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Adam Kubert/Marvel Comics
Adam Kubert/Marvel Comics

The 10 Most Interesting Comics of June

Adam Kubert/Marvel Comics
Adam Kubert/Marvel Comics

Each month, we round up the most interesting comics, graphic novels, web and digital comics that we recommend you check out.

1. PETER PARKER SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #1


Adam Kubert/Marvel Comics

By Chip Zdarsky, Adam Kubert
Marvel Comics

This new series revives the title of the longtime second string Spider-man title which hasn’t been used with the “Peter Parker” prefix since 1998. While the flagship Amazing Spider-man comic has taken Peter Parker to some interesting new places in recent years, most recently as the CEO of his own technology company, some fans feel this globe-trotting Spidey lacks the “old Parker luck” (or lack thereof) that everyone likes to remember. This new companion series aims for a “back to the basics” appeal with stories set in NYC but still within the current continuity. Chip Zdarsky is a brilliant if slightly idiosyncratic choice of writer for one of Marvel’s most visible heroes. As one half of the team behind Image Comics’ raunchy hit series Sex Criminals, he tends toward absurd comedy and will assuredly tap into the sense of humor that Spidey needs, but he’s also shown a great knack for sincerity and sheer likability in comics like Jughead that make it seem like he’ll get Peter Parker pretty well. He’s joined by veteran artist Adam Kubert, who’s by no means a newcomer to drawing Spider-man.

2. THE ADVENTURES OF JOHN BLAKE: MYSTERY OF THE GHOST SHIP


Fred Fordham/Scholastic

By Phillip Pullman and Fred Fordham
Scholastic Graphix

Phillip Pullman, the famed author of the His Dark Materials trilogy of all ages fantasy novels, is making a big comeback this year with a highly anticipated new novel, The Book of Dust, out this October. For those that can’t wait that long, there is also his first graphic novel which is the opening of a proposed series called The Adventures of John Blake. The titular hero is an enigmatic teenage boy on a time-traveling 18th century galleon manned by a crew plucked from various points in history. They rescue a young girl in modern day Australia who has fallen overboard her parents’ yacht and they risk a run-in with the evil Dahlberg Corporation to get her home. Pullman owes much to the classic boys adventures of Treasure Island and classic Eurocomics like Tin Tin, but Fordham’s realistic, modern artwork calls to mind the sophisticated European adventure comics of today.

3. SUNBURNING


Keiler Roberts/Koyama Press

By Keiler Roberts
Koyama Press

The trick with creating good memoir comics is being willing to shed the natural inclination toward self-preservation that prevents true honesty about your own life. Keiler Roberts seems to have no problem with this. Sunburning is a collection of comic vignettes about her home life and her personal struggles with motherhood, being an artist, and dealing with mental and physical illness. Her depictions of her struggles with bipolar disorder as well as her brutally and hilariously honest exchanges with her daughter, her husband, and her parents are just about the most direct and real scenes you’ll read in comics this year. She is not afraid to show herself as being crass or even mean at times, but just as often she is refreshing, down-to-earth and funny.

4. DARK DAYS: THE FORGE #1


Andy Kubert/DC Comics

By Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Andy Kubert, Jim Lee, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson, Danny Miki, Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair
DC Comics

Today’s DC is all about reconnecting its characters to the great multiversal tapestry of their pasts, which had been mostly rewritten in the 2011 “New 52” reboot. In some ways, this one-shot sets up the latest multi-comic summer event—leading toward August’s Dark Nights: Metal—but it is also a continuation of much of what has come before including clues planted in last year’s DC: Rebirth one-shot and Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s recent run on Batman. That means this is primarily designed for DC fans that have been paying acute attention over the years and not so much for the casual comic reader. If you’re any sort of DC fan, though, this is a gripping introduction to a big story involving Batman being ultra-secretive about some universe-shattering mystery, which is always fun. Some familiar faces who haven’t been around much in recent years like Hawkman and Mister Miracle make some enticing cameos here.

