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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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Mad Magazine
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12 Things You Might Not Know About MAD Magazine
Mad Magazine
Mad Magazine

As fast as popular culture could erect wholesome depictions of American life in comics, television, or movies, MAD Magazine was there to tear them all down. A near-instant success for EC Comics upon its debut in 1952, the magazine has inspired generations of comedians for its pioneering satirical attitude and tasteful booger jokes. This month, DC Entertainment is relaunching an "all new" MAD, skewering pop culture on a bimonthly basis and in full color. To fill the gaps in your knowledge, take a look at these facts about the Usual Gang of Idiots.

1. NO ONE KNOWS WHO CAME UP WITH ALFRED E. NEUMAN.


Jamie, Flickr (L) // Boston Public Library, Flickr (R) // CC BY 2.0

MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman was in the offices of a Ballantine Books editor discussing reprints for the fledging publication when he noticed a grinning, gap-toothed imbecile staring back at him from a bulletin board. The unnamed figure was ubiquitous in the early 20th century, appearing in everything from dentistry ads to depictions of diseases. A charmed Kurtzman adopted him as MAD’s mascot beginning in 1954. Neuman later become so recognizable that a letter was delivered from New Zealand to MAD’s New York offices without an address: the envelope simply had a drawing of Alfred.  

2. THEY HAD TO APOLOGIZE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.

MAD was conceived during a particularly sensitive time for the comics industry, with parents and watchdog groups concerned over content. (It didn't switch to a magazine format until issue #24.) Kurtzman usually knew where the line was, but when he was laid up with acute hepatitis in 1952, publisher William Gaines and others had to step in for him. Gaines thought it would be funny to offer a fictional biography of himself that detailed his father’s Communist leanings, his past as a dope dealer “near nursery schools,” and bouts of pyromania. When wholesalers were shocked at the content and threatened to boycott all of his titles, Gaines was forced to write a letter of apology.  

3. THEY PREDICTED JOHN F. KENNEDY'S ELECTION IN 1960.

But it was a cheat. In the run-up to the 1960 Presidential election, MAD printed a cover that featured Neuman congratulating Kennedy on his victory with a caption that read, “We were with you all the way, Jack!” But the issue was shipped long before votes had been tabulated. The secret? It was a dual cover. Flip it over and Neuman is celebrating Richard Nixon’s appointment to office. Stores were told to display the “right” side of the magazine depending on the outcome.

4. ALFRED BRIEFLY HAD A GIRLFRIEND.


MAD Magazine

A character named Moxie Cowznofski was introduced in the late 1950s as a female companion for Alfred. She made only a handful of cover appearances, possibly due to the fact she looked alarmingly like her significant other.

5. THEY DIDN'T RUN ANY (REAL) ADS FOR 44 YEARS.

From the beginning, Gaines felt that printing actual advertisements next to the products they were lampooning would not only dilute their edge but seem more than a little hypocritical. After some back-and-forth, MAD cut ads starting in 1957. The decision was a costly one—most print publications survive on such revenue—but led to the magazine’s keeping a sharp knife against the throat of seductive advertising, including cigarettes. Faced with dwindling circulation in 2001, Mad finally relented and began taking ads to help pay for a switch to color printing.

6. "SPY VS. SPY" WAS CREATED BY A SUSPECTED SPY.

Cuban cartoonist Antonio Prohias was disenchanted with the regime under Fidel Castro when he began working on what would become “Spy vs. Spy.” Because Prohias’ other newspaper illustrations were critical of Castro, the Cuban government suspected him of working for the CIA. He wasn’t, but the perception had him worried harm might come to his co-workers. To get out of the situation, Prohias came to America in 1960. With his daughter helping translate, he stopped by Mad’s New York offices and submitted his work: his sneaky, triangle-headed spies became regulars.

7. THERE WAS ONE FOLD-IN THEY WOULDN'T RUN.

Artist Al Jaffee, now 94, has been with Mad almost from the beginning. He created the famous Fold-In—the back cover that reveals a new picture when doubled over—in 1964 after seeing the fold-outs in magazines like National Geographic, Playboy, and Life. Jaffee has rarely missed an issue since—but editors backtracked on one of Jaffee’s works that referenced a mass shooting in 2013. Citing poor taste, they destroyed over 600,000 copies.  

