The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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. Beautiful Darkness

By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet
Drawn & Quarterly

You might think you know what you're getting at first glance with Beautiful Darkness. It opens with a romantic tea party between pretty young princess Aurora and the charming Prince Hector, but by page two everything begins to go downhill fast. The world around them starts falling apart in bloody chunks and Aurora and her friends are forced to run for their lives from inside the head of a dead girl in the woods. From there, this gaggle of whimsical characters must find a way to survive the harsh reality of mother nature–deadly insects, maggots infesting the rotting corpse they have not strayed too far from, the onset of winter, and each other.

Beautiful Darkness is a stunning and deeply disturbing graphic novel. It's a play on the children-in-jeopardy theme that has been popularized by Lord of the Flies,  Battle Royale, and The Hunger Games. Except, instead of children, it uses the fanciful figments of a child's imagination.

Originally released in France in 2009 as Jolies Tenebres, this translated edition comes to us from Drawn & Quarterly. It is wonderfully illustrated by husband and wife team Marie Pommepuy & Sébastien Cosset, who refer to themselves as Kerascoët, and is written by French comics writer Fabien Vehlmann based on a plot by Pommepuy. The artwork, painted in watercolor, is lush and beautiful. The mix of loosely and comically drawn cartoon figures with realistically painted trees, animals, and people accentuate the way fantasy and reality meet and become tangled together.

Drawn & Quarterly has a preview on their website. You probably don’t want to buy this for your kids, but grown-up fans of dark and twisted fairy tales will love the cruel and unexpected nature of this story.


2. Oak

By Max Badger

While Beautiful Darkness may not be the kind of fantasy story you'd want to read with the kids, Max Badger's debut graphic novel, Oak, certainly is. Set in a magical, medieval world filled with talking snakes, shape-shifting clouds, and wandering spirits, Oak follows the adventures of a young, nameless orphan who is on a journey to return to his village where he can be reunited with his one true friend, a girl named Clara. The boy has been destined for greatness, but when we meet him he's an unassuming, honest, and friendly little guy who seems to easily pick up travel companions everywhere he goes, be they dead kings guarding treasure in their tombs or a one-armed female knight looking to avenge her own death.

Max Badger is one of those creators who seems to know exactly how to put together a professional-looking graphic novel and have it be laugh-out-loud funny to boot. He was one of the last batch of cartoonists to receive a grant from the Xeric Foundation, the prestigious, pre-Kickstarter route for self-publishers to gain funding for their comic book projects. After working on it for about 2 years, Badger completed this 120 page black and white hardcover that he now sells via his own website.  Although it stands well on its own, Badger plans to continue the story in later volumes.

You can preview Oak on Max’s website and order it through his store here.


3. She-Hulk #1

Written by Charles Soule; art by Javier Pulido and Muntsa Vicente
Marvel Comics

Like Daredevil, She-Hulk is one of the Marvel Universe’s professional superhero lawyers. Unlike Daredevil, she doesn’t separate her lawyer persona from her big green giant self. This becomes a source of conflict in the first issue of her new ongoing series when she loses her position at a top law firm for not using her superhero connections to bring in some lucrative clients.

She-Hulk has a history of critically-lauded but low-selling series. Her most recent, which started in 2004, also played up the superhero lawyer aspect but with more of a screwball, sci-fi comedy tone to it. This time out, it’s still a fun, lighthearted take on the character but with some influence from the success of Marvel’s Hawkeye series where the focus is more grounded and focused on She-Hulk’s life outside of being a superhero. This new book is being written by Charles Soule who, in addition to being one of the most prolific writers in comics (he's currently writing seven different monthly titles), is also a practicing attorney and can lend some real-world knowledge and legal gravitas to She-Hulk’s exploits.

Joining Soule is Javier Pulido, who may not be the first artist you’d expect to see on a She-Hulk book. His rendition of the character is very different from the statuesque and muscular heroine we’re used to seeing (though maybe not that far removed from Juan Bobillo's somewhat beefy but elegant take from early in the last series). Pulido's She-Hulk is stylish and modern with trendy hairstyles and a fashionable wardrobe. Complementing Pulido on colors is Muntsa Vicente whose eye-popping work on Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin's The Private Eye has brought her to the attention of everyone in the industry this past year.

Read a preview of She-Hulk #1 here.

College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy

One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

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