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First Second

5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

First Second
First Second

Every Wednesday, I preview the 5 most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, Comixology, Kickstarter and the web. If there's a release you're excited about, let's talk about it in the comments.

1. Battling Boy

By Paul Pope
First Second

One of the most anticipated books of the year (years even, since this is arriving later than many had expected) is the first volume of Paul Pope's sci-fi epic Battling Boy. Set on an alternate earth, monsters are overrunning the sprawling city of Arcopolis, stealing children and eating automobiles. The only hope Arcopolis has is their Batman-like vigilante science hero, Haggard West. Except that Haggard West is now dead and that hope now rests in a 12-year old boy.

Paul Pope is one of the comic industry's rare rock stars. He is adored by indie and mainstream fans alike—at least since his award-winning 2006 graphic novel Batman Year: 100 put him on many people's radar. One of the reasons' Battling Boy has been so delayed is that Pope has gotten himself involved in the movie business, including writing a potential film adaptation for Brad Pitt's production company of this very book even though he hadn't yet finished writing the book itself.

Most people will find it was worth the wait, though, as it pulls together many of the elements we love about Pope's work while being a little more all-ages-friendly than most of his previous books. Pope is one of the great sci-fi cartoonists working today. He has a loose, sexy and inimitable way of drawing comics that looks like what would happen if Hugo Pratt or, heck, Egon Schiele had created DC's Fourth World. He mixes a European sense of sci-fi scale and landscape with early 20th century gadgetry and clothing styles and a Japanese feel for action and storytelling to create a very American story of superheroes and overcoming insurmountable odds. 

The titular Battling Boy is going through a rite of passage and is sent by his demigod father to complete the Herculean challenge of saving this world. He comes with a suitcase of goodies to help him along, including a set of printed T-shirts that embody him with the power of whatever animal is depicted on its front (i.e., a Tyrannosaurus Rex). Despite this, Battling Boy is in over his head when it comes to fighting these monsters, and that's a secret he wants to keep from the people of Arcopolis who want him to be their new Haggard West. Battling Boy looks like a typical Pope protagonist with his tousled hair and skinny jeans, but he's also a straight-out-of manga, monster-fighting boy hero. However, the more compelling character of the book may be Haggard West's teenage daughter, Aurora, left behind by her father's death to make sense of his secret lair and all its weapons. I imagine she'll become even more central to the story in the book's sequel. 

Battling Boy is out today and you can read a preview here.

2. The Nib



Edited by Matt Bors
Medium

Medium is the newest social media/blogging project from Evan Williams, the man who brought us Blogger and Twitter. It is basically a blogging platform with many of Twitter's successful aspects built into it: a central feed of incoming content, easy sharing of that content, and a growing user base of smart, thoughtful people creating the content. If you haven't heard of it or read anything on it yet, you probably will soon. It has begun to get a lot of attention across social media due to both the high quality of some of the articles and some controversy surrounding a few of the lower quality ones. It is considered to be revitalizing the nature of blogging, but it also is considered a potential avenue to follow for the online publishing industry. While Medium has been invite-only during its roll out, it has also been paying for a certain percentage of its content, in some cases without making that completely clear to the readers.

That brings us to The Nib, a new section of Medium that launched a few weeks back that falls into the paid content category and is openly promoted as such. Cartoonist Matt Bors (who I've previously written about here) was hired by Medium as a full-time cartoonist to create editorial cartoons but to also hire other cartoonists to contribute their own work to the section. Bors so far has curated a collection of primarily Progressive editorial pieces that include: political cartoons about subjects such as Syria and drone warfare; a tongue-in-cheek info graphic about MillennialsBill Roundy's cartoon about being gay and dating transgender men, and Molly Crabapple's illustrated account of visiting the prison in Gitmo. Many of the contributors are familiar names in political and editorial cartooning like Ted Rall, Susie Cagle and Brian McFadden. 

