10 To Watch in 2013: EVENTS That Will Shape the New Year

<i>by <a href=http://www.chrisarrant.com/>Chris Arrant, Newsarama Contributor</a></i> <p>Now that we're several days into 2013, our look at what this year has in store concludes with 10 events that are poised to have a major impact on the industry and beyond. <p>Some of these things are happening for sure, some are just speculation, but they're what fans, retailers and professionals will be keeping an eye on for the next 360 days or so. <P>Click "start here" in the upper-left corner for 10 events that will shape 2013. <p><i>Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's <a href=http://www.facebook.com/Newsarama><b>FACEBOOK</b></a> and <a href=http://twitter.com/newsarama><b>TWITTER</b></a>!</i> <p>

IMAGE EXPO 2?

In the final weekend of February 2012, Image Comics invited fans, friends, family and assorted creators to Oakland for a unique gathering to celebrate the publisher and buy its wares. Although not the first publisher to host its own convention, the Image Expo was a well-timed celebration of the company's first 20 years, in the midst of <I>The Walking Dead</I>'s multimedia success and just before the debut of <I>Saga</I> in comic shops, along with a new slate of announcements including Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson's <I>Happy</I>. 2012 was a great year for Image, and 2013 looks to continue that success so could a second Image Expo follow? <p>Part of the success of Image Expo could be attributed to WonderCon recently heading south to Anaheim, with Image Expo taking up some of that vacancy for fans and retailers. From reports, though it was less crowded than WonderCon, it had a more personal vibe and more direct fan/creator interaction. For Image it could be chalked up to marketing, as it was in effect a pep rally for the publisher that seemed to pay off well. <p>If a second Image Expo is to happen though, it won't be in that same February slot this year, as no plans have yet been announced, but a second Image Expo could conceivably continue what the first one started.

FUTURE OF VARIANT COVERS

Variants are nothing new in comics Sean Howe's excellent <I>Marvel Comics: The Untold Story</I> delves into the interesting origin of the phenomenon but it seems 2012 was a year where variants became anything but rare. But while these variants are done to stoke sales for publishers and profits for collectible-minded comics retailers, it's also forced the publishers into going to more creative lengths to get it done. <p>We've seen IDW sell variants where comics retailers could get a cover showing their store crushed by a dinosaur, and we've seen DC announce a series of 50 variants with every state in the union's flags and even Marvel lampoon that with a <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/comics/marvel-state-bird-cover-ultimate-wolverine.html>Deadpool cover celebrating the 50 state birds</a>. Valiant even did a talking cover. There's also been the rise of the Ghost Variant; variants of select books such as <I>The Walking Dead #100</I>, <I>Saga #7</I> and <I>My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic #1</I> that are ordered and purchased by a select group of retailers. Highly secretive in their origin, their availability and just who exactly is behind it, it's proven to be catnip for collectors and the select retailers who are offered a chance to buy them. <p>In 2013 though, where could this lead? Could we see the return of hologram and chromium covers, or perhaps the introduction of something new? Printing processes have come a long way since the '90s, so just imagine if a forward-thinking, sales-minded publisher got with a printing company who could do the same.

DIGITAL VS. BRICK AND MORTAR

One of the key tenets people argued to make digital comics sales viable in the modern market was for the release of the digital comics to come out at the same time they're available in print in your local comic stores. And that's been done across the board from DC and Marvel down to Image, Dark Horse, IDW and others. With that hurdle figured out, it leaves open the ability for publishers to conceivably offer the digital versions of their comic even earlier than their physical sales date. And possibly sell them at a discount... but should they? <p>Publishers and digital comic purveyors like ComiXology are actively holding back on what's possible for digital comic sales. Subscriptions, metatextual tie-ins, more features like Marvel's AR effects... there's a lot of potential for comics delivered digitally. <p>Comics retailers have already voiced their concerns about how the rise of digital comics sales could poach their store's revenues, and while comics publishers have been quick to disarm any talks of being preferential to the digital versions of its comics output they have been making inroads. Marvel provides a free download of a large portion of the physical comics you buy from them via your local retailer with the upfront desire to convert some of the Direct Market's customer base to digital comics, and DC offers bundle packs of a physical copy and a download code for a small premium. <p>What is the end goal here? Obviously sales, but what comes next? When will the other shoe drop, and how will retailers and fans react?

