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Marvel Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Marvel Comics

Every Wednesday, I preview the most interesting new comics hitting 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. Miracleman #1

Written by Mick Anglo and "The Original Writer" (whose name rhymes with Halan Shmoore); art by Garry Leach and others
Marvel Comics

This release is the long-hoped-for return of one of the great lost classics of comic book history. It was one of the first revisionist, realistic takes on superheroes, written by two of the greatest writers to ever work in that genre: Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman.

In 1982, Moore revived what was then called Marvelman, a 1950s British superhero created by Mick Anglo as a blatant ripoff of Fawcett Comics' Captain Marvel in a series of short, black and white stories for British anthology magazine Warrior. Eclipse Comics picked up the series and changed the name to Miracleman to avoid a lawsuit from Marvel Comics, although this would be just the beginning of Miracleman's vast legal troubles. 

The Miracleman series was written by Moore around the same time he was writing Watchmen and  is a similar deconstruction of the genre, dealing with the more terrifying aspects of how superpowered beings might interact with human beings. Many readers consider it to be just as good and just as important as Watchmen. Moore wrote the series until issue #15 and then passed the reins to newcomer Neil Gaiman, who continued to write it into the early 1990s while also beginning work on The Sandman for DC Comics. 

Gaiman and artist Mark Buckingham were in the middle of a climactic 18-issue storyline to bring the Miracleman saga to a close when Eclipse Comics went bankrupt in 1994. Gaiman and Buckingham had actually completed what would have been their next issue, #25, but it has never seen the light of day. The legal wranglings of the following 20 years are too much to get into here, but you can read a detailed account of it here. The upshot is that Marvel Comics (with Gaiman’s help) acquired the rights to Miracleman from Todd McFarlane (like I said, it's a long story, just read this) and will now release remastered (re-colored and re-lettered) editions leading up to Gaiman and Buckingham finally getting a chance to finish their story. Moore wants nothing to do with the project and requires that his name not be associated with the reprints, hence the credit to "The Original Writer."

Many comics purists will object to the modern coloring applied here but Marvel seems to be taking great care to introduce this series in the best way possible to modern audiences while also looking to compile the most definitive collection possible. As a result, this first issue contains only about 10 pages of Moore's story while being filled out with extras and some necessary precursor stuff from the Mick Anglo years. This is an important piece of comics history whose legend has grown enormously due in part to the small number of people who have actually been able to read it. It will be interesting to see whether or not this classic can stand on its own today without the veil of mystery that has always surrounded it. And we’ll see whether new readers will be able to appreciate a comic that has previously influenced so much of what they have now taken for granted over the past 20 years.

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2. Black Dynamite #1

Written by Brian Ash; art by Ron Wimberly and Sal Buscema
IDW

The latest offering from the partnership between IDW Publishing and Cartoon Network is an adaptation of the popular Adult Swim series, Black Dynamite, which itself is adapted from the 2009 film of the same name. Black Dynamite is both a parody and a celebration of "Blaxploitation" films of the '70s. Its titular hero is an ex-CIA, Vietnam vet who uses his kung-fu skills to clean up the streets, squaring off against drug dealers, ninjas and, his arch-nemesis, Richard Nixon. 

The new mini-series is written by Brian Ash, a writer and producer of the animated program. He previously wrote a Black Dynamite graphic novel in 2011 called Slave Island. Here, he's collaborating with artist Ron Wimberly who originally designed some of the characters for the TV series.
Much like how the film emulated the look and feel of low-budget, one-take '70s blaxploitation films, the comic takes on the look of comic books of that era and even employs veteran comic book artist Sal Buscema to ink over Wimberly's pencils.

The preview for this looks really fun.

It's a big week for Ron Wimberly fans. He also happens to have some work in this week's issue of Brandon Graham's Prophet from Image Comics.

