It’s that time of year again.

With our calendars heading into new, uncharted territory, it’s become customary to swear off all the mistakes and failures of the past, as our eyes catch sight of the future and its possibilities, with so much time to accomplish them. The comic industry is no different, with twelve months of new stories, new creative teams, and new hits to spring onto a readership patiently waiting for the next thing to better define their Wednesdays. They’re looking for that next shit, and you better give it to them.

Going through my first batch of new comics for the year suggests a pattern of sorts, a blueprint that if followed, can be used to divine the future of your favorite companies. Here are the highlights from week one, along with added commentary of where this is all going.


Superman/Batman #5 (Jeph Loeb/Ed McGuinness/Dexter Vines)

I’ll admit that I’ve been very critical of Loeb’s opening storyline here. Perhaps in the wake of Hush (which is a far better read in collected form) I was looking for the return of the flawless Jeph Loeb, who with Tim Sale at his side, dropped classics like The Long Halloween, Dark Victory, and Superman For All Seasons. Despite a few misgivings regarding the plot, and exactly how things are moving from point A to point B, as with Hush, the spectacular art in this title makes the story very difficult to ignore. For every scene in which logic nearly stretches to its limit, McGuinness throws something into the mix that’s just completely and undeniably cool. Superman/Batman is the guest star-filled action blockbuster that’ll raise a few suspicious eyebrows, as you attempt to decide exactly what you thought of it. Ultimately, it emerges favorably, because there’s just no arguing with the respective “S” and “B” families storming the White House in search of their mentors, with Krypto leading the charge, or with a poisoned Nightwing standing up to Lex Luthor in the Oval Office. Makes good drama. Makes good superhero comics. Which is exactly what Superman/Batman is, despite my lofty expectations.

In 2004:
This title offers more proof that DC can drive products into the upper echelon of the Diamond charts, by pairing the right creators with the right characters. Imagine that. With the wave of exclusives that swept through the summer coming to fruition this year, expect for this title and Batman to have more company in the top 20. Spidey and the X-Men are simply too strong for Marvel to be driven completely out of the picture, but DC will slowly spread into their territory, using premier artists to drive buzz. It’ll happen one title at a time, but by the end of the year, nearly half of the top 20 will be controlled by DC, and the rivalry between the “Big Two” sees even more titles crack the 100k mark than ’03.

And with Ed McGuinness getting things started, Pat Lee, Michael Turner, and Carlos Pacheco on their way, my prediction for the end of 2004 is that Tim Sale will re-team with his frequent collaborator Jeph Loeb for at least one issue of Superman/Batman, likely between two larger story arcs.

Planetary #18 (W.G. Ellis/Johnny Mac Cassaday/Miss Laura J Martin)

If we are to believe the Internet, John Cassaday is the upcoming artist on New X-Men, alongside writer Joss Whedon. Though largely unconfirmed at this point, speculation has already begun on exactly what this will mean for Planetary, and the word “delay” has been mentioned more than once. Which would be unfortunate, especially after the contents of this latest issue suggest that Ellis is rounding the corner, and starting to engineer the final showdown between Elijah Snow and The Four. Following a tip from John Stone, Elijah is steered into the direction of The American Gun Club, and the small object they fired between the orbits of the Earth and the Moon in 1851. The object’s decaying orbit brings it back to Earth 150 years later, and gives Snow the opportunity to launch an offensive against William Leather, in a beautiful sequence that proves once again that Cassaday is a master storyteller, capable of drawing nearly anything. Sadly, Planetary may not be one of those things in the coming months. If we are to believe the Internet.

In 2004:
Warren Ellis has recently announced that this year may be his last working in American comics, and quite naturally, the news that one of the industry’s most influential creators might be leaving the game has disappointed fans. Amidst this very logical response, there does appear to be a vocal minority proclaiming such utter nonsense as “good riddance” or “Ellis was overrated anyway.” Some shit. It’s the beginning of the year, and I’m trying to keep things positive, but if the mind behind classic runs on Stormwatch, The Authority, Planetary, and Transmetropolitan, potentially leaving comics doesn’t hit you in some noticeable way, I almost don’t know what to say to you. It’s possible that you dislike his style, or maybe his characters, or perhaps even his online persona, but the scribe’s influence on the industry is obvious and undeniable. He used the Internet as a living, breathing weapon to disseminate his views and his work onto a larger stage, and ignoring even that, he’s written comics in a singular, passionate, and most importantly, distinctive, voice. Comics that altered the way everybody else did comics. Hell, half of the online columnists out there are doing it because Ellis made it look like important work.

You honestly think that Warren Ellis leaving comics is some kind of non-issue?

We don’t believe you.

