This week in Super Folk, Publishers Weekly’s superhero news column, takes a close look at Marvel’s First X-Men, Avengers Assemble gets a timely villain, DC Comics announces more upcoming annuals, Mignola talks new Hellboy, new from IDW and Dynamite, the Joe Shuster Awards Nominations, and more.

Neal Adams and Christos Gage on First X-Men

On Monday, Marvel promised a major announcement as part of its “Next Big Thing” series of live chats, and delivered with First X-Men, a new prequel that takes place before the original X-Men team and explores the “logical history” of their formation. Beginning in August, the upcoming 5-issue limited series is drawn and plotted by legendary artist Neal Adams with scripts by Christos Gage (Avengers Academy). Despite a brief stint on the tail end of the original Uncanny X-Men, Adams has never worked with Wolverine or Marvel’s family of mutants, an implausible fact that makes the book more monumental, underlined Marvel.

The series goes back before Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the X-Men in 1963, and explores the mutant situation in a time where next to nothing was known about them, and reveals why they came to be so hated in the Marvel Universe. The story opens with Wolverine, known then as “Logan”, assembling a squad, as opposed to a school, of mutants, including Sabretooth, a teenage Charles Xavier, a Nazi-killing Magneto, early versions of the Sentinels, and a number of new characters including a young black boy named “Bomb,” and a character Gage described as “the next M.O.D.O.K.”

Adams explained the idea of First X-Men came while thinking about why Charles Xavier, a mutant who could easily pass as human, would decide to not only expose himself, but begin his school and crusade (especially since he could use his telepathic powers to make people forget about mutants altogether). He also spoke of a precursor to Xavier, the “failure” of this first team, and how “deeply entrenched” Wolverine is with the X-Men. The two creators, along with editor Nick Lowe, also stressed the importance of the series being set in continuity (likening it to 2011’s Avengers: 1959 by Howard Chaykin, as well as X-Men First Class), and how telling a good story was the main concern throughout the creative process. Overall, Adams described the upcoming series as a “high adventure comic book” that will not only have fans “put[ting] pieces together” even after the series concludes, but as a new and rewarding chapter in one of Marvel’s most storied franchises.

Thanos Emerges in Avengers Assemble

At the end of Avengers Assemble #3, the mastermind lurking behind series villain Zodiac was revealed to be none other than Thanos, the intergalactic conqueror last seen in the miniseries The Thanos Imperative from 2010. Intriguingly, Thanos was also shown as the enemy pulling the strings in the recent Avengers movie, showing up briefly after the main credits. A few months ago Avengers Assemble writer Brian Michael Bendis intimated at working on something significant for Marvel once his (now approaching) time with the Avengers was over. It seems like he may be helming the return of Marvel’s “Cosmic Line” (including titles such as Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy), which has also been hinted at having a larger role in the Marvel Universe in the coming months.

Bunn a Busy Man at Marvel

Last week, Marvel announced that Cullen Bunn (Wolverine, The Sixth Gun) will be taking over writing duties on Venom (currently by Rick Remender), beginning with issue #23 in August. Bunn, joined by artist Thony Silas, will begin with a new storyline called “Savage Six,” (a take on Spider-Man’s “Sinister Six”) in which Venom will face off against all the enemies he’s made thus far. August will also see the release of a four-issue miniseries written by Bunn (and illustrated by Dalibor Talajic) titled “Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe,” in which Marvel’s schizophrenic “Merc with a Mouth” literally kills off nearly every major Marvel character. The weekly series will obviously be out-of-continuity and give the creators an opportunity to let their imaginations run wild, but Bunn stressed the desire to use believable circumstances to force Deadpool to embark upon his bloody campaign.

More Marvel News

Last week, Marvel announced an exclusive deal with digital comics vendor Comixology, allowing the purchase of all English-language single issues through the digital comics distributor (as well as its Digital Storefront program). Previously, Marvel titles were only available through Marvel’s own digital comics app and new Digtial Shop, which are powered by Comixology.

Marvel also revealed the second issue of its digital-only title Avengers Vs. X-Men Infinite, to be released alongside Avengers Vs. X-Men #6 in June. The issue, written by Mark Waid (Daredevil) and illustrated by Yves “Balak” Bigerel, will be shown from Cyclops’ point of view, and is the latest offering from the publisher’s Infinite line of innovative digital comics. The publisher also hyped AvX #6 with a new teaser declaring “No More Avengers” – a play off the infamous “No More Mutants” line uttered during the 2005 X-Men event House of M.

Finally, in an exclusive interview with Comic Vine, Marvel’s senior v-p of digital media David Gabriel and senior v-p of sales Peter Phillips stated that Marvel will be expanding its AR (augmented reality) initiative to more comics as well as collected editions in the coming months after the overwhelmingly positive feedback it received following C2E2.

