Axel-In-Charge: Navigating the "Civil War II" Landscape, Bringing DMC to Marvel
Well, hello there, Dynamite!
Each year at Comic-Con International, the flurry of press releases, announcements, exclusives, previews and rumors gets more and more dizzying. Before we know it, four and a half crazy days scream by, the confetti settles onto the ground, and it’s time to go home. After the chaos, there are always those few that stand above the clutter, those few that linger in the mind as something just a little bit more special. And while it’s trite to reduce Comic-Con to a competition with a select few winners, I can’t help but walk away almost every July with an opinion of who had the most exciting news.
Granted, my barometer might be attuned slightly different from everyone else. I don’t really care about all of the big Hollywood announcements; sure, they’re exciting, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t pay attention, but I go to Comic-Con for the comics. For me, everything else is the side show. I watch for the creators and companies with the most ambitious comics projects, the most promising books, and the biggest potential to spread even further the love of comics to the world.
This is probably the first year where there’s been so many announcements leading up to the event that I like I can call a pre-Comic-Con winner. There no doubt will be a different winner or winners once the convention is over, but before the early stuff gets buried under the avalanche, let’s take a moment to appreciate what we’ve gotten so far. And so I bequeath the Pre-Con Crown to Dynamite Entertainment.
It’s always great when it’s someone I don’t expect. Since its beginnings, I basically relegated Dynamite to a flashier, more financed Moonstone Books: a comics publisher of cult or nearly forgotten characters in the public domain. While Dynamite still relies on that kind of material, which always has mixed results for me, the company has been expanding into different areas and pulling in a steadier stream of big-name talent. Dynamite’s announcements leading up to Comic-Con have driven home that new diversity and appeal like never before. And I’m not the only one to notice. As this eloquent YouTuber asks, “Can anyone fuck with Dynamite Entertainment right now?” There’s just no arguing with words of praise like, “This book is the fuckin’ balls.”
While perhaps not the most nuanced of analyses, he is on to something. Dynamite seems to have been rejuvenated ever since it brought in popular writers Mark Waid and Gail Simone to write the relaunched Green Hornet and Red Sonja, respectively. The publisher has focused its line since the days of flooding stores with a confusing glut of Green Hornet comics in 2010. And it has stretched out more from the niche of pulp heroes.
The highest-profile announcement is the continuation of Tim Kring’s Heroes TV series in comics form by writer Cullen Bunn of the acclaimed Oni Press series The Sixth Gun. The NBC show had a lot of buzz when it debuted, and the first season showed a lot of promise. Much of that was left unfulfilled by the Season 1 finale, and the Writers Guild strike disrupted any hope of recovering. The series shed viewers over the next few years. I didn’t even realize it was still on the air when it was canceled in 2010 following its fourth season. While the show had a following, such a huge decline makes for an odd choice to license for a return to comics, especially framed as it is as a continuation of the show like Joss Whedon did with Dark Horse for his Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While Bunn is a talented writer, not having Kring or any of the other original show writers involved tends to weaken these kinds of projects. The closest we get is Bunn mentioning in his exclusive interview with CBR that he wants to try to get the input of Jeph Loeb, who was a writer on the show. If Bunn can recapture the magic of the show’s first season and can be successfully marketed to fans of the first season, this could be an unexpected hit.
For some readers, Howard Chaykin’s return to The Shadow is probably even more exciting. Sure, this is another pulp-hero book, but Chaykin had a fondly remembered run with the character in 1986’s The Shadow: Blood & Judgment from DC Comics. Perhaps we should’ve seen this coming, what with Dynamite reprinting the miniseries last year. The Shadow: Midnight in Moscow is essentially a prequel to that story and is set in the year 1949. Sure, it’s not Neil Gaiman returning to The Sandman, but there really isn’t much, if anything, that is of that caliber. It surely ranks among the critically acclaimed comics of that exciting period of the ’80s where creators were pushing at the constraints of standardized comics of the previous generations. It’s also framed as a pure celebration of Chaykin as a respected artist and storyteller, and I always appreciate that kind of focus on creators.
Another focus on creators is Simone’s assembling of female comics writers for a Red Sonja anthology. It’s been so interesting to see the writer reclaim the character as a symbol of empowerment instead of what has typically felt to me like a wish-fulfilling exercise in prurience. Throughout the character’s history, she’s been written and drawn almost exclusively by men. The Legends of Red Sonja miniseries will include stories by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Nicola Scott, Marjorie Liu, Devin Grayson and more. It’s a great concept, and a fun way to reflect the character’s strength for its 40th anniversary.
Fortunately it’s not all licensed comics and pulp heroes. Original properties and original stories are absolutely essential for any publisher to prove its worth. Dynamite Crime, as the name suggests, is the publisher’s crime imprint, which is growing with Duane Swierczynski’s creator-owned Ex-Con. Peter Milligan is launching Terminal Hero, which has a more sci-fi angle to it, with Jae Lee providing cover art and character designs, and James Robinson is writing his Grand Passions, a sort of Romeo and Juliet tale with a cop and a crook. These are three promising new original series from three unique writers, and all three look worth trying.
There’s also a relaunched Army of Darkness with popular horror writer Steve Niles, and from the How Has This Never Happened Before Department (and also cross-referenced for the Pacific Rim File), a crossover between Robotech and Voltron. For anime fans of the ’80s, the latter is a huge deal. And today’s announcement of J. Michael Straczynski writing The Twilight Zone comic book series is another sizable feather in Dynamite’s licensing cap, which keeps getting more diverse. The publisher is even spreading its wings into all-ages comics with a series based on the Fox animated comedy Bob’s Burgers.
And it’s not even Thursday!
These announcements don’t all speak to me directly as a reader, but they target an audience worth pursuing. I’m not sure what happened at Dynamite to double down for this year’s Comic-Con. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention, but I don’t remember ever seeing the publisher like this before. Here’s hoping every one of the books announced is “the fuckin’ balls” (assuming that means they would be really good).