As many alt-weeklies are folding across the country and editorial cartoonists are finding it harder and harder to make a living in this field, Bors and Medium have suddenly come along with a new and promising outlet for this type of political-minded comics.

Browse through the list of offerings on The Nib and, while you're at it, admire that nice logo graphic designed by comic artist Jim Rugg.


3. Superman/Wonder Woman #1


Written by Charles Soule; art by Tony Daniel
DC Comics

It's easy for me to lose sight of whether or not civilians (people, unlike me, who don't keep up with the ins and outs of comics) are aware of the fact that since DC Comics rebooted their publishing universe as "The New 52" a couple of years ago, Superman and Wonder Woman have been a couple. It got a lot of mainstream press at the time and has been controversial among fans (particularly Wonder Woman fans who are understandably wary of a feminist icon being relegated to girlfriend status). Having not kept up recently on either character's books, I briefly forgot about this romantic hook up, myself, even though it may be the biggest change they've introduced to these characters in a long time

In the new ongoing Superman/Wonder Woman, Charles Soule, a new addition to the DC stable of writers, along with veteran artist Tony Daniel, explores the romance between these two iconic heroes. In this new rebooted universe, only a few years have passed since the Justice League came into being, so not only is this romance a new thing but these versions of Superman and Wonder Woman actually don't have much of a shared history together. This book will take the opportunity to show them getting to know each other as well as each's supporting cast and family. Somewhat disappointingly, to me at least, the romance and relationship will often be treated as a subplot to the superhero business that has to go on in this type of book. In the first issue, we see the first introduction of the "New 52" Doomsday, the villain that once killed Superman back in the classic 1990's event "Death of Superman." So think of it as a team-up book with the fighting occasionally broken up by a discussion of feelings.

DC seems to be trademarking the "/" as a way of denoting team up books, particularly in regards to Superman. This book comes on the heels of Batman/Superman which looks to explore the often adversarial relationship between those two characters. The use of the "/", especially in the previous book, makes some people chuckle at the probably unintentional reference to "slash fiction." With this book at least, any romantic overtones are indeed intentional.

4. Pulp


Written by Jeremy Holt; art by Chris Peterson
Self-published

Jeremy Holt and Chris Peterson recently released a 24 page comic, called Pulp, that they're selling in PDF form through the Gumroad shopping cart service that many self-publishers have taken to in order to easily and painlessly sell DRM-free digital comics. They're even going with the "pay what you want" model popularized by everyone from Louis CK to Brian K. Vaughan. For digital comics, selling through a service like Gumroad is becoming a nice alternative to Comixology that definitely has a number of pros and cons compared to that service.

However, the reason I mention Pulp is because it is a very good comic that will be well worth whatever you choose to pay for it. As the name indicates, it has a noir slant to it and a deliciously bleak twist ending that harkens back to the pre-Comics Code short stories from EC Comics. It is also a commentary on writing and the pains of trying to get published that makes Holt and Peterson's route for self-publishing all the more important to the theme of the story.

Since I don't want to give too much away about the plot and its twist, I'll just say that it is about a writer, holed up in a house in the snowy woods, working on his latest novel. The scenes of him writing are interspersed with scenes of him meeting at the offices of his publisher. The writer is visited multiple times by a mysterious woman who appears to be his publisher's secretary from the scenes in the office. By the time we get to the end and see what's really going on, you'll probably want to go back and re-read it.

Holt and Peterson have both been self-publishing comics and working for smaller publishers. Peterson, especially, stands out here with some expressive brush work and great use of two colors—blue and yellow—to differentiate time and place as scenes intercut back and forth.

Go here, read a quick preview and then pay what you want for Pulp.

5. Rocket Girl #1


Written by Brandon Montclaire; art by Amy Reeder
Image Comics

Rocket Girl began its life as a successful Kickstarter earlier this year with funds going towards printing and production costs for the initial 5-issue story arc for a planned ongoing series. Image Comics, the popular publisher for creator-owned genre works, stepped in to distribute the series and now the first issue is hitting stores this week.

