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Comics Wire: Free Comic Book Day returns! Bendis' Checkmate rises, this week's hot reads & more

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Mar 17, 2021, 1:36 PM EDT (Updated)

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.

Like a lot of things in 2020, Free Comic Book Day didn't exactly go away. It still existed, just in a very modified form spread out across several weeks after weeks of distribution uncertainty in the comics world. This year, Free Comic Book Day will still be somewhat modified, but as organizers of the annual event have revealed, it'll hopefully feel much more like the normal celebration in 2021. 

AfterShock Comics

 

This year's Free Comic Book Day will once again take place on a single Saturday, though instead of the traditional first Saturday in May, the event's been moved to August 14 in the hope that continued vaccine rollouts and declining case numbers will reduce much of the COVID-19 "uncertainty and disruption" by then. In an announcement on their website Tuesday, Free Comic Book Day organizers unveiled the 12 Gold Sponsor comics for this year's event, including AfterShock's We Live: The Last Days (pictured above), BOOM!'s Enter the House of Slaughter, Dark Horse's Critical Role & The Witcher, a still-mysterious Marvel book, and more. 

“This year’s lineup of titles has something for every kind of comic fan,” Ashton Greenwood, Free Comic Book Day spokesperson, said in a statement. “We can’t wait to once again share the FCBD experience with fans, especially on our landmark 20th anniversary! We hope fans will safely visit their local comic shops to celebrate and to pick up a few of the great titles available this year.”

Today, Free Comic Book Day organizers are set to unveil the Silver Sponsor lineup for this year's event, bringing the total number of FCBD offerings up to a whopping 50 comics this August. Check out the FCBD website for more details, and get ready to celebrate at your local shop again. 


Checkmate rises!

DC Comics

Though the comics publishing schedule has long since ramped up to something resembling normal, we're still seeing the ripple effects of last year's pause in distribution amid the pandemic. That pause included a number of postponements and pauses on upcoming comics, and some of those pauses lasted longer than others. Checkmate, Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's follow-up to Event Leviathan at DC, was originally supposed to arrive last April, then got bumped to last June, then got wiped from DC's schedule entirely. Bendis always said the project wasn't dead, though, and now we finally know when we'll get to read it. 

Over the weekend, Bendis confirmed via his Instagram page that Checkmate is coming, continuing the spy-driven saga that began with Event Leviathan, and DC has since dropped some official solicit copy to accompany the above cover art. Check it out:

The dark forces of Leviathan have torn through the DC universe and now no one can be trusted. No one…not even the person writing to you about this book! That’s why you find out in Justice League #63 that Green Arrow has been secretly funding a group called CHECKMATE because not even the Justice League itself can be trusted. The mysterious MISTER KING has helped Green Arrow assemble the greatest team of super spies the world has ever seen! LOIS LANE! THE QUESTION, ROBIN! STEVE TREVOR, MANHUNTER! BONES! TALIA AH GHUL!--will have to outsmart the smartest people in the world before they destroy everything! PLUS! a new mystery character is tip-toeing through the shadows! they call him… the DAEMON ROSE! and he is hunting Lois Lane right under Superman’s nose! It’s an all new spine chilling thriller from the Eisner Award-winning team of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev! 

What'a particularly interesting here (other than the team lineup, which proves once again that I'm into anything that utilizes Mr. Bones) is the mention of Bendis' Justice League run and Oliver Queen's new Infinite Frontier era of wealth, which allows him to be the driving force behind Checkmate. This story's been a long time coming, but it feels like some sort of evolution has further shaped it over the course of the last year to help it fit right into the current era of DC Comics. We'll know more when Checkmate, one of the most-anticipated new DC Comics of the last two years, finally arrives this June. 


More news: An LGBTQ Captain America, Wonder Woman's new anthology, and more!

Marvel Comics

- Last week, we told you about Marvel's upcoming United States of Captain America miniseries in celebration of the character's 80th birthday, and we noted then that each issue will feature backup stories celebrating characters around the country who've taken up the Captain America mantle. Earlier this week, Marvel introduced the first of these: Aaron Fischer, a new LGBTQ+ hero created by writer Joshua Trujillo and artist Jan Bazaldua. Described as the "Captain America of the Railways," Aaron is described as a teenaged hero who steps up to protect and help runaways and the unhoused. We'll find out more about him, and how he put the amazing look above together, when United States of Captain America #1 arrives this June. 

