This week marks the debut of Wednesday Comics, a new column in the same spirit as our long-running weekly review pieces, the DC Round-Up and The Marvel Rundown. The main thing with this new addition, though, is that instead of writing about releases from the Big 2 superhero publishers, this one will be concerned with the releases from the rest of the direct market monthly publishers, from Image Comics to IDW, from Dark Horse to BOOM!, from Vault to Dynamite, and so on.

Each week we’ll do our best to hit all the new #1s, as well as some finales and other notable issues, featuring one longer review and a series of quick-hit blurbs. You can find the first edition below…enjoy!

Wednesday Comics Headliner: Traveling to Mars #1

Traveling to Mars #1
Writer: Mark Russell
Artist: Roberto Meli
Colorist: Chiara Di Francia
Letterer: Mattia Gentili
Publisher: ABLAZE

Traveling to Mars #1 is both a natural extension of the themes that writer Mark Russell likes to explore, as well as something that he’s never done before, or at least not done to this extent — it’s a very personal story that eschews most genre trappings (save for some grounded sci-fi and a little very-near-future dystopia) for an intense focus on a single character.

It’s a natural continuation in that like the rest of Russell’s work, it’s as he describes it, “a grand critique of civilization.” In this book, society has essentially exhausted the  finite fossil fuels on Earth, while also discovering that Mars is chock full of material that can be harvested and turned into fuel, making whoever manages to lay claim to it very very rich in the process. The only thing is, laying that claim to it is a tricky issue, one that sort of gets boiled down to whoever gets there first physically, gets the prize. To that end, a corporation is looking for an individual to send up there on its behalf, an individual who is quite literally disposable. That’s the high concept to this book.

The very personal element comes in when the company finds that individual — Roy Livingston, the assistant manager of the third best pet store in Alabama, who also is terminally ill. Roy, who is divorced and beholden to basically no one, is chosen for this because the nature of the trip will accelerate his illness, all but ensuring he dies in the process of claiming resource-rich Mars for the corporation sending him there. Russell’s script includes some of the most lived-in first person narration — played out as journal entries written during the titular trip — that I’ve seen in any comic in a very long while, an honest and empathetic effort to really inhabit this character, to consider what it would be like to be him and experience the things he experiences in this book.

The result is a touching and engaging comic that ends up feeling relatable and immersive. There are still touches of the type of humor found in most of Russell’s work, the jokes made about things that are so dumb or frightening, that one just has to laugh, but it’s also emotionally vulnerable. Of course, none of this would work without the art to match it, and that’s delivered well by Roberto Meli, with colors by Chiara Di Francia, and letters by Mattia Gentili.

The art team does an outstanding job with this story from page one, which is entirely the main character sitting at a desk (in space) and journaling. The art understands that what a script like this calls for is subtly, using character facial expressions and subdued backdrops to engage while the reader goes through the journal entries. The artists here are as capable of delivering a big set piece — an establishing shot of a space station floating through space — as they are a contemplative moment of intense character. It’s great work, and it wouldn’t be possible without a thorough understanding of what this fairly singular script is trying to accomplish.

All in all, Traveling to Mars #1 might be easy to miss, as it’s from a smaller publisher and not easily put into the same box as any hugely successful comics. There’s no easy Die Hard meets David Bowie in Labyrinth or whatever equation for a quick sell. It’s just not that type of comic. No, what it is is an intensely personal and honest story born from frustrated anxiety over the easy choices for a better future that society continues not to make. There’s catharsis in this very smart and well-done comic, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Verdict: BUY

