Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics

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. Ms. Marvel #1

Written by G. Willow Wilson; art by Adrian Alphona
Marvel Comics

The new Ms. Marvel--a name created in 1968 to tap into the women’s movement of that era--debuts in her own title this week and it’s a very big deal (UPDATE: A reader pointed out to me that Ms. Marvel actually did not debut until 1977, even though her original alter ego, Carol Danvers, first appeared in 1968). Taking over from Carol Danvers (who now goes by Captain Marvel) is a sixteen-year-old Pakistani-American Muslim named Kamala Khan.

Women of color are generally under-represented in comics and characters of Muslim faith are especially few and far between. DC Comics deserves credit for introducing an Arab-American Green Lantern (Simon Baz) last year and Marvel introduced an Arab mutant named Dust in the pages of New X-men years before that, but this is the first American Muslim to be given the high-profile launch of her very own comic.

The new Ms. Marvel is the brainchild of Marvel editor Sana Amanat. She collaborated with fellow Muslim American, writer G. Willow Wilson, to use elements from their life experiences to pour into the character. Kamala Khan lives in Jersey City with her immigrant family. She is devout in her faith but refuses to wear a traditional hijab. She avoids eating pork products despite really, really wanting them. She goes to school, hangs out with friends and, like any normal teenager in the Marvel Universe, obsesses about the Avengers. Kamala is a 21st century version of a long Marvel tradition of ordinary teenagers with everyday problems suddenly gaining extraordinary powers and great responsibility. In this first issue she becomes a shape-shifter, gaining the ability to grow and shrink various parts of her body and change her appearance, which is sure to lead to some interesting meta-commentary on cultural assimilation.

A lot of people of Muslim heritage will be watching this title closely to see how true-to-life Kamala’s experiences are but also to keep an eye on how respectfully their faith and culture is handled in the context of a modern day superhero comic. 

You can read a couple of previews here.

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2. Ant Colony

By Michael DeForge
Drawn & Quarterly

If you follow indie comics, you've probably heard of Michael DeForge. Over the past few years he has risen to become one of the most interesting and respected cartoonists of his generation. From his self-published one-man anthology Lose to his various online comics and his recent short story collection Very Casual, he is a prolific creator with a lot of work to seek out. Yet, until now, he hasn't really had that one major work that you could point new readers to as your official Michael DeForge Starter Kit. With the release of Ant Colony from Drawn & Quarterly, we now have what is not only arguably DeForge's best work, but also probably his most accessible in a beautiful hardcover format.

Ant Colony was previously serialized on DeForge's website as "Ant Comic" before being picked up by D&Q. Much like his highly regarded short story "Spotting Deer" from the Very Casual collection, it reads somewhat like a nature documentary set on some weird alternate Earth. There are ants of course, but they are very stylized in their appearance. The queen is an enormous, very sexualized (yet alien) representation of a female body, lying in wait. Other creatures include dog-headed spiders, centipedes that motor around like stretch limos, and creepy earthworms that emit laughing sounds even when they are chopped into bits.

Through a series of vignettes, the book depicts life in and around the ant colony — the ritualistic fertilization of the queen, the dangers of spiders and toxic cubes of Sweet 'n Low, and eventual war with a colony of red ants. We meet a number of interesting and likable ant characters including a gay couple, a young boy who ingests ground-up earthworm and becomes sort of a prophet, a corrupt cop, and a female member of the low-caste "Infertiles."  

Chris Ware recently explored the life of a bee in an installment of his 2012 graphic novel Building Stories. It's hard not to draw parallels here as DeForge similarly depicts his colony of ants with a deadpan sense of humor even when dealing with horrifying situations. Deforge's work always tiptoes around the edge of body horror and grotesque sexuality, yet he does so here with wit and imagination and an appealing group of characters that help make this as much fun to read as it is occasionally icky to look at.  

You can download a preview and find out more at the publisher's website.

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3. Red Light Properties

By Dan Goldman
IDW Publishing

I've been a fan of Dan Goldman's Red Light Properties since he initially launched it as a webcomic many years ago. Since then he has distributed it as a digital comic through Monkeybrain Comics and this week he is releasing the first in a series of print collections through IDW Publishing.

Red Light Properties is about a Miami real estate agency run by Jude and Cecilia Tobin, who have found an unusual niche in a tough housing market. They flip previously unsellable properties that have been haunted by exorcising the ghosts, then selling the “clean” houses to new buyers. They get rid of the ghosts by helping the spirits find the closure they need to move on. The stress of their unusual line of work takes its toll on the Tobins' marriage, making RLP part family drama, part comedy and part paranormal thriller. It actually reads very much like the kind of high-quality cable TV series you might find on AMC or HBO (maybe with a little HGTV thrown in).