CREATOR-OWNED REVOLUTION CONTINUES

In 2012 we saw some big name creators from the world of corporate comics break from their work-for-hire assignments and venture out, sometimes completely, into creator-owned territory. Chief among those was Ed Brubaker, who left the seemingly cushy position as writer of <I>Captain America</I> and <I>Winter Soldier</I> and one of Marvel's Architects to pursue creator-owned work full time. Around the same time, the artists behind Marvel's Eisner-winning <I>Daredevil</I> series, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin, pull back from that project while at its height to look into creator-owned projects of their own. Again in 2012, you had one of Marvel's premiere artists and one of the industry's most popular Bryan Hitch step away in order to do Image's <I>America's Got Powers</I>. <p>These creators are following on an increasingly used path to creative and financial freedom that fellow work-for-hire veterans like Robert Kirkman, Mark Millar, Brian K. Vaughn, Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch have traveled. Success isn't guaranteed, but as more successes on the creator-owned front are revealed and the purse strings at Marvel and DC get ever-tighter, it's giving creators of a certain stature pause before signing a long-term exclusive deal to write or draw someone else's characters. <p>2013 will see more of this, but the question is when, where and who? What if another of Marvel's top tier writers segued out of the company to Image or elsewhere? What if Robert Kirkman partnered with a top DC artist to create the next <I>Walking Dead</I> or <I>Invincible</I>? Or if something like Stuart and Kathryn Immonen's upcoming creator-owned series <I>Russian Olive to Red King</I> took off and provided more opportunities for the Immonens individually and together? If things like that come to pass, we could go from asking one phrase taken from a comic <I>What if?</I> to Marvel and DC asking <I>What The--?!</I>

VERTIGO, POST-KAREN BERGER

Imagine a comics industry without Vertigo Comics. No <I>Sandman</I>, no <I>Preacher</I>, no <I>100 Bullets</I> and arguably less of the creators that the imprint helped usher to becoming superhero comics biggest creators like Grant Morrison, Jason Aaron, Chris Bachalo and others. Thankfully however, Vertigo is real and we have Karen Berger to thank for it. But with the announcement last month of her impending departure from the Vertigo and DC entirely, where does that leave Vertigo going forward? <p>For 2013, Vertigo has several guaranteed hits on deck between the return of <I>The Sandman</I>, more <I>Girl With The Dragon Tattoo</I> adaptations and Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy's <I>The Wake</I>. But gone are the flush, emboldened vibrant group of ongoing series of yore. <I>Fables</I> is the company's de facto flagship, but in its wake there hasn't been any major attempts to fill the gaps left by <I>Scalped</i>, <I>DMZ</I> or <I>100 Bullets</I>. (And don't forget <I>Hellblazer</I>, ending in February with issue #300.) <p>2013 will be a good year for Vertigo even if just for the momentum and the deals Berger helped organized over her 30+ year tenure at DC, but all eyes are on newly minted Senior VP of Vertigo Hank Kanalz and incoming Executive Director Shelly Bond. They have big shoes to fill and they can only do it if they have DC on their side to keep the vision of Vertigo going.

THE FIRST YEAR OF DISNEY'S LUCASFILM

The collective fanboys and fangirls around the world were left with their jaws wide open when news broke that Disney was acquiring LucasFilm, and by extension, <I>Star Wars</I>. Disney quickly followed up that news with the promise that the rumored third trilogy of movies would indeed be made, starting in 2015 but there are still a lot of questions left to answer. For comics fans, it's what happens to Dark Horse's <I>Star Wars</I> titles? <p>Popularity-wise, <I>Star Wars</I> was in the doldrums when Dark Horse acquired the license to do tie-in comics back in 1991. Releases like <I>Dark Empire</I> coincide with the return of <I>Star Wars</I> prose novels to get George Lucas' storied franchises back into the hearts and mans of fans, and sowed the seeds for its revival as movies, animated television shows and toys. This month, Dark Horse launches one of their most ambitious projects yet when Brian Wood launches a new <I>Star Wars</I> series that takes place between the first two movies, but that could all be for naught if what is rumored to happen happens. <p>That rumor is that Disney will discontinue its relationship with Dark Horse and move the production of tie-in comics based on its new <I>Star Wars</I> property in-house to a publisher like Marvel. Disney took this exact measure once it acquired Pixar, moving its titles from Boom! Studios kids' imprint to under the Disney umbrella, handicapping BOOM!'s publishing plans significantly and forcing some restructuring of its remaining all-ages line. Reporters have asked Dark Horse repeatedly if this would be the case with the <I>Star Wars</I> titles, but they have no news to report. <p>However this shakes out is unknown, but we should know sometime in 2013. On the positive side <I>Indiana Jones</I> comics from Marvel, please?

