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Comics Wire: Marvel and DC revamp digital comics access. Plus Dune, hot Kickstarters, & more!

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Oct 21, 2020, 9:52 AM EDT

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.

I'm a big fan of digital comics back issue subscriptions. I subscribe to several, including Marvel Unlimited and DC Universe, and the sheer number of comics I get through in any given week means they're worth every penny to me. The biggest downside to these services, of course, is the window of time in which you have to sit and wait for new issues to hit the service, especially after you've binged everything a relatively new comic has to offer. In the case of DC Universe, that's meant waiting a year from an issue's original release date for it to hit the service, while on the Marvel side of things the wait for a comic to hit Unlimited was usually six months. Now that's changing, on both fronts. 

Marvel announced this week that its Marvel Unlimited service will now feature new single issues just three months after they first hit stores, cutting their original window in half. The move comes just one week after DC Comics announced it would rebrand the DC Universe streaming service as comics readers and community DC Universe Infinite in January, and change its own digital archive release window from a year to six months in the process. So basically, DC cut their window in half to match Marvel, and then Marvel went ahead and cut their own window in half again. 

Why the change? Well, according to a press release from Marvel, they've been seeing "a rising number of fans" at Marvel Unlimited looking to catch up with recent stories, and it's likely that DC has seen a similar uptick. The general shut-in nature of the pandemic has meant everyone's had more time for streaming and reading alike, so why shouldn't that translate to back issues of popular comics? And if you're the type of person who tends to read a lot of comics, as I do, Marvel Unlimited and DC Universe tend to justify their expense fairly quickly. 

Basically, these services seem to be seeing a greater demand for the kind of subscription-based binge-reading they offer, even as graphic novel sales at various publishers are still surging, so why not try to close the release gap a little? If Marvel Unlimited and DC Universe really are driving traffic to these books, then single-issue sales of certain new comics might see a boost. And if they don't, then at least the publishers are continuing to build digital income and audiences through another avenue. It'll be interesting to see the ripples of this going forward. For now, it just means more instant access to comics for readers like me. 


Kickstarter roundup: Devilish fast food, a Christmas anthology, and more!

Kickstarter/Liana Kangas

Every once in a while here at Comics Wire, we like to take a little stroll through the ol' crowdfunding mines to see what creators are pitching directly to readers, and we pretty much always find something great. Here are four Kickstarters that caught my eye this week, which you can go back right now. 

Trve KvltScott Bryan Wilson, Liana Kangas, Gab Contreras, DC Hopkins, Jazzlyn Stone, and Jamez Savage team up for a story of Satanic panic, fast food, and mayhem in what looks to be a book that's extremely up my alley. Trve Kvlt follows a guy stuck in his dead-end fast food job, who just happens to stumble upon an ancient weapon that an evil cult wants for itself. The sample pages on the campaign page look fantastic, it's got endorsements from some of the best creators working right now, and...I mean, come on, you had me at "heavy metal fast food crime comic." Fifteen bucks gets you digital copies of all four issues.

Holiday PANIC!I love Christmas comics and I love Karl Kesel comics, so a book that puts those things together is definitely something I'm interested in. Holiday PANIC! is billed as a 64-page trade paperback collecting a sampling of holiday stories by Kesel, including both Kesel solo stories and team-ups with the likes of Tom Grummett and David Hahn. Featuring Kesel creations like Section Zero and Impossible Jones, the book promises to be out by Christmas, making it a great gift for the comics fan in your life, and if you pledge at a certain amount you can even get some Christmas cards to go with it. You can get a digital copy for just five bucks. 

FoundlingsDo you like Stranger ThingsRed DawnThe Hunger GamesThe Goonies and other assorted young-adult oriented fun? Then Foundlings might be for you, or perhaps the teen in your life who's looking for a story about unlikely heroes. Creators John Stanisci and Emma Kubert team up for this story of a Russian threat wiping out American from within, a mysterious virus, and a group of special kids who seem to hold the key to the future of the world. Kubert's art for the project, displayed on the campaign page, is what really sold this for me, because it's both grand in scope and hyper-focused on the emotive power of a diverse cast of characters. Five bucks gets you a digital copy of the first issue.

RDWTwo things about this campaign stuck out to me immediately: First of all, the art is gorgeous. Creator Marco Rudy is delivering some stunning acrylic painted pages here, and I can't wait to see what the finished product looks like based on this. And second of all, it promises to be a story about addiction, withdrawal, and recovery, and that tends to carry a lot of weight with me, particularly if you can couch it in an awesome fantasy setting. RDW is the story of a warrior named Astrid, the effects of the drug she takes to keep her unit going, and the struggles that follow. Rudy describes as a blending of Samurai ChamplooAsterixMister RobotPromethea, and more, and I'm definitely on board for that. Twenty Canadian dollars (about $16 US) gets you a digital copy of the first volume. 


News roundup: More AfterShock horror, new Hulk stories, and more!