The hero of the story, Rocket Girl, is a teenage police officer from an alternate 2013 that is sent back to 1986 to investigate "crimes against time" committed by a megacorporation called Quintum Mechanics. Her investigation soon leads her to realize that her 2013 should not even exist.

Amy Reeder draws the book and co-created it with writer Brandon Montclaire, with whom she previously collaborated on another creation called Halloween Eve. She has done a variety of work for DC Comics, most notably on Madame Xanadu for which she was nominated for an Eisner, and an ill-fated run on Batwoman that ended abruptly due to stated "creative differences". With surprisingly few female artists working in the superhero and sci-fi genre for the bigger publishers, Reeder is developing a successful career with her own projects like this one. Her work is dynamic and stylish and with this book she gets to show off not only her ability to draw future tech but her ability to capture the essence of the '80s.

Read a preview of Rocket Girl here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

The Shaolin Cowboy Vol. 2 #1
Geof Darrow's ultra-violent, insanely detailed art fest, which began way back in the mid-2000s when the Wachowskis briefly had their own comic book company, returns this time from Dark Horse. Read a preview and marvel at the line work.

Three #1
Another new book from Image plays off the story of 300, as Kireon Gillen and Ryan Kelly tell the story of three slaves trying to escape the Spartan army. Preview here.

God Hates Astronauts Vol. 1
Another Kickstarter success story brought to Image Comics. Ryan Browne's absurdist satire of superheroes, NASA and other things is a cult favorite. Info here.

Mind Mgmt Vol. 2
Matt Kindt's excellent series about a shadowy agency and the mind-manipulating people that once worked for them is collected in a second volume here.  Here's a preview.

SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION

The second volume of my own graphic novel, Nathan Sorry, comes out on Comixology today. You can read all about it and buy volumes 1 and 2 here.

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10 Things We Know About The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2
Hulu
Hulu

Though Hulu has been producing original content for more than five years now, 2017 turned out to be a banner year for the streaming network with the debut of The Handmaid’s Tale on April 26, 2017. The dystopian drama, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 book, imagines a future in which a theocratic regime known as Gilead has taken over the United States and enslaved fertile women so that the group’s most powerful couples can procreate.

If it all sounds rather bleak, that’s because it is—but it’s also one of the most impressive new series to arrive in years (as evidenced by the slew of awards it has won, including eight Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards). Fortunately, fans left wanting more don’t have that much longer to wait, as season two will premiere on Hulu in April. In the meantime, here’s everything we know about The Handmaid’s Tale’s second season.

1. IT WILL PREMIERE WITH TWO EPISODES.

When The Handmaid’s Tale returns on April 25, 2018, Hulu will release the first two of its 13 new episodes on premiere night, then drop another new episode every Wednesday.

2. MARGARET ATWOOD WILL CONTINUE TO HELP SHAPE THE NARRATIVE.

Fans of Atwood’s novel who didn’t like that season one went beyond the original source material are in for some more disappointment in season two, as the narrative will again go beyond the scope of what Atwood covered. But creator/showrunner Bruce Miller doesn’t necessarily agree with the criticism they received in season one.

“People talk about how we're beyond the book, but we're not really," Miller told Newsweek. "The book starts, then jumps 200 years with an academic discussion at the end of it, about what's happened in those intervening 200 years. We're not going beyond the novel. We're just covering territory [Atwood] covered quickly, a bit more slowly.”

Even more importantly, Miller's got Atwood on his side. The author serves as a consulting producer on the show, and the title isn’t an honorary one. For Miller, Atwood’s input is essential to shaping the show, particularly as it veers off into new territories. And they were already thinking about season two while shooting season one. “Margaret and I had started to talk about the shape of season two halfway through the first [season],” he told Entertainment Weekly.

