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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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Space Goat Publishing
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Comics
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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