Mike Allred/Marvel Comics
Mike Allred/Marvel Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Mike Allred/Marvel Comics
Mike Allred/Marvel Comics

Every Wednesday, I highlight the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, bookstores, Comixology, Kickstarter, and the web. These are not necessarily reviews insomuch as they are me pointing out new comics that are noteworthy for one reason or another. Feel free to comment below if there's a comic you've read recently that you want to talk about or an upcoming comic that you'd like me to consider highlighting.

1. 2000 AD Prog 1874

Various
2000 AD

For 37 years, the influential British science fiction magazine 2000 AD has been publishing weekly Progs of serialized short comics created by some of Britain's most famous creative talent. ("Prog” is short for "Programme," and it's the result of the publication being produced by legions of droids working under the watchful eye of 2000 AD's editor, Tharg, of the planet Quazann in the Betelguese system. So there’s that.)

Since every prog is made up of about five stories running around six pages each, the magazine likes to have a clean jumping-on point every once in a while with each story starting a new chapter at the same time. With Prog 1874, available this week, we get a new Judge Dredd story written by co-creator John Wagner about a young evaluator in the Justice Department who is having doubts about the nature of what they do there. 2000 AD co-creator Pat Mills returns with the ongoing adventures of Celtic barbarian Slâine with fully painted art by Simon Davis. Dan Abnett (whom American readers will know as the guy who revitalized Guardians of the Galaxy for Marvel) returns with Sinister Dexter. Jaegir, a brand new spin-off from long running 2000 AD property Rogue Trooper, brings a new female heroine to the magazine. And finally, another new series called Outlier about a private detective hunting down an alien serial killer begins in the Prog.

2000 AD has been available in monthly print packs at comic book stores for years but, the appeal is its availability on a weekly basis, especially via various subscription options. Now with digital iOS users can subscribe via the Newsstand app and web users can buy DRM-free downloads via 2000adonline.com. Weekly digital comics are becoming all the rage and 2000 AD is well positioned to capitalize on that trend with their decades of experience publishing on that schedule.

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2. Silver Surfer #1

Written by Dan Slott; art by Mike Allred; colors by Laura Allred
Marvel Comics

The Silver Surfer, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby during their classic run on The Fantastic Four during the 1960s was very much a product of its time, what with his groovy philosophizing about the galaxy and his place within it. The Silver Surfer is popular enough to be frequently given a chance at his own series, but he usually can't carry it for very long before readers lose interest.

This time out, Dan Slott and Mike Allred have an idea that seems to be taken right from the Dr. Who playbook: pair the cold, analytical, otherworldly Surfer with a cute, down-to-earth and very human young woman. In this new series debuting this week, the Surfer meets Earth girl Dawn Greenwood and the two begin to travel the Marvel Universe together, hopefully giving readers a relatable character through which to enjoy the wonders of the cosmos.

Writer Dan Slott has been the Spider-man guy at Marvel for quite some time now and he's been doing an outstanding job finding fresh angles to take with that character. Here he's joined by husband-and-wife team Mike and Laura Allred whose retro-60s pop-art style is a perfect choice for the Silver Surfer. The Allreds have recently been working on the Fantastic Four spin-off FF where they were already playing around with Kirby creations. They always manage to perfectly capture the colorful appeal of comics from that era while giving it a contemporary spin that feels both tongue-in-cheek and lovingly genuine at the same time.

Read more about this book and look at some nice art over on Marvel.com

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3. Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery

Written by Kurtis J. Weibe; art by Roc Upchurch
Image Comics

This week sees the release of the first collected volume of Image Comics' breakout hit Rat Queens. This book came out of nowhere from two relatively unknown creators. It's a Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy book with an all-female cast of mercenaries who look and act unlike your typical medieval wenches. It's a comic full of crass humor, cursing, and graphic violence. Kurtis J. Weibe and Roc Upchurch's band of sword-wielding and trash-talking "Rat Queens" are a refreshing cast of characters.

The Queens are made up of four ass-kicking women, each with a distinct and almost incongruously modern personality. There's Violet, the hipster troll who’s cute when she shaves her beard; Betty the diminutive, happy go-lucky elf who has a penchant for drink and drugs; Dee, the atheist cleric who comes from a family that worships squids; and Hannah, the rockabilly sorceress. The way Roc Upchurch draws them makes you think you're watching a movie set in the Middle Ages but cast with actresses who look too contemporary for the roles, and that's part of the charm. The book does not take itself too seriously by any means, but it does take its female characters very seriously and does not objectify them. They’re all drawn with realistic body types and are not presented as mere eye candy. It's not surprising this comic has a growing and vocal female fan base.

Upchurch himself is yet another surprise with this book, being pretty new to the comics scene. His dynamic action scenes, spilling with blood and gore, are exactly what you want from an adventure book. A number of the fight scenes he illustrates here are astounding–but he is equally good at giving these characters relatable and recognizable personalities, which not every action-oriented artist can do.

You can preview Rat Queens and also purchase it directly from Image Comics' website here.

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4. The Only Living Boy

Written by David Gallaher; art by Steve Ellis
the-only-living-boy.com

Dave Gallaher and Steve Ellis are webcomic veterans at this point, and their first comic, High Noon, was one of the big hits out of DC's now defunct webcomic line Zuda. They've been collaborating on other comics since then such as Box 13one of the first digital-only comic to premier on Comixology. Their latest is an all-ages adventure book inspired by pulp serials, Saturday morning cartoons, Jack Kirby, and even the music of Paul Simon. It's called The Only Living Boy, and it follows the adventures of 12-year-old Erik who goes to sleep under a rock in Central Park and wakes up in a drastically changed New York that is now inhabited by dragons, monsters, and insect princesses—and he may be the last human being left alive.

