Dark Horse Comics
Dark Horse Comics

Wednesday is New Comics Day

Dark Horse Comics
Dark Horse Comics

Every Wednesday, I highlight the five most exciting comic releases of the week. The list may include comic books, graphic novels, digital comics and webcomics. I'll even highlight some Kickstarter comics projects on occasion. There's more variety and availability in comics than there has ever been, and I hope to point out just some of the cool stuff that's out there. If there's a release you're excited about, let's talk about it in the comments.

1. The Star Wars #1

Written by J.W. Rinzler; art by Mike Mayhew; color by Rain Beredo & Brad Anderson
Dark Horse

Are you already familiar with the story of The Star Wars? The tale of the epic struggle between the Rebels and the Galactic Empire. The evil Darth Vader and the lords of the Sith. General Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi-Bendu, and his young padawan, Anniken Starkiller. The green, lizard-like star pilot, Han Solo, who speaks a strange language known as Wookiee. 

Wait a minute, what the hell is going on here?

The Star Wars is a new 8 issue mini-series adapted from George Lucas' original rough draft of the screenplay that would eventually become the film we all know (minus the "The"). While it has some obvious similarities, it also has some huge differences that make this barely recognizable to most fans. 

J. W. Rinzler has written numerous books for Lucas' licensing division, including The Making of Star Wars, which first led to him getting his hands on the original draft. In reading it, he was struck not only by how different they were from the final shooting script, but by how this version of the story could actually work on its own. Rinzler, along with Dark Horse Comics, proposed the comic book idea to Lucas and got his approval on an 8-issue mini-series. Dark Horse is in the last years of a long run producing Star Wars comics before new owner Disney/Marvel takes over. It seems in this end run they are throwing out some interesting spins on the property such as the James Bond inspired Agent of Empire, Brian Wood's new post-Episode IV stories in the simply titled Star Wars series and now this odd and unexpected book.

It's probably a testament to the durability of the appeal of Star Wars that the production of what is obviously a rejected version of the original story would cause any sort of stir. There aren't a lot of other franchises out there with fans that would clamor for something like this to get made. Plus, let's face it, there's a good chance this is going to read like a weird "Elseworlds"-style alternate universe story or a lesser Star Wars knockoff. However, for hardcore fans like myself, the existence of this book strikes a chord and brings to mind all the articles in fan magazines I used to read in the late '70s and early '80s about the making of the saga. In particular, it reminds me of the amazing paintings by the film's concept artist Ralph McQuarrie that I used to study when I was a little kid. Those paintings set the tone and look for Star Wars but it was hard not to focus on the little differences—the ideas that changed a little when they hit the big screen or never made it there at all and seemed to hint at a potential other movie in some alternate universe that we would never see.

You can read the first few pages of The Star Wars here and also check out this video trailer for the book

2. Toormina Video

By Pat Grant

Pat Grant is an Australian cartoonist whose first graphic novel, Blue, was published by Top Shelf last year. In Blue, he mixed sci-fi with autobiography  to tell a story about aliens, immigration, and the search for a dead body that pulled from experiences from his childhood (not the aliens part). Last week he published a short webcomic called Toormina Video to his website that I presume leans almost squarely into the autobiography grid of storytelling techniques. While relaying a very personal memory of his father, Grant delivers a punch to the gut for anyone reading this who has ever dedicated a substantial part of their life to a particular obsession. Cartoonists, beware. The last two panels of this comic made me want to step away from working on my own comic for a while.

Toormina Video recalls the cartoonist's relationship with his deceased father who often left him on his own while drinking at the pub. At one point he sends young Pat on a bit of a fool's errand to compile a list of movies that Pat has always wanted to see so that one day they could rent them and watch them together. The anecdotes about his father are touching—albeit familiar—tales of parental alcoholism. The way Grant wraps his comic up though is really something special and I won't say anything more about it except to say go read it here.  

3. X-men: Battle of the Atom #1

Written by Brian Michael Bendis; art by Frank Cho 
Marvel Comics

If you've been following Brian Michael Bendis' two X-men books, All New X-men and Uncanny X-men, the story that he's been telling is about to come to a head in a new event that will cross over into all the X-men titles. It begins here with the two issue mini-series X-men: Battle of the Atom.