In fact, Miller said that when he first began working on the show, he sketched out a full 10 seasons worth of storylines. “That’s what you have to do when you’re taking on a project like this,” he said.

3. MOTHERHOOD WILL BE A CENTRAL THEME.

As with season one, motherhood is a key theme in the series. And June/Offred’s pregnancy will be one of the main plotlines. “So much of [Season 2] is about motherhood,” Elisabeth Moss said during the Television Critics Association press tour. “Bruce and I always talked about the impending birth of this child that’s growing inside her as a bit of a ticking time bomb, and the complications of that are really wonderful to explore. It’s a wonderful thing to have a baby, but she’s having it potentially in this world that she may not want to bring it into. And then, you know, if she does have the baby, the baby gets taken away from her and she can’t be its mother. So, obviously, it’s very complicated and makes for good drama. But, it’s a very big part of this season, and it gets bigger and bigger as the show goes on.”

4. THE RESISTANCE IS COMING.

Just because June is pregnant, don’t expect her to sit on the sidelines as the resistance to Gilead continues. “There is more than one way to resist," Moss said. “There is resistance within [June], and that is a big part of this season.”

5. WE’LL GET TO SEE THE COLONIES.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

Miller, understandably, isn’t eager to share too many details about the new season. “I’m not being cagey!” he swore to Entertainment Weekly. “I just want the viewers to experience it for themselves!” What he did confirm is that the new season will bring us to the colonies—reportedly in episode two—and show what life is like for those who have been sent there.

It will also delve further into what life is like for the refugees who managed to escape Gilead, like Luke and Moira.

6. MARISA TOMEI WILL APPEAR IN AN EPISODE.

Though she won’t be a regular cast member, Miller recently announced that Oscar winner Marisa Tomei will make a guest appearance in the new season’s second episode. Yes, the one that will show us the Colonies. In fact, that’s where we’ll meet her; Tomei is playing the wife of a Commander.

7. WE’LL LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF GILEAD.

As a group shrouded in secrecy, we still don’t know much about how and where Gilead began. That will change a bit in season two. When discussing some of the questions viewers will have answered, executive producer Warren Littlefield promised that, "How did Gilead come about? How did this happen?” would be two of them. “We get to follow the historical creation of this world,” he said.

8. THERE WILL BE AT LEAST ONE HANDMAID FUNERAL.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

While Miller wouldn’t talk about who the handmaids are mourning in a teaser shot from season two that shows a handmaid’s funeral, he was excited to talk about creating the look for the scene. “Everything from the design of their costumes to the way they look is so chilling,” Miller told Entertainment Weekly. “These scenes that are so beautiful, while set in such a terrible place, provide the kind of contrast that makes me happy.”

9. ELISABETH MOSS SAYS THE TONE WILL BE DARKER.

Like season one, Miller says that The Handmaid’s Tale's second season will again balance its darker, dystopian themes with glimpses of hopefulness. “I think the first season had very difficult things, and very hopeful things, and I think this season is exactly the same way,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “There come some surprising moments of real hope and victory, and strength, that come from surprising places.”

Moss, however, has a different opinion. “It's a dark season,” she told reporters at TCA. “I would say arguably it's darker than Season 1—if that's possible.”

10. IT WILL ALSO BE BLOODIER.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

When pressed about how the teaser images for the new season seemed to feature a lot of blood, Miller conceded: “Oh gosh, yeah. There may be a little more blood this season.”

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The Ohio State University Archives
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The Plucky Teenage Stowaway Aboard the First American Expedition to Antarctica
The Ohio State University Archives
The Ohio State University Archives

Documentary filmmaker and journalist Laurie Gwen Shapiro came across the name "William Gawronski" in 2013 while researching a story about Manhattan's St. Stanislaus, the oldest Polish Catholic church in the U.S. In 1930, more than 500 kids from the church had held a parade in honor of Billy Gawronski, who had just returned from two years aboard the first American expedition to Antarctica, helmed by naval officer Richard E. Byrd.