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3. D4VE

Written by Ryan Ferrier; art by Valentin Ramon
Monkeybrain Comics

A middle-aged, suburban husband dreams of his glory days while toiling away at a corporate job that is sucking the energy out of him. We've seen various mid-life crisis fantasies played out in everything from American Beauty to The Incredibles, but in the new 5 issue digital series from Monkeybrain Comics, D4VE, there's a fun new twist. The hero of this story is a robot who was once a warrior in the AI revolution that brought about the extinction of mankind. Now, he’s just a middle management cog in a corporate machine. The robots, in taking over Earth, also took on all of man's characteristics, habits, neuroses and failings. And now that the robots have become as lazy and complacent as their human predecessors, an alien threat has arrived to take control of Earth from them.

In the second issue, which came out last week via Comixology, D4VE finds himself saddled with an obnoxious teenage son named 5COTTY that his wife “ordered” for their family, unbeknownst to him. Plus, S4LLY, his wife, gets fed up and leaves him, his job gets even suckier and, oh yeah, aliens are invading. But that may actually be his best hope at salvation.

This is some pretty funny stuff and it seems to be quickly building a devoted audience. Ferrier brings some of his own personal experience (working dead end jobs and having existential crises) into the material and he and Ramon also put in plenty of clever visual and verbal gags that make this a delight to read.

You can pick up both of the issues that have been released so far for 99¢ each on Comixology.


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10 Facts About Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
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October 16 is World Dictionary Day, which each year celebrates the birthday of the American lexicographer Noah Webster, who was born in Connecticut in 1758. Last year, Mental Floss marked the occasion with a list of facts about Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language—the enormous two-volume dictionary, published in 1828 when Webster was 70 years old, that established many of the differences that still divide American and British English to this day. But while Webster was America’s foremost lexicographer, on the other side of the Atlantic, Great Britain had Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Johnson—whose 308th birthday was marked with a Google Doodle in September—published the equally groundbreaking Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, three years before Webster was even born. Its influence was arguably just as great as that of Webster’s, and it remained the foremost dictionary of British English until the early 1900s when the very first installments of the Oxford English Dictionary began to appear.

So to mark this year’s Dictionary Day, here are 10 facts about Johnson’s monumental dictionary.

1. IT WASN’T THE FIRST DICTIONARY.

With more than 40,000 entries, Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was certainly the largest dictionary in the history of the English language at the time but, despite popular opinion, it wasn’t the first. Early vocabularies and glossaries were being compiled as far back as the Old English period, when lists of words and their equivalents in languages like Latin and French first began to be used by scribes and translators. These were followed by educational word lists and then early bilingual dictionaries that began to emerge in the 16th century, which all paved the way for what is now considered the very first English dictionary: Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall—in 1604.

2. SAMUEL JOHNSON BORROWED FROM THE DICTIONARIES THAT CAME BEFORE HIS.

In compiling his dictionary, Johnson drew on Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britanicum, which had been published in 1730. (Ironically, a sequel to Bailey’s dictionary, A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, was published in the same year as Johnson’s, and borrowed heavily from his work; its author, Joseph Nicoll Scott, even gave Johnson some credit for its publication.)

But just as Johnson had borrowed from Bailey and Scott had borrowed from Johnson, Bailey, too had borrowed from an earlier work—namely John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708)—which was based in part on a technical vocabulary, John Harris’s Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Lexicographic plagiarism was nothing new.

3. THE DICTIONARY WASN’T THE ONLY THING JOHNSON WROTE.

Although he’s best remembered as a lexicographer today, Johnson was actually something of a literary multitasker. As a journalist, he wrote for an early periodical called The Gentlemen’s Magazine. As a biographer, he wrote the Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744), a memoir of a friend and fellow writer who had died the previous year. Johnson also wrote numerous poems (London, published anonymously in 1738, was his first major published work), a novel (Rasselas, 1759), a stage play (Irene, 1749), and countless essays and critiques. He also co-edited an edition of Shakespeare’s plays. And in between all of that, he even found time to investigate a supposed haunted house in central London.

