Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics

Wednesday is New Comics Day

Marvel Comics
Marvel 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. Mighty Avengers #1

Written by Al Ewing; art by Greg Land, Jay Leisten and Frank D'Armata
Marvel Comics

Fifty years and a day after the very first issue of Marvel Comics' The Avengers and spinning out of the events of the recent Infinity crossover event, comes a new volume of Mighty Avengers featuring a new, more racially diverse team than we've ever seen in a major Marvel book. Granted, the team that Jonathan Hickman has assembled over in the main Avengers title has added a number of women and "superheroes of color" to the roster, but here we have a team that is comprised mostly of African American and Hispanic heroes with just a couple of white characters rather than the other way around. On this new team, we see heroes like Luke Cage (formerly known as Power Man), Monica Rambeau (formerly Captain Marvel and now using the name Spectrum), a new Power Man (Victor Alvarez, empowered by "the spiritual ferocity of five boroughs"), White Tiger (Ava Ayala, the first Puero Rican superhero), and The Falcon (Sam Wilson, longtime Avenger and sometimes partner to Captain America). Filling out the ranks is She-Hulk, Spider-man (who, if you've been following the Superior Spider-man comic, is actually Spidey's old nemesis Doctor Octopus in the body of Peter Parker) and a mysterious character wearing a garish Spider-man Halloween costume.

With the regular Avengers team lost on the other end of the universe and Thanos taking advantage of their absence to attack Earth, this new Avengers team forms to hold back the invasion. However, this first issue introduces us to these new characters as they're mostly fighting B- and C-list villains which sets them up as more of a rag-tag, street-level team of heroes. This isn't too far removed from what Brian Michael Bendis used the the New Avengers comic for during his run which also included Luke Cage and Spider-man. That said, their first mission is to take on the most cosmic of all villains, Thanos, and characters like Spectrum are pretty up there in terms of power levels compared to most other superheroes.

There are a number of reasons for people to get excited. Certainly, we haven't really seen a major team book from either Marvel or DC with a cast of characters that is this racially diverse but also with the balance of diversity leaning away from the white, male heroes. There's also the inclusion of some real fan favorite characters like Cage but especially Monica Rambeau who has been an underused character since Warren Ellis brought her off the shelf to be the team leader for his Nextwave series in 2006. Also, British writer Al Ewing has done a number of highly regarded stories for 2000 AD and Judge Dredd and his fans have been waiting for him to finally get a shot at a major superhero comic. Early word on this book says he knocks it out of the park. You can read a preview here.


By Jeff Smith; color by Steve Hamaker
Cartoon Books

RASL is Jeff Smith's post-Bone graphic novel which he began releasing in black and white, 32-page installments back in 2008. Bone, one of the most cherished and influential all-ages fantasy comics of our time, was completed in 2004 and made Smith into the kind of creator whose next move everyone would be anticipating. Like many artists who become associated with a particular, highly successful individual work, Smith decided to push away from certain aspects of Bone with his new book, notably making it a story geared more towards adult readers.

A dark, noirish tale about an inter-dimensional art thief, RASL deals with heavy sci-fi topics like string theory, parallel universes and the works of Nikola Tesla. It also treads in violence and sex, making it a definite departure from the Scholastic-friendly work Smith is known for. After studying the physics of string theory and spending two weeks out in the desert of the American Southwest back in 2000, he developed the idea that would become RASL, a work that would take him most of the next decade to complete. 

Now, for the first time, RASL is being published in one complete edition, but it is also appearing in color for the first time. Much like Bone, which was initially published in black and white and eventually released in successful color editions, Smith has brought in colorist Steve Hamaker to add a new level of richness to his line work. RASL has won numerous awards and has garnered glowing reviews during its serialized run. Now, it can finally stand alone on a book shelf as Smith's next great completed work.

You can see a 10 page preview of the full color pages here.

3. Boxers & Saints

By Gene Luen Yang
First Second

Boxers and Saints is a set of two separate graphic novels that tell two sides of the same story. They can be bought separately or together in a slipcase edition but each stands on its own. Set during the Boxer Rebellion in late 19th century China, both stories look at the conflict between Chinese villagers and Western Christian missionaries. Boxers focuses on a young boy named Bao whose village is destroyed by Western invaders and joins the uprising against them. In Saints, a young girl named Vibiana is taken in by the missionaries and finds herself caught between her loyalties to Christianity and to her native land.

