Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics

Every Wednesday, I preview the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, Comixology, Kickstarter and the web. Feel free to comment below if there's a comic you've read recently that you want to talk about.

1. Minimum Wage #1

By Bob Fingerman
Image Comics

The 1990s are often thought of as the time comics almost ate themselves in a fit of foiled cover gluttony and nearly choked to death as an industry. It was also the decade that birthed a movement of independently published alternative comics that has led straight to the golden age of independent comics we’re currently experiencing. Image Comics, having been founded in the early ‘90s by the likes of Todd MacFarlane and Rob Liefeld (among others), is often associated with that era with both positive and negative implications. Image is on a bit of a crusade lately to find a new home for some quality independent comics that were born in the 1990s. They recently announced a return of the much missed crime comic Stray Bullets and this week they bring back one of the most acclaimed and beloved comics of that time: Bob Fingerman’s Minimum Wage.

The original 10 issue run of Fingerman’s semi-autobiographical comic was recently republished in an oversized volume by Image, thanks to the urging of Wage fan Robert (The Walking Dead) Kirkman. Now, 15 years after retiring them, Fingerman is returning to the characters and revisiting their lives three years from where he left them. The series focuses around a Fingerman stand-in named Rob who is now recently divorced, living with his mom and trying to get back into the dating scene. Very much your typical ‘90s New York slacker, Rob is now about to enter the year 2000 at long last.

Minimum Wage is often credited with being an early example of cringe comedy (years before The Office and Louie made such uncomfortable humor mainstream). It draws from realistic and relatable scenarios that artsy, down-on-their-luck guys like Rob would find themselves in. It has a devoted fan base and has inspired many cartoonists such as Kirkman but also comedians such as Patton Oswalt, David Cross and Marc Maron.

Read a preview of issue #1 here.

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2. Black Widow #1

Written by Nathan Edmondson; art by Phil Noto
Marvel Comics

We all remember Black Widow's “red on my ledger" speech from the Avengers film. The idea of the former KGB assassin having a bloody past has become even more of an integral part of her character in the comics since that scene (I believe a recent issue of Avengers even had her say a similar line). Now, in a brand new ongoing series, Natasha Romanov will explore her past as she seeks to atone for it.

Marvel has attempted a number of Black Widow solo comics over the years with very little success, but thanks to Scarlett Johansson's portrayal she is now much more of a marquee character than she's ever been. They've enlisted one of comics' newest espionage experts, Nathan Edmondson, to write the book. Edmondson made a big splash a few years back with his acclaimed spy thriller Who is Jake Ellis? for Image Comics. Since then, he's become a bit of a go-to guy for this kind of material. It's even gotten him hired to write for a Tom Clancy video game.

Phil Noto is known mostly for his pinup and cover work. His style is very reminiscent of the classic advertising illustrators and poster artists of the 1960s and he excels at drawing beautiful women. His interior comics work in the past has typically lost a lot of the richness and sexiness of his fully painted cover work but the preview images from issue no.1 of this book look like he’s found a way to bring the magic of his covers into the sequential imagery inside.

Read a short preview here.

Marvel is starting the new year with an onslaught of new books and a lot of them are hitting at once this week. In addition to Black Widow we're also getting:
All New Invaders #1 - James Robinson and Steve Pugh bring the WWII Invaders into the modern age with Captain America, Namor, the original Human Torch and the Winter Soldier.
Avengers World #1 - Yet another Avengers book under the guidance of Jonathan Hickman (with Nick Spencer). John Cassady, recently of Uncanny Avengers, is the artist on this series which will focus on developing some of the lesser tier characters that are populating the main Avengers book.
X-Factor #1 - Peter David returns to the book that he is most popular for. This time out, X-Factor is a corporate-owned mutant team featuring Polaris, Quicksilver, Gambit and others.

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3. Li'l Vampi #1

Written by Eric Trautmann; art by Agnes Garbowska
Dynamite Entertainment

The "itty-bitty"-fication of popular comics characters in order to appeal to kid readers is going strong. The trend, that owes thanks in no small part to the Oh Yeah Comics guys and books like Itty Bitty Hellboy is growing in popularity among both kids and grownups. Dynamite Entertainment is now launching a series of one-shots of "Li'l" versions of various titles that they currently publish such as Red Sonja and Battlestar Galactica. This week, they're taking a character that is steeped in adult horror and cheesecake art and transforming her into something that every little girl would love to read.

