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.
More than a decade ago, Marvel Comics decided the world of Spider-Man needed a fresh jolt of energy in the wake of the controversial "One More Day" storyline. It was time to go big while also finding a way to get back to the fundamentals of the character, and so we got "Brand New Day," a massive initiative that saw Amazing Spider-Man publish three issues a month from a massive creative team that included a "Spidey Brain Trust" team of writers shepherding each issue and the overall arc of Peter Parker's adventures. Now, as the Nick Spencer era on Amazing Spider-Man draws to a close, Marvel's set to do a version of that again, and the team they've assembled is arguably even more exciting than the talent of the "Brand New Day" era.
Last week, Marvel announced Spider-Man Beyond, a new arc for the webslinger kicking off in Amazing Spider-Man #75 this fall that will once again see the flagship book publishing three times a month, and will unite an incredible roster of talent to tell a bold new Spider-Man story. This time, though, it's not about resetting Peter Parker's life, but about putting someone else in the costume. Ben Reilly, Peter's clone, is back, and he's taking up the Spidey mantle again in the wake of something so big that even the ever-determined Peter Parker might not be able to handle it.
“The whole point of working on Spider-Man is trying to put new unliftable weights on top of him—physical, metaphysical, emotional, psychological—and seeing if he can lift them," editor Nick Lowe explained in the announcement press release. "But what if that weight truly is too heavy? What if someone with the exact same skills and formative years could do better? Ben Reilly is back and, with Aunt May and Uncle Ben’s lessons in the back of HIS mind as well, he’s here to step in where Peter Parker failed. Can he accomplish things the original Spider-Man never could? These questions are what sold me on this story."
To tell that story, Lowe and the Spider-Man team have assembled writers Kelly Thompson (Black Widow), Saladin Ahmed (Miles Morales: Spider-Man), Cody Ziglar (Disney+'s She-Hulk), Patrick Gleason (one of the primary artists of the Spencer run who also crafted the promo art above), and Zeb Wells (a veteran of the "Brand New Day" brain trust), creating an incredible blend of talent capable of both humor and darkness, intimate character work and vast, universe-altering ambition. We don't yet which artists are attached to the series, but Marvel will reveal those in the coming months, and you can probably expect them to be just as thrilling.
Spider-Man Beyond kicks off this October after a Free Comic Book Day preview of the event on August 14. Time will tell how well it all works, because an event like this requires tremendous coordination from all parts of the production team, but I'm thrilled by the news. Spider-Man's frantic life has always leant itself to this kind of storytelling, this level of all-star ambition, and the writing team Lowe and company have assembled for this is truly next-level. This is the future of Spider-Man, and it looks very bright indeed.
Tribute to a DC Comics legend
A year ago this month the comics world lost a titan when Dennis "Denny" O'Neil, one of the most important writers and editors in the history of superhero comics, passed away at the age of 81. In the months since his death, we've seen some of O'Neil's final superhero stories emerge, and we've seen moving tributes from his peers, fans, and comics creators who consider him among their most important influences. This week, though, we might have received the most moving tribute of them all.
DC Comics has devoted six pages of its Green Arrow 80th Anniversary Super-Spectacular one-shot to a special tribute story in honor of O'Neil, written by his son Larry and drawn by artist Jorge Fornes. But while Oliver Queen was one of O'Neil's signature characters, this is not a Green Arrow story. Instead it's a silent sequence of panels depicting key moments in O'Neil's life, all colored by one ever-present force: Imagination.
If you picked up the Green Arrow 80th Anniversary issue this week (and you should; as I note below, it's really good) you'll be able to read the story at the close of the book. If you didn't, DC Comics wanted to make sure you'd be able to read it anyway, and put it up for free in its entirety on their website. Take a couple of minutes, head over there, and pay tribute to a legend. Oh, and bring a tissue.
More News: Lemire and Sorrentino re-team, Chicken Devil, 45 Years of 2000 AD, and more!
- The Eisner-winning creative team behind Gideon Falls, Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino, only recently wrapped up that series with a finale as ambitious and memorable as the first issue, but they weren't about to let one of the most exciting collaborations of the last decade end there. Earlier this week, Lemire and Sorrentino revealed their next Image Comics title, Primordial, a combination of sci-fi adventure and Cold War thriller that imagines what happened if the American space program sent two monkeys into space as part of a test mission in 1959, only to have the animals taken by some unknown force. In Primordial, we'll see what happens when those monkeys come home, and what that means for the future of humanity. I'm sold already, and I'm eager to read what's next when the first issue drops this September. You can check out a preview of Primordial #1 at the Image website now.