- And speaking of 80th birthdays, we got more news about two big ones over at DC Comics over the past week. Both Wonder Woman and Green Arrow celebrate eight decades of heroism this year, and it's no surprise DC has big stuff planned for both of them. On June 29, Green Arrow will join the ranks of DC heroes to get their own 100-page Super Spectacular anthologies, with new stories from a massive roster of talent that features both Green Arrow veterans and newcomers.

As for Wonder Woman, while we already knew about her Super SpectacularDC revealed the Amazonian legend is also getting her own new anthology series in the vein of Batman Black and White and Superman Red and BlueWonder Woman Black and Gold will be a six-issue series uniting top creators to tell new stories of Diana of Themyscira's adventures and legacy, and the first issue alone has an incredible lineup of talent. Wonder Woman Black and Gold launches June 22. 

- From Sexcastle to Old Head, Kyle Starks is the hottest game in town when it comes to action comedy comics, which is why I was thrilled to learn last week that Starks and his pal and co-creator Chris Schweizer are teaming up for a truly bonkers-sounding adventure at Image Comics. The Six Sidekicks of Trigger Keaton is the story of what happens when a legendary (and legendarily hated) action star turns up dead, and the only people capable of solving the crime might just be a group of his former TV sidekicks. As for what happens next...well, the phrase "Stuntman War" is used in this announcement, and that's good enough for me. The book arrives in June, and you can bet I'll be there.

- Looking for even more Marvel Comics goodness this week? Well, the House of Ideas has announced that Al Ewing will continue his Immortal Hulk saga with Gamma Flight book co-written by Crystal Frasier with art by Lan Medina, which sounds like a must-read for Immortal Hulk fans. And if you just want something to feast your eyes on today: The Hellfire Gala is coming up, and Russell Dauterman is serving up some X-Men Looks

- And if all of that is still not enough blockbuster comics news for you this week: Dark Horse announced that Jeff Lemire and artist Caitlin Yarsky are picking Black Hammer back up for a new series set 20 years later. Get ready for Black Hammer Reborn


New comics this week: UltramegaSuperman Red & Blue, and more!

Image Comics

Ultramega #1: Kaiju and comic books were made for each other, and we've got lots of great stories to prove it. There's just something about turning an artist loose on that kind of massive scale that makes the genre perfect for this particular medium, and because the budget is limited only to the creator's imagination, comics is also a place where kaiju stories can go bigger than they ever have before. That seems to be the mission behind Ultramega, the new series from writer/artist James Harren, and the result is a face-meltingly awesome first issue. 

As the title might suggest, Harren's new series is a bit of a riff on the Ultraman concept, following a group of three humans who are gifted with extraordinary kaiju battling powers after a strange plague sweeps the planet, turning humans into monsters. They encounter a creature, and they immediately turn into skyscraper-sized Ultramega warriors, but it's not all bright triumphs against the forces of darkness in this world. Being an Ultramega takes its toll, and the already heavy cost is about to increase. 

What's apparent from the very first page is the clear glee Harren takes in tackling this concept. There's a sense of joy in these pages, even when things get dark, and while Ultramega is capable of getting very, very dark, the joy outshines it, removing any sense of gloom from the story and instead making way for a sense of boundless monster adventure. With that gleeful, impish sense of fun in place, Harren's bold art (accented by Dave Stewart's beautiful colors) goes places no other mainstream kaiju story in recent memory has been able to go, delivering brutal, grand-scale action and monster visuals that verge into outright horror with equal fervor. The result is a book that exudes ambition, intensity, and fun, all while building a bigger world that we've only just scratched the surface of. If you're a kaiju fan, you won't want to miss this book. 

Black Knight: Curse of the Ebony Blade #1: After teeing up the story via a King in Black tie-in issue last month, writer Si Spurrier launches a new Black Knight miniseries this week alongside artist Sergio Fernandez Davila, paving the way for a new group of fans to get to know Dane Whitman and the strange hybrid fantasy world he inhabits within the Marvel Universe. Fittingly, the first issue is in no small part about how Dane doesn't quite fit into the superhero world around him, and while that exploration works quite well, the story really gets good when Spurrier digs deeper, probing how that disconnect has made Dane the hero he is now. 

Spurrier's always had a knack for weaving the seemingly disparate threads of various comic book universes together into something cohesive, and he proves that again with this first issue, showing us Dane as both Avenger and lone warrior, hero and self-doubting loner, icon and man in constant conflict with himself. Though all of that, there's a throughline of powerful character work that resonates both through Dane's humor and his doubt, creating an instant connection even for readers who've perhaps never encountered a Black Knight story before. 