Zack Quaintance

Wednesday Comics Quick Hits

  • A Dark Interlude #5: It took a choppy road to get here thanks to delays and a change of artist, but this week sees the finale of the two-volume, 10-issue story that started back in September 2018 with Fearscape #1. In this issue, writer Ryan O’Sullivan, artist Piotr Kowalski, colorist Vladimir Popov, and letterer AndWorld Design deliver a worth finale to a metafictional tale that feels like a walk through a haunted house, only that haunted house is literary aspirations/culture. Replete with the metafictional touches that have made the series so engaging, the ending is in keeping with all that comes before, rounding out a singular comic that probably won’t win a broad swath of fans (it’s just so idiosyncratic) but will find a feverishly devoted following that pushes it on their friends for years, and years, years. (Zack Quaintance)
  • Billionaire Island: Cult of Dogs #1: Mark Russell and Steve Pugh’s satire from AHOY Comics returns to pick up where the previous series left off. Russell’s always-incisive writing feels particularly sharp this time out as he digs deeper into a too-familiar society where the rich keep getting richer regardless of their failures and ordinary people are left to foot the bill, now with added commentary on the spread of misinformation via social media and science denialism. The timing of that commentary as one of the world’s biggest social media platforms seemingly implodes on itself adds an extra layer of relevance to the series. The juxtaposition of Russell’s narration with Pugh and colorist Chris Chuckry’s visuals is as hilarious as ever, with more than a few visual gags from Pugh and Chuckry that had me laughing out loud. We need smart, funny stories about the world we’re living in now more than ever, and Billionaire Island couldn’t have returned at a better time. (Joe Grunenwald)
  • Firefly: Keep Flying #1 (one-shot): Back for “one last job,” the familiar Firefly crew comes together for a special night to celebrate “sixty years breathin’” aboard Serenity. In Keep Flying, River finds herself back in the heart of a perilous adventure after putting off answering a marriage proposal. But there is more to the story than stolen sheep and a marine crash landing. Will the crew survive? Will River say yes to the love of her life? What does it mean to take on the pain of others? All is answered in this beautifully illustrated and colored one-shot written by Jeff Jensen, illustrated by Nicola Izzo, colored by Francesco Segala, and lettered by Jim Campbell. While I think this comic has more to offer Firefly completist than it does fans looking for something new in the Firefly universe (for that, see All-New Firefly), Firefly: Keep Flying still has an emotional core and asks important questions about when to be tough and when to ask for much needed support from your friends. (Michael Kurt)
  • Gospel #1: As I wrote in my Top Comics to Buy columnGospel #1 was one of my favorite new books this week. From writer/artist Will Morris (with color assistant Holley McKend), Gospel #1 delivers an historical fantasy tale that never relies on genre tropes or talking down to its readers. Instead, it leans into nuance and smart storytelling, delivering a refreshing start to a new five-issue miniseries. Also, it occupies some similar thematic territory from one of the other notable releases on this week, A Dark Interlude #5, concerning itself as it does with the nature of stories, who tells them, and the decisions that all involves. (Zack Quaintance)
  • Soldier Stories (one-shot): This anthology features four stories written by veterans Megan Ferrell Burke (A: Arturo Lauria, C: Kelly Fitzpatrick), Jalysa Conway (A: Annapaola Martello, C: K. Michael Russel), Brian Anthony (A: John Bivens)and the late Rev. William J. Bellamy (A: Cecilia Lo Valvo, C: Ryan Cody), along with an excerpt from a novel by the late Denny O’Neil, all with lettering by Troy Peteri. The one-shot honors the service of these veteran creators by giving each the chance to speak on their unique experiences, and why they decided to join (or were forced in some cases), thereby giving readers a view into the lives of those in combat. The utilization of various genres such as sci-fi, horror, and personal memoir to reimagine these experiences as comics makes this anthology one to recommend, a book that not only entertains but also helps foster better understanding of military service. (Bryan Reheil)
  • Specs #1: An instant addition to the top of my monthly to-read list, Specs #1 is expertly told by the creative team of writer David M. Booher, artist Chris Shehan, colorist Roman Stevens, and letterer Jim Campbell. Specs is about two friends who receive magic wish-granting glasses from an old comic book ad and immediately start to test the bounds of their new power. But it’s also about much more than that. It’s about friendships and hardships, and what it means to live in a place that makes you an outsider. For fans of The Nice House On the Lake or Behold Behemoth, Specs #1 sets up what is bound to be a deeply personal exploration of a classic monkey’s paw arrangement. If you’re looking for a new creator-owned series to dive into, Specs is a must-buy. (Michael Kurt)
  • Star Trek – Trill #1: The latest one-shot in the IDW Star Trek: Aliens series centers on one of the most popular extraterrestrial species from the Franchise: the Trill. Featuring a new protagonist (but all the rules of the Trill to which you’ve become accustomed), the one-shot tells a straightforward but engaging story that draws on the lore established in Deep Space Nine and Discovery but focuses on non-Starfleet characters. The story especially benefits from getting 40 pages, so as to have space in which to be comfortably told. It was neat to see writer Jody Houser (and letterer Neil Uyetake) make second contact with Hesperides I, a planet that first appeared in 2019’s Star Trek: Year Five #6. Meanwhile, the art by Hendry PrasetyaRafael Pérez Granados, and DC Alonso is at its best in the flashback sequences. While Ensign Barnes regularly appears on Lower Decks and Gray Tal is a recurring character on Disco, this issue just proves that unlike Tribbles, you can never get enough Trill. (Avery Kaplan)
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Armageddon Game – The Alliance #1: In this issue, readers are treated to a fascinating character study on the impact this event story is having on Oroku Karai, as she finds herself searching for both purpose and direction. In a world where event tie-in issues can be hit or miss in terms of relevance, The Alliance continues the trend of top-notch performance for the IDW Turtle brand. Roi Mercado’s stunning artwork in particular brings the story to life and is well worth the price of admission. (Kris Markl)
  • Two Graves #1: Constellations, seasonal changes, and mortal considerations regarding life and death; of celestial bodies and of us. A mystic, existential dance of veils with mythic overtones reaching from Tartarus to Titania’s court. A high concept travelogue between preternatural companions on the road, sharing the cab of a high mileage pickup. It’s a Panathenaic procession promising a modern epic not to be missed. From writer Genevieve Valentine, artists Ming Doyle and Annie Wu, colorist Lee Loughridge, and letterer Aditya Bidikar. (Clyde Hall)