4. IT WAS THE FIRST DICTIONARY TO USE QUOTATIONS.

Johnson’s dictionary defined some 42,773 words, each of which was given a uniquely scholarly definition, complete with a suggested etymology and an armory of literary quotations—no fewer than 114,000 of them, in fact.

Johnson lifted quotations from books dating back to the 16th century for the citations in his dictionary, and relied heavily on the works of authors he admired and who were popular at the time—Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and Edmund Spenser included. In doing so, he established a lexicographic trend that still survives in dictionaries to this day.

5. IT TOOK MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS TO WRITE.

Defining 42,000 words and finding 114,000 quotes to help you do so takes time: Working from his home off Fleet Street in central London, Johnson and six assistants worked solidly for over eight years to bring his dictionary to print. (Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used the 22 years it took him to compile his American Dictionary to learn 26 different languages.)

6. JOHNSON WAS WELL PAID FOR HIS TROUBLES.

Johnson was commissioned to write his dictionary by a group of London publishers, who paid him a princely 1,500 guineas—equivalent to roughly $300,000 (£225,000) today.

7. HE LEFT OUT A LOT OF WORDS.

The dictionary’s 42,000-word vocabulary might sound impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755. A lot of that shortfall was simply due to oversight: Johnson included the word irritable in four of his definitions, for instance, but didn’t list it as a headword in his own dictionary. He also failed to include a great many words found in the works of the authors he so admired, and in several of the source dictionaries he utilized, and in some cases he even failed to include the root forms of words whose derivatives were listed elsewhere in the dictionary. Athlete, for instance, didn’t make the final cut, whereas athletic did.

Johnson’s imposition of his own tastes and interests on his dictionary didn't help matters either. His dislike of French, for example, led to familiar words like unique, champagne, and bourgeois being omitted, while those he did include were given a thorough dressing down: ruse is defined as “a French word neither elegant nor necessary,” while finesse is dismissed as “an unnecessary word that is creeping into the language."

8. HE LEFT OUT THE LETTER X.

    At the foot of page 2308 of Johnson’s Dictionary is a note merely reading, “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language."

    9. HIS DEFINITIONS WEREN’T ALWAYS SO SCHOLARLY.

      As well as imposing his own taste on his dictionary, Johnson also famously employed his own sense of humor on his work. Among the most memorable of all his definitions is his explanation of oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” But he also defined monsieur as “a term of reproach for a Frenchman,” excise as “a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid,” and luggage as “anything of more weight than value.” As an example of how to use the word dull, he explained that “to make dictionaries is dull work.”

      10. HE POKED LOTS OF FUN AT HIS OWN OCCUPATION.

      Listed on page 1195 of his dictionary, Johnson’s definition of lexicographer was “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.”

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      Inside This Pop-Up Book Are a Planetarium, a Speaker, a Decoder Ring, and More
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      Courtesy Chronicle Books

      Designer Kelli Anderson's new book is for more than just reading. This Book Is a Planetarium is really a collection of paper gadgets. With each thick, card stock page you turn, another surprise pops out.

      "This book concisely explains—and actively demonstrates with six functional pop-up paper contraptions—the science at play in our everyday world," the book's back cover explains. It turns out, there's a whole lot you can do with a few pieces of paper and a little bit of imagination.

      A book is open to reveal a spiralgraph inside.
      Courtesy Chronicle Books

      There's the eponymous planetarium, a paper dome that you can use with your cell phone's flashlight to project constellations onto the ceiling. There's a conical speaker, which you can use to amplify a smaller music player. There's a spiralgraph you can use to make geometric designs. There's a basic cipher you can use to encode and decode secret messages, and on its reverse side, a calendar. There's a stringed musical instrument you can play on. All are miniature, functional machines that can expand your perceptions of what a simple piece of paper can become.

      The cover of This Book Is a Planetarium
      Courtesy Chronicle Books

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