PUBWATCH: How Now Top Cow! September

PUBWATCH: How Now Top Cow! September

Welcome to Top Cow Pubwatch volume 2. I’ve been busy reading up on all of Top Cow’s offerings since my last Pubwatch and I can’t express enough how much I am loving the variety of stories they have to offer, from super heroes to romance and so much more. At WWAC, we’ve been busy with

Welcome to Top Cow Pubwatch volume 2. I’ve been busy reading up on all of Top Cow’s offerings since my last Pubwatch and I can’t express enough how much I am loving the variety of stories they have to offer, from super heroes to romance and so much more.

At WWAC, we’ve been busy with convention season, hopping all over North America since the spring, interviewing creatives, and finding cool new comics to read and art to admire (plus adding all sorts of pins to our collections). But even as we wind down and recover from our con hopping, Top Cow staff are still going. This month, they’ve been busy at Dragon Con, where Top Cow president Matt Hawkins gave us a tour of the Artist Alley, and Long Beach Comic Con. Between cons, I asked Hawkins to give me three stars and a wish about his convention experience and perspective.

Hawkins responded:

Three things I love about cons:

  1. Meeting the people that read my books. I love talking to them about them.
  2. Seeing different parts of the world. I’ve done cons in twelve different countries now and all over the US and Canada so I’ve seen the world and didn’t even have to join the Navy.
  3. Giving free sample books to people who aren’t familiar with my work and have them return the next day wanting more! Nothing more gratifying.

One thing I’d love to change:

  1. The distances. I’d love to be able to teleport—the travel part kills me. I did a show last year in Cape Town, South Africa, and it was thirty hours door-to-door travel.

Hawkins has a number of books in his own portfolio to promote at all of these events, the latest of which is Stairway, which lets us segue nicely into the review section of this Pubwatch!

What I’m Reading


Stairway Volume 1
Matt Hawkins (writer), Raffaele Ienco (artist)
August 22, 2018

Cover of Stairway Volume 1 (Top Cow Productions, August 2018) - A top-down illustration of a sleeper surrounded by flowing red cloth, flowers, butterflies, and bones
It’s clear that Hawkins is a lifelong learner and he’s always keen to share what he has learned with readers. Not only does he express that in his creative writing, but if you’ve read any of his major works before, you’ll come to expect—and look forward to—the elaborate “Science Class” that he includes in the backmatter. Stairway is a book firmly grounded in the debate of science versus religion as the world deals with the aftermath of nuclear war. The topic isn’t necessarily a new one, but Hawkins and Ienco have their own unique approach, starting with the choice to narrate it through the perspective of a man who may or may not be truly evil—even as he seeks to save the world from itself—and followed by the actual meaning of the word “apocalypse.” With the help of Dr. Alicia Vander, trillionaire Gregory Hopkins has discovered coding written into our DNA that has helped him create the “Stairway to Heaven,” which is a giant cube whose purpose and origin is the mystery that must be unlocked. Readers of Hawkins’ previously kickstarted book, Golgotha, will appreciate the giant, cube-shaped Easter egg.

Aphrodite IX: Ares
Leon Glaser (writer), Sara Knaepen (artist), Joanna Marsh (writer), Marco Renna (artist)
September 5, 2018

Cover of Aphrodite IX: Ares (Top Cow Comics, September 2018) - A green-haired woman looks down at a red bubble suspended between her hands, which contains a naked figure with a robotic arm in the fetal position

The winners of the 2016 Top Cow Talent Hunt have come together in a two-story one-shot that takes place in the Aphrodite IX future shaped by Matt Hawkins and Stjepan Šejić in the two volumes of Aphrodite IX: Rebirth. The first story follows Rust, a cyborg born into a violent world dominated by a megalomaniac named Ares. Ares lives to subjegate Speros, especially to spite Aphrodite IX. Our green-haired hero is trying to rescue as many people as she can so that they can find peace and freedom in her New Cythera, but Ares will have none of it. The second story takes place in New Cythera and is a quieter, more introspective look at who Aphrodite IX has become in her role as leader and freedom fighter.

Knaepen’s art, which graces the cover and the first story, is reminiscent of Šejić’s style, though there is much more facial differentiation. When asked what it felt like to be part of such an iconic character’s canon, Knaepen replied, “It feels great! Getting to work on some of their big characters was both exciting and a little scary. The best part was working as a team, with Leon Glaser and the editors in my case, and create a quality addition to the lore and world of the characters. For me, as the artist, even though I had to follow the original design, it was fun to see how the characters would look in my style. I did my best to stay faithful to their appearance, while adding a little of my own imagination to the other characters and environments.”

Renna’s art is expressive, though some of the panels and posing are uninspired. Most notable in the second story are the muted colours, which I wouldn’t necessarily mind outside of an Aph story, but if I’m reading about my* green-haired assassin, I want to see them emerald locks.

*Yeah, I said “my,” because, while I had no interest in reading David Finch’s original story, I am now in love with the current Aphrodites and love seeing them all over the place, especially with this this return to an older series. Plus, Top Cow consistently seeking and promoting new talent on a character like this is pretty cool too.

