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.
One of our favorite things here at Comics Wire is letting you know about cool new crowdfunded comics projects, especially when they involve some of our favorite creators, and this week we have two from some of the best minds working the medium right now. Since one of them hit its funding goal earlier this week in a matter of hours and the others is just launching today, let’s start with newest.
Today the Kickstarter for Democritus Brand and the Endless Machine, a new series from writers Cullen Bunn and JimmyZ Johnston (the scripting team behind Micronauts and Wrath of Karza) and artist Federico De Lucas (Mindbender), arrived with an effort to fund the first two issues of an ambitious new steampunk saga following a Victorian archaeologist. Here’s how a press release for the project laid out the story:
“In 1861… an excavation in Egypt uncovers a most unusual mummy. The body is a fusion of preserved flesh and strange steam technology, like a steam-era cyborg… but the mummy is THOUSANDS of years old. This represents a vast, alien technology that came to Earth centuries ago. Could this be how the pyramids and the Sphinx were constructed? This discovery launches a neo-industrial revolution–a burgeoning age of steam and clockworks. From advanced locomotion and flying machines… to streamlined communication… to pneumatic servants and soldiers, the steam-driven technology was meant to make the lives of the Crown’s citizens easier.
“But it spun out of control.
“It is now 1891.”
Bunn noted in the press release that The Endless Machine is expected to be a six-issue story — with the first two issues already very near completion — but more Democritus Brand stories are planned. To find out more about this wild blend of steampunk and Victorian archaeology, head over to the campaign page and see how much you might like to chip in. Here’s a little taste of De Luca’s art for the project.
Hey, do you like Dracula? I do. I love that dude, and I love that storytellers are still finding ways to use the character and his long pop culture shadow in exciting new ways even after all the Dracula stuff we already have out there. Which brings me to Dragon, the new graphic novel from writer Saladin Ahmed (Black Bolt, Miles Morales: Spider-Man) and artist Dave Acosta (Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Doc Savage) which launched its Kickstarter campaign Tuesday and has already exceeded its funding goal by a rather impressive margin.
Dragon is set at the dawn of the Ottoman Empire, and follows an old Muslim warrior and a young Christian nun as they must contend with “inherited bigotries and mutual distrust” on the path to teaming up together and battling Dracula.
“Dragon is the Dracula story I’ve wanted to tell for years, full of everything that matters to me — horrific creatures, rich history, wildly different characters coming together to confront evil,” Ahmed said in his pitch for the book on Kickstarter. “It’s a story centered on the sorts of heroes that are usually pushed to the margins — heroes who must reach across gulfs of culture and faith to face down the world’s most terrifying monster.”
What’s interesting about Dragon from a Kickstarter campaign standpoint is that, at this point, Ahmed, Acosta and the rest of their creative partners are considering it an exclusive to backers. There are no plans to release it digitally or in trade paperback at a later date. Ahmed described Dragon as a story that “begs to be rendered as a beautiful physical object,” which in this case means an oversized hardcover crammed with extras from the creators. All that means that if you want to experience this story, you need to get in on this before the campaign ends in four weeks, so head over there and get a piece of Dragon for yourself.
The Room Where It (Almost) Happens
If you were on the internet for even a little while last week then you probably heard that July 3 marked the much-anticipated release of Hamilton, the filmed version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony and Pulitzer-winning musical, on Disney+, marking the first time an at-home audience had full access to the biggest musical of the 2010s. Though it had already claimed a sizable chunk of the pop culture conversation in 2015 and 2016, last week felt like Hamilton mania all over again, and there were reminders everywhere of just how massive Miranda’s musical and its fandom had grown. For example: Did you know that once upon a time we almost got a graphic novel adaptation of the musical?
