PUBWATCH: How Now Top Cow! August

Top Cow Pubwatch - Banner designed by Cori McCreery (Aphrodite V and logo copyright Top Cow Productions)

I’ve been toying with the idea of a Top Cow Pubwatch for some time. I was a fan of the company when it first started years (decades!) ago, tagging along with their shiny cybernetic revolution, and have loosely followed that evolution over time to see them produce some really interesting and provocative books.

And so, here I am writing my very first Top Cow Pubwatch, where I’ll cover the “what’s new”s of the company, drop in a few reviews, and step back in time to some of their older reads.

What’s New

I’m more or less recovered from SDCC, where I got to swing by the Top Cow booth and say hi to a few people and pick up a few things. In hindsight, I find myself wishing that I’d grabbed a couple of their Comic-Con exclusives, namely that Witchblade pin to add to what might be my newest collector obsession. They’ll be heading to Long Beach Comic-Con next month, so maybe someone can hook a girl up.

Top Cow will have several titles out this month. I’m particularly looking forward to learning more about Aphrodite V in the second issue of the android assassin’s latest iteration.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a Top Cow production on screen, so it’s exciting to learn that Robert Kirkman and David Alpert’s Skybound Entertainment has optioned Eclipse for series development. Eclipse is a dystopian apocalypse story about a world where the sun has turned on humanity, driving everyone underground while a murderer stalks the day, using the sun’s rays to deadly effect. A passion project of writer Zack Kaplan, Eclipse’s first issue was published by Top Cow in September 2016. Issue #9 is out this this month.

September Mourning goes on tour from August 17 to September 29 as their transmedia story continues, with a third installment of their graphic novel coming soon.

President Matt Hawkins always seems to have a few titles on the go, including Stairway #1 (check out this interview at SyFy Wire), and a mysterious new something hinted at by Colleen Doran’s gorgeous artwork with the hashtag #WatchTheClock.

What I’ve Been Reading

I’ve got a solid backlog of comics to go through, which means I’m playing a lot of catch-up. This is one of the reasons why I love graphic novels and collected volumes. But I’m looking forward to getting back into single issue reads as I saunter through Top Cow’s monthly offerings starting in September. What I’m loving about Top Cow’s books is the variety in genres, characters, and focus. Each story is so uniquely its own thing, even where universes cross.

Disclaimer: Copies of these books were provided by the publisher in exchange for honest reviews.

God Complex Volume 1: Dogma
Paul Jenkins (writer), Jessic Kholinne (colorist), Bryan Lie (writer), Hendry Prasetya (artist)

Panel from God Complex Volume 1: Dogma (Top Cow Productions, 2018) which shows three characters seemingly falling into space with the caption It always comes in threes
Seneca is a digital-forensics investigator who discovers that the murder of three religious acolytes of the Trinity is waaaay more than the nefarious act it seems to be. He is “invited” to the next level by Hermes, one of the digital demi-gods that rule the city of Delphi. On the surface, Seneca seems like one of those loner cops who rolls under the radar, just doing his job, but when you get inside his head, as the story does from the start, you find the layers upon layers of conflict that start with the voice that speaks to him, as well as his lapsed faith, all of which are what make him so interesting to the demi-gods and others—though he doesn’t understand why.

This is sci-fi noir at its finest. Throwing the reader into the mystery alongside Seneca, who is just as uncertain of who to trust, this book digs its hooks in early on and doesn’t let go. Prasetya’s art combined with the decadence of Kholinne’s colors make for one gorgeous book. Think Blade Runner, but with muted neon pastels that lend shape to the shadows and make them feel like they are as much alive with the city’s secrets as the digital pathways the demi-gods control.

Witchblade Volume 1
By Roberta Ingranata (artist), Caitlin Kittredge (writer), Bryan Valenza (colorist)

Panels from Witchblade Volume 1 (Top Cow Productions 2017) in which the main character's narration states that Death is not the end but a doorway
One of the thirteen ancient Artifacts that can change the world, the Witchblade has returned with a new host. This time it’s a former journalist turned witness advocate who winds up dead and must cope with the new reality of her life.

I want Alex to be as endearing and enigmatic a character as former Witchblade wielder Sara Pezzini, but as I struggled along with her through the confusion of her flashbacks, dreams, voices, and mysterious friends and enemies, I found myself unable to pin down who she is. Supporting characters invariably comment on how she “does the right thing” and is stubborn and headstrong, but there’s a sense that she’s only moving through each panel because that’s what the plot demands. The inner monologue that peppers the story is, understandably, focused on her coming to terms with this thing that has attached itself to her and the demonic presence that has suddenly become her enemy, but Alex herself doesn’t feel like much more than an empty vessel.