Dissonance Book 1
Jaka Ady, Sami Basri (artist), Ryan Cady (writer), Melita Curphy (creator), Kanaya Gabriel (colourist), Sunny Gho (colourist) Varsam Kurnia (cover artist), Singgih Nugroho (writer)
September 12, 2018

Cover of Dissonance Book 1 (Top Cow Comics, September 12, 2018) - A character wearing a grey, bug-like horned helmet poses in a fighting stance, holding one bladed weapon and drawing another

In an alternate universe, Earth has caught the interest of the Fantasmen, a race of spirit beings whose technology and wisdom transcends anything humanity could muster at this point. But there are many human traits that the Fantasmen desire, and so the process of dissonance brings the two together in brilliant fashion, thanks to the incredible artwork and character designs. The story takes a little while to catch up to the stunning character design, somewhat bogged down by the exposition needed to shape Melita Curphy’s world. Once that’s out of the way, Dissonance swiftly establishes a fascinating cast of characters, including a pair of siblings trying to carve out their place in leadership of a society that secretly runs this world.

Eclipse #10
Zack Kaplan (writer), Giovanni Timpano (artist), Flavio Dispenza (colourist)
September 5, 2018

Cover of Eclipse #10 (Top Cow Productions, September 2018) - Two people hide around the side of a metal box in a construction yard, one of them looking up at the cloaked figure standing on top of the box looking down at them

The sun’s rays continue to destroy any flesh it touches. Everyone wants to get their hands on the Albino, either to destroy him, or to obtain the cure in his blood that will allow humanity to return to the light. At least, that’s what we thought. Kaplan throws a wrench into the assumption that the Underground is looking to save the world with a philosophical twist that really made me stop and think about what I would be doing in a situation like this…

I am always fascinated by the script-to-panel collaboration process, and this issue adds a treat in the final pages where Kaplan explains how his process with Timpano changed with this new story arc, allowing Timpano more freedom to interpret Kaplan’s dialogue and directions. The results are some beautiful spreads that are screen-worthy, so I hope to see some of these panels mirrored in the show, whenever it comes about.

Also, it’s a little disturbing how well Timpano draws melty humans…

Aphrodite V #2 and #3
Bryan Hill (writer), Jeff Spokes (artist)
August 22, 2018
September 19, 2018

Hui-Men does NOT trust Aphrodite, but Martin Carver isn’t going to look a gift android in the mouth. And he’s not going to give up on his recommendation the LAPD work with his technology to protect the city, even and especially as Carver himself is publicly called out by the techno-zealots that tried to kill him in the previous issue.

Hill has made a lot of subtle changes to the way we approach Aphrodite books. In the past, she has been the central character, exploring her own mystery that the reader learns of along side her through lots of inner monologues. This time, we have to view her through the eyes of the public, the police, Carver, and Hui-Men. As such, we really don’t know what she’s about just yet, and can’t be sure if she should be trusted.

In issue #3, Carver sends Hui-Men and Aphrodite after Caitlin Campbell, his corporate rival. Carver is certain that she has something to do with “Basilisk,” but unlike Hui-Men, he refuses to believe that the name means anything beyond the ravings of his deceased father’s shattered mind.

Hui-Men still does not trust Aphrodite. This pair-up was inevitable, and comes to an unsurprising result, but the steps their relationship takes to get there are worth it.

Spokes’ art continues to thrill me with its zen-like, slow motion flow and movement. The heavy blackness and silhouettes against bold, solid-colour backgrounds might not make for great colouring book pages, but they really work across the alternating panels of stillness and action.

Cyber Force Rebirth Volume 4
Christian Duce (artist), Matt Hawkins (writer), Bryan Hill (writer), Marc Silvestri (writer), Jeff Spokes (artist), Rodrigo Zayas (artist)
September 19, 2018

Cover of Cyber Force Rebirth Volume 4 - A man stares out at the viewer with a fierce expression, the right side of his face and neck exposed to show tendons and a red, glowing right eye

Cyber Force Rebirth continues the kickstarted rebirth of the cybernetic superhumans story. Stryker and his team remain fugitives from Cyber Data and its leader, Francesca, is still in search of all the power she can get her hands on. She’s turned her attention to one of the artifacts, the Darkness, which is bound to the corpse of its host, Jackie Estacado. As much as Stryker has tried to stay away from war and to keep his daughter Carin safe, that is impossible in this world, especially with Aphrodite V on their trail.

Old faces return, for better or for battle, and much of this book is spent with friends and enemies and former lovers attacking each other. There is a particular reunion that ought to have had more weight, but it wasn’t afforded the time and panels necessary. And the final showdown falls flat for similar reasons.

Creator Marc Silvestri provides the covers of many of these issues, but the art on the inside is provided by various artists, giving the series a frustrating level of visual inconsistency. Changing up artists mid-arc breaks the flow of the story as readers adjust to each distinctive style.