5. GARBAGE NIGHT


Jen Lee/Nobrow Press

By Jen Lee
Nobrow Press

Jen Lee is best known for her groundbreaking semi-animated webcomic Thunderpaw but has managed to translate that appeal into non-animated print. Her 2015 one-issue Vacancy, released through Nobrow’s 17x23 imprint, was set in the same post-apocalyptic world of Thunderpaw, populated by teenage, talking animals, and now Garbage Night, her first graphic novel, expands that story into a 72-page hardcover. It follows the same trio—Simon, a dog, Cliff, a raccoon, and Reynard, a deer—and this time they’re befriended by another dog named Barnaby as they scavenge for food in this world suddenly devoid of humans. Lee’s strong sense of design and color makes her a great choice for Nobrow who publish many of the industry’s best looking graphic novels.

6. UNCOMFORTABLY HAPPILY


Yeon-sik Hong/Drawn & Quarterly

By Yeon-sik Hong
Drawn & Quarterly

Anyone who has worked from home for an extensive length of time will see themselves in Hong’s depiction of his own struggle to create a better working environment so that he can meet his deadlines. This hefty, nearly 600-page memoir of the time he and his wife moved out of the noisy hubbub of Seoul to the quiet isolation of the South Korean countryside is unassuming, funny, heartwarming—and, at times, stressful. Hong and his wife, also an artist, escaped the city to find a quiet place to live and work but also find that rural life invites many distractions of its own. This is the first time this Korean “manhwa” will be released in the States and is translated by American cartoonist Hellen Jo.

7. VALERIAN: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION VOL. 1


Jean-Claude Méziéres/Cinebook

By Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Méziéres
Cinebook

Next month will see the release of Luc Besson’s new film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a sci-fi adventure that looks stylistically similar to his classic 1997 film The Fifth Element. That’s because Valerian is based on a French comic series (typically called Valerian & Laureline) that many American readers may not be aware of but that is a noted influence on many science fiction films like The Fifth Element and even Star Wars. It’s a space opera drawn in a humorous, cartoony style about two Earth teens serving in the Spatio-Temporal Service in the 28th century. Valerian is the square-jawed but occasionally clueless hero while Laureline starts out as simply the sidekick but over time grows to be the smarter, more capable member of the duo. These adventures began being serialized in 1967 in the French comics magazine Pilote and ran until 2010 with stories collected into various graphic albums over time. Cinebook will be publishing multiple volumes that will include some material that has never been translated before as well as a long joint interview with the creators and Besson.

8. SOUND OF SNOW FALLING


Maggie Umber/2D Cloud

By Maggie Umber
2D Cloud

Umber’s wordless, painted comic is part nature documentary, part hand-painted poetry, showing a family of great horned owls living in their natural habitat. We see the entire birth cycle of a nest of babies and a mother fiercely and lovingly protecting and nurturing them. Their nocturnal activity is depicted in scenes of murky and minimal color that force you to squint at times to make out the action. Umber, a co-founder of the boutique art-comic publisher 2D Cloud, blends her love of educational science and artistic expression with this quiet, beautiful and captivating little comic.

9. KNIFE'S EDGE (FOUR POINTS BOOK 2)


Rebecca Mock/First Second

By Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux/First Second

Book 2 of Larson and Mock’s high seas adventure picks up where the first volume left off, after twins Alex and Cleo were reunited with their long lost father. Now, after learning some startling truths about their parents, they’re off again to find a family treasure before their nemesis, the infamous pirate Felix Worley, beats them to it. Knife’s Edge is just as much of a rollicking page-turner as its predecessor, Compass South. Mock’s artwork is colorful and fluid and even reminiscent of the work of her co-creator Larson, an award-winning artist in her own right.

10. SHORTBOX #5


Rosemary Valero-O'Connell

By various
Comics & Cola

If you want to read comics from fresh, diverse, up and coming comic creators, you could do worse than follow writer Zainab Akhtar, who is not only one of the most thoughtful writers about comics but she also has great taste in comic art and an eye for new talent. Every three months, Akhtar curates a “box” of comics that she commissions from interesting new creators and sells a limited edition set of them on her website for only a 10-day period. You can pre-order her fifth set until June 30; it contains comics from a diverse array of cartoonists such as Freddy Carrasco, Nicole Miles, Rosemary, Valero-O’Connell, Jeremy Sorese, Areeba Siddique, and Afu Chan.

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Space Goat Publishing
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Comics
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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