The X-men books have been the best they have been in years thanks to the star writers Marvel has put in charge of the books (Bendis along with Jason Aaron on Wolverine & The X-men and Brian Wood on X-men). In All New X-men, Bendis has disrupted the status quo by bringing the original X-men (including the deceased Jean Grey) forward in time to the present in order to scare off a young Cyclops from turning into the killer of Professor Xavier and leader of an adversarial school of mutants. It's a nice spin on the X-men's usual dystopian future stories in which it is our present that has become the dark future which must be prevented. However, in this storyline, a new wrinkle in the timeline appears in the form of visitors from our future who are not happy about the damage that the time-hopping young X-men have wreaked on their present.

Bendis is joined by artist Frank Cho on the interiors and classic X-men cover artist Art Adams for the series covers. You can read some preview pages here.

4. Basewood

By Alec Longstreth

It took Alec Longstreth seven years to complete his graphic novel, Basewood, and he has the beard to prove it (he was clean shaven near the beginning and vowed not to shave again until it was finished). It is a fantasy about a young man with amnesia, searching for his past, who encounters magical creatures and new companions as he journeys through a mysterious forest. He has been publishing it in mini-comic installments over the years in his black and white anthology comic Phase 7 as well as on his website in webcomic form. He has garnered a lot of praise and support for it within the indie comics community and won an Ignatz Award for Outstanding Minicomic for Phase 7 back in 2005. 

Like just about every self-publishing cartoonist these days, Longstreth has taken to Kickstarter to fund the printing of his book. The Kickstarter for Basewood easily made its goal within a few days but it's not too late to support him. Many of the comics we see on Kickstarter are projects that couldn't find a publisher or maybe wisely decided they didn't need one. In the case of Basewood, Longstreth apparently had options (in fact, AdHouse Books has agreed to distribute it through Diamond Retailers as long as the book reached its goal) but chose to go it alone to get the book printed exactly the way he wanted it without having to make compromises for cost reasons. As his Kickstarter video shows, Longstreth drew each page very large and put a lot of detail into his crosshatching, details that could be lost if printed too small or at a lesser quality than is needed. Considering this has been a long undertaking for him, it's understandable he'd want to be as proud as possible with the end result.

Tagging onto the issues raised by Pat Grant's comic in #2 on this list, many people don't realize the time investment required to write, draw and produce a 200 page graphic novel. Longstreth admits that this book is the product of his entire twenties. Back when he started working on Basewood there were probably more opportunities to get signed by a publisher and of course something like Kickstarter didn't exist. Much like the character in his book—waking up in a forest, not sure where he is—Longstreth has emerged from the creation of this comic into a new publishing world that didn't exist when he started and it looks like he's going to figure it all out.

Go ahead and check out the Kickstarter page and be sure to watch the video documenting Longstreth's beard growth over time. 

5. Forever Evil #1

Written by Geoff Johns, art by David Finch and Richard Friend
DC Comics

It's hard to believe that DC Comics have not done a line-wide crossover event since the "New 52" relaunch of all their titles back in 2011. Crossovers are like crack to DC and Marvel. Their resistance was admirable but it ends today with this new seven issue miniseries that will tie into most of the main DC Universe titles. Following up from the events of the "Trinity War" storyline that ran through all three Justice League titles and wrapped up last month (we'll call that a mini-crossover event), the world believes that the Justice League is dead and the Crime Syndicate, their evil counterparts from Earth-3, have stepped in to take their place. That leaves the Justice League's greatest villains, led by Lex Luthor, to defend Earth from these invaders.

DC has gone all in with this crossover by changing the titles of this month's books to the names of the corresponding enemy of that book's hero. They're also temporarily renumbering the issues with #1s all around. Since there are so many villains to choose from, each book is getting multiple weekly villain issues in place of its usual one monthly issue. To balance it out, about two-thirds of the DC line which is not part of this villain switch is simply skipping publication this month. So, for instance, in place of Batman #23 we'll get Joker #1, Riddler #1, Penguin #1 and Bane #1 this month. Oh, and each issue will have a 3D, lenticular "Motion" cover option as well as a plain old 2D option. If you think this is all confusing, imagine what retailers had to go through to when ordering the books. It's been complicated to the say the least.