DC Annuals Return

Last week DC Comics revealed more annual issues, this time for Superman, Green Lantern, The Flash and Justice League International, joining the previously announced annuals for Teen Titans, Animal Man, Batman and Detective Comics. Superman Annual #1, written by Keith Giffen, sends the Man of Steel to a new cosmic realm of the DC Universe, while The Flash Annual #1, by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, pits The Flash and Captain Cold against the new Rogues. Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns will reunite with Green Lantern: Rebirth artist Ethan Van Sciver for Green Lantern Annual #1 which features Blackest Night villain Black Hand, and Justice League International Annual #1, co-written by Johns and Co-Publisher Dan Didio, will feature O.M.A.C. (of the recently canceled, Didio penned series) and tie into Justice League #12. All the 48-page annuals will be released in August and seem to be connected to DC’s zero issues supposedly coming in September. In somewhat related news, DC Comics summer solicitations listed Justice League International #12 as the funeral for JLI-alum Rocket Red as well as the series’ final issue, leading some to speculate at some sort of connection with Justice League #12, which DC has hinted will showcase a new team lineup.

Phantom Lady, The Flash Guest Arc, Hawkgirl, Superboy

On Friday, DC Comics made a pair of announcements on its blog, starting with Phantom Lady, a new four-issue miniseries starring former Freedom Fighters members Phantom Lady and Dollman, written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray and with art by Cat Staggs and Rich Perotta. Aside from The Ray, the members of the Freedom Fighters have been M.I.A. since DC’s reboot last fall, and Gray and Palmiotti expressed their excitement to be working with the classic characters. Phantom Lady hits shelves at the end of August.

Next, DC announced Batwing artists Marcus To and Ray McCarthy will join series regulars Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato on a special two-issue arc in The Flash, beginning with #10 in June. The story will center on a newly imagined origin of classic Flash villain the Weather Wizard.

Earlier in the week, DC revealed the New 52 Hawkgirl on the cover of the upcoming cover to Earth 2 #4. Writer James Robinson was careful to stay true to the original character (whom he helped create) while also adding new aspects to her like a new hard-hitting attitude and detective skills.

Finally, on Monday DC’s Superman Solicits revealed that Scott Lobdell will be leaving Superboy by issue #12, with Tom DeFalco taking over in August. This plays into the rumor that Lobdell will take over Superman come autumn.

Mignola on Hellboy in Hell

While promoting a new six-part motion comic based on Hellboy: The Fury, creator Mike Mignola also talked to MTV Geek about his upcoming comic, Hellboy in Hell, which marks his return to illustrating the series. The new ongoing begins in December with a four-issue monthly miniseries that “settles Hellboy in Hell,” followed by less regularly scheduled one to two issue stories thereafter. When asked if Hellboy may intersect with his other series, B.P.R.D., Mignola said the series will relate to each other, but are on “different tracks for the foreseeable future.”

New from Dynamite and IDW

In August Dynamite is releasing a new ongoing series based on Paizo’s popular fiction line/ tabletop RPG Pathfinder. The new series, written by Jim Zubkavich (Skullkickers) and illustrated by Andrew Huerta, takes place in the Pathfinder mythology and contains stories of high fantasy and adventure. The series follows swordsman Valeros, sorceress Seoni, and roguish Merisiel as they battle the growing goblin armies of Varisia.

In October IDW will release Killogy, a new horror/dark comedy series by writer/artist Alan Robert (Crawl to Me) about a trio of murderers based on the likenesses of actor Frank Vincent, musician Marky Ramone and actress Brea Grant. In the official press release, Robert admitted to envisioning the characters as the famous figures during the early stages of development, and then later actually getting them involved and officially using their likenesses.

In related Dynamite and IDW news, during two separate multi-part interviews with ICv2, Dynamite Entertainment CEO Nick Barrucci and IDW Publishing CEO and president Ted Adams both touched upon the place digital holds in their overall sales. Adams said that digital accounts for 10% of IDW’s total sales and has not been eating into print sales (if anything, he says, it’s driving them). Barrucci echoed these sentiments, and although he said digital isn’t yet 10% of Dynamite’s total sales (he does predict it to be about 15% in three years, though), the publisher has seen increased digital sales “on par” with that of print.

Joe Shuster Award Noms and Langridge done with DC, Marvel

Last week the 2012 Joe Shuster Award nominations for Canadian comics and creators were announced, with a number of superhero books being included such as Chris Bachalo (X-Men, Avengers), Stuart Immonen (Fear Itself), Kathryn Immonen (Wolverine and Jubilee, Avengers Origins), Jeff Lemire (Jonah Hex), Cameron Stewart (Batman Incorporated), Yanick Paquette (Swamp Thing, Batman Incorporated), Francis Manapul (The Flash), Kaare Andrews (Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men) and many more. Check out the full list of nominations here.

Finally, following writer Chris Roberson’s public exodus from DC Comics, fan favorite writer/artist Roger Langridge (Snarked, Thor: The Mighty Avenger) has sworn off working with DC or Marvel due to concerns over the ethics (or lack thereof) of company’s recent actions in relation to creator rights. Langridge stated that he was able to come to the decision once he was able to support himself without work from the Big Two, and urged creators in similar financial situations to “think hard about what you are doing and who you are doing it for.”