The teenager had joined the expedition in a most unusual way: by stowing aboard Byrd's ships the City of New York and the Eleanor Bolling not once, not twice, but four times total. He swam across the Hudson River to sneak onto the City of New York and hitchhiked all the way to Virginia to hide on the Eleanor Bolling.

"I thought, 'Wait, what?" Shapiro tells Mental Floss.

Intrigued by Billy's persistence and pluck, Shapiro dove into the public records and newspaper archives to learn more about him. She created an Excel spreadsheet of Gawronskis all along the East Coast and began cold-calling them.

"Imagine saying, 'Did you have an ancestor that jumped in the Hudson and stowed away to the Antarctic in 1928?'" Shapiro says. She got "a lot of hang-ups."

On the 19th call, to a Gawronski in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, an elderly woman with a Polish accent answered the phone. "That boy was my husband," Gizela Gawronski told her. Billy had died in 1981, leaving behind a treasure trove of mementos, including scrapbooks, notebooks, yearbooks, and hundreds of photos.

"I have everything," Gizela told Shapiro. "I was hoping someone would find me one day."

Three days later, Shapiro was in Maine poring over Billy's papers with Gizela, tears in her eyes.

These materials became the basis of Shapiro's new book The Stowaway: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica. It's a rollicking good read full of fascinating history and bold characters that takes readers from New York to Tahiti, New Zealand to Antarctica, and back to New York again. It's brimming with the snappy energy and open-minded optimism of the Jazz Age.

Shapiro spent six weeks in Antarctica herself to get a feel for Billy's experiences. "I wanted to reach the Ross Ice barrier like Billy did," she says.

Read on for an excerpt from chapter four.

***

As night dropped on September 15, Billy jumped out of his second-floor window and onto the garden, a fall softened by potatoes and cabbage plants and proudly photographed sunflowers. You would think that the boy had learned from his previous stowaway attempt to bring more food or a change of dry clothes. Not the case.

An overnight subway crossing into Brooklyn took him to the Tebo Yacht Basin in Gowanus. He made for the location he'd written down in his notes: Third Avenue and Twenty-Third Street.

In 1928 William Todd's Tebo Yacht Basin was a resting spot— the spot—for the yachts of the Atlantic seaboard's most aristocratic and prosperous residents. The swanky yard berthed more than fifty staggering prizes of the filthy rich. Railroad executive Cornelius Vanderbilt kept his yacht O-We-Ra here; John Vanneck, his Amphitrite. Here was also where to find Warrior, the largest private yacht afloat, owned by the wealthiest man in America, public utilities baron Harrison Williams; yeast king (and former mayor of Cincinnati) Julian Fleischman's $625,000 twin-screw diesel yacht, the Carmago; General Motors president Alfred P. Sloan's Rene; shoe scion H. W. Hanan's Dauntless; and J. P. Morgan's Corsair III. The Tebo Yacht Basin's clubroom served fish chowder luncheons to millionaires in leather-backed mission chairs.

Todd, a great friend of Byrd's, lavished attention on his super-connected pal with more contacts than dollars. He had provided major funding for Byrd's 1926 flight over the North Pole, and helped the commander locate and refit two of the four Antarctic expedition ships for $285,900, done at cost. Todd loved puffy articles about him as much as the next man, and press would help extract cash from the millionaires he actively pursued as new clients; helping out a famous friend might prove cheaper than the advertisements he placed in upmarket magazines. Throughout that summer, Byrd mentioned Todd's generous support frequently.

Two weeks after the City of New York set sail, the Chelsea, the supply ship of the expedition, was still docked at the Tebo workyard and not scheduled to depart until the middle of September. Smith's Dock Company in England had built the refurbished 170-foot, 800-ton iron freighter for the British Royal Navy at the tail end of the Great War. First christened patrol gunboat HMS Kilmarnock, her name was changed to the Chelsea during her post–Royal Navy rumrunning days.