Vampirella is a teenage paranormal investigator living in Stoker, Maine (population: boring). She's a little bit emo, she has a knack for solving mysteries and stopping werewolves and mummies, and she hates when people call her Vampi. Based on the sexy, blood-sucking alien that appeared in her own magazine put out by Warren Publishing in the 1970s and which continues to headline her own comics from Dynamite Entertainment today, Vampirella is just about the last character you’d expect to see marketed towards kids. Yet, seeing her in this context, she looks like a character straight out of Monster High.

Li'l Vampi is drawn by Agnes Garbowska who is fantastic at illustrating super-cute characters like this. She's been doing covers for some of the most popular kids' comics out there like My Little Pony and Powerpuff Girls.

You can read a preview of Li’l Vampi here.

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4. Detective Comics #27

By various
DC Comics

Whether planned or by happenstance, DC Comics' recent rebooting of their issue numbers has allowed the new Detective Comics #27 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Batman's first appearance in the original Detective Comics #27. 

To commemorate, this issue will be extra-sized at 96 pages with multiple stories including a retelling of Batman's origin by novelist and comics writer Brad Meltzer and superstar artist Bryan Hitch. The Batman writers from the other Bat-titles, Scott Snyder and Peter J. Tomasi, each have stories here as well. Snyder is joined by his The Wake collaborator Sean Gordon Murphy and Tomasi by Guillem March. Other contributors include Paul Dini, Franco Francavilla, Neal Adams and more. Plus, John Layman and Jason Fabok begin a storyline called "Gothopia" that will crossover into various other Bat-books.

This issue has courted some minor controversy due to one of its alternate covers (shown above) by Frank Miller. The cover was initially rejected by DC and has been deemed by many to be oddly raunchy for a commemorative issue. From DC’s standpoint, when you've got a Frank Miller cover you run it.

Here's a preview of the Meltzer/Hitch story.

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Apeel
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New Plant-Based Coating Can Keep Your Avocados Fresh for Twice as Long
Apeel
Apeel

Thanks to a food technology startup called Apeel Sciences, eating fresh avocados will soon be a lot easier. The Bill Gates–backed company has developed a coating designed to keep avocados fresh for up to twice as long as traditional fruit, Bloomberg reports, and these long-lasting avocados will soon be available at 100 grocery stores across the Midwestern U.S. Thirty or so of the grocery stores involved in the limited rollout of the Apeel avocado will be Costcos, so feel free to buy in bulk.

Getting an avocado to a U.S. grocery store is more complicated than it sounds; the majority of avocados sold in the U.S. come from California or Mexico, making it tricky to get fruit to the Midwest or New England at just the right moment in an avocado’s life cycle.

Apeel’s coating is made of plant material—lipids and glycerolipids derived from peels, seeds, and pulp—that acts as an extra layer of protective peel on the fruit, keeping water in and oxygen out, and thus reducing spoilage. (Oxidation is the reason that your sliced avocados and apples brown after they’ve been exposed to the air for a while.) The tasteless coating comes in a powder that fruit producers mix with water and then dip their fruit into.

A side-by-side comparison of a coated and uncoated avocado after 30 days, with the uncoated avocado looking spoiled and the coated one looking fresh
Apeel

According to Apeel, coating a piece of produce in this way can keep it fresh for two to three times longer than normal without any sort of refrigeration of preservatives. This not only allows consumers a few more days to make use of their produce before it goes bad, reducing food waste, but can allow producers to ship their goods to farther-away markets without refrigeration.

Avocados are the first of Apeel's fruits to make it to market, but there are plans to debut other Apeel-coated produce varieties in the future. The company has tested its technology on apples, artichokes, mangos, and several other fruits and vegetables.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases
iStock
iStock

Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?

1. BY THE SAME TOKEN

Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”

2. GET ON A SOAPBOX

1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
Express/Express/Getty Images

The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.

3. TOMFOOLERY

The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.

4. GO BANANAS

chimp eating banana
iStock

The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”

5. RUN OF THE MILL

If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.

6. READ THE RIOT ACT

The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.

7. HANDS DOWN

Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.

8. SILVER LINING

The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.

9. HAVE YOUR WORK CUT OUT

The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!

10. THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.

11. THE WHOLE SHEBANG

The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.

12. PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.

13. CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE

We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.

14. THE ACID TEST

Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.

15. GO HAYWIRE

What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.

16. CALLED ON THE CARPET

Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”

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