Witchblade #7
Roberta Ingranata (artist), Caitlin Kittredge (writer), Bryan Valenza (colourist)
August 22, 2018

Cover of Witchblade #7 (Top Cow Productions, August 2018) - A blonde, determined woman holds up her wrist, which is covered by a dark metal bracer with a red gem shining in its center, against a snowy background

“Good Intentions” begins a new story arc that takes place a few months after Alex and Team Witchblade broke the hold of the demons on New York City. I’m still working on appreciating who Alex is as a character outside of her role as the Witchblade’s new host, but the Witchblade itself is where it’s really at. The Artifact gets to have a lot more conversation and personality of its own, which wasn’t really a thing back when I was reading the original Witchblade. Alex isn’t entirely happy with this new arrangement, but she’s going to have to figure it out, because of course there is a new enemy to deal with. While the two might argue over their purpose, when it comes to battle, Alex has stopped fighting the Witchblade and the result is gorgeous. When the two fully bond in fightmode, this is when Ingranata’s art really shines.

Cyber Force #5
Matt Hawkins (writer), Bryan Hill (writer), Atilio Rojo (artist)
August 29, 2018

Cover of Cyber Force #5 - Velocity, a redhead in a green jumpsuit with silver leg bracers, runs so fast that the background is a blur
Cyber Force’s latest version continues to be a slow yet explosive burn back onto the scene with lots of action, counterbalanced with some really emotional father-daughter moments between Stryker and Velocity. Issue #5 finally brings in one of the team’s faves: Ripclaw. He’s not with the cyberhuman heroes just yet. In fact, he doesn’t want to be a hero at all, and grumbles his way through the assumption that he can and will be. But of course he is and of course he does, to violent effect.

If you’re an old fan of Cyberforce, then Cyber Force is a must read. If you’re a new fan, you should be checking it out, too… but I’m going to focus on the past a bit, because Top Cow’s evolution has been an interesting thing to watch over the past twenty-five years. The flagship team of cybernetic superhumans in this series has certainly changed over time, which is good. While some comic “fans” are complaining about the Big Two’s attempts to diversify their iconic characters and bring in other new and interesting characters, Cyber Force is a great example of letting your story grow and mature with your readers, rather than stagnate in what they were decades before. And that means so much more than changing up a costume. Evolving characters is so much more than that.


Let’s take a look at Ripclaw specifically, stepping back in time to Robert Berresford’s debut in Cyberforce #1. According to Comic Vine: “Ripclaw is a Native American meta human with cybernetic enhancements. He is an expert in hand to hand combat and possesses a superhuman healing factor and the ability to commune with the spirit world. He was recruited into Cyberdata and surgically altered and brainwashed into a SHOC trooper.”

Marc Silvestri’s Ripclaw leaps from a building, looking all savage

Marc Silvestri’s Ripclaw leaps from a building, looking all savage in Cyberforce #1 (Top Cow Comics, 1992)

Ripclaw’s appearance, abilities, and background were all, like so much of Image Comics back then, either an uncreative rip-off of, or a respectful homage to, Wolverine, depending on your point of view. Whatever bad feelings might have spawned from the rebellious Image bad boys’ departure from the Big Two, hatchets were obviously buried, with lots of team-ups and crossovers occurring over the subsequent years.

Back in the ’90s, Ripclaw’s alternating brooding and savage appearance lacked any kind of subtlety, but back then, I was young enough not to care about that sort of thing. Image and Top Cow seemed so cool and mature with their unabashed bulging boobs and muscle-bound sexuality and violence, and Ripclaw was the epitome of that, with the added bonus of tragic history bound to the plight of the First Nations people.

In 2014, Cyber Force relaunched via Kickstarter. The team had a whole new look that was much more refined. Silvestri’s new Ripclaw, who could fling metal shards produced by his body, was a lot more svelte, and I have to second one fan’s suggestion that Martin Sensmeier should play the character on screen.

In 2018, Ripclaw is a bounty hunter with a heart of transmetal. Artist Atilio Rojo has been doing an excellent job of conveying the body horror that goes along with Cyberdata’s cybernetic manipulations. Like Stryker, Ripclaw’s enhancements work their way up his arms and overtake his face with a creeping, oozing severity. Hill and Hawkins allow the art to tell most of issue #5’s story, with little dialogue, which immediately wraps Ripclaw in that air of mystery that previous fans would expect. He is introduced with the same level of savagery as the first time, which then segues into moments of quiet solitude and introspection.

Ripclaw tears apart a henchmen in Cyber Force #5

Ripclaw performs surgery on a henchmen in Cyber Force #5

Up Next…

Next month, I’ll take a closer look at Infinite Dark #1, Ryan Cady’s creator-owned psychological sci-fi thriller. Check out my interview with Cady and catch a peek on the Top Cow website.

And I’ll probably gush about Aphrodite some more. Because look at her. Just look at our girl doing her beach thing.

Aphrodite V (Top Cow Productions, August 2018)

Aphrodite V strikes a contemplative pose in Aphrodite V #2

Wendy Browne

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