of violence and regret. It's the kind of crime drama you could picture seeing on prestige TV, a Fargo for the Emerald Isle, but told in a way that no other medium but comics could give it to you. It's the kind of book that hits you right between the eyes.

And that's it for The Pull List 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."