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Comics Wire: Vault's huge 2021 plans, Marvel announces Black Knight, & this week's hot reads

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Dec 23, 2020, 11:38 AM EST (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.

We tend to lead off this column quite often with stories of developing events and publishing ventures from the Big Two, because here at SYFY WIRE we tend to spend a lot of time with the superheroes of Marvel and DC Comics, for obvious reasons. If there's one thing I've tried to emphasize over and over, though, particularly in the reviews section of Comics Wire, it's that there are a lot of smaller publishers putting out great stuff you should be paying attention to right now. One of the best of them is Vault Comics, and over the last week or so they've made one thing very clear: They're not just here to stay in 2021 — they're expanding. 

Vault is a publisher that's developed a rather stellar reputation for outstanding genre comics from both new and establishing talent over the past few years, with hits ranging from Vagrant Queen and Sera and the Royal Stars to Fearscape and These Savage Shores. In the past few months alone they've released some of my favorite books of the year, including The Autumnal and Heavy, and they've already announced that their Nightfall horror imprint is becoming a year-round affair rather than a fall-only concern and that 2021 will bring the launch of a young readers imprint, Wonderbound. It's a busy time at Vault, and with that comes a growing roster of high-profile creators. 

Over the past few days Vault has been slowly releasing teasers for its 2021 slate of titles not in the form of book titles, but in the form of creator names meant to evoke a sense of real ambition heading into the new year. They include some creators who've worked with Vault before, like These Savage Shores co-creator Ram V, but many are joining the publisher for the first time, and they represent big creative swings for a publisher that's already known for big creative swings. Among the other names joining Vault's 2021 slate: Peter Milligan, Anand RK, Si Spurrier, Nathan Gooden, Christopher Cantwell, Adam Gorham, Cullen Bunn, Leila Leiz, and Mark Russell.

Even before we know what any of the books these creators will be working on are, the potential their talent offers (Bunn is a master of horror, for example, and Russell has been doing some of the most unpredictably magnificent stuff in comics over the past few years) is massive. Vault was already one of the most dynamic publishers in the game, and I can't wait to see what they're bringing with these big guns in the new year. 


New Marvel books: Black Knight, Silk, Ultraman, and more!

Marvel Comics

We already have a pretty good idea of what the Marvel Universe is going to be up to over the next few months. The Avengers are battling over the Phoenix Force, the X-Men are entering a new era, and in between everyone's gearing up for the fight still to come in the remaining issues of King in Black. When March rolls around, though, the massive Venom-centric event will wrap up, and we'll be looking at several promising new series emerging from the conclusion. Last week SYFY WIRE told you about one of the biggest, a new Beta Ray Bill book, but that was far from the end of the story.

So, what else can we expect from Marvel in March? Well, on Tuesday the publisher revealed a new Black Knight comic is emerging (just in time for the character's live-action debut in Eternals) from writer Simon Spurrier and artist Sergio Davila, spinning out of his January King in Black tie-in book and aiming to introduce his mythology to a new generation of fans who are preparing to see him on the big screen for the first time. But that's just the latest major announcement in a week full of them. 

Late last week Marvel also unveiled a new America Chavez miniseries, Made in the U.S.A., from writer Kalinda Vazquez and artist Carlos Gomez, a new Man-Thing book from writer Steve Orlando and artist Francesco Mobili, a five-part prestige series titled X-Men: Demon Days from rising star Peach Momoko (who makes both her writing and interior art debut at Marvel with the book), the return of Silk for a new miniseries from writer Maurene Goo and artist Takeshi Miyazawa and, just this past Monday, the arrival of a Rise of Ultraman sequel series, The Trials of Ultraman, from the Rise creative team of writers Kyle Higgins and Mat Groom and artist Francesco Manna. 

So yeah, as the King in Black dust settles, get ready for some surprising new Marvel stories as winter turns to spring. 


More news: New DC creative teams, IDW Young Readers releases, and more!

DC Comics

- Over at DC Comics, the publisher's big plans for their major titles post-Future State continue to take shape, as new talent steps in to take over established books moving into 2021 storylines. We already reported last week on the new creative teams on Superman and Action Comics, but DC has also unveiled the teams taking over The Flash and Nightwing in the coming months. On the Scarlet Speedster's book, writer Jeremy Adams and artist Brandon Peterson are set to begin the redemption of Wally West, while over in Bludhaven writer Tom Taylor and artist Bruno Redondo are set to usher in a new era for Dick Grayson, with a little help from Batgirl. Oh, and that Superman/Action Comics creative team shake-up? That's happening in part because Brian Michael Bendis is moving over to a little book called Justice League. March is going to be a very interesting month for superhero comics. 