Both books are written and illustrated by Gene Luen Yang, the award-winning creator of 2006's American Born Chinese which also used overlapping and connected narratives, albeit in a different approach. Yang became a big star in the "bookstore comics" world after the success of American which has since been used in schools to help struggling and disabled readers find ways to relate personally to books. Yang has been very active in advocating for the use of graphic novels as teaching tools and this book, with its historical perspective and themes involving young persons finding their place in their own world, will surely be considered another potential resource for instructors.

You can see more about these two books here.

4. The Best of Milligan & McCarthy

By Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy
Dark Horse

The creative partnership of writer Peter Milligan and artist Brendan McCarthy produced some of the craziest, psychedelic, thought-provoking and ultimately influential comics of the 1980s that most people have probably never read. Dark Horse is now collecting a number of their comics, many long out of print and one that was immediately banned upon release, in this new hardcover collection.

Milligan is pretty active in the American comics scene these days, most recently writing Red Lantern and Justice League Dark for DC. He's perhaps best known for his run on Marvel's X-Statix in the early 2000s or his Vertigo series Shade The Changing Man in the '90s. His American comics always have a strange, satirical edge to them but his early comics for 2000 AD and Eclipse are just plain out there and weird. Especially when he was collaborating with McCarthy whose hallucinatory layouts and overactive imagination made for some hard to comprehend but downright intriguing comics.

The work collected here includes: Paradax, a superhero story, of sorts, about a man who can walk through walls and objects while wearing a bright, yellow spandex suit; Rogan Gosh, a mind-bending story of "Indian science fiction"; Freakwave, a post-apocalpytic tale where the world is submerged by water (a story that Milligan and McCarthy shopped around to Hollywood at one point only to later see a very similar story appear in the form of Kevin Costner's Waterworld); and Skin a story about a thalidomide baby turned skinhead that the book's original publisher found too disturbing to actually print.

You can see more about this book and read a preview of Paradax here.

5. S.H.I.E.L.D. by Steranko: The Complete Collection

By Jim Steranko and various
Marvel Comics

Continuing the theme of rare psychedelic comics becoming more readily available, Jim Steranko's classic run from the late '60s on Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as the run on Strange Tales that started it all, is being collected together for the first time in S.H.I.E.L.D by Steranko: The Complete Collection. With Marvel's new S.H.I.E.L.D TV show about to air this month, we're likely to see a flood of the market with related bookstore merchandise. However, these comics probably bear little resemblance to what Joss Whedon will be doing on that series. Instead, they stand as a treasury of the early groundbreaking work of one of Marvel Comic's most interesting creators.

Jim Steranko is the comics world's own Most Interesting Man. If you follow him on Twitter (@iamsteranko) he tends to hop on late at night and regale his followers with incredible, multiple-tweet tales about his early days as an illusionist and escape artist or the time he "bitch-slapped" Batman creator (or credit-stealer, if you will) Bob Kane. Back in 1968, he was working in advertising and moonlighting at Marvel when he took WWII character Sgt. Nick Fury and brought him into the future as a James Bond-style secret agent. Steranko was one of the few auters working at Marvel in those days where he wrote and drew his own stories and was mostly left alone enough by the publisher to try new things in sequential storytelling. He used photographic backgrounds, psychedelic patterns and designs, unexpected wordless scenes (pretty unfashionable in comics at the time) and even a sequence extended to a 4-page spread (the first time this had probably been done in comics). His work on this series is considered some of the finest comics of its era and has enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity, particularly among comic book artists and designers who still find themselves influenced by the visual tricks Steranko performed here.


Kings Watch #1
Jeff Parker and Marc Laming bring together Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician and the Phantom for this new book from Dynamite. Parker (recently named the new writer for Aquaman) is everywhere these days and artist Marc Laming is a star on the rise. His detailed, realistic style is the kind of thing most fans of superhero and genre comics just eat up. Some preview images are here.

Heroic Tales: The Bill Everett Archives
Another one of these collections devoted to one particular artist from the early days of comics. This one is all Bill Everett, creator of the Sub-Mariner and co-creator of Daredevil. This reprints a number of rarities from the '30s and '40s that have never been reprinted before. Preview it here.

Cyborg 009
The original Cyborg 009 was a 1960s manga series by Shotaro Ishinomori that was recently redistributed on Comixology's platform. This new series is a Western adaptation of the material for Archaia by F.J. DeSanto, Bradley Cramp and Marcus To. It's about a team of 9 heroes turned into cyborgs who rebel against the nefarious arms dealer who created them. An interview with the creators and some preview images are here.

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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