Not long before she was scheduled to depart, Byrd announced via a press release that he was renaming this auxiliary ship, too, after his mother, Eleanor Bolling. But the name painted on the transom was Eleanor Boling, with one l—the painter's mistake. As distressing as this was (the name was his mother's, after all), Byrd felt a redo would be too expensive and a silly use of precious funds. Reporters and PR staff were simply instructed to always spell the name with two ls.

As Billy eyed the ship in dock days after his humiliation on board the New York, he realized here was another way to get to Antarctica. The old, rusty-sided cargo ship would likely be less guarded than the flagship had been.

As September dragged on, Billy, back in Bayside, stiffened his resolve. No one would think he'd try again! On September 15, once more he swam out during the night to board a vessel bound for Antarctica.

Since his visit two weeks prior, Billy had studied his news clippings and knew that the Bolling was captained by thirty-six-year-old Gustav L. Brown, who'd been promoted weeks earlier from first mate of the New York when Byrd added the fourth ship to his fleet. Billy liked what he read. According to those who sailed under Brown's command, this tall and slender veteran of the Great War was above all genteel, and far less crotchety than the New York's Captain Melville. Captain Brown's education went only as far as high school, and while he wasn't against college, he admired honest, down-to-earth workers. Like his colleague Captain Melville, Brown had begun a seafaring life at fourteen. He seemed just the sort of man to take a liking to a teenage stowaway with big dreams.

Alas, the crew of the second ship headed to Antarctica now knew to look for stowaways. In a less dramatic repeat of what had happened in Hoboken, an Eleanor Bolling seaman ousted Billy in the earliest hours of the morning. The kid had (unimaginatively) hidden for a second time in a locker under the lower forecastle filled with mops and bolts and plumbing supplies. The sailor brought him to Captain Brown, who was well named, as he was a man with a mass of brown hair and warm brown eyes. The kind captain smiled at Billy and praised the cheeky boy's gumption—his Swedish accent still heavy even though he'd made Philadelphia his home since 1920—yet Billy was escorted off to the dock and told to scram.

A few hours later, still under the cover of night, Billy stole back on board and was routed out a third time, again from the “paint locker.”

A third time? The Bolling's third in command, Lieutenant Harry Adams, took notes on the gutsy kid who had to be good material for the lucrative book he secretly hoped to pen. Most of the major players would score book deals after the expedition; the public was eager for adventure, or at least so publishers thought. The catch was that any deal had to be approved by Byrd: to expose any discord was to risk powerful support. Adams's book, Beyond the Barrier with Byrd: An Authentic Story of the Byrd Antarctic Exploring Expedition, was among the best: more character study than thriller, his grand sense of humor evident in his selection of anecdotes that the others deemed too lightweight to include.

Billy was not the only stowaway that September day. Also aboard was a girl Adams called Sunshine, the "darling of the expedition," a flirt who offered to anyone who asked that she wanted to be the first lady in Antarctica. (In the restless era between world wars, when movies gave everyone big dreams, even girl stowaways were not uncommon.) Brown told a reporter that Sunshine had less noble aspirations, and soon she, too, was removed from the Bolling, but not before she gave each crew member a theatrical kiss.

As the early sun rose, Captain Brown called Billy over to him from the yacht yard's holding area where he had been asked to wait with the giggling Sunshine until his father arrived. The captain admired Billy's gumption, but it was time for the seventeen-year-old to go now and not waste any more of anyone's time.

As Lieutenant Adams recorded later, "Perhaps this matter of getting rid of Bill was entered up in the Eleanor Bolling log as the first scientific achievement of the Byrd Antarctic expedition."

*** 

From THE STOWAWAY: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Copyright © 2018 by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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