Goldman has an unusual process for creating this comic which involves shooting video, generating 3D backgrounds, photographing models, and digitally drawing and coloring over it all in a way that pulls it all together. A lot of other artists using similar approaches might push this too far into photo-comic territory but he makes it work by using trippy, eye-popping colors and off-kilter page layouts.

This first ever print edition from IDW features recolored, relettered artwork, some rewritten dialogue, and 20 brand-new pages. You can find out more at the publisher's website.

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4. Loki: Agent of Asgard #1

Written by Al Ewing; art by Lee Garbett
Marvel Comics

Marvel is starting off the new year by launching a bunch of new titles in what they've dubbed "All New Marvel Now." In addition to Ms. Marvel this week and a relaunched Wolverine comic, we get the first ongoing series starring a villain who has recently become more of an anti-hero and a real fan favorite thanks to the Marvel films: Loki.

The character of Loki, Thor's deceptive half-brother, has become more and more prominent over the years, starring in his own series of stories in Journey into Mystery and appearing as a regular member of the Young Avengers. In those stories he had been transformed into a precocious tween which made for an entertaining new spin on the character. Now he's been transformed once again into a young adult version of his old self. And, not by coincidence, he now looks a lot like the Tom Hiddleston version we've seen in the Avengers and Thor films.

In Loki: Agent of Asgard, written by Mighty Avengers writer Al Ewing and illustrated by Lee Garbett, Loki is working as a secret agent for a group of goddesses referred to as All-Mother, and his first mission is to break into Avengers mansion. Ewing promises an episodic nature where individual missions will be contained to one issue but will all feed into the larger story that he is telling.

You can read a preview here.

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5. Hourly Comics Day


Comic above by Dan Berry
Every year on February 1 cartoonists all over the world take part in "Hourly Comics Day" in which they draw a little auto-bio cartoon for each hour of the day that they are awake. The results are posted to blogs, LiveJournal, DeviantArt, Tumblr and Twitter under hashtag #hourlycomicsday. This is not to be confused with 24 Hour Comics Day in which cartoonists challenge themselves to complete an entire comic within a 24 hour time period.

Hourly Comics is treated as a fun exercise and the results are generally more about enjoying a peek into the process of comic creation than getting a finished masterpiece of a comic to read. That said, some cartoonists just can’t help but make really great comics to read.

There are too many Hourly Comics out there to mention but here are a couple I thought were worth checking out:

Vera Brosgol
Maris Wicks
Audra Furuichi
Graham Annable (Crossover alert! His and Vera Brosgol's comics feature the same group of people getting together to watch Sherlock on TV) 
Sarah McIntyre
Dan Berry 
Sarah Searle
Faith Erin Hicks 

Comic above by Vera Brosgol


Comic above by Audra Furuichi 

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Recall Alert: Swiss Rolls And Bread Sold at Walmart and Food Lion Linked to Salmonella
Evan-Amos, Wikimedia Commons // CC 1.0

New items have been added to the list of foods being recalled due to possible salmonella contamination. According to Fox Carolina, snack cakes and bread products produced by Flowers Foods, Inc. have been pulled from stores in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

The baked goods company, based in Georgia, has reason to believe the whey powder it buys from a third-party supplier is tainted with salmonella. The ingredient is added to its Swiss rolls, which are sold under various brands, as well as its Captain John Derst’s Old Fashioned Bread. Popular chains that normally sell Flowers Foods products include Walmart and Food Lion.

The U.S. is in the middle of a salmonella outbreak. In June, Kellogg's recalled Honey Smacks due to contamination and the CDC is still urging consumers to avoid the brand. The cereal has sickened dozens of people since early March. So far, there have been no reported illnesses connected to the potential Flower Foods contamination.

You can find the full list of recalled items below. If you have one of these products in your kitchen, throw it out immediately or return it to the store where you bought it to be reimbursed.

  • Mrs. Freshley's Swiss Rolls
  • Mrs. Freshley's Swiss Rolls
  • Food Lion Swiss Rolls
  • Baker's Treat Swiss Rolls
  • Market Square Swiss Rolls
  • Great Value Swiss Rolls
  • Captain John Derst's Old Fashioned Bread

[h/t Fox Carolina]

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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