AfterShock Comics

And the news doesn't stop with Kickstarter. Let's take a look at some publishing announcements that got my attention this week. 

Over at AfterShock Comics, writer Zac Thompson — who recently launched the excellent sci-fi horror book Lonely Receiver and cut a deal with Norman Reedus for Undone by Blood — rolled out another high-concept sci-fi horror comic on Tuesday. I Breathed a Body, from Thompson and artist Andy MacDonald, is described as a blend of The Social Network and Hellraiser, which is enough to get me interested by itself. Throw in the fact that MacDonald is drawing the excellent sci-fi horror book Rogue Planet right now and Thompson's Lonely Receiver #1 was one of my favorite debuts of the year, and this will be a must-read for me. To see more art from the series (warning, it's a bit graphic), head over to AfterShock's website.

If you're a Hulk fan, you might be sad that the great Immortal Hulk is wrapping up soon, but Marvel's hoping to fill that void with two new stories they announced on Tuesday. If you're a fan of Peter David's current miniseries Maestro, the legendary writer will be carrying on that story with Maestro: War & Pax in January, alongside artist Javier Pina. And if you're looking for more of the Immortal Hulk, that's getting a continuation as well in the form of a one-shot written and drawn by Declan Shalvey. Immortal Hulk: Flatline will feature Hulk facing a brand-new Gamma monster, and it just might open some doors (maybe even some green doors) to more stories. For more on both titles, head over to Marvel's website.

We've talked about some beginnings, now let's talk about an ending: Dark Horse Comics and Berger Books announced Tuesday that the epic finale of this year's Best New Series Eisner winner, Invisible Kingdom, will arrive in the form of an original graphic novel next May. We've known for a couple of months that writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Christian Ward were planning to conclude the series with a graphic novel rather than another round of single issues, and now we have both a release date and a title, Invisible Kingdom: Other Worlds. So, if you've been putting off catching up on this gorgeously rendered sci-fi epic, you've got about seven months to remedy that before the ending.


New Comics: The ScumbagWerewolf by NightDune, and more!

Image Comics

That's the news. Now, let's talk about some of the comics I got excited about this week. 

The Scumbag #1: I love comics that take full advantage of the fact that they're comics. There are things this medium offers that film and television simply don't, and pushing those to the front of your narrative can, with the right application of craft, win you all sorts of storytelling goodwill from me right up front. I also love stories about unlikely heroes, so The Scumbag felt like my kind of thing from pretty much the first full page. 

The tagline for this series from writer Rick Remender and first-issue artist Lewis LaRosa (the art team will change every issue) is "The fate of the world rests in the hands of the worst person on it," and in this case that means Ernie Ray Clementine. Remender and LaRosa waste no time in making sure Ernie — a drug-addicted, fifth-grade-educated biker who cares more about his next fix than anything else — absolutely lives up to the book's title. This is what I mean when I'm talking about comics that take full advantage of the medium. Through narration, Remender establishes just how far he's willing to push Ernie's reputation, then LaRosa's art pushes things even further into the realm of pure filthy fun. Ernie might be funny and compelling, but the book wants you to understand from the beginning that he's not the kind of guy you'd want to have a beer with. 

From there, Remender and LaRosa begin introducing the world-ending implications of the story, and that's where The Scumbag pivots from the somewhat shocking tale of a loser looking to score to something bigger and, if this first issue is to be believed, so much wilder than anything Ernie could get up to at his local watering hole. With Ernie as his baseline protagonist, Remender starts to layer in all sorts of weird, bold sci-fi concepts that set the stage for what might end up being the ultimate unlikely hero story. It's clever, it's funny, it's instantly intriguing, and even after just one issue it's so much more than its tagline. This is a thoroughly ambitious and implishly entertaining debut that lays a lot of groundwork for something bigger.

Werewolf by Night #1: I love Marvel Comics monsters, in part because they seem to coexist as part of the Marvel Universe in a way that even some of DC's most iconic creatures don't. Dracula can have his own adventures fighting descendants of Van Helsing, but he can also show up to fight the X-Men or slap the Silver Surfer across the face if he wants to. Werewolf by Night has never had quite the Dracula level of appeal in the Marvel Universe, but the various iterations of that character also have a certain adaptability to them that's always worth paying attention to. 

Which brings us to the new Werewolf by Night miniseries written by Taboo (of Black Eyed Peas fame) and Ben Jackendoff and drawn by Scot Eaton. To showcase the adaptability of the Werewolf by Night title alone, right off the bat this story introduces us to a brand-new lycanthrope, a kid named Jake who lives on a reservation and is still learning to keep his wolfen powers in check as he tries to fully understand them. Luckily for Jake, he has a lot of help thanks to the support of his grandmother and his best friend, Molly. Unluckily for Jake, dark deeds are afoot around the reservation. People are going missing, strange vehicles are on the roads at night, and secrets seem primed to be revealed. 

