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Becky Cloonan/DC Comics
Becky Cloonan/DC Comics

The 9 Most Interesting Comics of July

Becky Cloonan/DC Comics
Becky Cloonan/DC Comics

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

1. SHADE THE CHANGING GIRL VOL. 1: EARTH GIRL MADE EASY

By Cecil Castellucci, Marley Zarcone, Ande Parks, Ryan Kelly and Kelly Fitzpatrick
DC Comics Young Animal

Shade the Changing Girl
Marley Zarcone/DC Comics

 
While Gerard Way’s Doom Patrol is the headline act of DC’s new Young Animal imprint, the surprise hit has been Shade the Changing Girl, a modern, gender-swapped sequel of sorts to early DC Vertigo classic Shade the Changing Man, which itself was a re-imagining of a Steve Ditko creation from the 1970s. The Shade of this series is Loma Shade, an alien from the planet Meta who dumps her boyfriend and steals a “madness coat” that transports her to Earth and into the body of comatose teenage “mean girl” Megan Boyer. Loma is an Earth fan girl who is delighted to get to live in the culture she learned about from the radio transmissions of a 1950s TV show called Life with Honey, but 21st century Earth is not what Loma expected, and the reappearance of Megan puts a cramp in the style of a lot of people in her life that weren't expecting her back. Marley Zarcone’s psychedelic art and Cecil Castellucci’s knack for realistic teenage dialogue make this one of the freshest, most singular and interesting books of the year.

2. KAIJUMAX SEASON 3 #1

By Zander Cannon
Oni Press

Kaijumax
Zander Cannon/Oni Press

The beginning of the new “season” of Kaijumax follows on the large, scaly heels of season 2’s trade collection released last month. Zander Cannon’s smart prison satire may have started as a joke concept—Oz with goofy, rubber-suit-looking Kaiju monsters—but has turned out to be a surprisingly emotional read. Season 2 amped up the emotion when it moved off the giant-sized island prison to explore the lives of the human cops as well as the tragic post-prison lives of a parolee and an escapee. Season 3 returns to the prison, but looks as if it will retain that poignant, character-driven drama. This first issue focuses on a character who has become a fan favorite—the giant, sad goat monster known as the Creature from Devil’s Creek. Kaiju and obscure monster film aficionados will delight at the many references in this series, but anyone who appreciates a good prison drama will appreciate how well Cannon translates it to this unexpected setting. Despite the cute looking drawings, though, parents should be aware that this is not for kids.

3. THE WENDY PROJECT

By Melissa Jane Osborne and Veronica Fish
Super Genius/Papercutz  

The Wendy Project
Veronica Fish

In her first graphic novel, newcomer Melissa Jane Osborne uses art and J.M. Barrie’s classic Peter Pan as a storytelling device to explore how children cope with loss. The Wendy of this book, a teenager from a New England suburb, is the actual star of this story, rather than Peter, who is more like a rakishly handsome Charon, ferrying souls to the otherworldly Neverland. When she crashes her car into a lake with her two brothers in the back seat, the youngest, Michael, does not survive. To deal with her feelings about this tragedy, Wendy’s therapist gives her a sketchbook, which becomes the visual motif for artist Veronica Fish’s gorgeous art. While Osborne has written a touching and contemplative work, Fish has turned it into career-making work. Her use of vibrant splashes of color amidst mostly black and white sketches represents pieces of Neverland that work their way into Wendy’s reality, making this book feel as magical as it is melancholy.

4. BY CHANCE OR PROVIDENCE

By Becky Cloonan with Lee Loughridge
Image Comics

By Chance or Providence
Becky Cloonan/Image Comics

Back in 2011, Becky Cloonan began self-publishing what would become a trilogy of mini-comics—“Wolves,” “The Mire,” and “Demeter”—that would change the trajectory of her career from being a popular comics penciler to a writer/artist powerhouse and a self-publishing pioneer. While her mini-comics had just a limited print run, she managed to have the digital editions included in the launch of Comixology’s Submit platform for self-publishers where they became some of the most popular comics in the early days of that program. Now, for the first time, those three stories are being collected and released in wide print distribution with added colors by veteran colorist Lee Loughridge. Each story is a moody, sexy yet understated piece of supernatural fantasy with eerie twists that feel straight out of a classic EC horror comic.