The Forever Evil series is written by DC Chief Creative Officer and regular writer of both Justice League and Justice League of America Geoff Johns and it is illustrated by Justice League of America artist David Finch. You can read a preview of it here.


Why limit myself to just listing 5 comics each week? There's so much else out there.

Batman: Black and White #1
DC's artist friendly anthology of black and white Batman short stories returns with a new volume featuring Chip Kidd, Sean Gordon Murphy, Michael Cho, Neal Adams, Chris Samnee and more. Preview it here.

DC Universe Vs. The Master of the Universe #1
Superman and the Justice League vs. He-man and the Masters of the Universe? Believe it or not, this isn't the first time these two franchises have crossed over but it has been more than 30 years since it has happened. Place your bets now on who will win each individual matchup.

God is Dead #1
The prolific writer Jonathan Hickman (currently writing two Avengers books and the Infinity mini-series for Marvel in addition to some creator-owned books for Image) launches yet another comic. This time a 6 issue mini-series for Avatar in which the old gods like Zeus and Horus return to stake their claim on Earth.

2000 AD: Prog 1848
Fan favorite Simon Bisley joins co-creator Pat Mills in returning to one of their early creations, Sláine, in this one-shot 8 page story in the latest 2000 AD magazine.

Why a Major Error in 'A Wrinkle in Time' Was Never Corrected

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time was published in 1962, and thanks to the recent release of a big-budget Disney adaptation, the book is just as popular as ever. The book has earned its status as a modern classic, but according to the Daily Beast, there's something hiding in the text of every copy that is rarely seen in titles that have enjoyed such a long print run. The book features an error that's been reprinted millions of times, and unless you read Greek, you would likely never notice it.

The mistake falls on page 59 of the new Square Fish edition that was published to tie in with the new film. On that page you'll find a quote from Mrs Who, one of the three mystical beings that guide the protagonist Meg and her companions across the universe. Because verbalizing in her own words takes a lot of energy, Mrs Who communicates strictly by quoting great writers and thinkers from history. In this case, she's quoting the playwright Euripides in his original ancient Greek. She follows it with the English translation, "Nothing is hopeless; we must hope for everything," but Greek speakers will notice that the two quotes don't match up. The original line in Greek includes words that don't make sense together or don't exist at all.

How was such a glaring error able to go unnoticed in a major work for so long? The answer is that it didn't: L'Engle was made aware of it by a friend of Greek heritage in the 1990s. According to L'Engle's granddaughter, the writer could trace the typo back to the Dictionary of Foreign Phrases and Classical Quotations, the book she pulled all of Mrs Who's quotes from. While transcribing the Euripides quote by hand she must have omitted a letter by accident. The quote was further removed from the original when the typesetter chose the Greek characters from her manuscript.

Even after hearing about the mistake, L'Engle didn't make fixing it her top priority. Instead she invested her energy into tackling other copyediting issues for the 1993 reprint, like removing all the periods from Mrs Who's, Mrs Which's, and Mrs Whatsit's names. When L'Engle died in 2007, the mangled quote was still standard in new copies of A Wrinkle in Time.

To date, only one English-language edition of the book contains the corrected quotation: the 1994 audiobook narrated by L'Engle herself. But the publishers of A Wrinkle in Time at Macmillan are apparently aware of the error, so the next printing may finally be the one that gets it right.

[h/t Daily Beast]

iStock // Heinrich Hoffmann/Keystone Features/Getty Images // collage by Jen Pinkowski
When German Scientists Tried to Rename Bats and Shrews, Hitler Threatened to Send Them to War
iStock // Heinrich Hoffmann/Keystone Features/Getty Images // collage by Jen Pinkowski
iStock // Heinrich Hoffmann/Keystone Features/Getty Images // collage by Jen Pinkowski

In The Art of Naming (The MIT Press), Michael Ohl, a biologist at the Natural History Museum of Berlin, delves into the art, science, language, and history of taxonomy. There are some 1.8 million known species—and scientists estimate that 100 million more await discovery. Every one will need a name. How does the process work? 