- Next year marks the 45th anniversary of 2000 AD, one of the most important comics entities of the last five decades and a pipeline for some of the greatest comics creators in the history of the United Kingdom, and publisher Rebellion is looking to celebrate in style. Over the weekend the publisher announced a massive initiative of new books to celebrate four and a half decades of 2000 AD, including the first ever 2000 AD Encyclopedia, and collections highlighting the 2000 AD (specifically Judge Dredd) works of legends like Brian Bolland, John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra, and Al Ewing. To get the full rundown of what's coming for 2000 AD's 45th birthday, head over to their site for more details.
- Last week marked the 30-year anniversary of X-Force #1, the comic every '90s superhero fan had to own, and often had to own multiple copies of. To commemorate three decades since that blockbuster issue, Marvel Comics announced Friday that legendary X-Force creator Rob Liefeld will return for X-Force: Killshot, a new one-shot "taking readers back to the beloved 90s heyday" of the characters for a story in which Cable and his comrades have to assemble five different squads from throughout X-Force history in an effort to wipe out Stryfe for good. X-Force: Killshot drops in November, and you can get more details over at Marvel's website.
- The always entertaining AfterShock Comics is at it again. This week the publisher announced Chicken Devil, a new "fast food thriller" about the own of a chain of Hot Chicken restaurants who discovers a little too late that his partner owes a ton of money to the Russian mob. This, of course, puts his family in the crosshairs, so what's a guy to do? Dress up like a giant chicken, call himself "Chicken Devil," and set out for revenge, that's what. This wild new series from writer Brian Buccellato and artist Hayden Sherman arrives in October, and if the art over on AfterShock's website is any indication, you're going to want it like you want fried chicken.
- And finally this week, the young readers boom in comics continues as Skybound Entertainment announces Skybound Comet, a new imprint for middle grade and young adult titles that will launch next year with Clementine Book One, a new young readers title focused on The Walking Dead character of the same, written and drawn by Tillie Walden. Books by creators including Tri Vuong, Irma Kniivila, Mairghread Scott, and Pablo Tunica will soon fall. Titles for younger readers have been driving quite a bit of comics sales for a while now, and it's encouraging to see more and more publishers embrace that audience as the industry continues to evolve.
New comics: Barbaric, Green Arrow 80th, The United States of Captain America, and more!
Barbaric #1: So, here's the thing about Barbaric: The premise is so good that a creative team could have sleepwalked through a few issues and still done something pretty damn entertaining with it. It's just a great idea, and I knew from the moment I read the first solicit copy on the book that I'd want in on it. But here's the other thing about Barbaric: The creative team isn't sleepwalking. Writer Michael Moreci and artist Nathan Gooden have instead honed their craft to a deadly edge and launched into this book with a triumphant war cry of humor, heart, and bloodthirsty ambition, and because of that we got one of the best first issues of the year.
As the title suggests, Barbaric follows a barbarian, but he's not up to his usual barbaric hijinks anymore. No, when we meet him, Owen the Barbarian has been cursed by a group of witches to only do the right thing in any situation, no matter what he might think of it. To help him in this quest, he's got a bloodthirsty talking axe who lets him know who he can and can't brutally kill.
The rapport between Owen and Axe, who grows increasingly drunk the bloodier he gets, forms the backbone of Moreci's script to create a buddy comedy dynamic that feels effortless and establishes the underlying mythology of the story without forcing too much exposition into the narrative. This is the story of a down-on-his-luck, put-upon guy who just happens to be a brutal barbarian with a talking axe, and because Moreci plays it that way without ever trying to impress us about it, it all works immediately. Gooden's art, led by the excellent designs of the two lead characters, does the rest. Like blood, the glee drips from every single panel. These are two creators having a blast with a great concept while also working at the top of their game, and that makes Barbaric a can't-miss debut.
Green Arrow 80th Anniversary Super-Spectacular: I've written before about how good the DC Comics 80th anniversary specials are at showcasing a character's versatility, but the best ones very often have more to them than enthusiastic variety. Yes, the stories showcase a broad range of styles, tones, and subgenres, but with the proper editorial guidance they also create common threads, illustrating a character's place in the DC Universe. This week the Green Arrow 80th Anniversary Super-Spectacular arrived from DC Comics, and under the leadership of editors Dave Wielgosz and Amedeo Turturro, this anthology manages to dig deep to the core of what makes Oliver Queen such a vital part of DC's stable of heroes. Put simply: He's the heart of the Justice League, whether he's raging against inequality or fighting for the life of a single person.