At first glance and in the covers, the art looks great, but as I flipped through the pages, I found myself disappointed by a lack of expression among the characters, even and especially when they are supposed to be experiencing strong emotions like fear and anger. I got particularly hung up on random panels where Alex’s face looks like that of a young child, rather than the adult she is meant to be. But when she finally allows herself to become one with the Witchblade, that is where the art shines (and isn’t reliant on facial expressions). The Witchblade’s new look is innovative and… strappy. I love the whip-like tendrils and the way the Witchblade really seems to take over, complete with blackened eyes. But this also makes me want to understand why the Witchblade has chosen this new form. How does it relate, if at all, to Alex herself?

Sugar Volume 1
Jenni Cheung (writer), Matt Hawkins (writer) Yishan Li (artist)

Panels from Sugar Volume 1 (Top Cow Productions, 2018) in which a woman is eating breakfast with a man and comments on him having so many pictures of his ex on his house's walls
Julie is a hardworking student struggling to pay her bills and wishing for romance. John is a recent divorcé who is not yet over his horrible wife. After John is coerced by his abrasive best friend and business partner into trying out a sugar baby/sugar daddy meet and greet party, he bumps into Julie, and the predictability of the ups and downs of this romance begins. I love that Top Cow is branching into books that are beyond their usual action-and-explosion fare. Sunstone got them started down this path of relationships and sex positivity, and Sugar is a pleasant attempt to keep pace, but it ultimately falls flat due to its predictability, and art that is elegant, but vague, featuring colouring and a style that makes it difficult to tell the characters apart at times.

Warframe Volume 1
Ryan Cady (writer), Matt Hawkins (writer), Studio Hive (art)

Panels from Warframe Volume 1 (Top Cow Productions 2018) in which a robotic character lets a blindfolded human sip from a cup while the human character expresses gratitude, followed by the robotic character stating that I just wish you'd gotten here sooner
Though video game tie-ins are not new to me because I’m a big fan of auxiliary gaming lore, when I started reading this, I had forgotten that Warframe was actually a game first and foremost. I suppose that isn’t surprising, since I haven’t played it. In the game, you play as the Tenno in their warframes. They are tasked with protecting the artifacts of the long-deceased Orokin. Silent and deadly, the first Tenno we meet in the book seems to have come with the specific purpose of saving a blinded girl from the Grineer, who are attacking her village in search of a particular artifact. But warframe armour is quite valuable itself, so when Mitsuki’s Tenno is captured, her goal is not just survival for herself and revenge upon her village, but also freedom for her Tenno.

The first volume of this series does not rely on the reader having any familiarity with the game and carries itself well on its own. The Tenno are silent companions, so that is balanced by Mitsuki’s hope- and anxiety-filled narration, and ample snark from Little Duck, a Rail Agent who fills the typical irreverent bounty hunter role. Little Duck wants to pay off some debts, but ends up on a universe-saving quest instead. The good guys are countered by a zealot that edges on over-the-top villainy, if not for the doubts and hopes he expresses in his own inner monologue.

Based on the artwork of the game itself, a graphic novel had a lot to live up to. Some game-based comics don’t necessarily focus on ensuring that the panels match up with the screen. This comic captures the majesty of the game designs, but allows the colouring to give it its own unique spin, with darker tones and softer edges.


A Voice in the Dark
Larime Taylor (writer, artist), Sylv Taylor (colorist)

Cover for A Voice in the Dark featuring the main character in a bloodstained shirt touching her mouth with a bloody finger
I can’t remember how I stumbled on A Voice in the Dark’s trailer, but I remember being angry at it for flaunting all the diversity buzzwords like “strong female protagonist,” PoC lead, etc. For certain publishing companies (yeah, I mean Marvel. Ain’t gonna hide that), diversity is a convenient trend. But I, a strong, proud, Black woman, am real, and yes I want books that represent me. Turns out the trailer was purely tongue-in-cheek and the entire book is Larime Taylor’s dark, satirical look at the horror genre he so loves, where often the Black character gets offed first. Here, she’s the lead—and also a sociopathic murderer hunting a psychopathic murderer… all while listening to people’s dark secrets on the radio. I loved the book, and had a great time chatting with Taylor and his wife Sylv about their work. Taylor is also a caricature artist who draws all of his art by mouth due to a birth defect.

I don’t read as many comics as I used to, and the sheer mass of what’s available now is a bit overwhelming. I figure a monthly Top Cow Pubwatch will help give me some much needed focus when sorting through the monthly comic pulls. Perhaps it will help you, too!

Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.