Last Friday, on the day Hamilton hit streaming, artist Brent Schoonover (most recently known for his work on the excellent new series Devil’s Highway) shared his initial character designs and sample art for what would have been a comics project directly based on Miranda’s musical, with the writer’s participation. The project didn’t get off the ground — in part, according to Schoonover, because the creators tried to work around getting likeness rights from the original Broadway cast — but Schoonover did at least get to spend a little bit of time in the room where it happens, showing his designs and sample pages to Miranda, which he then shared with all of us on Twitter.
If you’re not a Hamilton fan, these might just look like some fun pages from a potential historical fiction comic. If you are a Hamilton fan, though, looking at this work alongside comic book lettered versions of Miranda’s lyrics from the show is bound to put music in your head.
This week’s comic recs: Willow begins, Lois Lane ends, and more!
It’s a big week for comics. Here’s what I got excited about this week
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow The trick to the new BOOM! Studios Buffyverse, perhaps even moreso than the sequel incarnations of Buffy comics in years past, is the blending of the familiar with the new. Yes, this rebooted continuity is an opportunity to tell new stories, but we’re coming to those stories specifically because we love these characters and want to see them reinvigorated in a way that’s recognizable. That means each new story in this continuity, each new chance to give a character a spotlight, has to carry that sense of recognizable newness. In that regard, the first issue of the new Willow series from writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Natacha Bustos absolutely crushes it.
Set in the wake of the Hellmouth event, the series follows Willow Rosenberg as she leaves Sunnydale in an effort to do a little personal recovery and soul-searching, and the first issue emphasizes the loneliness — whether intentional or not — that comes with that choice. Willow spends much of the series’ debut talking only to herself or to an unnamed person she’s trying to write a postcard to, and that kind of structure requires both a firm grasp of the character and an artist who’s skilled enough to carry huge swaths of a story that’s just a character keeping to herself in ways that are visually interesting. Both Tamaki and Bustos rise to that challenge. When I read Willow’s inner monologue I heard Alyson Hannigan’s voice in my head; the thoughtfulness, the humor, the awkwardness of Willow was all there in bittersweet, beautifully orchestrated ways. The art also feels very much like Willow Rosenberg art — clean, a bit quirky, and intensely atmospheric — as Bustos works hard to create a sense of place around Willow while also playing up the sense of isolation she’s feeling. The result is a spellbinding first chapter in a promising new series.
Lois Lane #12: It’s a very good time to be reading Superman comics. Brian Michael Bendis is doing some wonderful work over on the main Superman and Action Comics titles, but this era of the Supes family has also gifted us with two phenomenal yet very different limited series from top-tier talent. Sadly, this month will see an end to them both, with Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber’s Jimmy Olsen series wrapping up next week, and Greg Rucka and Mike Perkins’ Lois Lane tale ending right now. The good news is that the ending is a phenomenal capper on a great exploration of the title character that also turned into something so much bigger.
Rucka has built a reputation and a fascinating career on stories about smart women searching for the truth, whether we’re talking about Queen and Country or Batwoman, so it’s no surprise that he landed a Lois Lane gig. It’s also no surprise that he managed to nail certain key things about the character, from her tenacity to her sense of humor. What is surprising about this Lois Lane title, and what I think its biggest success might be, is that it wound up being just as much of a Renee Montoya story as it did a Lois Lane one. Pairing the Daily Planet’s most ferocious reporter with The Question herself was a stroke of genius that really propelled this series to places it couldn’t otherwise go, including somehow into the realm of being a heartwarming treatise on what it’s like to exist in a world where your very existence is constantly being tampered with, retconned, and otherwise warped. It’s that ingredient, the multiversal truth that Lois Lane’s been carrying around with her, that makes the finale surprisingly powerful even beyond its procedural elements. And, of course, I can’t say enough about Perkins’ ability to pivot between a newsroom and a gunfight and somehow make one just as dynamic as the other.
Bitter Root #9: Look, I’m going to level with y’all: There are a lot of comics out there, and I’m just one guy with like 12 other jobs, so sometimes I miss some things. Sure, I try to read everything, but stuff falls between the cracks, and if I’m not careful I end up with a backlog of stuff, even though it’s stuff I’ve been hearing I should be reading for months. Bitter Root, the amazing historical fantasy series by Chuck Brown, David F. Walker, and Sanford Greene, is one such book, but since I knew a new issue was headed our way this week I spent the weekend catching up.