- But hey, we don't have to wait until March for cool new DC Comics to emerge, and I'm not just talking about all the Future State coming down the pike. Just after New Year's, the publisher will launch an all-new digital-first series celebrating Wonder Woman's 80th anniversary. Sensational Wonder Woman is billed in DC's press release as a book that will combine "fan favorites with fresh voices" to celebrate Diana of Themyscira, and right out of the gate the talent is impressive. The first issue will include work from writer Stephanie Phillips and artist Meghan Hetrick, and future creators on the title already include Colleen Doran, Alyssa Wong and Eleonora Carlini, Mirka Andolfo, and Corinna Bechko. Sensational Wonder Woman launches digitally Jan. 6, with a print release of the first issue to follow on Mar. 2. 

- Moving over to IDW for a moment, last week the publisher unveiled an impressive lineup for its Summer 2021 middle-grade and young adult graphic novel line, featuring stories that focus on a wide range of genres. They include the superhero-infused family story Better Place by Duane Murray and Shawn Daley, the Usagi Yojimbo younger readers spinoff Chibi-Usagi: Attack of the Heebie Chibis by the great Stan Sakia and Julie Fujii Sakia, sci-fi coming of age story The Girl and the Glim by debut graphic novelist India Swift, and more. For more information on the full slate and when to expect each book, head over to IDW's website.

- It was a record year for comics on Kickstarter, but even among other standouts one of the biggest hits on the platform was Nocterra, the new creator-owned horror series from writer Scott Snyder and artist Tony Daniel. The original Kickstarter campaign was focused in part on selling limited editions of the book to backers, though it was always promised that a wider release would eventually arrive. Now, we know when that's happening. Image Comics announced last week that Nocterra will debut in comics shops on Mar. 3, kicking off Snyder's first solo creator-owned comics journey in years. So, if you didn't get in on the Kickstarter and you want in on the wider launch, let your local retailer know.


New comics: The Picture of Everything Else, a Harley Quinn Christmas story, and more!

Vault Comics

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

The Picture of Everything Else #1: Vault has been on a hot streak with its Nightfall horror imprint so far, delivering stuff like The Plot, The Autumnal, and most recently I Walk With Monsters. It comes as no surprise that The Picture of Everything Else, from writer Dan Watters and artist Kishore Mohan, is another stellar release from the imprint, a slow-burn chiller of a launch issue that sketches out the beginnings of a delicious meditation on art, violence, class, and the price of true genius. 

Picture begins as an inspired riff on The Picture of Dorian Gray that essentially begins by asking the question: "What if the same artist had gone on to do more magically dreadful things with his brush?" To that end, Watters and Mohan transport us to Paris near the end of the 19th century, where a pair of young artists come across a brilliant, demented mind that's doing more than lifting spirits with his paintings. He's ripping people in two...literally. 

The book starts with a fantastic hook, but what impressed me the most is how well it already seems to work even beyond that initial little "What if?" scenario I posed above. Watters and Mohan are building a world here, connecting to a sense of time and place that feels both full of possibility and brutality, often in equal measure. That's reflected in Mohan's intensely expressive panels that both reflect the time he's depicting and dig into something more modern, more focused on the slow building of terror. Watters' script is predictably brilliant, delivering the broad strokes of a larger narrative plan and the tiny detail work that imbues this portrait of a city on the brink with life. I loved this first issue, and I'll be eager to read what's next.

King-Size Conan #1: Conan the Barbarian has been around for decades, and I still don't think many fans fully grasp just how complex and versatile he can be in the hands of the right creative minds, something Marvel's been trying to explore in their own way since they got the Conan comics license back a few years ago. In celebration of the versatility, and of the many facets of Conan through the ages of his stories, the publisher released King-Size Conan #1 this week to commemorate 50 years of Conan comics, and the result is a beautifully rendered cross section of what the character is capable of. 

Through stories by some of the finest writers and artists to ever tackle the Cimmerian warrior, this massive anthology aims to chart most (but not all, which I think is important) of the characters many phases, whether that's the simple "Barbarian" moniker, his "Corsair" phase upon the seas, his time as a mercenary, and more. That means we get everything from a Roy Thomas story, gorgeously rendered by Steve Epting, of Conan's earliest travels, to an encounter with the ancient beings of the Outer Dark from Kurt Busiek and Pete Woods, to my personal favorite, a story from Steven S. DeKnight and Jesus Saiz that charts Conan and Belit's encounter with a cursed treasure ship. 

