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 live in an era of comics marketing that is very often driven by event books, massive miniseries or maxiseries meant as self-contained boosters for a whole universe (Dark Nights: Death Metal), or crossover events meant to infuse attention into one specific part of a publisher's lineup (X of Swords). I know there's a lot of fatigue surrounding event publishing and its often relentless nature, and while I don't feel it myself, I also really appreciate when Big Two publishers are happy to give us the promise of massive, universe-altering stories within the pages of ongoing series we might already be reading. Which is why I was particularly intrigued by the teaser image Marvel dropped this week in anticipation of Avengers #38, on sale today. Check it out:
The current volume of Avengers has been overseen for more than two years now by writer Jason Aaron, one of Marvel's go-to guys for universe shake-ups and big marquee stories, and what's been particularly great about following his run is the way it often presents as kind of an ensemble version of what he did with Thor for several years. Like his God of Thunder adventures, Aaron's Avengers stories are big, bold, action-heavy pieces that reach deep into the past of the Marvel Universe and far into the future, while still retaining a focus on the characters as they exist in the present, saving the world from everything from vampire wars to Egyptian moon gods.
So now we have this, a teaser image that promises to help unspool what's to come from this run of comics in 2021. While I've read Avengers #38 already, I'm not going to tell you exactly what it means, but I will tell you it stems from a loose end in the Age of Khonshu storyline that just wrapped up in issue #37, a very big loose end that sets up what might very well be the biggest Avengers epic of the Aaron era, and that's an era that started with a host of Celestials.
I loved Avengers #38, I love what this teaser is setting up, but perhaps more importantly, I love what it represents. Yes, event comics are great and fun and friendly to readers who just want to dip into one big story through a miniseries, but comics can and should bring their biggest guns to the forefront of ongoing series starring top-level heroes. The Avengers are, for many readers, the Marvel superteam, and Aaron's run on the title has reminded us of their potential again and again. Whatever happens next year, on the other side of the upcoming Enter The Phoenix arc, should remind us one more time, and deliver a story of event-level proportions within the pages of Earth's Mightiest Heroes' own title.
DC Comics' new Future State speedster
A few weeks back, we told you about Future State, the ambitious new publishing initative from DC Comics that will suspend publication on ongoing titles for two months (beginning in January) so the publisher can roll out a series of titles set in the DC Universe's future. That opens a very, very wide range of storytelling possibilities for the many creators involved in the event, from aged versions of familiar heroes to new characters taking up old mantles to characters who retain a certain familiarity but are nevertheless new creations.
Earlier this week, via Screen Rant, we got a look at one group of these characters in the form of "Teen Justice," a superteam from Earth-11 that will feature several genderswapped versions of DC characters and, perhaps most importantly, a nonbinary speedster named Jess Chambers, aka Kid Quick. The team will lead off their new adventures with an appearance in the Very Merry Multiverse one-shot next month via a story from writer Ivan Cohen and artist Eleonara Carlini, and to tease that story's arrival DC also dropped Carlini's character designs for the team. Check them out:
While some of these characters appeared in Grant Morrison's Multiversity Guidebook a few years back, others are all-new creations, and one is going to have a big role to play in the Future State: Justice League series coming next year from Joshua Williamson and Robson Rocha. That honor goes to the new nonbinary hero Jess Chambers, whose aunt is Jesse Quick, the primary speedster of Earth-11. In the Very Merry Multiverse Teen Justice story, Jess will go by the hero moniker Kid Quick, but in Future State: Justice League Jess will ascend to become the reigning Justice League speedster, putting them in a prime position for stardom. According to Cohen, Jess is the only member of Teen Justice set to make the leap to Future State, but that doesn't rule out other characters returning in another capacity.
So, with the knowledge that Jess is set to basically become DC's future Flash, putting a nonbinary hero on the Justice League roster, we're left to wonder what happens when Future State is over? Injecting more inclusion into your stories via gender-swapped heroes and nonbinary new characters is a fantastic step, and of course something like Future State gives you the freedom to do that, but the goal of something as far-reaching as Future State is also to bring in new readers and readers returning from a long absence. If you ask them to fall in love with a character like Jess, then remove Jess from the equation after two months, what happens to that potential energy? Luckily, the DC Universe has the multiversal, time-hopping power of the Speed Force on its side, so if Jess Chambers turns into a new fan-favorite character we will hopefully see them making a big impact on other DC titles going forward.
Very Merry Multiverse arrives December 9th from DC Comics.