And…well, there’s just no polite way to say it: This book knocked me on my ass.
Bitter Root is set primarily in 1924, with a few key flashbacks for context, and follows the Sangerye family as they do what they do best: Hunt creatures that have been morphed from human to monster by the sheer power of their hatred. The Sangeryes have been at their hunting and purifying game for ages, but things are changing. New monsters are arising, monsters born out of something other than hate, something perhaps more powerful. While the first arc of the series introduced this concept, the second (and current) arc is expanding on it in powerful ways, and issue #9 is haunting stage-setter that points to even bigger things on the horizon.
I love everything about this book. I love the worldbuilding, the history, the characters, the very clear metaphors for racism and its catastrophic social effects that still manage to manifest as cool fantasy monster hunting, the breathtaking art, the dialogue. Everything. Bitter Root is on the path to all-time greatness. I wish I’d gotten here sooner, but now that we’re nine issues in I’m just happy to say I got here as fast as I could.
Strange Academy #2: Every once in a while you get a superhero book that isn’t just something you’re excited to read, but something you feel like you’ve been waiting years to read. It’s a box checked off your wish list, and when it turns out to be as entertaining as you’d always hoped it might be, that’s almost just a bonus. The fact that it’s happening at all is cause for celebration.
Though there have been attempts to unify the various magic users of the Marvel Universe before, some of them quite successful, the various magicians that occupy good ol’ 616 are often scattered across various books with little sense of common ground, and they definitely don’t often end up with X-Men-style school stories. Strange Academy, from writer Skottie Young and artist Humberto Ramos, is an effort to change that, and I’m delighted by what this book has managed to accomplish in just two issues. While the first issue dives headlong into establishing the characters, this week’s #2 is all about laying out how the titular school actually works from a student’s eye view. And, of course, there are some dark secrets to uncover that set up the series’ larger arc.
What I’m impressed with most, even beyond my sheer joy that a book like this exists, is the way in which Young and Ramos imbue every single page with a sense of individuality pouring from each character, whether they’re from Earth or Weirdworld or Asgard. Ramos manages it with his delightfully impish art, and Young somehow manages it even half a dozen characters are talking at once, each with their own speaking style (thanks in no small part to Clayton Cowles’ letters). This is a gorgeous, whimsical, breeze of a book, and I can’t wait to read what happens next.
No One’s Rose #3: We’re living in a particularly fertile time right now for stories about the dark side of a seemingly perfect system designed to keep everyone safe, and No One’s Rose is an impressive, relatively new addition to that canon. If you love post-apocalyptic fiction, fiction that rides the line between utopia and dystopia, or just science fiction with dense and vivid worldbuilding, you should be giving this book a shot.
The series begins in The Green Zone, a domed environment that runs on renewable energy and plant-generated oxygen in the age after humanity nearly destroyed itself through climate change. In this environment of apparently perfect balance, writers Emily Horn and Zac Thompson and artist Alberto Jimenez Albuquerque introduced Tenn and Seren, siblings on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum. While Tenn belives in the Green Zone and its leaders, Seren dreams of rebellion, and whether they know it or not they’re both about to learn some things about the nature of the Zone that will shake everything they thought they knew.
Issue #3 picks up after some of these revelations have already come to light, as both siblings learn more about their infamous father, Tenn prepares to venture outside of the Green Zone, and Seren learns that the movement he joined isn’t what he thought. It’s all guide by the patient hands of deft storytellers who are willing to slowly coax their world out of the soil like a sapling rather than run roughshod over the terrain. There’s a slow burn to No One’s Rose that I appreciate, in no small part because Albuquerque is doing some truly lavish and amazing things with the art that reminds me in no small part of the wild imaginings of comics like Saga.
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.”