The real strength of the anthology, to me, is twofold. For one thing, the stories are rather different in both artistic and narrative approaches, showcasing just how many ways there are to use Conan as a character, and that creates a sense of scope that offsets the relative brevity of each individual story. For another, though these stories are individually satisfying and the whole collection is satisfying as a volume, the real strength here is the sense that there is more to show us. It's not an accident that Conan's final moniker, "King," doesn't get an accompanying story here. Marvel has more tales of the Cimmerian to show us, and this collection is as much a declaration that they seem to be just getting started as it is a showcase of what's already been achieved.

Harley Quinn Black + White + Red #16: I'm certainly far from the first person to say this, but DC's digital-first Harley Quinn Black + White + Red series really is some of the most fun you can have in comics right now, and for just 99 cents an issue it's pretty affordable fun at that. I feel like it's especially important for me to say this, though, because I've been known to suffer from a fair amount of Harley fatigue in the past, so much so that I've slept on past issues of this very series. This week is a week for holiday specials, though, so the promise of a Christmas Eve Harley adventure lured me in, and I wasn't disappointed.

This particular issue, by writer Frank Tieri and artist Tom Fowler, follows Harley and her pals as they try to bring down a demented Santa who's stolen all of Coney Island's Christmas gifts, and the chaos that follows that confrontation. Honestly, they had me at "Harley fights an evil Santa thief," but Tieri's script pushes things well beyond the expected conventions of that particular setup and into something with genuine emotional weight. As for Fowler's art...well, his particular emotive style is perfectly suited to this kind of action-heavy humor, and the result is a gorgeous issue that crackles with festive life on every page. If you've never read an issue of Black + White + Red before, make this your first. You won't be sorry.

Jim Henson's Labyrinth: Masquerade #1: I love a story that manages to fill in some kind of intriguing crevice from a piece of beloved pop culture and executes it with both a knowing wink and a genuine emotional point of view, so I was delighted by Labyrinth: Masquerade, a new one-shot that focuses on what happens to a new character whose journey takes shape in the background of one of the key moments from the classic film. 

Masquerade, from writer Lara Elena Donnelly and the art team of Pius Bak, Samantha Dodge, and French Carlomagno, endeavors to offer us a peek into a part of Jareth's castle we didn't necessarily get a good glimpse at during Sarah's visit to the Masquerade ball in the film, and as you might expect, that means the book looks absolutely stunning. Bak, Dodge, and Carlomagno have together crafted something that simultaneously feels like Labyrinth and yet never feels like a direct copy of the film's visual style. It's recognizable but not blandly devotional, and that's the first ingredient that makes this into a special little story. 

From there, Donnelly and her art team proceed to branch out and build something bigger, using the moment when Sarah shatters the mirrors in the palace as a jumping-off point to tell the story of another character who was also at the ball, whose entire conception of her existence was shattered along with those mirrors. The rest of the story is a complex, emotional, beautifully crafted journey that explores what happens to people who venture into the Labyrinth and don't manage to get an ending like Sarah's. If you love the film and want to dive back into this world, I can't recommend this story enough. 

Edgar Allan Poe's Snifter of Blood #3: There's really nothing else quite like Snifter of Blood on the stands right now, in part because each issue just keeps revealing more of what it is and can be. Yes, it's a "Horror Host Anthology" comic in the classic sense, building on the familiar structure imposed by things like Tales from the Crypt, but it's also a deeply funny book even beyond the kind of gallows humor you might expect from a comic building on that tradition. But of course, that's just the general tone of the entire series. When you get into the individual stories contained therein, you find all kinds of inventive riffs on one of the most beloved writers of spooky tales of all time. 

This particular installment brings two new comic stories to the Snifter family, both of which build on classic Poe frameworks. The first of these, by Rachel Pollack and Alan Robinson, takes Poe's classic "Marie Roget" mystery and turns it into an extended, extremely funny diatribe about how Sherlock Holmes is basically just a poser who wishes he was C. Auguste Dupin. The second, from Shaun Manning and Greg Scott, takes things even further, transporting us to a future world where Poe's tales have been lost, so a scholar schemes to recreate one of his most famous tales for a new audience. Both stories are delightful, the illustrated prose pieces that accompany them are deeply absorbing, and...well, I'm just extremely glad that a book like Edgar Allan Poe's Snifter of Blood is out there in the world right now, keeping certain comics traditions alive and creating new ones at the same time. 

And that's it for Comics Wire this week. Happy Holidays, and 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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