8. THEIR MOVIE WAS A DISASTER.

With the exception of Fox’s successful sketch series, 1994’s MAD TV, attempts to translate the MAD brand into other media have been underwhelming: a 1974 animated special didn’t even make it on air. But a 1980 film venture, a military school spoof directed by Robert Downey, Sr. titled Mad Presents Up the Academy, was so awful William Gaines demanded to have their name taken off of it. (Renamed Up the Academy, the DVD release of the movie still features someone sporting an Alfred E. Neuman mask; Mad parodied it in a spoof titled “Throw Up the Academy.”)

9. THE APRIL 1974 COVER HAD PEOPLE FLIPPING.


MAD Magazine

MAD has never made a habit of good taste, but a depiction of a raised middle finger for one issue in the mid-’70s caused a huge stir. Many stores wouldn’t stock it for fear of offending customers, and the company ended up accepting an irregular number of returns. Gaines took to his typewriter to write a letter of apology. Again. The relaunched #1, out in April 2018, pays homage to this cover, though it's slightly more tasteful: Neuman is picking his nose with his middle finger.

10. THEY INVENTED A SPORT.

MAD writer Tom Koch was amused by the convoluted rules of sports and attempted to one-up them in 43-Man Squamish, a game he invented for the April 1965 issue. Koch and artist George Woodbridge (“MAD’s Athletic Council”) prepared a guide that was utterly incomprehensible—the field was to have five sides, positions included Deep Brooders and Dummies, “interfering with the Wicket Men” constituted a penalty—but it amused high school and college readers enough to try and mount their own games. (Short on players? Try 2-Man Squamish: “The rules are identical,” Koch wrote, “except the object of the game is to lose.”) For the less physically inclined, Mad also issued a board game in which the goal is to lose all of your money.  

11. WEIRD AL WAS A GUEST EDITOR.

In what must be some kind of fulfilled prophecy, lyrical satirist “Weird” Al Yankovic was named as a guest editor—their first—for the magazine’s May 2015 issue. Yankovic told Entertainment Weekly that MAD had put him on “the dark, twisted path to becoming who I am today … I needed to pollute my mind with that kind of stuff.” In addition to his collaborations with the staff, Yankovic enlisted Patton Oswalt, Seth Green, and Chris Hardwick to contribute.

12. FRED ASTAIRE ONCE DANCED AS ALFRED E. NEUMAN.

In a scene so surreal even MAD’s irreverent editors would have had trouble dreaming it up, Fred Astaire decided to sport an Alfred E. Neuman mask for a dance number in his 1959 television special, Another Evening with Fred Astaire. No one seems to recall why exactly Astaire would do this—he may have just wanted to include a popular cultural reference—but it was no off-the-cuff decision. Astaire hired movie make-up veteran John Chambers (Planet of the Apes) to craft a credible mask of Neuman. The result is … well, kind of disturbing. But it’s a fitting addition to a long tradition of people going completely MAD.

Additional Sources:
Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America.

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iStock
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Can You 'Hear' These Silent GIFs?
iStock
iStock

GIFs are silent—otherwise they wouldn't be GIFs. But some people claim to hear distinct noises accompanying certain clips. Check out the GIF below as an example: Do you hear a boom every time the structure hits the ground? If so, you may belong to the 20 to 30 percent of people who experience "visual-evoked auditory response," also known as vEAR.

Researchers from City University London recently published a paper online on the phenomenon in the journal Cortex, the British Psychological Society's Research Digest reports. For their study, they recruited more than 4000 volunteers and 126 paid participants and showed them 24 five-second video clips. Each clip lacked audio, but when asked how they rated the auditory sensation for each video on a scale of 0 to 5, 20 percent of the paid participants rated at least half the videos a 3 or more. The percentage was even higher for the volunteer group.

You can try out the researchers' survey yourself. It takes about 10 minutes.

The likelihood of visual-evoked auditory response, according to the researchers, directly relates to what the subject is looking at. "Some people hear what they see: Car indicator lights, flashing neon shop signs, and people's movements as they walk may all trigger an auditory sensation," they write in the study.

Images packed with meaning, like two cars colliding, are more likely to trigger the auditory illusion. But even more abstract images can produce the effect if they have high levels of something called "motion energy." Motion energy is what you see in the video above when the structure bounces and the camera shakes. It's why a video of a race car driving straight down a road might have less of an auditory impact than a clip of a flickering abstract pattern.

The researchers categorize vEAR as a type of synesthesia, a brain condition in which people's senses are combined. Those with synesthesia might "see" patterns when music plays or "taste" certain colors. Most synesthesia is rare, affecting just 4 percent of the population, but this new study suggests that "hearing motion synesthesia" is much more prevalent.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

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