More news: New Mirka Andolfo comics, Choose Your Own Adventure books, Shadowman returns, and more!
- Italian writer/artist Mirka Andolfo's steady rise in the American comics world continues. After finding success with the America release of her comic Unnatural and her more recent Image series Mercy, Image Comics announced late last week that it's partnered with Andolfo on Sweet Paprika, a new comic book series based on a property Andolfo is also developing for animation, and which has also already secured comics releases in both Italy and France. Described as both a "contemporary fairy tale" and a romcom with "reversed roles" and set in a "universe populated angels and devils," Sweet Paprika is set to arrive next July and will no doubt continue to boost Andolfo's America profile.
- If you love both comics and Choose Your Own Adventure books, next summer is going to be a fun one for you, because the two are about to merge. Last week Oni-Lion Forge announced a new partnership with Chooseco, the company behind the classic Choose Your Own Adventure books, to adapt some of their classic stories into graphic novels. The line will launch in August with an adaptation of Choose Your Own Adventure: Eighth Grade Witch, followed by Choose Your Own Adventure: Journey Under the Sea, and more titles to be revealed later.
- Rebellion Publishing, the owners behind British sci-fi comics juggernaut 2000 AD, have announced a pretty aggressive new publishing initiative for 2021 that means you might be able to patch a few gaps in your reading if you're one of the 2000 AD faithful. The publisher announced via The Hollywood Reporter Tuesday that it plans to drop new digital collections of hard-to-find 2000 AD classics from now-legendary creators like Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, Alan Grant and more on both its 2000 AD app and webstore. The new collections will drop the first week of every month next year, and include everything from Revere to Aquila Volume II to Bad City Blue.
- Valiant Entertainment has slowed comics publication somewhat in the back half of 2020, but that just means they're rebounding big in 2021. We've already heard about the new The Harbinger series they're launching, and now another title joins the fray: A new volume of Shadowman from writer Cullen Bunn and artist Jon Davis-Hunt, both of whom seem perfectly suited for this particular title. If you want to learn more, Variant Comics put together a handy announcement video to go along with the news.
New Comics: Crossover begins, Sweet Tooth is back, and more!
That's the news. Now let's look at some of the comics I got excited about this week.
Crossover #1: The first thing that struck me about Crossover, the much-anticipated new Image book from writer Donny Cates and artist Geoff Shaw, is what it doesn't choose to focus on. Though many of the details have been kept under wraps, Cates teased back during San Diego Comic-Con that this is the story of what happens when a massive superhero crossover event -- the kind you read about in the pages of Marvel and DC -- explodes over into the "real" world and changes things forever. With that in mind, you might be expecting page after page of superhero insanity.
Well, that might be coming in future issues, but what sets the launch of Crossover apart, and what really makes it work, is just how much Cates and Shaw refuse to lean on that kind of storytelling, especially since we know from Cates' work on Venom and Thor that he can do that any time he likes. Instead, we're treated to a more intimate character piece, an exploration of what happens to the world when the things we thought were fictional turn out to be very real, and the things we thought were real turn out to be a little more fleeting than we perhaps imagined.
You might have noticed that I'm deliberately dancing around the real plot of the first issue here, and that's because it really is something you just need to dive into for yourself. With the debut issue Crossover, Cates and Shaw have achieved something special, a comic about comics that feels less like a deconstruction and more like a sincere attempt at joyful immersion. It's a book about why we care about these stories so much that also never forgets that it has to stand on its own, and as a result it's absolutely dripping with ambition. Something big is happening here, and I'm eager to see what issue #2 holds.
Sweet Tooth: The Return #1: When the new miniseries in the Sweet Tooth mythos was announced, DC promised us we wouldn't get a "re-hash" of what came before, and given that Sweet Tooth creator Jeff Lemire is behind the wheel of the series yet again, that never seemed like a real concern. Though familiar themes persist in his work, Lemire's never been one to retread ground he's already familiar with, so the real thrill of Sweet Tooth: The Return's announcement was always in wondering what storytelling challenge drew him back. What about this story made it worth revisiting?
With that question in mind, it's remarkable how much the first issue of The Return seems to rhyme in ways both visual and thematic with the first issue of the original Sweet Tooth series. Here again, we pick up on the story of a hybrid boy plagued by dark dreams, living in an isolated capsule of existence where an authority figure dictates boundaries that he seems eager to breach. The parallels are striking, but what's more striking is the many ways in which Lemire is willing to expand the mythology he built in the original series. Big, bold ideas are at work in these pages even by Sweet Tooth standards, and while the same sense of discovery and mystery-unraveling that persists in the early issues of the original series is present here, it's clear Lemire is interested in going somewhere else.