5. MOONSTRUCK #1

By Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle, Kate Leth
Image Comics

Moonstruck
Shae Beagle

Fans and comic book sellers alike are hungry for more books like the wildly popular summer camp adventure Lumberjanes. Well, you can’t ask for better than a new comic from one of its creators that’s full of werewolves, gorgons, centaurs and more. Writer Grace Ellis brings a lot of Lumberjane’s progressive, girl-friendly and LGBTQ-friendly vibe to this new series about a couple of baristas in a world where everyone is part human, part mythological creature. Newcomer Shae Beagle’s comedic, animation-inspired art style should appeal to the teen and young adult readers this is made to please.

6. THE AMERICAN WAY: THOSE ABOVE AND THOSE BELOW #1

By John Ridley, Georges Jeanty, Danny Miki and Nick Filardi
DC Vertigo

The American Way
Georges Jeanty/DC Comics

Writer John Ridley returns to comics after a 10-year break during which he won an Academy Award for his screenplay for 12 Years A Slave and created the critically acclaimed television series American Crime. Specifically, he’s returning to The American Way, a comic mini-series he wrote in 2007 about a government-sponsored group of actors in the 1960s hired to fool the public into thinking they are real superheroes. When the government introduced The New American, an African-American with actual superpowers, into the group, it sparked racial strife among both the team and the public. In this new sequel, The New American and his colleagues have gone in separate directions and are caught up in the tumultuous political backdrop of the 1970s. Ridley, who is once again joined by artist Georges Jeanty, deals with racial violence, domestic terrorism, and the rising drug problem in America in this new series.

7. IMMORTAL IRON FISTS #1

By Kaare Andrews, Afu Chan and Shelly Chen
Marvel Comics

Immortal Iron Fists
Afu Chan/Marvel Comics

Back in May, Marvel gave a big boost to Comixology’s Unlimited subscription service by adding a portion of their catalog where readers can have “unlimited” access to those and a selection of titles from other publishers for $5.99 a month. Now, they are partnering with the service to produce exclusive content, free with an Unlimited subscription, beginning with this six-part series. Kaare Andrews recently completed a run as writer and artist on the solo Iron Fist title in which he introduced a pre-teen girl named Pei as the latest inheritor of the Iron Fist power. Now Andrews returns to continue Pei’s story, accompanied by up-and-coming artist Afu Chan. Danny Rand has brought Pei to New York from her devastated other dimensional home of K’un Lun to train her in the ways of the Iron Fist by making her face the most daunting challenge he can imagine: the NYC public school system. Andrews and Chan show a great knack for funny, human moments amidst all the dynamic kung fu action here.

8. SOLID STATE

By Jonathan Coulton, Matt Fraction and Albert Monteys
Image Comics

Solid State
Albert Monteys/Image Comics

Singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton, known for writing folk-rock songs about internet and geek culture, recently released a concept album called Solid State. To accompany the album, he has written his first graphic novel of the same name, a sci-fi black comedy about technology, social media, privacy and the collapse of civilization. It is notable for Coulton’s choice in collaborators: Matt Fraction, the superstar writer of Sex Criminals and Satellite Sam, helps craft the story idea into a comic-ready script while Albert Monteys, the Spanish artist currently producing an astounding creator-owned comic called Universe for Brian K. Vaughan’s Panel Syndicate really makes it come alive. Hopefully, the star power of the two writers will result in some new readers discovering Monteys’ bright, colorful and fun artwork.

9. DUCK TALES #0

By Joe Caramagna, Paolo Campinoti, Gianfranco Florio, Andrea Greppi and Roberta Zanotta
IDW Publishing

Duck Tales
Paolo Campinoti/IDW Publishing

In advance of the Disney Channel’s new highly anticipated update of the popular ‘90s animated series Duck Tales comes a new comic that matches the modern, visual style of the new cartoon. This issue #0 is a preview of the new comic series which launches later this summer to coincide with the TV show and contains two stories both featuring Donald and his nephews, Huey, Duey and Louie. Even though Disney now owns Marvel Comics, IDW has been in charge of producing comics featuring characters like Mickey Mouse and Uncle Scrooge, who, along with Donald and the boys, have a long treasured history in comics thanks to the groundbreaking work of creators like Carl Barks and Don Rosa.

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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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