Ohl takes us into the field with the explorers and scientists at the forefront of naming the natural world, including Father Armand David, a French priest who was the first to describe the panda to the Western world; American paleontologists Edward Dinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, who bitterly battled in the Bone Wars; and Polish biologist Benedykt Dybowski, whose unique naming system for crustaceans called gammarids (a.k.a. "scuds") resulted in tongue-twisters such as Cancelloidokytodermogammarus (Loveninsuskytodermogammarus) loveni.

In the excerpt below, Ohl tells the story of one of the little-known footnotes to World War II: When Adolf Hitler threatened the German biologists who wanted to rename bats and shrews. And, read on for the best bat nickname of all time: "bacon mouse."

—Jen Pinkowski


On March 3, 1942, a brief item with a rather peculiar headline appeared tucked away in the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper. "Fledermaus No Longer!" the bold letters proclaimed. The following short text was printed underneath:

"At its 15th General Assembly, the German Society for Mammalogy passed a resolution to change the zoologically misleading names 'Spitzmaus' [shrew] and 'Fledermaus' [bat] to 'Spitzer' and 'Fleder.' Fleder is an old form for Flatterer [one that flutters]. The Spitzmaus, as it happens, has borne a variety of names: Spitzer [one that is pointed], Spitzlein, Spitzwicht, Spitzling. Over the course of the conference, several important lectures were held in the auditorium of the Zoologisches Museum […]."

To this day, despite the problems announced by Germany's leading specialists on mammals on the pages of one of the capital's daily papers, fledermaus and spitzmaus remain the common German names for bats and shrews. Neither dictionaries nor specialized nature guides contain entries for fleder or spitzer (provided one disregards the primary definition of spitzer, which is a "small implement used for the sharpening of pencils").

Indeed, a swift response to the item in question arrived from an unexpected source. Martin Bormann, Adolf Hitler's private secretary, sent a message on March 4, 1942, to Hans Heinrich Lammers, head of the Reich Chancellery. The missive contained remarkably unambiguous instructions from Hitler:

"In yesterday's newspapers, the Führer read an item regarding the changes of name ratified by the German Society for Mammalogy on the occasion of its 15th General Assembly. The Führer subsequently instructed me to communicate to the responsible parties, in no uncertain terms, that these changes of name are to be reversed immediately. Should members of the Society for Mammalogy have nothing more essential to the war effort or smarter to do, perhaps an extended stint in the construction battalion on the Russian front could be arranged. Should such asinine renamings occur once more, the Führer will unquestionably take appropriate measures; under no circumstance should terms that have become established over the course of many years be altered in this fashion."

There's no question that the "responsible parties" understood and responded to the injunction, which could hardly have been misinterpreted. On July 1, 1942, at least, a notice was printed in the Zoologischer Anzeiger—at that time, the "organ of the German Zoological Society"—that comprised a scant five lines. The notice has no byline and can most likely be attributed to the journal's publishers:

"Regarding the discussion [in earlier issues of the Zoologischer Anzeiger] about potential changes to the names 'Fledermaus' and 'Spitzmaus,' the Editors wish to make public that terms that have become established over the course of many years are not to be altered, following an announcement by the Reich Minister of Science, Education, and National Culture, as per the Führer's directive."

It's conceivable that Lammers forwarded Hitler's instructions (which had reached him by way of Bormann) to Bernhard Rust, the Reich Minister of Science, Education, and National Culture. Rust will then likely have ordered one of the "parties responsible" for the unpopular initiative to publish the retraction in the appropriate platform. The Zoologischer Anzeiger fit the bill, considering the fact that by 1941 it had already featured two articles debating whether the name spitzmaus should be changed.

What is the problem, though, that veteran scientists have with spitzmaus and fledermaus, those innocuous terms for the shrew and the bat? And how could it come to pass that Adolf Hitler—preoccupied as he was in 1942— should personally join in the campaign for the correct classification of these small mammals?


The common thread in these two unremarkable and familiar terms is of course the second word component, maus, or "mouse."

Fledermaus and spitzmaus … are (linguistically) first and foremost mice. By referencing certain characteristics in these compound words (fleder comes from flattern, "to flap"; spitz, or "point," refers to the shrew's pointy nose or rather head shape), it becomes possible to provide a clear name—or almost clear, at least, because there are many bat and shrew species, but more on that later.