As with so many of these anthology, the Green Arrow 80th leaps through the character's entire history, supporting cast, and range of subgenres to give us everything from a throwback story by Mariko Tamaki and Javier Rodriguez to an amazing Wildcat team-up from Tom Taylor an Nicola Scott to Ram V and Christopher Mitten's meditation on Green Arrow's life and heroic purpose based on a Longfellow poem. Through it all, whether we're talking about a Justice League Watchtower story from Stephanie Phillips and Chris Mooneyham or an Oliver and Dinah love story from Vita Ayala and Laura Braga, the character's heart shines through. Oliver Queen has always been a hero who wears his emotions as well as his costume, and this anthology is a showcase not just of how well that works, but how vital it is to the DC Universe. And of course, as I mentioned above, read to the end for Larry O'Neil and Jorge Fornes' beautiful tribute to one of the creators most responsible for giving Oliver Queen his heart, the great Denny O'Neil.
The United States of Captain America #1: As soon as I heard Christopher Cantwell was taking on a Captain America series, I knew I had to see what he'd do with it, and The United States of Captain America #1 didn't let me down. Scripted by Cantwell with art by Dale Eaglesham, the main story of the five-issue series' debut follows Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson as they attempt to track down a mysterious thief who's made off with Cap's shield. Instead they find a spontaneous underground movement of ordinary people around America who've taken up the "Captain America" name and purpose, and used it to help in any way they can. What follows is both the beginning of a road trip and an exploration of the Captain America iconography, the way Steve interacts with it, and the way we as Captain America fans see it, for good and ill.
Walking the line between philosophical exploration of Cap as a character and actual superhero story is a tricky thing that plenty of writers have tried before, but few have executed it as ably as Cantwell does in the first issue. His ability to deconstruct even while playing by the superhero rules is superb, as is Eaglesham's art, which evokes the work of previous Cap artists like Tim Sale and John Cassaday in both characterization and action execution. Throw in a wonderful back-up story from Josh Trujillo and Jan Bazaldua exploring the backstory of the "Captain America of the Railways," Aaron Fischer, and you've got a must-read new book for any Cap fan.
Kane & Able: I spend a lot of time in this column talking about big ideas and how creators manage to pull them off in the ever-versatile medium of comics. I love thinking about stories and how they work, but sometimes you come across a comic that just flummoxes you in terms of thinking about the process behind it. You read it, you understand the experience you just had, but any attempts at interrogating the how of it all just get left behind as you try to pick your jaw up off the floor.
For me, that's what it was like to read Kane & Able, a genre-hopping, format-breaking, gonzo pastiche of pulp tradition and modern deconstruction from creators Shaky Kane and Krent Able. Structured like an old-fashioned comics floppy, complete with wild fake ads and transitions, this graphic novel collects several of the duo's strips ranging from the adventures of a bug-themed vigilante to the story of a comics professional whose imagination soars in the presence of a magic pencil gifted to him by an alien. Though they're plainly trying to evoke a certain place and time with the imagery, what's most striking is how little Kane and Able are collectively concerned with trying to copy those stylistic tones exactly. There's a new-ness even to the most classical riffing, helped along by an absolutely unhinged sense of humor, that makes the whole book jump right off the page. I was floored by this comic. It's a triumph of imagination, wit, and genre-defying ambition, and if you want to have your brain melted in your skull, you'll pick it up.
Parasomnia #1: I shower a lot of praise on first issues that are able to tell a coherent story while also layering in tons of plot information, but there's another kind of first issue I adore, and that's the first issue that's able to draw you in with mystery, atmosphere, and a sense of confidence that lets readers know that the creators are taking you somewhere, even if you can't see the whole map yet. Cullen Bunn is the kind of comics writer with the confidence to pull that off, particularly when paired with an artist of the caliber of Andrea Mutti. The result is Parasomnia, a compelling new series that's committed from the very first page to slowly building its own strange, dark lore.
Cutting frequently between what looks like the present day and a period fantasy landscape, Parasomnia's first issue starts to lay out the story of a man attempting to navigate a nightmare both in real life and in the world of dreams, something made more challenging by the dark forces who seem to oppose him at every turn. Bunn's script only ever tells us as much as it has to about the circumstances of this world, but it's clear from the beginning that there's a structure in place for something bigger, and just as he did with mysteries like The Empty Man Bunn's cleverness draws us in. Mutti's art is the perfect complement to this kind of writing, weaving dark magic through dreams and reality and completing the spell. Parasomnia #1 is a haunting first issue, and feels like the start of something gripping from two of horror comics' brightest minds.
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."