On the Wildstorm tip, considering his track record, it’s very likely that one of the two series that Ellis plans to unleash this year will provide WS with that killer marquee title to further distinguish their line. While the Eye of the Storm books are unquestionably excellent, it’s hard to pick one of them and proclaim that THIS is what defines Wildstorm and how they approach the industry. They need a title that has fans screaming on message boards, “Did you see what the fuck they did this month?” In short they need The Authority back to its industry changing ways, enjoying the widespread critical acclaim that Ellis, and later Mark Millar, received. The upcoming crossover in the spring should give them a bit more juice, as will their involvement in the “Super-Storm” around the same time, but The Authority needs to re-emerge as the premier superhero title on the stands. Give the people that “finer world” they deserve, and by the time Cassaday returns to wrap Planetary, Wildstorm is a much more dangerous place.

Rex Mundi #7 (Arvid Nelson/Eric J)

The best issue of the series thus far. The mystery at the heart of the story takes precedence in this installment, with a clever and highly engaging code-breaking sequence in which Julien discovers two words, Rex Mundi, that could very well be the key to everything. But forgive me…I’m going too fast. The first thing to take note of when cracking open the title are an extensive series of issue synopses and character pics that will effectively bring the newest of readers up to speed in a matter of minutes. Then we have what sounds like a declaration of war. The Guild of Physicians attempting to place Julien on probation for providing his services free of charge to the homeless, and for treating Jewish patients. The aforementioned code-breaking scene, topped with a street fight, and wrapped by yet another grisly murder. The question that the creators succeed in posing here involves the true meaning of Rex Mundi. Could it really be “…something the code maker inserted to throw us off. It’s just too obvious to be meaningful.” It’s been strongly suggested over the last several months, but Nelson and J finally make it clear in this seventh issue…

Rex Mundi. Better than your favorite comic. Yes, that one too.

In 2004:
Image will continue to give comics some of its more interesting and intelligent works, and they’ll continue to move far less units than they deserve. And rightfully so, people will continue to complain about it. Something has to be wrong when the biggest writer in comics right now, Brian Michael Bendis, travels to conventions, and is confronted with fans that don’t even know he writes Powers. See that corrected in March when the acclaimed title relaunches with one of those number one issues that the kids love so much. With the Powers relaunch, the conclusion of Ministry of Space, and material from Millar, Romita Jr., and Robert Kirkman creating a solid foundation, watch for a couple titles to appear from nowhere, and become sensations like Rex Mundi and Hawaiian Dick.

And since we’re back on the subject, expect the Rex Mundi trade, collecting issues #0-5 to fly off the shelves, and provide a suitable spike in sales of the monthly. After that, there will really be no excuse, as the creators have gone out of their way to ensure that if so inclined, you can pick up an issue of this book, and become immersed in the world they’ve created. Reward their vigilance with monetary support.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #1 (Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Millar/Adam Kubert/Danny Miki)

Well, now I just feel silly. Don’t know what I was quite expecting, but that was SO much better than it, on several levels. Despite the gold standard that the “ultimate” label implies, there were still a number of factors that stood to make or break this incarnation of the FF. One was the current run of writer Mark Waid, largely well received for its combination of large ideas and realistic characterizations. Ultimate titles, thus far anyway, have often launched as a more contemporary, easy access alternative to the convoluted mess that the regular Marvel Universe title has a tendency to be. Waid’s FF doesn’t have that problem. Second was the untested partnership of Bendis & Millar, having proven their considerable skills alone, but never together, in an experiment that both admit could’ve ended disastrously. Third was Adam Kubert on art chores, having helped Millar launch Ultimate X-Men a few years back, and the question of whether or not he could bring something new to the proceedings. Only one issue in, and it’s already looking damn easy.

The first two page sequence, chronicling Reed’s birth, was proof enough that everyone knew what they were doing. An infant Richards examining his mother’s hair with a curiosity beyond his age was an excellent way to launch this version of the FF, and watching Reed struggle through bullies and an insensitive father is the familiar stuff of teenage drama, except this teen happens to be a genius. One that helps his friend Ben Grimm with his trig homework, while simultaneously designing a device to pierce dimensional barriers. The reciprocal friendship between Reed and Ben is also well done, and will make the “accident” that results in the team’s creation even more tragic down the line. For now though, simply watch as a young man finally escapes a suffocating upbringing, black bars falling away, as he’s welcomed to the Baxter Building and ultimate destiny. Fantastic, indeed.

In 2004:
Dominating the industry with the most powerful franchises available. You wish that Marvel would settle down, and just put out some largely original creator owned work once in a while, but you can’t deny the effectiveness of the bread and butter. The catalog is so extensive that it seems almost understandable to reach back into the bag of tricks anytime they want another hit. Most things look better with a fresh coat of paint, and on the back of the 200k debut of Ultimate FF, Quesada and company seem to be off to a good start. And we haven’t even seen The Pulse yet, or Secret War, or Millar’s new Spider-Man book, or the entire scope of the X-Men reload project.

DC may have them in sheer numbers, but only one camp has Bendis, Millar, and Straczynski. The House of Ideas will lose a bit of ground to an encroaching DC, but their top creators still maintain their strange-hold on the majority of the chart.

Well there you have it folks. A few educated guesses about what 2004 may hold, and a very clear realization about the upcoming year. Should be very good for us…

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