Both names, of course, imply affiliation with mice, and that's the sticking point. In zoological terms, mice are a group of rodents known at the higher level of classification as Muroidea, "muroids" or the "mouse-like." The group includes quite the mix of animal groups, with occasionally curious names like zokor, blind mole-rat, spiny tree mouse, and Chinese pygmy dormouse, not to mention our pet hamsters and those domestic but unwelcome mice and rats. Common to all muroids are sundry and complex structural features in the skull, coupled of course with the oversized, continually growing incisors typical of rodents. Beyond that, although endless evolutionary gimmickry can revolve around this mouse theme (long or short legs, different fur colors and tail lengths, and much more), and even without biological expertise, most muroids tend to be identifiable as mice, if only vaguely.

Zoologically speaking, a mere mouse-like appearance is insufficient to denote a muroid. Instead, the specific anatomical features of the skull must be in evidence.

Field, house, and deer mice are familiar to many North Americans, although they typically live hidden away, and we don't often encounter them. These animals with the "mouse" base in their name are truly mice in the zoological sense.

The same cannot exactly be said for the bat and shrew—the fledermaus and spitzmaus—despite their names. Neither of them is even a rodent or, consequently, a muroid. Then what are they?

In the classification of mammals, a whole series of groupings is traditionally distinguished, usually assigned the rank of order within the class of mammals. Depending on scientific opinion, there are 25 to 30 of these orders of mammals. Rodents comprise one of these orders, to which muroids and several other groups of mammals belong.

Bats, meanwhile, are typical representatives of the order of flying mammals. Their scientific name is Chiroptera, from the Greek words chiros (hand) and pteros (wings). Chiroptera, then, means "hand-flier," which is a fitting name for bats and their closest relatives, flying foxes.

The systematic placement of the shrew, or spitzmaus, is determined in much the same way. They, too, fail to possess the mouse characteristics in question, although they do share traits with moles and hedgehogs, as well as with the solenodon (meaning "slotted tooth"), which is a venomous critter native exclusively to the Caribbean islands. They are now situated under the wondrous designation Eulipotyphla, but only since 1999. How they are related—along with ties to an array of other mammal families, such as tenrecs, desmans, and golden moles—has not been conclusively explained.

Experts have known for a long time—since Linnaeus's Systema Naturae at the latest—that neither bats nor shrews are related to mice, to which common parlance pays no heed. The fledermaus and spitzmaus comfortably maintain their spots in the lexicon.


One of the first mammal biologists to campaign for the standardization of German mammal names was Hermann Pohle. Born in Berlin in 1892, Pohle remained faithful to the city until his death and spent a large part of his life working at the natural history museum there. His career as a mammal biologist started early, when as a university student he worked as an unpaid hireling in the museum's famed mammal collection. Through diligence, endurance, and scientific acumen, he worked his way up to head curator of mammals. He thus held one of the most influential positions, of both national and international significance, in the field of systematic mammal research.

In 1926, Pohle—along with Ludwig Heck, the former director of the Berlin Zoo, and a number of other colleagues—founded the German Society for Mammalogy, of which he was the first head. Pohle thus had his finger on the pulse of mammal research, as it were, and he followed the history of the society over the next five decades "with keen interest," as one biographer noted.

In addition to his work as a researcher and curator of the mammal collection at Berlin's Museum für Naturkunde (Museum of Natural History), Pohle's interests also lay with German mammal names. Not only did he push for standardization of names, Pohle also campaigned to have existing names assessed for scientific plausibility and changed, should they not pass (his) zoological muster.

In 1942, Pohle published a summary article addressing the question, "How many species of mammals live in Germany?" He appended a comprehensive list of all German mammals, each with its correct "technical name," as Pohle called it, as well as its corresponding German name. When it came to the various species of spitzmaus (of which the Germans have eight, incidentally, despite the long-standing impression that there is "the" one and only shrew) and the 16 species of bats that have the base word "fledermaus" in their name, Pohle consistently uses alternative terms. The eight shrew species thus became waldspitzer, zwergspitzer, alpenspitzer, wasserspitzer, mittelspitzer, feldspitzer, gartenspitzer, and hausspitzer. For the bats, the base of their compound name was changed to fleder: teichfleder, langfußfleder, wasserfleder, and so on, all the way to a term of particular elegance, wimperfleder.