Gallaher and Ellis have been working on The Only Living Boy for a while and have had both web and digital versions of it published in the past. They also successfully funded a print edition through Kickstarter in 2012. Starting today they are relaunching the webcomic and will begin posting new pages of the ongoing story every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Start reading here.

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5. The Chairs' Hiatus

By Matthew Bogart
Comixology Submit

Recently, Comixology had a sale on the top self-published books in their Submit program, giving 100 titles for only $10. When I can, I will be highlighting some comics from this bundle even though they are technically not “new" releases.

The Chairs' Hiatus is a quiet little story about an indie rock band called The Chairs that breaks up after a falling out between two of the members. We meet Mary Sozer, the band's front woman who's trying to live a quiet life, buying plungers at a hardware store without getting recognized. When her former band members Nel and Jen find her, Mary is forced to confront what she has run away from.

I originally stumbled across this comic after reading an article on Medium.com written by the book's author, Matthew Bogart, about his experience selling his comic through the Submit program. I was immediately drawn to his cartooning style and some of the interesting ways he handles the realistic, grounded subject matter of his story. His lines and character work remind me a little of Ethan Rilly (of the excellent comic Popehats). Bogart is a Portland-based cartoonist and he is currently working on a new ongoing comic called Oh, It's The End Of The World that he serializes on his website.

The Chairs' Hiatus is available on Comixology for $2.99. Bogart also has a Patreon page where you can support his comics work and receive various rewards for doing so.

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Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
5 Bizarre Comic-Con News Stories from Years Past
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC

At its best, San Diego Comic-Con is a friendly place where like-minded people can celebrate their pop culture obsessions, and each other. And no one can make fun of you, no matter how lazy your cosplaying might be. You might think that at its worst, it’s just a series of long lines of costumed fans and small stores crammed into a convention center. But sometimes, throwing together 100,000-plus people from around the world in what feels like a carnival-type atmosphere where anything goes can have less than stellar results. Here are some highlights from past Comic-Con-tastrophes.

1. MAN IN HARRY POTTER T-SHIRT STABS ANOTHER MAN IN THE FACE—WITH A PEN

In 2010, two men waiting for a Comic-Con screening of the Seth Rogen alien comedy Paul got into a very adult argument about whether one of them was sitting too close to the other. Unable to come to a satisfactory conclusion with words, one man stabbed the other in the face with a pen. According to CNN, the attacker was led away wearing handcuffs and a Harry Potter T-shirt. In the aftermath, some Comic-Con attendees dealt with the attack in an oddly fitting way: They cosplayed as the victim, with pens protruding from bloody eye sockets.

2. MEMORABILIA THIEVES INVADE NEW YORK

Since its founding in 2006, New York Comic Con has attracted a few sticky-fingered attendees. In 2010, a man stole several rare comics from vendor Matt Nelson, co-founder of Texas’s Worldwide Comics. Just one of those, Whiz Comics No. 1, was worth $11,000, according to the New York Post. A few years later, in 2014, someone stole a $2000 “Dunny” action figure, which artist Jon-Paul Kaiser had painted during the event for Clutter magazine. And those are just the incidents that involved police; lower-scale cases of toys and comics disappearing from booths are an increasingly frustrating epidemic, according to some. “Comic Con theft is an issue we all sort of ignore,” collector Tracy Isenhour wrote on the blog of his company, Needless Essentials, in 2015. “I am here to tell you no more. It’s time for this garbage to stop."

3. CATWOMAN SAVES THE DAY


John Sciulli/Getty Images for Xbox

Adrianne Curry, winner of the first cycle of America’s Next Top Model, has made a career of chasing viral fame. Ironically, it was at Comic-Con in 2014 that Curry did something truly worthy of attention—though there wasn’t a camera in sight. Dressed as Catwoman, she was posing with fans alongside her friend Alicia Marie, who was dressed as Tigra. According to a Facebook post Marie wrote at the time, a fan tried to shove his hands into her bikini bottoms. She screamed, the man ran off, and Curry jumped to action. She “literally took off after dude WITH her Catwoman whip and chased him down, beat his a**,” Marie wrote. “Punched him across the face with the butt of her whip—he had zombie blood on his face—got on her costume.”

4. MAN POSES AS FUGITIVE-SEEKING INVESTIGATOR TO GET INTO VIP ROOM

The lines at Comic-Con are legendary, so one Utah man came up with a novel way to try and skip them altogether. In 2015, Jonathon M. Wall tried to get into Salt Lake Comic Con’s exclusive VIP enclave (normally a $10,000 ticket) by claiming he was an agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and needed to get into the VIP room “to catch a fugitive,” according to The San Diego Union Tribune. Not only does that story not even come close to making sense, it also adds up to impersonating a federal agent, a crime to which Wall pleaded guilty in April of 2016 and which carried a sentence of up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Just a few months later, prosecutors announced that they were planning to reduce his crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.

5. MAN WALKS 645 MILES TO COMIC-CON, DRESSED AS A STORMTROOPER, TO HONOR HIS LATE WIFE


Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Disney

In 2015, Kevin Doyle walked 645 miles along the California coast to honor his late wife, Eileen. Doyle had met Eileen relatively late in life, when he was in his 50s, and they bonded over their shared love of Star Wars (he even proposed to her while dressed as Darth Vader). However, she died of cancer barely a year after they were married. Adrift and lonely, Doyle decided to honor her memory and their love of Star Wars by walking to Comic-Con—from San Francisco. “I feel like I’m so much better in the healing process than if I’d stayed home,” he told The San Diego Union Tribune.

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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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