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First Second

5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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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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Tyrannosaurus and Edmontosaurus, Ely Kish, c. 1976. © Canadian Museum of Nature
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10 Ways Artists Imagined Dinosaurs Before the 21st Century
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In paleoart, “the lines between entertainment and science, kitsch and scholarship, are often vague," Ford writes in the preface to Paleoart. "This book is like a twofold time machine from a science-fiction comic i would have loved as a child. It allows us to go back in time to see what going back in time used to look like.”

Tyrannosaurus and Edmontosaurus, Ely Kish, c. 1976. © Canadian Museum of Nature

Paleoart: Visions of the Prehistoric Past explores the first 160 years of illustrating extinct species.

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10 Things You Should Know About Ray Bradbury
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Evening Standard/Getty Images

For such a visionary futurist whose predictions for the future often came true, Ray Bradbury was rather old-fashioned in many ways. In honor of what would be Bradbury's 97th birthday, check out a few fascinating facts about the literary genius. 

1. HE SCORED HIS FIRST WRITING GIG WHEN HE WAS STILL A TEEN. 

Most teenagers get a first job bagging groceries or slinging burgers. At the age of 14, Ray Bradbury landed himself a gig writing for George Burns and Gracie Allen’s radio show.

“I went down on Figueroa Street in front of the Figueroa Playhouse,” Bradbury later recalled. “I saw George Burns outside the front of the theater. I went up to him and said, ‘Mr. Burns, you got your broadcast tonight don’t you?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘You don’t have an audience in there do you?’ He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Will you take me in and let me be your audience?’ So he took me in and put me in the front row, and the curtain went up, and I was in the audience for Burns and Allen. I went every Wednesday for the broadcast and then I wrote shows and gave them to George Burns. They only used one—but they did use it, it was for the end of the show.”

2. IT TOOK HIM 22 YEARS TO ASK A GIRL OUT.

At the age of 22, Bradbury finally summoned up the courage to ask a girl out for the first time ever. She was a bookstore clerk named Maggie, who thought he was stealing from the bookstore because he had a long trench coat on. They went out for coffee, which turned into cocktails, which turned into dinner, which turned into marriage, which turned into 56 anniversaries and four children. She was the only girl Bradbury ever dated. Maggie held down a full-time job while Ray stayed at home and wrote, something that was virtually unheard of in the 1940s.

3. HE IMPRESSED TRUMAN CAPOTE.

George Burns isn’t the only famous eye Bradbury caught. In 1947, an editor at Mademoiselle read Bradbury’s short story, “Homecoming,” about the only human boy in a family of supernatural beings. The editor decided to run the piece, and Bradbury won a place in the O. Henry Prize Stories for one of the best short stories of 1947. That young editor who helped Bradbury out by grabbing his story out of the unsolicited materials pile? Truman Capote.

4. HE HAD AN AVERSION TO CARS.

Charley Gallay/Getty Images

Not only did Bradbury never get a driver’s license, he didn’t believe in cars for anyone. His own personal aversion came from seeing a fatal car accident when he was just 16. In 1996, he told Playboy, “I saw six people die horribly in an accident. I walked home holding on to walls and trees. It took me months to begin to function again. So I don't drive. But whether I drive or not is irrelevant. The automobile is the most dangerous weapon in our society—cars kill more than wars do.”

5. HE WROTE FAHRENHEIT 451 IN JUST OVER A WEEK.

It took Bradbury just nine days to write Fahrenheit 451—and he did it in the basement of the UCLA library on a rented typewriter. (The title of his classic novel, by the way, comes from the temperature at which paper burns without being exposed to flame.)

6. HE DIDN'T ATTEND COLLEGE.

Though he wrote Fahrenheit 451 at UCLA, he wasn't a student there. In fact, he didn’t believe in college. “I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money,” Bradbury told The New York Times in 2009. “When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

7. HE LOATHED COMPUTERS.

Despite his writings about all things futuristic, Bradbury loathed computers. “We are being flimflammed by Bill Gates and his partners,” he told Playboy in 1996. “Look at Windows '95. That's a lot of flimflam, you know.” He also stated that computers were nothing more than typewriters to him, and he certainly didn’t need another one of those. He also called the Internet “old-fashioned": “They type a question to you. You type an answer back. That’s 30 years ago. Why not do it on the telephone, which is immediate? Why not do it on TV, which is immediate? Why are they so excited with something that is so backward?”

8. HE WAS PALS WITH WALT DISNEY.

Not only was Bradbury good friends with Walt Disney (and even urged him to run for mayor of Los Angeles), he helped contribute to the Spaceship Earth ride at Epcot, submitting a story treatment that they built the ride around.

He was a big fan of the Disney parks, saying, “Everyone in the world will come to these gates. Why? Because they want to look at the world of the future. They want to see how to make better human beings. That’s what the whole thing is about. The cynics are already here and they’re terrifying one another. What Disney is doing is showing the world that there are alternative ways to do things that can make us all happy. If we can borrow some of the concepts of Disneyland and Disney World and Epcot, then indeed the world can be a better place.”

9. HE WANTED HIS ASHES TO BE SENT TO MARS IN A SOUP CAN.

He once said that when he died, he planned to have his ashes placed in a Campbell’s Tomato Soup can and planted on Mars. Then he decided that he wanted to have a place his fans could visit, and thought he’d design his own gravestone that included the names of his books. As a final touch, a sign at his gravesite would say Place dandelions here, “as a tribute to Dandelion Wine, because so many people love it.” In the end, he ended up going with something a whole lot simpler—a plain headstone bearing his name and “Author of Fahrenheit 451.” Go take him some dandelions the next time you’re in L.A.—he’s buried at Westwood Memorial Park.

10. NASA PAID TRIBUTE TO HIM.

Perhaps a more fitting memorial is the one NASA gave him when they landed a rover on Mars a few months after Bradbury’s death in 2012: They named the site where Mars Curiosity touched down "Bradbury Landing."

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