Exactly how the rest of this planned six-issue miniseries will unfold is, of course, anyone's guess, but that's also part of the joy of Sweet Tooth. The launch of the original series was magical because Lemire's art and writing were stellar, of course, but the real propellant was the sense that we knew only as much as Gus did at any given time, and that we couldn't possibly guess what was around the next corner. Now, with a new boy in a new era of this strange world, Lemire promises to deliver that same sense of delightful narrative tension with the same masterful craft he's always packed into Sweet Tooth.
U.S.Agent #1: To say that now is an...interesting time to drop a new U.S.Agent title on us is perhaps an understatement, but as soon as I saw Christopher Priest was writing the new miniseries I knew I had to check it out. Priest has always had a knack for packing ideas into his scripts while never making them feel like weird thematic puzzles we have to untangle. He writes fun, fast, and fierce superhero books that are often so nuanced they won't leave your brain, and I'm happy to say this is another example of that.
Priest and artist Georges Jeanty pick up the story of John Walker at a time when he seems at odds with both himself and the government he's pledged to serve. No longer the Super Patriot, Walker is stuck on a strange and volatile government contract job that puts him in the middle of a battle between a small town and the corporation that seems to have taken it over at the expense of the livelihoods of the locals. What follows is a strange, relentlessly fun odyssey of pizza deliveries, covert tactics, and unreliable shields.
This version of the U.S.Agent story is messy, not in terms of craft but in terms of the often jumbled struggle Walker finds himself in when we pick up the narrative, and Jeanty's art encapsulates that tone perfectly. His action sequences are on-point, but his work in the often devastating dark comedy moments is even more impressive, and nails the delicate tonal balance Priest is aiming for with his script, which balances often wild action sequences with moments of real emotional weight and earnest commentary. Funny, precise, and packed with meaning, this is a U.S.Agent miniseries perfect for the strange times we're living in.
Happy Hour #1: Leave it to Peter Milligan to come up with something as wildly entertaining and terrifyingly topical as Happy Hour. Alongside artist Michael Montenat, Milligan launches this series with a high-concept dystopian hook that's definitely attention-grabbing, but it's what the team does next that makes it really worth paying attention to.
Happy Hour is a set in a world where the government decided it would be illegal for people to be miserable, and even came up with medical procedures and regulations to enforce this new code of cheeriness. Against that strange backdrop, where people look on the bright side in even the most heinous situations, we meet a pair of people who, for one reason or another, have decided it's their right to be unhappy, and they're willing to fight for that no matter what it takes.
This kind of concept represents an artistic tightrope, one that not all artists would be able to navigate, but Montenat clears the bar with room to spare. A world where everyone is forced to be happy literally all the time no matter what means he has to craft a spectrum of emotional expressiveness that shows us people who are smiling in every way imaginable, from the sincere to the utterly deranged, and it all looks so convincing that it sent shivers down my spine. Milligan also has a narrative tightrope to navigate here, because of course the story can't begin and end with the high-concept. There have to be real stakes, real investment, and real worldbuilding beyond the dystopian construct, and the way he builds it all out over the course of this first issue is truly impressive. This feels like a world-class comics satire in the making.
Red Atlantis #1: A story about an election nightmare might hit a little too close to home for some readers, but I was curious what Red Atlantis from writer Stephanie Phillips and artist Robert Carey might offer as soon as I heard the concept. What I found when I read the first issue was a gripping, fast-paced conspiracy thriller with plenty of wild sci-fi fun peppered in.
The story begins in Houston, Texas, where a series of strange incidents at polling places break out, triggering an investigation. As local authorites close in on the apparent epicenter of whatever's going on, they find a journalism student named Miriam who's about to get in way over her head with chaos on the horizon.
Carey's art propelled by Phillips' precise and thrilling script, pushes this first-issue forward at a breakneck pace, so much so that I was shocked when the issue ended not because it was a bad ending, but because I couldn't believe I'd already read that many pages. It absolutely flies, but if you look closely you'll also see plenty of things worth settling down and focusing in on. The way Phillips carefully builds out the pieces of this conspiracy, the way the narrative threads converage after slowly beginning to weave together in the opening pages, and the character of Miriam herself all lend a level of gravity to the story that moves well-beyond the action, all of which Carey sells with emotive, often haunting panels. Best of all, though: I have no idea where this book is headed after the last-page stinger, which means I'll have to get issue #2 to find out.
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."