MARVEL MERGER: X-MEN AND AVENGERS BECOME ONE?

At Marvel and DC they deal with such an immense number of titles that each publisher groups the titles into families or franchises. For Marvel they have the Avengers family encompassing all the <I>Avengers</I> titles and various solo titles by its members, and then on the other side you have the various <I>X-Men</I> titles and serious growth out of that. But after those two families butted heads in <I>Avengers vs. X-Men</I>, they're now playing nice (and playing house) by sharing more than a few titles together. <I>Uncanny Avengers</I> and <I>A+X</I> are one of several titles that can claim dual parentage, and this could be big. <p>Stepping back, the Avengers and the X-Men are all one franchise named Marvel but when you look at it, but within the storylines and comics line at Marvel they've been two separate and distinct narratives for the past 40 years. With this pairing though, will that continue to exist? Can there be a separate X-Men or Avengers event series, or are they inexorably tied from this day forth? Is that a bad thing? In gives you more potential for story, but also limits the number of individual events you can do at once without affecting one another. <p>Should comic fans be concerned? We might only find out a year or so down the road, but 2013 is when we'll first see the beginnings of this pairing, what it may yield, and if it's for the long-term good of Marvel and comics fans as a whole.

WHAT'S NEXT AFTER MARVEL NOW! AND NEW 52?

On August 31, 2011, DC ushered in a new era for its characters and titles when it launched The New 52. Marvel took similar steps, albeit without brushing aside its years of continuity, when it came forth with its Marvel NOW! relaunch initiative. But now with The New 52 well into its second year and Marvel NOW! underway, the real question is what happens when The New 52 isn't new anymore and when Marvel NOW! becomes Marvel THEN! <p>Wordplay aside, it's a real question. DC showed that reinventing itself and its comics line is a good thing to do for business, but thinking long term you have to ask what step two will be. <p>This August will be the second anniversary of New 52, and this fall will see how Marvel NOW! worked out one year in. What will the commentators and journalists be saying then? And what does Marvel and DC have planned to keep their balls rolling?

TRINITY WAR

Teased in the opening volleys of The New 52 back in 2011, then promised in the pages of DC's 2012 Free Comic Book Day title, 2013 will finally see what the <B>Trinity War</B> event/crossover is all about. The first event of its scale since DC rebooted its fictional history back in August 2011, <B>Trinity War</B> promises to get to the bottom of the red-garbed woman known as Pandora and her part in remaking the universe as seen in the final pages of <I>Flashpoint</I>. <p>In <a href=http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=41816>an interview with CBR last October</A>, DC co-publisher Dan Didio said that the event will be paying off on that initial premise of the New 52. The event, both as a crossover and a series in itself is described as almost three stories combined into one according to Jim Lee, with each part redefining the DCU in a really cool and unexpected way. <p>In terms of who's involved, given the Trinity in the title we can easily expect the three main heroes of the DC Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman. The recently introduced new Green Lantern Simon Baz is expected to play a big role as well, but there remains a huge question mark as to how all these players will cross paths and, inevitably, cross swords.

FURTHER IMAGE EVOLUTION

In 2011 and 2012, Image trumpeted 2012 as a significant year for the California-based publisher... and it was. It tipped the scales when <I>The Walking Dead</I> celebrated its 100th issue, launched several new series by new creators and attracted many top-tier creators to cast their lot with the creator-owned bastion. But with 2012 now over, it doesn't seem like Image's momentum is letting up and 2013 could be even bigger than the 2012. <p>Already on it's plate for 2013 is the 100th issue of <I>Invincible</I>, the return of <I>Phonogram</I> and new series from Greg Rucka, Matt Fraction, Michael Lark, Kieron Gillen, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Joe Casey and more. One comic that's getting observers buzzing is a new series titled <I>Satellite Sam</I> by <i>Fantastic Four</i>'s Matt Fraction and industry legend Howard Chaykin. Jonathan Hickman plans to continue his runs on <I>Secret</I> and <I>Manhattan Projects</I>, plus introduce a third ongoing with Nick Dragotta titled <I>East of West</I>. Longtime comics star Paul Pope is also joining up with the publisher in what could be the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership there. <p>But 2013 has just started, and there's a lot of news still waiting to be announced not just at Image but for the comics industry as a whole. Stay tuned to Newsarama to be the first to know about new comics, new creators and new events happening in this new year.

10 To Watch in 2013: EVENTS That Will Shape the New Year

Date: 04 January 2013 Time: 08:45 PM ET