That sense of harmony persists in Davila's art, which works whether he's navigating epic superhero battles or fantasy intrigue, human foibles or magical manipulations. This is a book that's juggling many, many things right off the bat, and yet it never feels overburdened or overwhelming. Like a well-balanced sword, it just moves with you, and the results are delightful. 

Superman Red and Blue #1: The Man of Tomorrow gets a stylized, color-inspired anthology all his own this week with an all-star roster of talent attached, and the first issue is predictably stunning. Superman's ability to appear just about anywhere in the DC Universe and never feel out of place, as well as his knack for fitting perfectly in small stories despite his stature among DC heroes, made him feel like a natural fit for this kind of book, and the result is a debut issue packed with gorgeous imagery and beautiful thematic meditations on the Man of Steel's place in the world. 

You've got John Ridley and Clayton Henry probing a past defeat and the way it still haunts Superman despite all his strength, Brandon Easton and Steve Lieber digging into a very personal relationship Superman built without even knowing it, Wes Craig digging into an tale from Superman's early days about the time someone else saved him, and Marguerite Bennett and Jill Thompson telling a story of one of young Clark Kent's earliest, smallest, but most important acts of heroism. Then there's Dan Watters and DaNi's story that literally explores how the very concept of color helps inform the way we think of Superman, the world he inhabits, and the things he stands for. Every story in this issue is excellent, but that one is far and away the one that will stick in my brain the longest. 

All of this combines to create a truly spellbinding reading experience that will recharge your faith in Superman no matter what level of admiration you already had for him going in. It's a tribute to the enduring power of the character, to his versatility and vibrance, and it sets the stage for a must-read anthology book that feels primed to keep flying higher.

Snow Angels #2: I missed out on reviewing the first issue of Jeff Lemire and Jock's new ComiXology series Snow Angels last month because, appropriately enough, I was snowed in. The Texas snowstorm knocked me out of filing a column that week, but now that issue two is here, I'm pleased to say that, given the creators involved, this series is absolutely as intense and inventive as you'd expect it to be. 

The series begins with a narrative hook that feels like classic Lemire, embedding the central characters in a mysterious landscape that clearly has a past and a mythology, even if we don't know it yet. Then, just as we've grasped the relatively straightforward sense of status quo evident in the early sequences, Lemire disrupts it, hurling us and his characters headlong into a world of danger, mystery, and terror. The second issue, picking up after an incredible debut cliffhanger, only furthers that sense of being propelled through it a story at lightning speed, and the result is a book that leaves you crave the next installment as soon as you hit that "To Be Continued" label. 

Jock's art is, of course, equal to the task of Lemire's storytelling. His snowscapes are the stuff of endless possibility, but there's always that sense of foreboding lurking somewhere out in all that white, like a nightmare could creep up out of the paleness at any moment. It's a tonal balance that's difficult to achieve in the somewhat minimalist nature of such a setting, but he's a master and he proves it in panel after panel. The result is a must-read genre series that weaves post-apocalyptic family saga and survival horror together into something instantly compelling. 

Count: Ibrahim Moustafa's Count is a graphic novel adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, and if you know Moustafa's work, that sentence alone is probably enough to get you in the door. But Moustafa wasn't content to just lavishly illustrate a new version of the classic story with the expected period details. No, this version of Count is an ambitious, sweeping re-imagining of the entire saga that reframes the classic revenge tale in a sci-fi universe complete with airships, robots, elemental swords, and all the stunning visual detail that goes with it. The result is a must-read vision of a timeless tale. 

Moustafa's Count is Redxan Samud, a talented young man who finds himself caught in the crosshairs of powerful people who'd rather have him out of the way. So, he's framed for a crime he didn't commit and sent to prison, only to break out with the resources necessary to exact vengeance against those who wronged him and, by locking him away, destroyed his life and the lives of those he loved. It's a well-known story, and because of that you might think you know every beat Moustafa's version will hit. Even if you did somehow manage to predict it all along the way, though, Count would remain a must-read simply because of how devastatingly gorgeous it is. From the character designs to the worldbuilding to sword fights that unfold with breathtaking grace across elegantly structured panels, it's a masterpiece of visual storytelling, layered with meaning and power on each page. Count is an ambitious idea transformed into a masterpiece, and reaffirms Moustafa's place as one of the finest artists working in comics right now.

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."