Pohle's article, which predates the society's 15th General Assembly and Hitler's emotional veto by more than a year, is a particularly interesting source because he also shares his actual motivations for the suggested changes. His emphatic objective is to see "the term 'Maus' disappear, responsible as it is for laypersons' wont to lump the animals together with actual mice."

In the estimation of these laypersons, mice are something "ugly and destructive that must be fought, or ideally exterminated." Shrews and bats, harmless as they are to humans, are thus subject to the same brutal fate. Pohle hopes for a "shift in perspective" to occur, once the endangered animals are no longer referred to as mice.

What to do, then? Pohle would prefer the term spitz for spitzmaus, but it's already been assigned to a dog breed. Rüssler could also work, only it already applies to some other insectivore. That leaves spitzer, a name that emphasizes the pointy head as a distinguishing characteristic and is still available.

Pohle wants a name for bats without "maus" but happily with a nod to the animals' flying ability. Most names of this kind are already employed for birds, and "flatterer" or "flutterer" could only logically be used for a certain population of bats, namely, those bad at flying. "Flieger" or "flyer," another hot candidate, is also in use by various other animal groups.

But why, Pohle asks the reader, would one even need to say "fledermaus," when "fleder" actually makes perfect sense? Pohle mentions that the original meaning of "fleder" was different, but few people were aware of this fact anymore.

On the off chance that he was correct in this assessment, let it be noted that fledermaus can be traced back to the 10th century, to the Old High German "vledern" or "flattern" (the infinitive form of "flatterer"). The image of the bat as a "fluttering mouse" has existed since this time in many languages, including "flittermouse" in English. A number of other German terms exist for bats. In some regions of Germany, such as Rhineland-Palatinate and Southern Hesse, the Old High German "fledarmus" is said to have been used to describe nocturnal creatures, such as moths. There, bats were apparently called "speckmaus," instead of fledermaus, because while hibernating, they could be seen hanging like pieces of bacon (speck) in the smoke.

Pohle's dedication to promoting the protection of bats and shrews through a bold name change reached its temporary culmination a year later, when—at the 15th General Assembly of the German Society for Mammalogy in Berlin—a resolution was passed on a universal and binding adoption of the spitzer- and fleder-based names Pohle had suggested. The results are known: Hitler was not amused.


We can only guess at what Hitler's actual motive was in issuing such drastic threats to prevent the name alterations proposed by the German Society for Mammalogy. It could have been his outrage that in 1942—hard times because of the war—leading German intellectuals were concerned with something so unimportant and banal as the appropriateness of animal names. Perhaps this anecdote is just a further example of Hitler's hostility toward intellectuals.

It is ultimately unclear, even, to what extent Hitler was the driving force behind this directive or whether this is a case of subordinates "working towards the Führer," as historian Ian Kershaw describes it. Conceivably, after reading the Berliner Morgenpost, Hitler may have remarked negatively regarding the zoologists' plans. His circle—in this case, Bormann—may have immediately interpreted this as "the Führer's will" and sprung to action accordingly. As for Pohle and his colleagues, it can't have mattered much whether the "invitation" to the Eastern Front came directly from Hitler or was communicated in an act of premature obedience.

Whatever the case may be, Pohle's suggested name changes did not fail because of Hitler's intervention, which presumably resonated as little with the German-speaking public as the original notice. Pohle failed because he wanted to take the basic idea of a standardized naming system out of the scientific context and transfer it into the realm of vernacular. Everyday German is not formally and officially regulated, and like every other vernacular, it follows different rules than scientific speech. It is shaped by a multitude of factors and influences that have their own unpredictable dynamic, which leads to some word usages changing while others stabilize.

In kindergarten, we learn that small, furry four-legged animals with a tail are "mice." This act of naming fulfills the exact function expected of it. It "tags" specific linguistic content—a meaning—that is generally understood. The difference between muroids and insectivores, which is important to zoologists, has no application in everyday confrontations with "mouse-like" animals and makes no difference to most people. A mouse is a mouse, whether a striped field mouse or a shrew.


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