Taboo and Jackendoff's script lays out parallel threads as it establishes who Jake is, contrasting his journey with that of the superhero Red Wolf, but the thing that really propels this first issue is a real heart. We're not just watching the classic lonely Wolf Man story unfold here. We're watching a young man with a generational condition he doesn't fully understand try move beyond simply controlling his powers and instead aim to master them, with the help of a great support system that helps pack the book with emotional resonance and charisma. Eaton's art -- including a phenomenal new werewolf design that really pops when it shows up -- only adds to that sense of real heart permeating the book. The best monster stories are often the ones that allow us to understand the people behind the creatures, and this feels like the start of one of those. I'm excited to see what's next.

Nightwing #75: Now that the Joker War event is over in Gotham City, we're in for a kind of reorgnization, or at least a recentering, with the various Bat-family titles at DC Comics. There's a lot of potential across the line, but I was particularly interested to see where Nightwing picked up after the event. Dick Grayson's arc over the course of Joker War involved him finally getting his memories back after a period in which he became a cab driver named "Ric" and lost all of his time as Robin and Nightwing. Now that the memories are back, writer Dan Jurgens and artists Ronan Cliquet and Travis Moore are out to show us how Dick Grayson sees the world now. 

Nightwing #75 is a slow, careful evolution for Dick Grayson, something Cliquet and Moore nail right out of the gate from an art standpoint. Dick's costume changes over the course of the issue as he grapples with the various emotional and psychological issues surrounding his life post-Joker War, but there's more to it than it character design. Dick's posture changes over the course of the book, his expressiveness shifts as he becomes more like his old self, and the overall texture of both his face and body have to shift along with that. It's a tough needle to thread, but the art team absolutely pulls it off. 

Jurgens' script, meanwhile, has to both chart that evolution over the course of a slightly oversized single issue and deliver an emotional payoff rooted in the losses that Dick still hasn't taken a breath to cope with. There's a lot to reckon with in the structure of this issue, as Jurgens basically takes Grayson on a tour of nearly every major role he's played in the DC Universe, but somehow the script never feels like a recap, nor does it lean too hard on familiar faces making cameos. Instead it has the effect of a genuine, and genuinely moving, emotionally reckoning for one of the most hopeful heroes in DC Comics. It's a gem, and it sets up a showdown in issues to come that I can't wait to read about. 

Dune: House Atreides #1: We might have to wait until next year for the Dune movie now, but Frank Herbert's epic sci-fi universe is still opening up more this fall thanks to the new BOOM! Studios prequel series House Atreides. Adapted by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson from their book of the same name, and drawn with tremendous energy by Dev Pramanik, this comic tells the story of the events that lay the groundwork for Dune itself, from broad political intrigues to more intimate personal journeys. 

What I love about this book right away is the tremendous emphasis on the scope of it. Dune is, of course, an epic novel, but we spend so little time on any planet that's not Arrakis that if Dune is all you know, it can be easy to forget just how massive the universe surrounding the Spice planet really is. Here, Herbert and Anderson's script takes full advantage of the comics form to jump around from planet to planet, showing us the major players as they move into place for a grander narrative and given us the full breadth of the grandeur and ambition of Frank Herbert's universe. It's a little dizzying in a very good way. 

And of course, none of that works without the art. Herbert and Anderson craft a brisk, beautifully layered script here, but they're of course working from pre-existing source material. Pramanik has to take that pre-existing material, including pre-existing designs and visuals that offer clues as to what the Dune universe should look like, and expand on it on a massive scale even within the confines of one issue, while also rooting everything in the characters that populate the book, from young Leto Atreidies to the Emperor Elrood. It's a daunting challenge, but one that Pramanik rises to with passion, grandeur, and real heart. It's a book worth getting lost in. 

Madam Satan #1: The fine folks at Archie Comics have proven numerous times that they can push their classic characters into spooky territory with great success, and now a new one-shot is pushing things just a little bit further. Spinning out of the acclaimed Chilling Adventures of Sabrina series, Madam Satan is a delightful, devilishly fun one-shot that's both a worthy addition for Sabrina fans and a surprisingly self-contained standalone adventure. 

In the hands of writer Eliot Rahal and artist Julius Ohta, the title character is thrown into a new role in Hell itself, where she's schemed to get everything she's ever wanted, only to find that it doesn't seem to be what she really wanted at all. That means the issue spends a lot of time in Madam Satan's head, digging into the heart of her disillusionment. It's something that could be boring or too formulaic, but Rahal's ability to work her wit and wisdom into Madam Satan's supernatural ennui makes it all thoroughly entertaining. 

Then there's Ohta's art, helped along by Matt Herms' beautiful colors and some wonderful lettering fluorishes by Jack Morelli. Somehow this issue manages to show us just about every phase of Madam Satan's physical being, from the monstrous to the sexy to a stunning blend of the two, all while also brushing in detail to the Archie Comics version of hell. It's an artist showcase that pays off on every page, making this a perfect Halloween addition to the Archie Horror canon. 

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."

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